In "The Bone Garden," the feature film Steve Bauer and Marianne Wittelsberger are shooting at their West Seminary Avenue home in Lutherville, the couple play the protagonists' next-door neighbors — whose arguments and actions draw plenty of suspicion.
In reality, the pair said their neighbors have been nothing but supportive of the project, which has seen their home turned into the set of a suspenseful — at times gory — horror film.
Only those who didn't know what they were doing were concerned.
"We put out an email to everyone on the list saying, 'Hey, we're going to have a movie in the neighborhood, if you see ambulances or police cars,' which we did the other night," Wittelsberger said.
One neighbor, however, wasn't on the list, and came by concerned as they dragged body bags out of the house. He was relieved to find out that it was all for show.
Such moments are standard in the do-it-yourself film industry, where houses are sets and the actors, set designers and producers just happen to live next door.
Bauer and Wittelsberger, who teach in the theater department at Towson University, have enlisted many of their former students for the production, which they describe as a Hitchcock-like thriller.
In the film, the leading lady is suspicious of the next-door neighbor, as the college community where they live is hit with a rash of murders. But the killer's identity is unknown.
Last Thursday, Aug. 9, was the second to last day of shooting, which began with a week in rural Pennsylvania in the spring and continued with three weeks in Lutherville.
Early in the shoot, Wittelsberger and Bauer shot a scene in which they, the new neighbors, moved into the house next door, bickering as they carried boxes from the moving truck into the house.
The scene was shot from several angles, and after one take, Bauer questioned whether his tirade was too over-the-top.
"This is not a Disney movie," the director responded. During the following take, the crew held back laughter at Bauer's attempt to recreate the colorful rant with the camera at a different angle.
Inside the house, they prepared to shoot another short scene in the kitchen, while a design team in the backyard built a makeshift cornfield. All the scenes that take place in actual cornfields were shot in Pennsylvania earlier in the year.
While Bauer and Wittelsberger are wearing many hats on the production, they have a crew they know is highly trained.
Wittelsberger said the 27 cast and crew members are either Towson University students or alumni, all of whom are working to break into the film industry.
One crew member, Sam Lukowski, 23, grew up in Baltimore City and recently moved near Loch Raven Reservoir after graduating from Towson. He said he has worked with Wittelsberger and Bauer before and when he heard about this project, agreed to help with makeup and special effects — as long as he could have a role in front of the camera as well.
Thursday afternoon, Lukowski was checking on the mealworms that were used during filming. He said part of his job is to make the gore effects look real, and that when people die, "parasites and decomposer animals lay eggs inside of corpses."
"We couldn't get hold of maggots, but mealworms are pretty close on camera," he said. "They're alive, and we put these guys in the actor's mouths, on their faces."
Those aren't the only stomach-turning effects in the film.
Sitting beside a desk in the living room of Bauer's home — every room of which has been used in some way for the production — was a headless doll, with tubing that allows the neck to squirt out blood.
Across the room, a pair of prop axes leaned against a table. One, the "before" ax, looked simply like an old ax, while the "after" ax was covered with "blood." Both were made of foam and able to collapse, giving the appearance of a blade doing real damage.
Bauer and Wittelsberger don't like computerized effects, and have made an effort to have all their effects be as real as possible — without actually drawing blood, of course.
"We have one day to go, and no one has gone to the hospital," Bauer said Thursday. "We're going to keep it that way."
The atmosphere in the house was light Thursday, with some of the cast and crew watching the Olympics. At night, Bauer said they play Friday the 13th movies.
Writer and director Mike Gutridge, a Towson graduate and Rodgers Forge native, said he prides himself on running a set with a lot of positive energy.
"When you're working this hard, these long hours — no one's really getting paid — you have to keep it upbeat," Gutridge said. "Otherwise, you're just not going to have a responsive crew."
Wittelsberger said that once the film is edited and goes through post-production, they plan to shop it around to festivals and find a distributor for a large-scale release. One distributor contacted Gutridge to express interest while the film was still being shot.
"We could be the next 'Blair Witch Project,' which is a low-budget film that becomes a big blockbuster," Wittelsberger said. "That's the goal."
For more information about "The Bone Garden," visit http://www.thebonegardenmovie.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun