Red Sunset Drive
Flix Brewhouse, Des Moines — Saturday, Oct. 12 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The film Red Sunset Drive, a paranormal thriller based on the novel by Jan Walters of Indianola, will make its debut just in time for the Halloween season at Flix Brewhouse in Des Moines on Oct. 12.
Walters is the author of the novels Believe, York Street and Red Sunset Drive. The latter two novels are part of her A Ghost and A Cop series. Her upcoming novel, Tempest Court, will be the third book of the series, and she has already started work on the fourth installment.
The series follows Des Moines police officer Brett O’Shea, who aspires to the rank of detective, as he investigates local crimes linked to paranormal phenomena with the help of Al, the ghost of his great-grandfather. Each novel is set in Des Moines and named after a street in the city.
Inspiration for the series was drawn from Walters’ family history, with four generations of men serving the Des Moines Police Department since the late 1800s. That includes her son, an officer with the DMPD, who she describes as “kind of a laid-back, jokester-type of guy,” and her great-grandfather John Brophy, who served as chief of detectives in the 1940s, who she called “very stern” and “with one look could freeze you in the spot you were in.”
“I wondered to myself,” Walters said, “if my grandfather ever came back as a ghost and had to work with my son, what would the barriers be, what would the conflict be between those two characters.”
That premise soon mushroomed into the A Ghost and A Cop series.
“When you start thinking about paranormal entities and vampires, people typically think of New Orleans or the deep South,” Walters said. “I grew up in Des Moines. I love Iowa. You just don’t think of paranormal monsters roaming the streets in Des Moines. So I thought, why can’t we have paranormal creatures roaming Iowa?”
In Red Sunset Drive, underground tunnels are discovered during a construction project near the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, along with ancient relics. An archaeological dig uncovers a cave with two tombs inside. Brett O’Shea, now a detective, then investigates strange series of murders in the city rumored to be linked to vampires, once again with his ghostly partner.
“O’Shea can’t figure out why these paranormal entities keep coming to Des Moines,” Walters said. “Throughout the series, the reader will discover that Brett is more than just a detective and has some unique abilities that will manifest as the books move on.”
Walters contacted Iowa filmmaker Thor Moreno to produce a book trailer for the first novel in the series, York Street. Moreno is a director, screenwriter, director of photography and editor of feature films, music videos and TV shows.
Moreno, a Des Moines native currently residing in Los Angeles, has earned a reputation as a risk-taking auteur with a knack for spinning tales of tortured characters inhabiting dark worlds, which is evident in his films Iowa (2012), Revenge: A Love Story (2014) and Sometimes Salvation (2015) among other titles.
Impressed with Moreno’s work on the book trailer, she contacted him again to do another one for Red Sunset Drive. During their second collaboration together, discussions started about the possibility of turning the story into a TV series.
“We started exploring the option of a four-to-six part series and how to do that,” Moreno said. “We started talking about shooting the pilot, and we did shoot a pilot. I think it got enough attention that she wanted to expand it even further and that’s where we are today.”
Walters imagined the possibility of the story translating into other mediums such as film or television, a hope that many authors posses but the reality of that coming into fruition often eludes them.
“In my wildest dreams I never thought about being able to create a big screen version of the project,” Walters said. “I think every author’s dream is to see their book up on the big screen, have it come to life, and have people enjoy their characters and plot as they envision it.”
Walters adapted the teleplay (which eventually became a screenplay) for Red Sunset Drive from her novel.
“I took the initial writing attempt at it, so I pretty much followed the book from start to finish,” Walters said. “I turned the script over to Thor. He modified it, cleaned it up and added some unique touches that Thor always adds to make sure we have lots of action and everything.”
They sent the script to some Hollywood screenwriters to offer their advice to help tighten it up. Moreno said the script for Red Sunset Drive, like any script, is “a living, breathing thing that changes every day” and is subject to change even when the cameras are rolling.
The process of adapting the novel for a visual medium was an eye-opening experience for Walters. She realized that in order to move the story along on the big screen, she and Moreno had to “make deviations from the book.”
“I had to step back and think about that,” Walters said. “Then I realized this was going to be a better product in the end. Authors need to realize they can’t always stay with the book version verbatim.”
The original pilot for the proposed TV series of Red Sunset Drive premiered at the iconic Des Moines landmark the Varsity Theatre (which has since closed) on Dec. 9, 2018. It was part of a double bill with Burn, another pilot created and directed by Moreno.
The premiere was attended by Walters and Moreno with special guest Mark Borchardt, a filmmaker and actor who was the subject of the 1999 documentary American Movie. That evening was the first time either of them had watched the final cut of the pilot with an audience.
“When we saw the pilot for Red Sunset, we got a lot of great feedback, so we knew we had something really cool,” Moreno said. “My idea was make it dark like [the 1995 film] Seven with a supernatural twist.”
Even with the positive response from the audience, Moreno said he and Walters didn’t feel like they had all the pieces in pieces in place. For the re-shoot of the pilot, there were some casting changes.
Moreno referenced the infamous filming of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now to illustrate how this is a common practice in the world of filmmaking.
“What you want to do is put your best foot forward,” Moreno said. “Sometimes when you’re working on projects, you realize you may not have the best person in place for the role. Those issues need to be remedied.”
Filming for the revamped Red Sunset Drive, which was shot entirely on location in Iowa with mostly Iowa actors, commenced in late July. The pilot was re-shot with new scenes to strengthen the story and characters.
The DMPD supported the project early on, allowing the cast and crew to film scenes in front of the station. To help with authenticity, they made sure there were real squad cars parked to be included in the necessary shots.
“They’re just very good to work with,” Walters said.
After filming wrapped in August, Walters and Moreno decided the footage was more suitable for a feature-length film instead of a series.
“Based on the material and the length of the book itself, it was going to be pretty difficult to stay true to the material without adding a bunch of new stuff that she hadn’t written in keeping it a series,” Moreno said. “With only three books, we realized we needed to make it a film.”
The distribution company releasing Red Sunset Drive is also releasing Moreno’s film Unhuman Nature, a horror film with murder mystery and supernatural elements filmed in the Redwoods of northern California, for international distribution.
In their interviews with Little Village, Walters and Moreno reflected fondly on the experience of bringing the story to life, from the initial talks to filming, and look forward to sharing their vision with audiences.
“I discovered this last year there are so many talented and gifted Iowa actors, directors, producers,” Walters said. “We don’t hear about them, we don’t read about them, and they create so much good work. I would like to see the Iowa film industry supported more, so more people can see what’s being done locally.”
The film will be available on streaming services in the future but may not happen until early next year, according to Moreno.
For more information and updates, visit Walter’s author page on Facebook.