Interview with Austin Bunn on 'In the Hollow' short-film premiere

By: Lindsey White,  Department of Performing and Media Arts
October 6, 2016

"In May 1988, girlfriends Claudia Brenner and Rebecca Wight were attacked while hiking the Appalachian Trail by a ‘mountain man’ named Stephen Roy Carr. Combining documentary and narrative material, In the Hollow tells the story of the shooting, Wight’s death, and Brenner’s desperate survival (and later transformation into an advocate for hate crime legislation in the U.S.) as she returns to the trail for the first time since the shooting." (source:

Written, edited, and directed by PMA assistant professor Austin Bunn, In the Hollow premieres on on October 10, 2016. In the Hollow was funded by Cornell Council for the Arts, Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation, The Zwickler Memorial Fund, The Department of Performing and Media Arts, Cornell's Feminist Gender & Sexuality Studies, and LGBT Studies Departments, and produced with the assistance of The Center for Independent Documentary. Among the film's major festival screenings and awards are Best Short Film, InsideOut (Toronto); Audience Prize, Best Short Documentary, NewFest (NYC); Jury Prize, Best Short Doc, USN/Expo (Italy); Audience Award, Best Short Doc, MiFlo LGBT Film Festival (Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL); Jury Prize, Best Short Doc, OutonFilm (Atlanta).


What inspired the film?

After a screening of another short documentary I'd made, Claudia Brenner approached me to see if I'd be interested in collaborating to tell her story on film. She'd been asked by producers many times but had always turned them down. I knew the vague outlines of the story from growing up in New Jersey, when, as Boy Scouts, we were told the Appalachian Trail was dangerous because of this very murder. I've long been interested in forms of non-fiction storytelling, and this incredibly gripping story seemed a natural fit for the short film format.


What were you personally looking to achieve with the film?

I knew most what I didn't want to make: a cheesy, exploitative dramatization. We've all seen these versions on basic cable, or flashback sequences in crime drama. My goal was to "conjure" up the past by emphasizing a genuine relationship between Claudia and Rebecca -- so they weren't simply victims -- and then collaborate with my terrific director of photography Spencer Gillis to make the past look as immersive and beatific as possible. We had documentary footage of Claudia hiking the trail, and more traditional narrative scenes with actors. I had no idea how they would go together -- but editing it myself dropped that challenge right into my own lap. Thankfully, my producing partner (and partner in life) Bob Hazen was willing to teach me this screenwriter Premiere.


How was the film made?

We shot on Canon C300 in Michaux State Forest, in Pennsylvania -- all outdoor locations, natural light. The C300 was a recommendation of Spencer's, who having worked on a lot of reality television as a camera person, knew how versatile and dynamic the camera could be. We filmed Claudia's hike on a Saturday, and the "conjurings" Monday through Thursday. The crew was lean -- three on camera, two interns, my partner Bob as a production manager, and my sister doing craft services. We slept in cabins on the trail to save money. No cell phone coverage out there, either.


What are you working on now?

I'm finishing up work on another short film I'm excited about, directed by Sorrel Brae (another Short of the Week selection!) -- this time a proof of concept for a feature. I'm also penning a feature script for Participant at the moment, an adaptation of a short story, and feeling very lucky to be working for them.


Watch In the Hollow on starting October 10, 2016.

In the Hollow