Tennessee’s cabins offer many natural charms. Often used for weekend retreats, these faraway destinations are home to gorgeous views, calming waters, and a sense of peace.
But what happens when such a spot is also the hunting ground for evil? And how does one escape danger when civilization feels a million miles away?
This fearful thought is the premise of “The Legend of Lake Hollow.” Shot right here in Middle Tennessee, this horror feature follows a group staying at a remote lakeside cabin. As the friends enjoy their weekend getaway, they discover that they’re not alone in the woods… .
Friends Behind the Lens
Lake Hollow is the first feature-length movie from Nashville production company Penumbra Entertainment (Penumbra). Founded by photographers Chris Hollo and Mark Mosrie, the two bring more than six decades of behind the camera experience to the world of film.
Even if their names don’t ring a bell, chances are you’ve seen the work of Mark or Chris. Chris has served as the Grand Ole Opry’s official photographer since 2000, and his images are frequently used to promote iconic musicians.
“I’ve worked with mostly local music industry clients… labels, artists, management, stuff like that,” Chris says. Known for exceeding expectations, Chris has retained work with most of his past clientele. “I work quickly and I respect their time. Clients like working with me because they feel that they can trust me.”
Chris has been in business since 1990. But it wasn’t until 2005 that he branched out into video production and narrative projects. This was around the time he’d met Mark.
“Chris was involved with video work before I was,” Mark says. “He asked me if I could help him on a shoot. I saw this as an opportunity to try my hand at something new.”
Without knowing it, Chris had had a profound impact on Mark’s career trajectory long before their first meeting. This impact dates back to 1992 when Mark started working as a photographer. Originally from Tennessee, Mark graduated from California’s Brooks Institute of Photography. He later relocated to Knoxville to work at a photo studio.
“They had a vacancy there because their other photographer assistant had left to work in Nashville,” Mark says.
This opening allowed Mark to quickly learn about the many techniques and technical elements of photography. Picking up photography at an accelerated pace, Mark was able to shoot commercial work right away. From these early work experiences, Mark has been able to work with a stable of internationally recognized clients.
Mark says, “I pride myself on being able to shoot anything for anybody. I’ve done travel photography, portraiture, live events… In this field, you have to be able to do lots of different kinds of things. I approach photography with the mindset of ‘I’m trying to help a client solve a problem,’ and I always try to adapt to their needs.”
After outgrowing Knoxville, Mark relocated to Nashville in 2005. In town, he became aware of Chris’ work. Through mutual friends, he discovered that they had a lot in common. The reason for this would later be revealed in their first meeting.
“I found out that the photographer assistant who I had replaced in Knoxville was Chris!” Mark says. “I had never met Chris before moving to Nashville… It certainly seems like we were destined to be friends.”
Speaking Each Other’s Language
Becoming friends after their first meeting, Mark and Chris started working together on projects for their photography trade association.
In 2011, Mark and Chris began to work together on some early film efforts. From there, they went on to commercial video production work for bigger clients.
“Together, we can do most anything that a commercial client would need,” Chris says. He cites a shared mastery of photography as the secret to their successful partnership. Since both Mark and Chris hold a deep understanding of the medium, they can communicate on a deeper level.
“It’s almost like being able to speak a second language to one person,” Mark says.
Knowing so much about photography, both men have taught college classes on the medium. Mark has taught photography at Watkins (before its merger), Belmont University, and The Art Institute of Tennessee – Nashville. Both Chris and Mark have taught classes at Nossi College of Art and Nashville State Community College.
Chris and Mark worked for several years together as both commercial photographers and videographers. In 2013, Chris put all of the video work he was doing under the company name Penumbra Entertainment. Mark joined Chris as a collaborator under the Penumbra umbrella.
Then in 2018, they made it official and formalized the production company as Penumbra Entertainment LLC.
