As a filmmaker, Charleston’s Michelle Iannantuono readily admits that she’s “not the best case study.”
There was no a-ha moment in her youth where the writer/director saw a movie and became convinced of her purpose in life. There wasn’t a film school teacher who inspired her to make great movies. In fact, she doesn’t really know where the motivation to write stories or make movies came from. It was just always there.
“I don’t really have a fun story about how I watched such-and-such movie and was inspired by Martin Scorsese,” she says. “It was really just that when I was three years old, I had what my parents thought were imaginary friends, but they were really my first characters. I would just make up stories about things that they would do. I’ve always been a writer, and I got into film when I was like seven, and started asking for a camcorder for Christmas, though I didn’t get one until I was 12.”
With the exception of one broadcast journalism class in high school, Iannantuono essentially taught herself how to make movies from that point onward.
But if her love of storytelling came early, her love of video gaming came (relatively) late.
“I was like 21,” she says. “I hated video games growing up. I thought they were dumb, and I didn’t get the point.”
But by the time she graduated college, she found herself swept up by the burgeoning Let’s Play, where gamers will play all the way through a game while commenting on it and post the video on YouTube, and Twitch streaming culture. Then one day in the summer of 2017, Iannantuono watched a 90-minute Let’s Play video and had a startling realization.
“It dawned on me that whoever did this Let’s Play essentially just did a feature,” she explains. “And I’d just sat and watched a feature-length piece of content that someone made around a video game, and it was entertaining enough to sustain my attention for 90 minutes. At this point I’d made three short films, but a full-length was way out of my scope at the time. But I thought, ‘I wonder if I can do this in a way that has a narrative, but also is in this format of one guy playing a game.”
Add in a dash of horror, and you’ve got Livescream, Iannantuono’s full-length feature debut. In the film, a live-streaming gamer named Scott (played by Gunner Willis) plays his way through a horror video game sent to him by an anonymous fan. His followers and the game itself appear along with him in an extended triple split-screen shot, as does their live chat, just as it would in a Twitch stream or a YouTube Let’s Play video. As Scott plays the game and completes its nine levels, his real-life followers begin to die one by one. Things get increasingly sinister and more difficult as he progresses.
For various reasons ranging from fundraising to casting to editing, a feature-length indie film can often take years to make. But Livescream’s approach is so simple (it was shot using a webcam) that Iannantuono was able to go from finished script to completed film in about eight weeks between December 2017 and February 2018, with minimal fuss and budget.
She made it a horror film for a couple of specific — and kind of funny — reasons.
“It was a weird serendipity,” she recalls. “I made that film for a contest, and horror was the least competitive category. I figured I’d make a horror movie because I’d have the best chance of winning the contest. And we have the Crimson Screen Horror Film [Fest] here in Charleston, which is a very significant festival for indie horror filmmakers.”
Livescream won the Jury Award at the 2018 Crimson Screen festival and has only gained steam since, garnering rave reviews and appearing in various film festivals, including the Nightmares Film Festival in Ohio, where it was nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Horror Feature, and in the Women in Horror Film category.
The film will have its Columbia premiere this weekend, and after screening Livescream repeatedly since last summer, Iannantuono says she’s far more confident about it than she was a year ago.
“I was nervous as hell at the world premiere,” she says. “I had no idea how people were going to react to this film, but the more people saw it, the more I started seeing a consistent positivity, and I became less nervous. Now I can basically put the film in front of anybody and not be nervous at all. It’s been out for a year, so it’s had time to build good will.”
Where: Tapp’s Arts Center, 1644 Main St.
When: Saturday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.
More: 803-988-0013, tappsartscenter.com