Interview with Phoenix Forgotten Director Justin Barber


Movie Cover for Phoenix Forgotten

Phoenix Forgotten: 20 years after three teenagers disappeared in the wake of mysterious lights appearing above Phoenix, Arizona, unseen footage from that night has been discovered, chronicling the final hours of their fateful expedition.

Genres: Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction

Starring:  Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez

Release Date: April 21st, 2017

Runtime: 80 minutes

Recently I had a chance to prescreen Phoenix Forgotten and then talk with the director, Justin Barber, about his experiences making the film. He gave some interesting answers, and I enjoyed getting to know a bit of the behind the scenes details. I hope you enjoy it as well!

Interview with Phoenix Forgotten Director Justin Barber

Sci- Fi & Scary (S&S): I noticed that T.S. Nowlin has a Thanks credit listed for Medicine for Melancholy, a film that you produced. Now, the two of you share writing credit for Phoenix Forgotten. How did you come together for this film?

Justin Barber (JB):TS and I were in the same film school class at Florida State, along with Barry Jenkins who directed Medicine for Melancholy (and later, the Oscar-winner Moonlight).  At the time, I had put all the money I had into the production of that movie, and was living on TS’s couch in Los Angeles.Around that time, my day-job was as a graphics and VFX artist working with Wes Ball, a producer on Phoenix Forgotten, and another FSU alum.  We all just ended up hanging out a lot, seeing movies together, talking about the things we wanted to make, and this project grew organically out of those experiences.

Around that time, my day-job was as a graphics and VFX artist working with Wes Ball, a producer on Phoenix Forgotten, and another FSU alum.  We all just ended up hanging out a lot, seeing movies together, talking about the things we wanted to make, and this project grew organically out of those experiences.


S&S: You have mostly Producer credits to your name, bar directing the short Leaving Baghdad (which you also had writing credit on). What was it like moving from producer to directing a full-length film in Phoenix Forgotten?

JB: As a producer on small movies I had to be very focused on the logistics of the shoot, the realities of the production, and that eventually boxes in the creative ideas in the show.  It was hard at first to let go of that and just focus on imagining the best sand castle I could, irrespective of the sandbox I was playing in.

Ultimately being a director is more fun but I have this lady on my crew Aggie who is my costume designer – she has been around, did costumes back in the day for big movies like Beetlejuice and The Color Purple – she says producers always have the best wives so take that as you will.

S&S: Why did you make the switch from producer to director? Do you think you’ll swing back and forth or is this the direction you permanently want to head in?

JB: I just want to work with talented people, and help them get their visions made.  Yes, I have my own stories to tell, but if I could help the next Barry Jenkins get his/her work out there – that’s important to me.  And ultimately all directors end up producing on their own shows somehow.  Orsen Wells not only directed and starred in Citizen Kane, he also produced – crazy!


S&S: Did you learn anything unexpected from your feature-length debut?

JB: I learned a lot about the desert, about how to search for missing kids, but specifically regarding the craft of filmmaking this was a lesson is seeing the forest for the trees.  Before making this movie I had directed a lot of commercials, and in that field you become hyper-focused on details – handfuls of individual frames.  But the director on a feature needs to be able to sit back and keep the overall experience for the audience in his mind.


S&S: Given that you have a bit of Star Trek on your CV, and the subject of Phoenix Forgotten, one must ask… Do you truly believe in the existence of aliens?

JB: I haven’t seen enough hard evidence to hang a belief on.  To quote X-Files, I WANT to believe they’re out there, but I’m waiting to be convinced.

I enjoy reading about the Drake Equation and the movie Contact hits on it – the idea that the universe is so big and so old and we know there must be X amount of habitable worlds out there…  But on the other hand, there are the issues in the Fermi Paradox – if that’s the case ‘Where are they?’ as Fermi himself said.  Did they all blow themselves up with nuclear weapons before they could call us?A lot of people say that aliens have visited them, but with how little we understand the human mind it could be just as likely these people are having some sort of collective psychological experience, or are just crazy.  At the end of the day, the photographic evidence doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny IMHO.

A lot of people say that aliens have visited them, but with how little we understand the human mind it could be just as likely these people are having some sort of collective psychological experience, or are just crazy.  At the end of the day, the photographic evidence doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny IMHO.


