Southeast Missouri State University student publication

573 Film Festival features area in locally shot film

Thursday, April 19, 2018
The opening scene from 'The Devil's Conductor' which was filmed in Jackson and won awards in the recent 573 Film Festival.
Submitted photo

The 573 Film Festival rolled out the red carpet in Cape Girardeau to local and international filmmakers April 6 to 8.

The festival was a three-day event of networking, workshops, guest speakers, financing talks, and most importantly, film premiers.

Of the local filmmakers billed as being from the 573 area code, Aaron Landgraf, an award winning filmmaker and CEO/creative director of 508 films, showcased his award-winning film “The Devil’s Conductor.”

A character from 'The Devil's Conductor' which was filmed in Jackson and won awards in the 573 Film Festival.
Submitted photo

Landgraf submitted the film to the 573 Film Festival upon suggestion from a friend, as the film was shot in Jackson.

“[It was] kind of a local tie-in,” said Landgraf, who lives in St. Louis, “I always liked the feel of Cape going down there and I just thought it would be a good fit. When I saw there was a festival going on down there, I just couldn’t pass it up.”

“The Devil's Conductor” was Landgraf’s second film produced during a 48-hour film festival in St. Louis in 2016.

Characters watch the train roll up in 'The Devil's Conductor' which was filmed in Jackson and won awards in the 573 Film Festival.
Submitted photo

For that festival, Landgraf’s team of about 20 was given a line of dialogue, a prop, a character, and genre of their choice. They chose horror, and spent the next 48 hours in production.

“We had all these crazy ideas in mind, like vampires and werewolves,” Landgraf said, however, one of the members on his team was an assistant conductor on the scarcely used five miles of track operated by the Iron Mountain/Southern Railroad in Jackson.

The stretch had once been on a line connecting St. Louis to Texarkana, TX/AR and was once held up by the Jesse James Gang.

Once the group became aware of that fact, they began to formulate an idea to make a horror story out of it.

The train used in the film was a 1950s diesel locomotive, and the production team filmed throughout the first night.

The more they learned about the train and railroad, the more they were inspired to incorporate its history into the film.

One of these historic events involved a conductor who died after falling off the train, which inspired the idea of the devil’s conductor on a train to nowhere on a track of once prominence, but now mostly nothing.

Due to the nature of the 48-hour film festival, Landgraf and company had only one day in Jackson to prep and film before driving back to St. Louis for editing.

They completed the pre-production and principal photography after receiving their instructions around 7 a.m., getting to Jackson around 9:30 a.m. and returning to St. Louis later that night.

“We’re running around; we had a game plan, and what was really important to us was just knowing where we wanted the story to go and incorporating the right feel in to it,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf and his crew experienced some anomalies on set.

“On the moving train, for the majority of [filming]” he said “when we were filming some more of the haunted/creepy ghost scenes, we actually had lights flicker on us, lights going in and out, that’s stuff that never actually happens on that train.”

Landgraf said he was not a giant believer in the supernatural, but with the story of real life death on set and with the film channeling that horror energy/imagery, it was hard to deny that there was some kind of energy there in the train.

“It sounds so crazy to say, but I firmly believe there was some energy attached to that train,” he said.

Realizing the production value, the crew added the flickering lights and story into the film.

Landgraf comes from a performing arts background, primarily in a theater.

“I was always very detail oriented and I discovered directing and cinematography were a lot more up my alley, in terms of more freedom of expression and a greater amount of control over the process,” he said.

Landgraf began filmmaking in high school and continued into his time at St. Louis Community College. After college, he found filmmaking to be a great mix of creative control and a kind of “crazy magic” that happens during the process.

The mixture of spontaneity and preparedness is what makes the product an “incredible and emotional” experience for Landgraf.

He said he was inspired most by directors David Fincher and David Cronenberg, while enjoying the style of film’s that make you think and are dialogue heavy, or simply minimalistic in nature.

The reason for this is his belief film doesn’t need to be a big production, but rather smaller scale and still be just as impactful.

“It inspired me to do more with less,” he said.

Landgraf began his film company, 508 Films, about two years ago.

It began, during his time working at a wedding videography company, with his eight-part webseries, “Learning to Go,” which was more experimental in longform narrative content that utilized inspiration and lessons received from fellow filmmakers at St. Louis Community College.

After the webseries, Landgraf began to move into music videos and commercials. For every project, he tried to bring someone new aboard.

“I think there’s a lot to learn from other people, whether it’s different techniques, different just have to be able to listen to everyone and kind of gather the best bits...I feel like that's my goal for 508 Films, it’s to create quality content with quality people,” he said.

The number one reason for him coming to the 573 Film Festival, outside of showcasing his film, was to expand his connections, as many of the film festivals in St. Louis showcase the same people, he said.

With the film industry constantly evolving, Landgraf gives the same bit of advice to every filmmaker he meets.

“Never think you’re too good to take advice from other people.”

Landgraf bases this off the media landscape where so much media is created, that narrow-mindedness is a downfall for new people trying to break into it.

“If you get stuck in this mindset where you think that whatever you are creating is the best it’s going to be and you can’t take any constructive feedback or take different insights from other people, then you’re just not going to go anywhere.”

Landgraf stressed that you can have a small crew in today’s landscape and not require a larger one or Hollywood budgets, but unless filmmakers listen to their crew members or audience on works and what doesn’t, then it will be difficult to succeed or stand out.

“You have to be willing to swallow your ego and swallow the pride and make something bad and learn from it and improve it,” Landgraf said.“Because not everything you make will be great and half of what you make might not even be as good, but the important thing is you take the best parts from those things and you also take the worse part of those things and examine that and show it to other people and have them tell you what’s good and what’s bad and figure out you can improve it for the next one. You always have to be looking ahead.”

Landgraf said he hopes to do well enough financially to create the content he wants.

“I love shooting, I love directing, I love editing, and if I can just have the ability to focus on that and be able to accept the jobs I want to accept and not have to grind away at something I don’t want to be doing, I consider that success.”

“The Devil’s Conductor” is available to watch on Youtube, on the 508 Films channel.