With Opening Night Sold-Out, Dallas' Newest Thriller Seeks Larger Distribution

"I was hoping to be finished like two weeks ago, but things happen," Eddie Lee Henderson says, taking a seat across from me. He's tall, thin and resembles a more youthful Lenny Kravitz. With him is Trevor Ayala, a 2011 Plano East graduate. We're meeting at a small but bustling Starbucks on the corner of 121 and Custer to discuss his latest feature-length film, a psychological thriller called Locked.

Chances are you haven't heard of Henderson or Ayala, but that could change after Thursday when the film makes its world premiere at the Dallas Angelika. The one-night screening sold out during pre-sale, a significant accomplishment for a self-financed film, costing roughly $5,000 to create. Henderson, of course, hopes the film does even better in the future.

"I'm shooting for the sky on this one," Henderson says. "I always compare it to Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity just in terms of budget. It's very different than those, though it is a horror/thriller. Honestly, I think the story's stronger than those two films and I think a distributor can see the value in that."

Locked centers on a group of high school seniors partying in a lake house with a tragic backstory. Before too long, they realize they're trapped and all Hell breaks loose.

The inspiration for the film came largely from a short film Henderson screened locally in 2011 called House by the Lake. It was well received, and afterwards, attendees encouraged him to turn it into a full-length feature. Henderson agreed and planned to start shooting that same summer.

That's when, to use Henderson's earlier words, things happened. Scheduling conflicts with his young cast--composed largely of Plano East graduates, like Ayala--forced him to push back filming until summer of 2012. Plus, Henderson's crowdsourcing campaign failed to raise the $10,000 he was aiming for. Through some jobs his production company did, and through scrimping and saving at home, he was able to fund it himself.

All of this came on top of the expected difficulty of making a film, like long hours and the need for reshoots.

"It was two weeks of straight filming, Monday through Saturday, like 10 or 12 hours a day," Ayala says, recalling his own part, with most of that happening at night. For Ayala, shooting also meant spending a good deal of that time doing his best impression of a dead body for roughly 22 of filming.

Midway through our conversation, I ask Henderson why he thought his crowdsourcing campaign failed.

"It seems to me that you need to have somewhat of a built-in audience already," he says, after some thought.

That seems to reflect the chicken and egg dilemma that crowdsourcing represents for indie filmmakers.

"If you're not making [a film] with any sort of large production company who can actively shop it to distribution companies, then you have to already go out there and work at getting your own marketing done, getting yourself known, getting yourself seen."

Doing that can mean establishing an online presence before there's even a movie to feed out to audiences.

That's the goal for what Henderson has planned next, which he describes as a zombie comedy that will feature Ayala. A teaser for it will be shown at Thursday's screening, if it can be edited in time. Then, a website will need to be developed, on top of a social media presence. Henderson has a degree in marketing, which should benefit him when it comes to promoting his new idea, and it's certainly helped with promoting Locked. He estimates that the bulk of ticket sales have come from people who heard about it on Facebook and Twitter, plus family and friends of the cast and crew. He's even been approached by two small distributors.

But, as of Saturday, Thursday was feeling like a long way off, with some last minute work demanding plenty of attention.

I ask him what he's learned from making Locked that he'll be able to carry over to his next movie.

Henderson and Ayala laugh. "Perseverance," he says.

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