Fed up with life as an acting hopeful in Los Angeles, Matt Thompson made his own luck when he moved back home to Northern California.
Thompson wrote, directed and stars in “Bloodline,” a low-budget but visually polished cabin-in-the-woods horror film shot in 2010, primarily in the Eldorado National Forest. “Bloodline” opens today at Sacramento’s UA Market Square and four other Sacramento-region Regal theaters.
Thompson, 29, grew up in Roseville, fell in love with acting as a teen and has appeared on local stages, once playing Stanley Kowalski in a Big Idea Theatre production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
In 2005, Thompson set out for Hollywood, head shots at the ready. But he never caught that big acting break. He returned in 2010 and now lives in El Dorado Hills.
“L.A. can be a bit of a dream grinder, because it is a city full of people trying to make it (but) haven’t made it, and they want to tell you why you can’t make it,” Thompson said over coffee at a midtown Sacramento cafe.
Blond and handsome in a Paul Walker-esque, not-too-pretty-boy way, Thompson is chatty and open. He’s the antithesis of Brett, the brooding seminary student he plays in “Bloodline.”
It’s called acting, which Thompson did not do enough of in L.A. Interestingly, the highest-profile film part while he got while he lived there was in the 2009 torture-horror film “Sensored,” a Roseville-based project.
“By way of the auditioning process, I realized very quickly there were so many other people like me out there” in L.A., Thompson said.
Unlike most struggling actors, he had the means to take a measure of control of his destiny. Visually oriented, Thompson has worked as a graphic artist. Early in his acting career, he bought a movie camera and read all he could about directing and storytelling.
“It was apparent I had this visual skill,” Thompson said. “People were encouraging me to follow that path.”
But directing was more of a sideline or fallback, with acting the dream. Then his visual skills won him his biggest gig before “Bloodline,” directing the 2010 film “Listen to Your Heart.”
“Listen,” a romance between a musician and a hearing-impaired woman, was shot in Connecticut, with Cybill Shepherd as the cast’s biggest name. It played several film festivals “and is always on Lifetime,” Thompson said.
His direction of “Soldier” had impressed “Listen’s” backers, and helped win him the job. Though he did not write or act in “Listen,” the film “gave me some accolades, and put the fuel in my tank so I could do ‘Bloodline,’” Thompson said.
He wrote the first draft of “Bloodline” almost a decade ago, while still in the Sacramento region. The fledgling screenwriter had investigated what independent-film genres sell and “quickly discovered that horror thrillers are the ones that are going to be commercially viable,” Thompson said.
Also helpful, Thompson said, was that “you can make mistakes in horror thrillers, and they are forgiven.”
As long as you scare people, that is.
The genre also provided an outlet for Thompson’s imagination. An earlier version of his script involved a monster in a lake — and loads of rookie storytelling mistakes. He was on his 14th draft, he estimates, when his friend, Roseville business consultant and actor Michael Reinero, read it and told Thompson it finally was camera-ready.
Reinero gave Thompson $10,000 to shoot 10 minutes of footage to serve as a calling card for potential investors. The period footage, part of which appears at the start of the finished film, is a prelude to the main story involving a group of modern young people who encounter mayhem in the woods. The prelude involves white settlers’ bad treatment of American Indians — the kind of treatment from which cinematic curses arise.
The footage showed what Thompson could do. But this was during the economic downturn, when seed money was scarce.
So Reinero, former CFO of Sacramento’s Smile Business Products, personally bankrolled “Bloodline,” which cost “under a million.” Thompson said.
Reinero, 48, liked those first 10 minutes, he said. But he’d appreciated Thompson’s directing skills since they appeared together about a decade ago in a Roseville stage production of “Noises Off.”
“He had his camera all the time” during rehearsals, Reinero said of Thompson. “I gave him a couple of hundred bucks for materials, and he made this (behind-the-scenes) DVD that was just amazing. I knew right then, this kid really has something.”
Shot over 38 days, “Bloodline” focuses on Brett, a young man ambivalent about his seminary studies, his ex-girlfriend (Kimberly Alexander) and his family’s creepy cabin in the woods.
The movie’s locales are not specified, but scenes of Brett’s home were shot in a sprawling, rundown midtown Sacramento Victorian. There, Brett is surrounded by his late grandfather’s things, including a map to a cabin that has been whispered about in the family but which Brett never has visited.
Though none of those whispers was positive, Brett, in the grand tradition of horror-movie heroes, agrees to travel to the cabin with a group of friends, which includes the ex-girlfriend and a party-hearty pal (Jesse Kristofferson — Kris’ son).
The forest setting will look familiar to Sacramento viewers, though the characters’ journey looks nothing like that trip to Apple Hill you took last weekend. Unless that trip involved a curse and people’s eyes assuming a black, undead quality.
The main cast is from Los Angeles, but Thompson filled supporting roles with Sacramento-area actors. The behind-the-scenes team, including director of photographer John Jimenez (Joe Carnahan’s “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane”), is local.
Executive producer Reinero appears in “Bloodline’ as a police officer, and was on set throughout the shoot.
“I paid for us to go to school together” on set, Reinero said of himself and Thompson. “I was able to teach him a lot about working with people, and he was able to teach me about the filmmaker’s eye and the filmmaker’s instinct.”
Thompson said filming in the Sacramento region is easier than in L.A. There, people either are sick of movies being shot on their street or are angling for a piece of the action.
“In L.A., you can’t put a camera on sticks without getting hassled,” Thompson said.
But Sacramento-area film commissioners “bent over backwards” to help “Bloodline” get made, Thompson said. His family also was a big help.
Younger brother Myles shot underwater footage, and Thompson’s interior-designer mother, Cindy Thompson, transformed the film’s highly rustic cabin location into a place that looks inhabitable (at least before the horror starts).
Cindy Thompson said she helped her sons develop their visual senses by taking them with her to design jobs when they were small.
“They learned design concepts – color and everything – kind of remotely from listening to me,” she said.
Thompson shot “Bloodline” with the RedOne advanced digital camera, always aiming for a big-screen release. In 2011, “Bloodline” played to a packed house at a special screening at Three Stages Folsom, but Thompson wanted more people to see it in theaters. Thompson urged the film’s San Fernando Valley distributor, Osiris Entertainment, which usually handles straight-to-DVD releases, to secure a theatrical run. The company brokered a deal with Regal for “Bloodline” to play at five Northern California theaters, Thompson said.
“I didn’t start (‘Bloodline’) to be that corner Redbox movie” in the display case, Thompson said.
The hope is for a platform release, with the Northern California showings sparking enough interest for the film to expand elsewhere, Thompson said.
He and Reinero cemented a filmmaking partnership during the three years it took to complete and find distribution for “Bloodline.” They have two television pilots and a crime-drama theatrical film in the works.
Their next project will not take three years to reach the public, Thompson said, because he now has industry connections he lacked before making “Bloodline.”
His “Bloodline” experience affirmed a decision Thompson made, before shooting the film, to take charge of his career.
“I can put myself in the roles I want to play,” Thompson said. “I can tell my story visually, and I can bring people together who want to do the same things, and share the same vision, and build an awesome team right here in Sacramento.”
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter: @CarlaMeyerSB