The concept of Bells came about from the Christmas song “Carol of the Bells”. That song has always creeped me out and when I started thinking about scary stories around Christmas, the only one I could really come up with was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Most of the Christmas horror movies I’ve seen have been utter garbage that only deal with Krampus or a killer Santa Claus. I’ve never been made aware of a ghost story involving Christmas so I started throwing some ideas together with my good friend and collaborator, Angelia, who has appeared in several of my projects. We actually came up with a really long backstory that we figured could probably turn into a feature film one day so the idea for Bells evolved from a one off short film to a possible proof of concept. If you haven’t yet seen Bells I humbly request you go do that now before continuing.
Bells takes place about a hundred years after a dark bargain was made between the rural town of Ethens’ leader and an entity known only as “The Stranger”. The Stranger would save the town from impending starvation due to a terrible winter and even increase the bounty of their crops and add years to their life in exchange for a simple ritual. Every year on Christmas Eve, each family must light a reverence fire and ring a bell three times to show gratitude for The Stranger’s gifts. If they fail, The Stranger’s herald will arrive and burn the household alive.
The short film follows Morgan, a man who is teaching his young son about the yearly ritual and Chuck, a neighbor who married into the town and doesn’t believe in the town’s history or tradition. On Christmas Eve, the townsfolk perform the ritual and, you guess it, Chuck gets his comeuppance. It’s a fun little film that a friend affectionately described as something that you would see on an old late night horror show which, personally, is a huge compliment for me.
Some of the struggles I had with this film were due to me pulling punches and not being creative enough with problem solving. I probably could have run the script by a few more people for good scares and ideas but I was overcome with excitement for producing it that I fast tracked myself. The ending could have been better in my opinion and I could have probably shown a bit more extreme images towards the end but I ultimately decided to end it the way I did and I’m happy with it. I tried not to use any excuses like “I needed more time” or “If only I had more money” because I find those useless and beneath me, to be blunt. That said, I could have done better and I will do better on the next project. This is the beautiful thing about art – it’s never perfect, and it’s never done, but (hopefully) every time you produce something you learn from it and apply those lessons for the next project. If you also take the time to get genuine feedback you’ll know what worked in your last project and what didn’t and seek to improve on what worked and maybe cut or change what didn’t and try something new.
As always, I had an amazing time making this short film as just being on set is an entertaining experience for me. It’s stress but it is genuinely fun and the itch to get back out there and make something is ever present. The year of this posting has been pretty shit, at best, but it has also been a very significant year in my development as a filmmaker. Keep an eye out for more news about We Lived 😉
As always, please enjoy some BTS stills from the project.