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Preying on your fears

Opensign Productions prepares to roll out Season Two of their web series “PHOBIA”

By Jim Mount

Fort Wayne Reader


Halloween has long since come and gone, but for the guys at Opensign Productions, a Fort Wayne-based film company, Halloween goes all year round.

PHOBIA, their web series devoted to the strange and unexpected, launches its second “season” soon. It’s an anthology in the vein of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery or a horror-based Twilight Zone, though for Opensign Productions (we covered their Phantom of the Woods film in FWR #224), the influences behind PHOBIA are much more recent… but no less terrifying.

The brainchild of Jeremy Storch, PHOBIA is a web series devoted to exploiting those darkened and unexplored corners of the mind where strange happenings and nasty creatures drawn straight from the realm of nightmares cross over into reality.

The first “season” of PHOBIA featured six shorts — about four to eight minutes long — that demonstrate an aptitude for telling concise, compelling and terrifying stories. Mostly absent any dialogue, the pieces rely chiefly on imagery and tone, helped by an ominous score created for each individual episode by fellow Opensign member Ryan Bozell. Some of the stories are a little gorey; all of them are pretty unsettling, but mostly they’re scripted to surprise — some in an O'Henry fashion — and they’re assured to give the viewer a mind bend not soon forgotten.

Storch, a Senior in high school, is also a student at IPFW taking courses in philosophy. and despite his present career in film making, he plans to major in philosophy. “The way I look at it, since we're already involved with film, I already know what I want to do, I'm already on a path,” Storch says. “The reason behind studying philosophy is to help with my thoughts in the way that I want to create all of these projects that I have in mind. Philosophy will help me with that.”

The initial inspiration for PHOBIA was The Twilight Zone as well as horror anthologies known to later generations such as Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Directing dusties for the six stores in PHOBIA are shared by other members of Opensign Productions — Jeremy Storch; Michael Storch; Ryan Bozell, Austin Grey and Ryan Woebbeking.

“The idea of PHOBIA first came around when Opensign Productions was trying to figure out how to get more viewers,” Storch says. “Having watched the Twilight Zone, Are You Afraid of the Dark and the X-Files when I was younger gave me the idea of creating my own little horror show.”

Storch continues: “I conceived of a web series that would give viewers a new story each episode, with all new characters and villains. After knowing what episode I wanted to do to start off with (the pilot episode,” The Dark Room”), I pitched it to Michael (Storch. Jeremy’s brother and the president of Opensign) and got the go-ahead.”

PHOBIA's inaugural season went reasonably well, by Storch's expectations, but the series really took off with the release of the fourth episode “Innocence”, directed by Austin Grey. Views of the series shot up after “Innocence” was released, and have been climbing ever since.

Though “Innocence” is as disturbing as anything else in the PHOBIA series, and shares many attributes with the other pieces, viewer’s reaction to this one was just different. “(Director) Austin Gray pitched me the idea and I really liked it, especially because it was pretty different from the last three episodes — it's the only non paranormal episode,” Storch says. “Each PHOBIA episode has a twist of some kind, and the ending to “Innocence” is fantastic. I was actually the one to edit the episode and when I finally saw it come together, I automatically knew this was a huge improvement from the past.”

“I think the reason viewers responded so well to that episode was because of the ending,” Storch continues. “I actually sat down with a few random people (individually) and observed their reaction to the episode. Each time, they were shocked by the ending and they had to watch it a second time, even a third time. And when a certain video makes a viewer want to watch it more then once, then it's defiantly doing something right.”

Each of the episodes in PHOBIA’s first season is crafted from the unique perspective of the individual directors. Storch directed epside one, “The Dark Room,” a story centered on the hazards of retrieving and examining strange photographs too closely. Episode Two saw Michael Storch — Jeremy’s brother and the president of Opensign Productions — take over directing duties for “Peripheral,” a story starring Joe Leatherman about the blurring line between reality and nightmare.

Episode three, “Turnabout,” featuring Jeremy Storch performing in a dual role, was directed by Ryan Bozell (also the series composer) and centers on an act opf supernatural identity theft. Episode five, “Shadow Puppets”, once again directed by Michael Storch, plunges the viewer into the center of an over-active imagination gone wild, and the last and most recent offering, episode six, “Fright Fair,” directed by Ryan Woebbeking (Opensign’s primary cinematographer) pays homage to the timeless horror story convention of the Killer-Thing-That-Will-Not-Die.

In order for any series to grow and thrive, it needs a strong base to support it. Storch sees this happening with PHOBIA. “We have a pretty strong viewer base at the moment but I know it can grow immensely. With PHOBIA, it usually takes one video, like ‘Innocence,’ and the viewership skyrockets. From what I hear from viewers, whether that’s in person or over the internet, the response was better than I had expected. People really like the episodes, which is great. You will get someone every now and then who doesn't like the series at all but that'll happen. I always try to see why they didn't like it so improvements can be made for the next episode.”

“The second season of PHOBIA is going to be pretty exciting,” says Storch of the next episodes in the series. “We have a lot of good episodes being made and I think the second half will be even better than the first. Big plans are being written and I'm sure our fans will enjoy it.”

As far as any series beyond PHOBIA Storch can't say at the moment but in regards to the future of PHOBIA, the only limit appears to be the imagination. “What I can say is that we plan on continuing PHOBIA until we see fit to end it.”

To find out more about PHOBIA, to view the current and future episodes as well to see other productions from Opensign Productions you can visit Opensign Productions YouTube or FaceBook page or go directly to the PHOBIA FaceBook page.

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