Mark says, “Working on those early Penumbra projects was more challenging than working on the photography projects. Since video production is more involved, you need more hands. You need more eyeballs. You need more input. These needs let us collaborate in interesting, exciting ways that we wouldn’t be afforded as solo photographers.”
Planning the Trip to Lake Hollow
After formalizing Penumbra, Mark and Chris decided to split the duties of producing their first feature. Chris took on the additional role of director. That same year, the two started looking for engaging scripts that they could shoot.
“We weren’t happy with what we were getting,” Chris says. “We ended up finding the Lake Hollow script, which was written by Jerry Robbins. We optioned it, and began pre-production on it in November 2018.”
Mark explains that Lake Hollow is more of a “horror thriller” than just a pure horror film. He says, “Our story follows a group of friends who are spending a weekend at a cabin in the woods. They don’t know that they’re actually in the territory of a malevolent creature, and they later discover what this creature is over the course of the movie.”
The creature in question is the “wendigo.” This spirit or creature was part of various Native American legends, and was believed to manifest after one resorted to cannibalism to survive foodless winters. Those consuming the flesh of another would themselves become the wendigo, thus cursed to eat human flesh for all eternity.
“This particular piece of folklore has a lot of tangents,” Chris says. “The ‘skinwalker,’ for instance, or other shapeshifter beings. There are a lot of variants of this kind of creature. We chose the wendigo because we felt that it lent itself to being on screen.”
Mark and Chris consider themselves a fan of many genres. For their first feature film, they wanted to maximize their investors’ return and make something that was a unique challenge. So, they decided to make a horror movie.
“It’s a genre that’s known to be forgiving and profitable,” Chris says. “It’s also a great place for first time filmmakers, as horror fans tend to be pretty loyal. The people who love the horror genre tend to follow directors they like.”
Summoning the Wendigo
To bring a scary creature like the wendigo to the big screen, Mark and Chris outsourced the production’s special effects to Ben Rittenhouse. An Emmy Award-winning makeup artist, Ben’s IMDB profile boasts an impressive list of film credits like “Hostel,” “The Hunger Games,” “Kill Bill: Vol.1,” Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Chris says, “We were thrilled to find out that someone with Ben’s level of makeup and effects experience lived right here in Middle Tennessee. We approached him to see if he would be willing to work on the creature for our film.”
Ben agreed to the assignment, making the creature a class project for Nashville’s Academy of Make Up Arts. Overseeing the students as the academy’s SFX Director, Ben gave Mark and Chris their monster.
“Ben brought his entire class out to help dress the actor and observe for the day we shot the creature,” Chris says. “Under Ben’s supervision, we were able to provide his students with on set experience while also getting an amazing creature built from practical effects. It was a win-win for everyone involved.”
Another Type of Danger
Pre-production for Lake Hollow began in late 2018. By April 2019, they had their first investor.
Based on earlier luck, the pair thought they could line up other investors quickly. But it didn’t work out that way. Their fundraising efforts stalled. Then, COVID-19 hit, bringing with it a series of lockdowns.
With time slipping away, Chris and Mark made the decision to proceed with caution. “We actually started shooting during COVID, with our first day of production being in October 2020,” Chris says.
Having some of the footage, Chris and Mark were able to solicit interest from more producers by showing them what they could do. It took them 18 months from the start date, but they eventually landed another producer who liked the project.
Even though shooting during a global pandemic without complete funding may sound like a terrible idea, it worked to the production’s favor.
“Honestly, it was helpful that we were able to spread out our production over time. If we had shot 20 days in a row during COVID, then that would have been more difficult,” Chris says.
Being a smaller production, the crew on Lake Hollow was able to move more nimbly than that of a larger size.
But that’s not to say that Lake Hollow’s production was immune to the pandemic. COVID forced Mark and Chris to take extreme caution on set. Every day, they documented the temperatures of everyone on set. They also practiced social distancing and enforced a strict mask policy when people weren’t speaking on camera.
