Top Dead Center Films thrilled to find horror opportunities in Utah
Gary and Julie Auerbach want to scare up some production activity in Utah.
The Park City couple, who worked in the Hollywood film industry for more than 20 years, have started Top Dead Center Films, a producer of film and TV in the horror genre worldwide, said Julie.
The catch, she said, is all of the filming would take place in Utah.
“We didn’t want to be in L.A. and in that Hollywood system,” Julie said. “We want to work with that low-budget model so we can retain ownership and build a library.”
Low budgets don’t mean low production value, she said.
“Production value is important to us, and it always has been,” she said. “We are not going to do down, dirty and ugly. It’s about setting lens, setting the lights and telling good stories.”
The Auerbachs also want to keep costs down.
“Films in Hollywood (also) have a way of adding on a lot of extra costs,” Gary added. “This is why you see so many executive producers and film companies (in the credits) before the film starts. There are a lot of smart, talented people in Hollywood but too many cooks can ruin a good dinner.”
In addition, there is a “voracious demand” for low-cost, high-quality programming, Gary said.
“Streaming platforms and networks all need to compete in a quickly changing landscape,” he said.
The Auerbachs moved to Utah because they got tired of Los Angeles after living in Venice Beach for 20 years.
During that time, they worked on various projects, Julie said.
Gary created and produced the programs “Paranormal State,” “Singled Out,” “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County,” and the Peabody Award-winning documentary “Decade.”
Julie, a writer and producer from Utah, is known for her work on “Charmed,” “Birds of Prey” and “Nashville.”
“We bought a vacation home in Stagecoach Estates in 2005, and when we finally got so sick of L.A. we decided the time had come for us to get back to Utah,” she said.
Top Dead Center Films will also maintain offices in New York and Los Angeles and establish satellite hubs in Europe and South America, Gary said.
The company’s creative excutives include Bryan Sankus, previously of the Jackal Group, Paramount Pictures and Langley Park Pictures; Margaux Froley, author of young adult books, and David Miskin of the Miskin Group.
The admnistrative staff is rounded out with the Auerbach’s 16-year-old daughter, Lucia, who will be in charge of the Top Dead Center Film’s socila meida.
“The film business – or content business – is changing,” he said. “It is truly a global marketplace where we can now all enjoy programming from around the world.”
The Auerbachs believe there is an abundant pool of Utah talent they can draw from.
“(We’re) all about creating and selling great films and series, but it is also about creating a creative community in the place we all love to live in,” Gary said.
The company’s focus on horror and science fiction is directly related to the Auerbach’s past projects.
“When were in L.A. we worked on a lot of horror and paranormal TV series, which my husband loves,” Julie said. “I don’t like slasher films, but I love the psychological horror and paranormal; comedic horror. I like it when something funny gives you a little relief from the roller coaster.”
Top Dead Center is already working on one of six planned projects, Julie said.
“The first film we’re shooting is tentatively called ‘Stay Out of the Attic,’ and it’s about a group of ex-cons who work for a moving company that has given them a second chance at life,” she said.
The group lands a contract to move an old man out of a dilapidated house, and the job turns out to be a lot more than they expected, Julie said.
“The theme of the film is how much do you put up with before you fight back and take control,” she said.
Principal photography is planned to run two weeks, and after a week’s break, Top Dead film crews will start working on the next film, Julie said.
“We’re a production company first and want to build it into a ‘mini major,’” she said. “We are shooting three films before Christmas, and we’ll shoot three more during the first quarter of 2020.”
Top Dead Center also recently optioned a script by Tessa Williams, who has written episodes of “Riverdale.”
“She’s great, and her friend Maggie Burroughs, who she went to Yale with, will direct the project,” Julie said.
Most of the crew the Auerbachs will recruit will come from Utah.
“I know there is a lot of production going on with ‘Yellowstone’ and ‘High School Musical’ going on, and I know those projects bring in a lot of people from L.A. and other places,” Julie said. “We’ll do the opposite. The majority of our crews we work with be local, and we may pull in one or two people from other areas. There is a smaller pool of talent in Utah, but I think once we establish who we are and what we’re doing, people will want to work with us more and more.”
Gary said he looks forward to working in Utah.
“The question we asked was, ‘Is there another financial model that makes sense to create exciting films and keep the money flow right here in Utah,’ (and) I believe the answer is yes,” he said. “(We) went out and secured financing through independent means, which means we can be independent in choosing and delivering movies and series and also in how we produce them.”
Gary also said the process is a little more involved than that.
“It will take a little time and hard work to create an efficient engine, but imagine how great it will be to look out the window of your office see the amazing landscape while also being free to tell a great story the whole world can enjoy,” he said. “I am excited about the future and truly happy to be growing Top Dead Center Films here in Utah.”
For information, visit topdeadcenterfilms.com.
“The Persian Version,” A feature film based on Maryam Keshavarz’s Iranian-American family, and “Kokomo City, a film that presents the stories following four Black transgender sex workers, were the darlings of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival awards ceremony Friday morning.
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