S&S: Was it intimidating, helpful (or both) having Sir Ridley Scott attached to the film as producer?

JB:  It’s only intimidating when you throw his knighthood around like that.  Otherwise, he’s a really lovely, insightful man.  He wasn’t on set day-to-day, but he did offer his advice and the producers at Scott Free were very supportive.  Myself, the cast and crew, we were all just motivated to make something that was of the quality of his own work.  We were all really driven to make something that he would like and sign off on.


S&S:  How long did Phoenix Forgotten take to film from pre-production to finished film?

JB: We shot and edited the movie together over time.  We started shooting in December 2015.  We shot for about four weeks, then we worked on a rough-cut.  Once we had that, we shot for one more week, filling in some holes, and then at that point we had a cut that we all felt could work and moved towards finishing the movie.  We shot a day or two here and there after that, getting odds and ends and VFX plates, and really only put the finishing touches on the movie a few weeks ago.


S&S: Phoenix Forgotten has a strong found footage element.  Many people feel that this particular style has hit its saturation point. Do you think this will work against you with Phoenix Forgotten’s general reception?

JB: That was definitely something we were mindful of, but the found footage device works particularly well for this story, for these characters.  It’s about a kid who films a UFO sighting, and then catches the bug – he sets out to investigate what it was and film it again.  So the camera is a part of the quest here in a way it wouldn’t be in a movie about time travel or something else.  It’s particularly suited for this story.

And then also the first half of the movie is more in the style of a cinematic documentary, like Making of a Murderer, or any Errol Morris or Werner Herzog film.  So it’s not shaky-cam from start to finish, it’s a mix of styles that’s justified by the story.


S&S: Many of your credits on IMDB are documentary associated, even if you weren’t attached as producer or director. What draws you to working on these types of films?

JB: When I was in high school I wanted to be a journalist.  I just gravitated towards writing and graphic design, I liked getting out into the world and discovering things.  And then the first Matrix came out, and that pointed me towards Hollywood from then on.  But even when it comes to fiction I have a journalistic approach, I do a lot of research and I find real-world models for fictional characters.  Not sure why that’s the case, it’s just my process.  As they say, truth can be stranger than fiction.


S&S: Do you think you’ll work with any of the crew members (be they cast or otherwise) in the future?

JB:  I was very blessed to have such a talented bunch of weirdos forming my cast.  Truly, they brought so much to the movie in terms of creativity and hard work.  If enough of your readers see the movie, I would be happy to make a sequel and continue their story! I was very blessed to have such a talented bunch of weirdos forming my cast.  Truly, they brought so much to the movie in terms of creativity and hard work.  If enough of your readers see the movie, I would be happy to make a sequel and continue their story!


S&S: What excites you about Phoenix Forgotten?

JB: In a lot of ways it’s auto-biographical.  I was into all this UFO shit when I was Josh’s age, and if I had filmed a UFO myself, and my footage appeared on the news, I would be as excited as he is in the movie, and would have pursued the lights in the same way he does.  What these three kids experience is exciting, and I hope the audience shares that!


S&S:  Do you have any projects in the hopper now?

JB: None that are far enough along to discuss, unfortunately.  BUT I hope you’ll hear from me again soon!

Indie Zone: Talking with Nick Sullivan

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NICK SULLIVAN has worked extensively on Broadway and at many theaters throughout the U.S.  His television credits include The Good Wife, The Affair, Madame Secretary, Boardwalk Empire, 30 Rock, Elementary, BrainDead, Alpha House, Royal Pains, All My Children, Reading Rainbow, and all three Law and Order series.  Film credits include Our Idiot Brother, Prison Song, and Puccini for Beginners.  Nick has recorded over four hundred audiobooks, is an Audie winner, and has received numerous AudioFile Earphones Awards. Find him on:

I recently had a chance to talk with Nick Sullivan, author of Zombie Bigfoot, about his work as an audiobook narrator. Nick has narrated a lot of titles and was able to give us some fantastic answers to our questions. Haven’t you ever wanted to ask a narrator about how they got into it, what goes into it, and how it all just…works? So did we. So read on.


