Everyone deals with grief differently. Some cry, or laugh, or turn to God or the bottle. When it came time for 37-year-old Tampa Bay native and resident Joe Davison to deal with grief, he made a film.
The movie, titled Frost Bite, will make its Tampa Bay premiere on Fri., April 19 at 6 p.m. at the Baywalk Muvico in St. Petersburg as part of the Sunscreen Film Festival. Frost Bite is a post-apocalyptic tale about a small group of survivors fighting to save their town from zombies. It is a fascinating tale of survival. But perhaps even more fascinating than the movie’s plot is the story behind how it was made.
Davison received the call from his mother in Jan. 2011. He said it had been five years since they’d last spoken. His parents had moved to Alaska seven years prior, and the combination of distance, the time difference and his busy film career made communication difficult. A week became two, two weeks became a few months, a few months became a few years and by then “it became normal not to talk to them.”
He was elated to hear from her. They made small talk. Davison boasted about the films he’d written and starred in, including 100 Tears, a cult favorite about a killer clown, and told her he’d done two horror films in Germany that were so popular he’d almost surpassed David Hasselhoff as the country’s favorite son. His mother said she was proud of him, but the joy was missing from her voice. Davison knew something was wrong.
“It’s your father,” she finally stammered. “I think you need to come to Alaska. He’s dying.”
He had pulmonary heart disease, she explained, and there was nothing the doctors could do.
Later that night, Davison lamented to his wife that he was not sure that he was strong enough to fly to Alaska by himself (his wife could not go due to expenses and work) only to watch his father die. There would be nothing to do there. The town of Talkeetna is sparsely inhabited — less than 1,000 people — and its only claim to fame is as a resting spot for mountain climbers on their way to Mt. McKinley.
“I needed to do something else to keep my mind clear,” Davison said. “I didn’t just want to go there for two weeks. If I was going to see my father, I wanted to go for six weeks. But, I also couldn’t just sit in my parents’ house for six weeks. I’m not wired that way. I would have gone crazy. So I decided I would go to Alaska, reconnect with my father and make a film. It’s what I do — I make films.”
There were a few obstacles, however. First, he didn’t know anyone in Alaska besides his family. Secondly, he did not have an investor. And finally, he didn’t have a script.
“My wife made me a pot of coffee and said do the ‘Joe turnaround,’” he laughed. That's her term for his ability to turn blank pieces of paper into a feature film in just a few days.
He called his brother, who also lived in Alaska, and asked what types of locations he would have. His brother said forests and mountains, obviously, plus a town store, a diner, a lodge and an inn. That was it, but that was all Davison needed. Over the next 48 hours, he wrote the story of Frost Bite around those locations. Despite the simple locales, the script was ambitious, complete with snowmobile stunts, fight scenes, shootouts and heavy zombie and gore makeup effects.
“I’ve never made a simple film,” said Davison. “Where’s the challenge in that? Where is the fun in that?”
Davison then posted an ad on Craigslist in Anchorage explaining who he was and that he was going to make a film in Alaska. To his surprise, within 24 hours he had over 200 emails from interested crewmembers and actors.
A few weeks later, he found an investor. The film was officially green-lit.
It pains Davison to admit it, but his first thoughts of his father used to be negative.
He would think back on the grease fire that broke out in his family’s house when he was 6. Davison, his mother and siblings escaped without injuries. His father wasn’t so lucky. Davison saw his father fleeing the home, his body engulfed in flames. Seventy percent of his body was burned. He was told he would never walk again.
Davison’s father proved the naysayers wrong. He made a complete recovery physically. Mentally was another matter. His father wasn’t abusive, Davison said, but he was mean, perhaps a fallout from the injuries. As he grew older, Davison avoided his father altogether and they grew apart.