We sat down with Steven Pierce, Missouri native and director of the new indie horror film Herd, to talk about his experience making this film in his hometown.
Why did you choose to film in Poplar Bluff, Missouri?
SP: I am from Missouri, and I don’t feel I have ever seen it fully represented in films visually. I wanted to capture some of the beauty of the Ozarks (Current River & vast farmlands) and some of the interesting aesthetics that I know are treasured only to the people of its small towns (Downtown Poplar Bluff).
Tell us a little about your experience filming there.
SP: For me it was a homecoming, and I didn’t know exactly what to expect. If the actors and crew traveling in would be openly welcomed or if we would be viewed as those weird outsiders. But the experience was fantastic for all of us. It became a family while filming in Poplar Bluff and the surrounding areas and I can honestly say that without all the help provided to us by the local communities, HERD would not exist. From logistical needs of road closures, to gift baskets, to letting us turn an office into a dressing room for a night, the people of MO had a direct impact on the film being made. It was a dream for the cast and crew, and I have never been so proud to have been from Missouri.
Were there any unexpected challenges you faced?
SP: Weather. You plan for rain, and you plan for cold, but we had multiple days that were just unprecedented with wind. There is a scene early in HERD that takes place in rural farmlands and the wind was epically wild while we filmed. We had to restage a scene so that it could take place within feet of a large RV just so you could hear the dialogue in the microphones over the wind gusts. However, when you watch the scene, it is truly epic as far as the look and that was also largely due to our nemesis… the wind.
What about unexpected benefits?
SP: We are used to filmmaking being very hard logistically. How you load into a building, where you park, how long it takes to get permits approved… all these are things we are built to work through and are huge pains. We coordinated with city officials at lighting speed and the departments were extremely supportive. Closing streets and coordinating with the local businesses – no problem. They would help us at the drop of a hat. We filmed one scene in the middle of the night in downtown Poplar Bluff and one stupid traffic light kept turning off every 90 seconds and was ruining take after take and really was killing our day. At 2am when we called lunch, a boom truck came and they fixed that light, and we were able to finish the scene before sunrise!
Also, varied location feels were a huge benefit. We filmed urban areas, forests, rivers, remote camping spots, downtowns, and even a small-town hospital all within an hour drive of each other. We have a very varied look in HERD with all the locations and we found them all in southern Missouri.
Did you have a favorite moment or story over the course of production?
SP: There were honestly so many it’s hard to pick just a couple. We have a big scene with a lot of background zombies (“Heps” in our world) and the Daily American Republic newspaper loaned us their facility for overnight holding and dressing rooms. I remember walking into the basement that was filled with locals as Matt Mundy, our producer and resident “Hep” expert, was holding a master class of how all the people should sound and move in the scene. Getting so see so many people be so excited to be up at midnight grunting and shuffling around the basement of my hometown newspaper all for some scene I wanted to shoot was pretty surreal and silly. It is a very fond memory for me.
What’s it been like seeing this film premiere internationally?
SP: We premiered at FrightFest in London on their ENORMOUS iMax screen to a sold-out crowd of 700+. The fans were so welcoming, and it was a pretty awesome experience to watch the film with a group that has most likely never stepped foot in rural MO and it felt very authentic, and the audience seemed to really enjoy the film. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget. AND to cap it off, a couple that I had not seen since high school were in Oxford and were able to come to the screening! We had a great time recapping how landmarks from our hometown just played to a huge audience across the ocean.
Do you have any advice for filmmakers who want to make their project in Missouri?
SP: Missouri is very diverse, and it can afford a lot of locations and a lot of enthusiasm for filmmaking. The people are extremely giving, and the settings are beautiful. And if you maintain a positive attitude, treat the locals with respect, and don’t damage the settings you are filming in, Missouri is a great place to film and has all the makings for a great film experience both on screen and off.
If you are interested in seeing Herd, check out their website to find a screening near you!