Interview with Nick Sullivan


S&S: You have done a ton of audio books!  How many have you done? Did you do any pre-Audible? (It’s hard to imagine a time where there were audio books before Audible!) How many do you do per year on average?

Nick Sullivan (NS): I’ve been around quite a bit longer than Audible and including old pre-digital titles and a bunch I recorded for the Library of Congress, I’ve narrated over four hundred titles. I work in film, television, and theater too, so it varies year to year.  This year it’s been a couple a month.

S&S: You narrated your own book, Zombie Bigfoot, fairly recently. How did narrating your own compare to narrating other people’s work?

NS: Well, for one thing, anytime I thought a sentence was clunky when spoken aloud, I got to change it! I had planned all along not to finalize the book until I recorded it so I’d have a chance to make any final changes that hit me during the performance.  I was also able to sculpt characters that I knew I could voice well.  Although the Afrikaner character was a beast; I’ve never used that accent before but I’ve always wanted to.  I had to seek out a South African buddy of mine to give me some pointers.

S&S: What has been the most challenging book you’ve ever narrated?

NS: That would be “JR” by William Gaddis. I’d call it the “Ulysses” of American literature.  The book is 97% unattributed dialogue.  No “he said/she said”.  I had to piece each scene together, figuring out which character was speaking by context or by mannerisms of speech.  For a pretty cool review from a Gaddis fan check out:

S&S: About how many hours do you put in per, let’s say, one hundred pages of narrating?

NS: You really have to go by words, since every book’s pages are different. A 300-page book with typeset similar to “Zombie Bigfoot” would be about 70,000 words… and that’s about an eight-hour book.  So, figure 100 pages is about 2 hours forty minutes.  To record, that will take me about four hours at home, a little less if I have an engineer.  If I’m really rolling with a well-written book in an engineered studio I can do about 45 finished minutes every hour my butt is in the chair.  But, that doesn’t take preparation into consideration.  If it’s a dense book with a lot of foreign language content and pronunciations to look up those 100 pages might take a few hours to prep… if it’s simple fiction in a long-running series where I already know a lot of the characters, it might take only a half hour to prep.

S&S: Where do you do your narrations at? (Home studio, etc.)

NS: I’ve been narrating since about 1994 and I started using a home studio in 2009. For a while it was about fifty/fifty but now I record most books at home.  This year I’ve done 5 or 6 at home and one out at Audible with another one scheduled for next month.

S&S: What’s the biggest compliment you’ve ever been paid in regards to your narrating skills?

NS: I’ve had several authors I do series for tell me they “hear” me when they write now. LOL, at least I HOPE that’s a compliment.  Maybe they’re clawing at their scalps, screaming “Get out of my head!!”

S&S: From the layout on Audible, it would appear you tend to narrate more mystery/thrillers and sci-fi/fantasy. Which one is your favorite genre?

NS: It’s not a dodge for me to say I really do enjoy recording across many genres. If I only did a couple I’d lose my mind.  Different companies tend to hire me for different genres and I kinda love that.

S&S: How much choice do you have over what books you narrate?

NS: I can bid for what I want to record on ACX but I haven’t done that in a long time. I tend to take what I’m offered, though sometimes I’ll call up a company that’s just given me a book and say, “Do you know this book is first person and the protagonist is British?” (or, in one case I remember, female) In this case, they’ll take it away from me and maybe assign me another.

S&S: Has there ever been a scene you’ve been uncomfortable narrating?

NS: On the funny end of that question, vividly depicted sex scenes.  On the more sober end of that question, hospital scenes where a parent is dying.

S&S: What determines your pay for a book? Hours? Pages? Etc.

NS: All union actors work on a per-finished-hour rate. If you do a ten-hour book you just multiply the rate by ten, easy peasy.  SAG-AFTRA has different rates with different companies but usually, they are pretty comparable.

S&S: How did you get into narrating?

NS: My father used to record for the blind, and when I was young I was obsessed with Dick Estell’s “Radio Reader” program on our local NPR radio station and in my college and summer stock years I listened to them every time I drove long distance. When I was beginning to work professionally in New York an opportunity to record for Talking Books kind of fell into my lap; I was shooting a small budget movie and the actress playing my wife recorded for them. Shortly after that, I began recording for Chivers… which became BBC Audio… which became AudioGO… which was bought by Blackstone.

