Balls of Steel: Below Zero Hits Austin

Writer’s block. We have all suffered from it. But to cure hers, writer and producer Signe Olynyk didn’t go for a run, take a long walk in the woods, or declare a writing sprint on Twitter. She locked herself in a remote slaughterhouse for five days and wrote a script.

Edward Furlong (front) with Michael Berryman

Welcome to Below Zero, the haunting thriller centered on a blocked screenwriter, Jack the Hack, who agrees to lock himself in a meat locker to get the job done. Left with nothing but his own demons to distract him, he writes the story of a tow truck driver who finds himself accidentally locked in a slaughterhouse freezer with the barely alive victim of a serial killer.

But what happens when the protagonist’s story comes to life and blurs the lines between reality and fiction?

Olynyk can certainly relate since they filmed Below Zero in the same meat locker she wrote the script. “You’ve heard of method acting? You could say I’m a ‘method writer.’”

The best way to describe plot is a “cool, twisty story within a story, within a real-life story.”

Confusing? No, just a superb play with structure. I was lucky enough to watch a preview of the film, and was blown away. I’m not a horror fan, but this felt more like a thriller. Just when I thought I knew the end, it took the most unexpected turn in the final moments. Brilliant.

Michael Berryman

Olynyk is one of those writers who walks the walk and pushes through any obstacle to get the job done. In fact, she is so committed to the craft, she founded The Great American PitchFest. Together with her producing partner Bob Schultz, she tirelessly helps promote writers while developing thriller and horror films (but not the hacker/slasher kind) via their production companies, Twilight Pictures, Inc. and Man In A Box Pictures, Inc., focusing on story and writer-driven scripts.

The Herculean efforts put in by Olynyk, Schultz, and the other producers, Laura Pursley and Judy Fox, came to fruition with only 18 days of shooting in Edson, Alberta. The community welcomed the cast and crew with open arms and generosity.

Schultz gushes over the experience, “Our next movie, a zombie thriller called Breakdown Lane (written by Schultz), will be shot in Drumheller, AB. Everyone should come here to make their movies. I’ve come all the way from New York to shoot in Alberta and want to shoot all my films here.”

Directed by Justin Thomas Ostensen, and expertly shot by cinematographer Norm Li, the stellar cast made this feature a dream project. The film stars Edward Furlong (Terminator 2, The Green Hornet) as the tortured writer, and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) as the butcher and slaughterhouse owner. Berryman’s performance is getting rave reviews as “stunning,” believed to be the best of his career. I agree. He ranged from horrifying me to bringing tears to my eyes – an unexpected bonus in an already well-told story.

Kristin Booth gives a breathtaking performance as not only a fellow writer, but also a key player in the fictional twists of the story, as do Michael Eisner, Sadie Madu, and Dee Hanna.

This Saturday, Below Zero makes its U.S. premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin for the famed Austin Film Festival.

Kristin Booth

Olynyk states, “We are extremely excited to be making our U.S. premiere at the Alamo, where they proudly display love for film every day, praising this art form we’ve all committed to. From the script stage all the way through the completed film, we wanted to appeal to intelligent audiences, playing with the conventions of story and movies as a whole. The Alamo is the perfect environment to reach those viewers.”

If you’re in Austin this weekend, I urge to you see Below Zero. Especially as writers, you’ll relate to the tagline: “Nothing’s scarier than a blank page.”

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