An Amsterdam cinephile’s debut feature film is finally hitting the big screen at Proctors this weekend.
“The Last Frankenstein,” written and directed by David Weaver of Gila Films, will be screened on Saturday at Proctors and then head to The Movieplex in Johnstown the following day for a two-week run.
Weaver has enjoyed watching movies since he was a kid, and thanks to his extended family, he was exposed to a variety of film genres and eras.
“They all loved movies, and they all loved different kinds of films which brought me a broad exposure; whether it was my dad who liked documentaries and dramas or my grandfather liked war and crime films or my uncle and aunt like monster and horror movies,” Weaver said.
After high school, he studied communications at Fulton-Montgomery Community College and then studied directing at the New York Film Academy in Manhattan and at SUNY Purchase.
“Then I just decided to get my hands into it and started working on films in the area, either local filmmakers’ projects or larger films that would shoot in the Capital District,” Weaver said.
His first professional gig was working as part of the camera crew on “Winter of Frozen Dreams,” a movie filmed in Schenectady in 2007, featuring Thora Birch and Keith Carradine. He’s continued working in the field since then and has become part of the community of regional filmmakers, which he describes as a “very small but very passionate community.” It was in part thanks to that community that “The Last Frankenstein” was made in the first place.
“It’s really a product of the local arts community; I couldn’t have done it without them,” Weaver said.
In 2014, Weaver was working as a cinematographer for Jay Leonard, a local filmmaker who runs Trenchmouth Productions and encouraged Weaver to try his hand at writing a feature film. Weaver had written and filmed a few short films before but nothing quite as ambitious as a feature.
Yet, when the phrase “The last Frankenstein,” popped into his head one day, it sparked a story idea that had depth, and Weaver took on the challenge.
“I started exploring the idea of . . . a contemporary Frankenstein story where unlike all those other movies from the past where the Frankenstein protagonist is always really wealthy and he always has everything at his disposal [and] the real stumbling block is the creature doing bad things, instead, what if he was brilliant, he had the family history but he didn’t have easy access to doing what he wanted to do?” Weaver said.
The existential slasher takes inspiration from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and is centered around Jason Frankenstein, the last descendent of the infamous Frankenstein family. His job and relationship aren’t going well, and as he edges toward a midlife crisis, a creature from his family’s past makes a violent reappearance. Jason is compelled to finally complete his ancestors’ experiment with help from a pair of drug-dealing paramedics and a nurse.
The film was also partly inspired by a few films from the 1950s, including “Frankenstein’s Daughter” and “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.”
“They were these cheap drive-in movies but they had a real kind of in-your-face attitude to the story. They didn’t shy away from the gore, for what they could show at that time, and they were unashamedly embracing their low-budget gruesomeness. It was just an attitude that they had,” Weaver said.
After writing the script, he brought on Leonard to be the producer, secured filming locations and launched a Kickstarter campaign. Filming began in 2015 with actors like William Barnet playing Jason Frankenstein and Robert Dix (who was also in “Frankenstein’s Daughter”) as Roger Frankenstein.
They shot nearly the entire film in and around Amsterdam, though there were a few scenes filmed in Schenectady, Johnstown and Austerlitz.
“Amsterdam was really where we tried to get everything we could just to get all these locations that were iconic to me growing up,” Weaver said. “Also, my visual approach to the film was I love the mid-century look, I love that late 50s to mid 80s look, whether it’s architecture or fashion or film. So there’s a lot of great locations for that in Amsterdam too.”
They headed to the Riverfront Center, as well as the former TeePee Inn, Schotts Tavern, Valentino’s Restaurant and several neighborhoods in Amsterdam.
“People were extremely supportive in the community, opening up businesses and everything,” Weaver said.
To match the aesthetic he was going for, he forewent nearly all computer-generated imagery in favor of practical effects, bringing on Jared Balog of Troy to create the horrifying creature of Frankenstein’s past.
They’d largely wrapped up filming by early 2016, but because of budgetary constraints, Weaver had to edit the film himself.
“I hadn’t even used editing software in years so it was just a really long painstaking process of my relearning the software, going through the film, cutting and cutting,” Weaver said.
After about a year or so, he brought on an assistant editor, as well as a sound designer and music composer and the film was screen-ready earlier this year.
It’s already been accepted into six film festivals, including Dublin’s Underground Cinema Film Festival, which took place in September. Weaver got some positive feedback from that screening but the local ones coming up this weekend will be the first time he’ll get to see it on the big screen.
“I think it’s going to be surreal because the way the process has worked out I’ve actually never sat down and watched it with anyone except for Jay and the composer. It’ll be the first time I see it with any of the cast and crew, it’ll be the first time I see it with strangers and it’s going to be the first time I’ll see it on a big screen and with surround sound and all that stuff. I’m sure it’ll be a little nerve-wracking but I’m sure it’ll be a good time,” Weaver said.
The Proctors screening is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $13. For more information visit proctors.org. It will run at the Movieplex from Oct. 24 – Nov. 6. For showtimes, visit The Movieplex on Facebook.