Danedri Thompson

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David Matheny admits he has a baby face, and that he lives and works as a filmmaker out of his father’s basement on Cherry Street in Gardner. But that

David Matheny, left, directs Lahcen Anajjar in Matheny’s latest film, “My Stepdad’s a Freakin’ Vampire.” Submitted photo

doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be taken seriously as an artist.

“It’s funny, because I was talking to a production company, and they really wanted to produce this movie,” Matheny said of his newest film, “My Stepdad’s a Freakin’ Vampire.”

“They called me more than once a week. They said, ‘hey Dave, do you want to make a real movie with us or a home movie on steroids?’”

That’s a pretty good description of his latest film.

“I did everything myself from my dad’s basement. I wrote it. I shot it. I edited. I did the sound. That doesn’t happen in a big movie,” he explained. “It is kind of a home movie on steroids.”

Despite the title, “My Stepdad’s a Freakin’ Vampire” isn’t a horror flick. It combines action, comedy and horror to tell the tale of a teenager who finds out his step dad is an evil vampire “looking to raise some serious hell,” Matheny said.

“It’s kind of a mixture between “Gremlins” and “The Goonies.” All those ‘80s movies are big

inspirations.”

With its release, the 24-year-old graduate of Gardner Edgerton High School hopes people will take him seriously as director.

Matheny has at least one believer.

Star of the film, Lahcen Anajjar, said he auditioned for a role in the movie simply because it was a paid acting gig.

“My first impression of this film was, okay, it’s going to suck,” Anajjar said. “Before we started shooting, David sent me an e-mail clip of what the vampire monsters were going to look like.”

Anajjar was afraid to open the e-mail expecting to see cheesy Dracula-type monsters with fangs, caked, white makeup and dark eyes. Instead, he saw professional full-plaster monsters.

“I opened it and literally my jaw dropped,” Anajjar said. “I called him right away and said, ‘David, I’m on board. Whatever you need, I got it. I’m totally on board.’”

Although Matheny wrote, directed and produced three movies that he calls “sort-of college student films,” this latest creation is his first real movie.

“We hired actors. We made it with real equipment. We got funding,” Matheny said.

Hollywood spends millions bringing movies to the big screen, but Matheny said his film budget was less than $100,000. He asked family and friends to help him with costs when he decided to make the film.

Many chipped in with more than dollars and cents. He kicked his mother out of her house in

Fountain Gate in Gardner for several days while film crews and actors used the property as

a set. His father’s basement became a mini-production studio complete with computers and editing equipment. His younger brother John acted as the sound producer while a friend, Kyle Mangrum, wrote the screenplay.

“There are two main investors in the movie, and everyone else just kind of chipped in here and there,” Matheny explained.

Before he finished making the film, Matheny turned down a distribution deal. Many such deals require that the director give up some creative license, and Matheny didn’t want to do that.

“Most distribution deals offer they’ll put your movie in Blockbuster, Netflix or that kind of thing. But you can make more money if you sell it yourself even if you might not sell as many copies,” he said.

For now, Matheny will concentrate on Internet marketing, and he plans to travel to comic book conventions and film festivals to market the movie.

“We’re going to be hitting up a bunch of those and introducing ourselves to potential fans and all that sort of stuff,” he said.

The director isn’t ruling out a distribution deal if the right one comes along in the future, but for now, he’s looking forward to marketing the movie himself.

“If somebody comes up to me and says, how would you like $1 million? I’ll take it,” he said. “The main thing is to be able to make movies and make a living.”

He’d like to continue making movies in the Kansas City area rather than moving to one of the coasts. He said there is a small community of independent filmmakers here, although he said many of them talk about making movies instead of actually doing it.

“If I have a movie idea, and I can make it here in Kansas, then I’ll make it here,” Matheny said. “If some company says we want you to make this movie and we’ll pay for it, but we want you to do it over here, then I’ll do it over here.”

Matheny estimates he was probably a student at Wheatridge Junior High when he decided he wanted to make movies for a living.

He credits his older brothers for giving him the filmmaking bug. They introduced him to

films like “Terminator 2,” “Aliens,” “Fight Club,” and “Seven” and he fell in love with

the idea of making movies.

“I would say everything I learned, I learned from watching movies,” Matheny explained.

Movie poster courtesy of David Matheny

Since he graduated from GEHS in 2003, Matheny has made three films — “A Dark Place,” “In the Red,” and a short film, “The Scientist” – between attending school at Johnson County Community College and Avila University.

Matheny took time off from school to make the latest movie, and he isn’t sure when he’ll finish up his degree. For the last two-and-a-half years, he’s concentrated on getting “My Stepdad’s a

Freakin’ Vampire” ready for distribution.

It took six months to figure out how to do the special effects, including sculpting costumes; trying to find the right software and scouting locations. Much of the film takes place at his mother’s house. He shot other scenes in Edgerton and Osawatomie.

Production lasted only 40 days, but then Matheny went to work putting everything – music, audio, and visual graphics – together.

“Whenever I need money, I’ll go out and film a wedding or something for someone, and then live off that for awhile,” he said. “Ever since I started making this movie, I haven’t had a job. I’ve worked strictly on this movie.”

And for the most part, he said it didn’t feel like work.

“Behind the camera, first of all, it’s fun to hang out with friends and work,” Matheny said. “Everybody was really hands-on, and they’re all my friends. Then we had all the actors.”

Anajjar said Matheny’s passion for filmmaking showed throughout the production process.

“He’s very professional and always chipper,” Anajjar said. “We were filming out in themiddle of Edgerton – it was 10 degrees outside in the middle of the night with the wind blowing. We’re freezing in this so-called grave pit. His passion just goes above and beyond anybody’s. He loves what he does more than anybody.”