Daniel Del Purgatorio has never attended a horror-movie convention, which may sound odd for a self-confessed horror enthusiast who speaks glowingly of Takashi Miike’s Audition and Peter Jackson’s early films.
Yet when this budding filmmaker goes to the Texas Frightmare Convention in Dallas next week, he’ll be there not only as a fan but also as one of the guest speakers. “How have I never done this?” he wondered recently, adding that he expects to keep coming back. The 27-year-old’s journey from fan to source of fandom has been short but intense. Along with a small core of collaborators, Del Purgatorio made two shorts for the 24 Hour Video Race, a yearly event held by the Dallas Video Festival that challenges filmmakers to conceive, write, shoot, and edit a short film in a single day. Their debut, The Remission, was submitted to the contest and also to the Fox reality tv show On the Lot. Even though Del Purgatorio was not chosen as one of the program’s 16 finalists, the film can still be seen on the show’s web site. Left, the second short by Del Purgatorio’s group, is a striking, nearly wordless bit that juxtaposes the murder of a young woman with a somber interpretive dance piece.
Happy circumstance brought Del Purgatorio to North Texas. He was born in New York and grew up in Florida, where he attended the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota. He came to Dallas four years ago to pursue a job offer from Real Effects Creative Video, where he is now a creative director. He always harbored ambitions to make movies, though, and in Dallas he found fertile ground. “In Florida there really wasn’t an independent film scene,” he remembered. “Texas has a really cool scene, with connections to the industry. It’s really inspiring.” It was here that Del Purgatorio built his network of collaborators (editor Matt Brundige, cinematographer Jared Brower, sound designer T.J. Calloway, and assistant director Rob Foster). He is quick to praise them all, and, unlike some directors, he persistently uses the words “we” and “our” when referring to the filmmaking projects that bear his name. Next up for the group is a feature, which looks to be much more ambitious than any previous effort. The title is The Clearing, the same as a low-budget thriller that starred Robert Redford four years ago. “If legal issues come up, we’ll have to switch,” said Del Purgatorio. “But we all agree the title really speaks to what our movie is about.”
The filmmaker is reluctant to give too many specifics about the plot, though he will reveal that it’s about a group of college kids who discover disturbing changes in a small town they usually pass through to and from school for breaks. While the film hasn’t been cast yet, Del Purgatorio is sparing no trouble preparing, having taken thousands of photos of the filming location about two hours outside of Dallas. “We’ve basically shot the entire movie on photographs,” he says. “We’re also doing tests on color, sound, and music. There are parts of the movie we want to feel cold or warm. Sometimes you get a fantastic-looking location, then you don’t realize until you start shooting that it’s not getting you the shots you want.” He’s even working out the music (traditionally one of the last elements added to a film) with John Congleton of longtime North Texas experimental band the pAper chAse. And unlike Del Purgatorio’s shorts, The Clearing will be financed primarily by investors. In the meantime, Del Purgatorio just saw Christopher Smith’s Severance, a film with some similarities to The Clearing but a completely different vibe. Calling the British film “hilarious,” he went on to say that his own film has much less humor. “There are tons of horror films, and everyone has a different idea of what they want to do,” he said. “We want to do something close to our heart.”