Referencing the five day shutdown the film had to endure, Mark says “We were absolutely affected by COVID. But even through things like shutdowns, bad weather, and changes in the production schedule, we worked really hard to create an atmosphere where people loved being on set. We made it a point to treat people well, paid everyone right away, and provided them with good food. Since everything felt that it could change at a moment’s notice, Chris and I knew that it was in our best interest to excite people when they came to set.”
Mark and Chris got really good at both keeping the investors in the loop and communicating with every cast and crew member.
“The investors have to trust you. If they don’t trust you, then they’re not going to want to invest in your project,” Mark says.
“Filmmaking is all about problem solving,” Chris says. “There are things that you can see coming, and things you can’t. We knew when we began production that we were going to have to start shooting during COVID. That was a problem that we thought we could solve. The more things are thrown at you, the more you learn to adapt and move forward.”
“Is Anyone Out There?”
Production of the film took place between Cottontown and Carthage, and Lebanon, with Lebanon serving as a set for limited scenes.
These areas were selected for both their aesthetics and proximity to Nashville. Chris says, “We needed one nice cabin and one run-down cabin. The run-down cabin we found in Carthage. It was perfect! It was this old cabin on a hilltop—on stilts, mind you—that had a bunch of trees that had a bend to them. We found out later that those trees were bent by Native Americans centuries ago as saplings to become ‘marker trees.’ These trees would bend to point to resources, like water, shelter, or food. Over time, these trees would be cut in such a way that they would develop an ‘L-shape’ to them. The whole set felt like it was tailor made for our film.”
To Chris, the film’s cast—which includes James David West, Liz Atwater, Meg Barlowe, and Brendan Bald—are a sample of “the amazing local acting talent that’s still a hidden secret in Nashville.”
Mark says, “The actors are all based in Nashville. They came to us partly from recommendations by The 4th Wall Acting Studio, and the folks there were also kind enough to let us use their studio for casting calls and auditions. They’ve been incredible to work with.”
Both Chris and Mark share that the quality of acting talent available for Nashville productions has risen sharply. They attribute this directly to The 4th Wall Acting Studio.
“Any time you have multiple acting studios available in an area, you’re going to see a rise in acting talent. The problem we have is that many of these actors are getting good, and then leaving the area… There are a lot of people here in town that are studying acting, and they’re amazing! If it fits your production, find one of these actors. Make it a point to work with them. Because if they go on to do some really amazing things, then they’re going to have you to thank for their star rising,” Chris says.
Running Like Hell
Lake Hollow is currently in its post-production phase, with the film being edited, then proceeding to audio mixing, music scoring, and visual effects.
Chris says, “Something that every first time filmmaker should learn before going into production on their first film: The first edit of your film is going to be depressing. The first version of your edit is really just getting all of the clips in order. While you’re excited about the way it looks, it may not be what you’re expecting. It just takes massaging the thing together. And the difference between the first and second edit is miles in quality.”
By the time the film is fully edited, Penumbra will have spent over four months in post-production. Chris says that while the editing process is much slower than he imagined, he enjoys its payoff. He shares Mark’s opinion that editing is just as much work as the production process, albeit without the gear.
“The decisions are just as difficult,” Mark says. “It’s just a different kind of difficult.”
Penumbra has already scoped out potential film buyers. This was done when Mark and Chris went to California for the American Film Market (AFM) in November 2022. There they engaged eager distributors and sales agents, some of whom they had already engaged at AFM in 2019.
“Everyone we spoke to was interested in the film,” Chris says. “They all had different ideas on how best to market it. Once we get a finished film—or at least one that’s locked, and most of the way there—then we can start sharing it with those agents and distributors, and decide which route we want to take. For us, AFM was a great way to learn about film distribution.”
Looking past Lake Hollow, Penumbra has several other projects in various stages of development. These projects include some commercial video work that will be used to fund other film ideas.
“We’re hoping that we can roll from this film into the next one,” Chris says.