DUNDALK — Dundalk native and filmmaker Ricky Umberger is taking a victory lap — and then getting back to work. The local auteur has won three Best Feature Film awards at various film festivals for for his self-produced horror movie The Fear Footage.
In the full-length film, a fictional sheriff’s deputy named Leo Cole vanishes on April 19th, 2016. The next morning, his body camera is found. Thus begins the titular footage.
Umberger is not only a local, but so are his actors and his scenery. The Fear Footage was shot in several areas of Baltimore County.
“The majority was filmed in the Dundalk area,” he said. “I shot it with an iPhone, and then compressed it a few times through Adobe premiere to dirty it up — giving it a more authentic look of actual found footage.”
Inspired by filmmaker George Romero, Umberger told The Dundalk Eagle he has “always wanted” to make horror films.
“I especially wanted to make an extremely scary one,” he said. “Romero changed horror with no money and an idea that nobody thought would work.”
The first-time filmmaker thinks Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is the greatest horror movie of all time.
“He was a guy that wouldn’t conform to Hollywood and did it his way,” he said.
Umberger shot most of his movie in Dundalk, which he called convenient.
“If I needed to re-shoot anything or add on, it wasn’t difficult to do,” he said. “Most of the locations weren’t far from my house. I even used my house for a segment of the film, which I recommend to anyone making a low budget film. It makes adding and re-shooting scenes very easy.”
The young local stacked his movie with other Dundalkians, as well. Everyone involved with creating his award-winning film were family members and friends.
“They were all a huge help and did a great job,” he said. The filmmaker himself says he ended up acting in a segment, despite not being a trained actor. “I think it all worked out pretty well in the end, and the cast seemed to have fun filming the movie.”
Umberger said his family and friends were not always clear on his creative vision, but had faith in his ability. “I’m sure they questioned how good it would end up,” he said. “But they trusted the process.”
Like Romero before him, Umberger stuck to a low-budget filmmaking style.
“I knew I had a creepy film and a unique premise, but I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on making a film that nobody would be interested in seeing,” he said.
He used Instagram and other social media to promote the film.
“A lot of the online marketing was word of mouth,” Umberger explained. “A social media user with a lot of followers made a post about how creepy he thought The Fear Footage was, and suddenly 1,000 of their followers are now interested in seeing it. It kind of spread like that. Although I’ve put a lot of work into making the marketing interesting, the only thing I’ve really spent doing so is time.”
Umberger wasn’t sure if The Fear Footage would be accepted into any film festivals, and never dreamed that he would win several awards.
“It’s one of my biggest accomplishments,” Umberger said.
The Fear Footage was been accepted into six film festivals: Another Hole In The Head Film Festival In San Francisco, Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival in Buffalo, New Jersey Horror Film Festival, Edmonton Festival of Fear in Alberta, Halloweenapalooza Film Festival in Iowa and Grindsploitation film festival in Tennessee.
Umberger won awards at Grindsploitation, Halloweenapalooza and Edmonton Festival of Fear.
“The film festival circuit was unbelievable,” Umberger said, explaining that he was only able to attend the New Jersey and Buffalo, New York events.
“It was an awesome experience to sit in a theater full of people as they get scared senseless by a film I created,” he said.
“I will definitely do more films in Dundalk.”
Up next, Umberger plans on spearheading a sequel to his premiere film.
“There’s more to the story,” he said. “The creepiness isn’t over. I’m expanding the locations for The Fear Footage 2, but I’m still going to use areas of Dundalk.”
The auteur said that creating his first feature-length film was a fun challenge.
“It was exciting realizing that any creepy idea I had, I could bring to life. It was also a huge learning lesson — in marketing more than filmmaking, surprisingly.”
The film is available on Amazon Prime.