Writer C. Michael Whaley said the creative process sometimes starts with a general theme instead of any particular mood | Photo by Ruta Smith

The awkward silence in a car driving down a lonely back road. A lonely man driving himself mad. One can find themes of loneliness, regret and deception in these disparate scenes from C. Michael Whaley’s latest short films, On the Road Again and Ghost Note.

But it’s not as if Whaley starts with a particular mood in mind when he creates.

“I really think it depends on the film. Sometimes you for sure have themes you want to talk about when you go in, and during the writing process,” he told the City Paper. “For an example with Ghost Note: It was written by my good friend Russell Halvorson. His original idea was just about someone being sacrificed. After I read it, I got the idea that he was making a sacrifice for something/someone. And turned it into a film about loss.”

While Ghost Note was born from something profound, On the Road Again came from a distinctly more straightforward place.

“The inspiration was really about wanting to see one of my best friends be a bad guy,” Whaley said. “He’s so damn likable. Just wanted to see him in a different light. Then came up with the premise from there.”

Ghost Note follows a young man, played by Halvorson, who makes a grim sacrifice to connect to a spectral being that means the world to him. The weight of the decision haunts him. On the Road Again, starring Maximillian Koger and City Paper contributing arts editor Michael Smallwood, concerns a couple out on a drive who get into an accident with an entirely unexpected figure.

Both shorts required only one or two locations. From the outside, making a movie set in minimal locations should be a pretty smooth shoot, but every film has its obstacles. “You’re not making a movie if there are no hurdles,” said Whaley. “Something will always come up. On Ghost Note, we had a location with no power and strangers visiting the set to see what we were doing. And On the Road Again, we had the cops called on us because someone thought some kids were playing on the street we were filming on. That causes production to stop until it can be sorted.”

The Charleston filmmaker’s works have been making the rounds at film festivals this year. Recently, both were showcased at the GenreBlast Film Festival in Virginia. The festival is one of Whaley’s favorites. “They really know how to support their filmmakers. It’s also really cool to see your hard work on a large movie screen.” 

On the Road Again was an official selection at the Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival earlier this year, and has also racked up selections from Wreak Havoc Horror Film Fest, the Dickens Horror Film Fest and the Southern Horror Film Fest. Ghost Note also played at the Sin City Horror Fest as well as the Houston Horror Film Fest. His previous short film Lake Moultrie Massacre is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

While directing is his favorite part of the filmmaking process, with writing coming in at a very close second, Whaley said he didn’t start out in the local film community with directing exclusively in mind. 

“I think I directed by default at first. I actually started behind the camera on some small unseen shorts. Then people kept asking me to act in things. Had never even considered it. But I decided to take it seriously and took some classes.”

Whaley, a fixture in the local film community for over a decade, has noticed the changes. “It has definitely grown. And I think for the better. We have a ton of talented folks here. The only thing I think should change is that there still seems to be cliques of people and not everyone works with each other. I kind of wish there was more local collaboration. Maybe even more local events to bring filmmakers together.”