<I>Trolled</I>: Making this experimental 'true-terror' feature
Issue: January/February 2023

Trolled: Making this experimental 'true-terror' feature

Penwheel Productions’ (www.penwheeluniverse.com) Bobby Cloud and John F. Uranday recently completed work on a new experimental horror film titled Trolled. Cloud served as producer on the project, as well as its main character — the Troll — with Uranday directing the psycho thriller.

Inspired by genre classics that include Saw and The Blair Witch Project, Trolled presents itself as a live web show in which the Troll delivers vigilante justice to those who’ve been acting as online bullies. The Troll is called on by sponsors of those who’ve been bullied, alerting him to individuals’ online behavior and paying him to dish out corporal punishment when he comes to their town. He moves from city to city, abducting the offenders and keeping them captive in a dark basement, where he serves appropriate justice during a live stream, where fans can watch and react via a chat room app.

Much of the feature was shot over an eight-hour period using a combination of five GoPro 8 cameras and one Z Cam. The project has an intentional low-fi quality, resembling the look of an independent production, with limited lighting, grainy imagery and less than pristine audio, all adding to the “true terror” theme.

At press time, the producers were working with distributors to get Trolled in front of audiences. In the meantime, there is a website — trolledsos.com — where fans can view the trailer and learn more. They are also developing an NFT aspect to the project, as well as the ability for audiences to direct their own experience by choosing different camera angles.

According to Uranday, the idea for the project came from Cloud’s own experience with online bullying. 

“It was right at the beginning of the pandemic and a lot more people were on social media,” the director recalls. “Somebody actually started messaging him, basically threatening him over his opinions on things…saying horrible things. People use social media, where it's easy to see where somebody works or somebody frequents — things of that nature. And he was like, ‘What if we came up with a film idea where we gave the power back to the people that were being bullied online?’” 

Photo (L-R): Bobby Cloud and John F. Uranday

Most of the feature takes place in a dark basement, which is actually the basement of the office where Cloud works his day job as a lawyer in Bakersfield, CA. There are four offenders, strapped to chairs, and the Troll walks through the space, recounting their offenses and delivering punishment. Each abductee has their own GoPro, providing a POV of their experience. The cameras were hidden in a mix of papers and file boxes, as to not be noticeable to the viewer. The Troll has his own GoPro, strapped to a headband, showing the audience his POV as he walks among the subjects while capturing their horrified reactions. The Z Cam serves as a fixed camera, capturing the entire space.

“There's boxes, like legal document boxes, that we used,” says Uranday of how they hid the cameras. “We put them on these boxes behind each character. On his POV, when he’s walking around, you may catch a glimpse of them.”

Uranday was in charge of maintaining all six cameras. He worked from a dark area of the basement, where he couldn’t be seen. There was no script for Cloud or the other actors. Instead, Cloud spent a few weeks working on improvised dialogue that would move the storyline from A to B. They then shot in 10-minute intervals, stopping the camera and remaining in place while Uranday checked batteries and media, and then commenced shooting the next sequence.

The flashback sequences covering the abductions were shot months later at the suggestion of a distribution company that felt the outside clips would help break up the monotony of the basement setting while also providing backstory.

“Those were shot of maybe six months later,” Uranday says of the abductions. “We had shown it to a couple of distribution people, and one in particular was like, ‘If you can get out of this room a little bit and let us know who these characters are, why they are there, and show them being captured — show them doing some of these horrible things — it just breaks up the monotony. So we got everybody back together for like a weekend and just shot brand-new stuff.”

In addition to directing Trolled, Uranday also edited the project, working in Final Cut Pro.

“I am not an editor by choice,” he explains. “I was an editor to keep our budget down. I've done it before. I've done it for music videos and other projects. It was just something that I ended up taking into my own hands.”

He also created the graphical elements for the film, including the live chat room that appears from time to time.

“I think the hardest part of the editing (was) trying to make sure that the audience is on-board watching it, and making sure we didn't stay stagnant. He does work the room really well, so it was these extra added things, like the chat room (that) make it more realistic — like you're watching a live show.”

All of the audio was captured with the cameras, including the Troll’s dialogue, through his head-mounted GoPro. Sound design was added in post to reflect the punishment that the victims receive, which happens while the video feed is turned off, allowing the viewers to imagine the pain being inflicted.

Social media is an important part of Trolled’s marketing, with a website and Twitter account designed to keep fans updated. Some followers have even reached out to see if the Troll is available to handle their problems with online bullies.

“[It’s] funny, because we had some people reach out to me, and they're like, ‘We thought this Troll person was actually a real person,’” says the director. “That’s the intent. Even that Twitter handle for him – [it’s for him] to seem as real as possible.”