S&S: If you could have your pick of any novels out there to narrate, which ones would it be?

NS: Wow, is it Christmas? Hmm… I’d say the “Game of Thrones” books but I’d ALSO have to magically become a Brit… you really need a native-born UK narrator for that.  Oh, I know!  “Confederacy of Dunces”!  Actually, I’ve recorded John Kennedy Toole’s first novella, “The Neon Bible” and a non-fiction book about Toole.  As close as I could get!  Oh, shucks, just thought of another: “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss.

S&S: What kind of training did you do for your job?

NS: When I first auditioned for Talking Books I had a lot of voice, speech, and accent training from various schools and classes but no actual audiobook training, apart from listening to them. Of course, it took a long time to learn all the tricks: how to prep a book and do research, how to record for long periods with proper mic distance, how to breathe just a teeny bit without making a sound so you can get through a long sentence.  And for home studio you have to learn a whole new skill set.  I can take a tiny mouth click out of the middle of a word… I don’t HAVE to do that for most companies, but it’s kinda cool.

S&S: Is there anything about your job that the average person would be shocked to know?

NS: That it’s exhausting. Fun, but exhausting.

S&S: Do you listen to audiobooks during your spare time?  Do you have any favorite narrators?

NS: I drive long distances to visit family and to travel to theater gigs;  I listen to an audiobook every time.  Some of my favorite narrators are Katy Kellgren, Dion Graham, George Guidall, Chris Sorensen, and Barbara Rosenblatt

Zombie Bigfoot by Nick Sullivan

Bigfoot is real.

That’s what Sarah’s father told her before his academic disgrace and untimely death.

Now, primatologist Dr. Sarah Bishop is eager to restore her father’s good name. Survival show host Russ Cloud is just as eager to boost his plummeting ratings. They’ll both have a shot at redemption when they find themselves hired by eccentric billionaire Cameron Carson. After a series of his publicity stunts end in spectacular failure, Carson has a plan to redeem his tarnished image: capture a live Sasquatch.

Sarah and Russ join an expedition with an eclectic crew: an Afrikaner safari hunter, a ‘roided out former wrestling star, a Shoshone master tracker full of surprises, a heavily tattooed Russian warrior woman, a pair of wise-cracking nerds, and a cute gum-chewing intern with some hidden skills. Will they find Bigfoot?

There’s something in the woods… but it’s not what they’re expecting. – Goodreads

Zombie Bigfoot received a 4 Coolthulhu Rating from Sci-Fi & Scary. You can see our review of the book here


Purchase Zombie Bigfoot now on Amazon.

Indie Zone: Talking with Jason Parent

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Photo of Jason ParentJason Parent is an author gaining notice for his horror work in recent years. Seeing Evil and Wrathbone and other Stories are the most popular of his works. Wrathbone comes with a highly complimentary (and amusing) introduction by horror author Kealan Patrick Burke. We’ve reviewed both of these works on Sci-Fi & Scary and rated them highly. When we were approached for Jason’s latest work, we definitely wanted to be involved in some way.  So, we sat down recently for an interview with him, and we had some big questions about People of the Sun, his latest work. (Including but not limited to: You wrote a sci-fi novel?!)


This interview with Jason Parent is part of the People of the Sun book tour hosted by Erin Al-Mehairi from Hook of a Book.

Talking with Jason Parent

S&S: Your latest work, People of the Sun, is what you’ve described as a ‘soft sci-fi’. Obviously, this is a big departure from your previously published works. What reaction did you get from your publishing company when you approached them with the idea?

Jason Parent (JP):  People of the Sun is predominantly science fiction, but when I say “soft sci-fi,” I mean it’s a lot closer to “X-Men” than it is to “The Martian.” So it’s got fantasy and superhero tropes, but like all my stuff, it’s dark enough to appeal to my horror fans. I often wonder if I drive them crazy with my genre mixing and switching, but I can’t help it. I just write the stories I want to write.

And that applies to my publishers, too. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people who’ve shown nothing but support for the stories I want to write. Matt and Travis over at Sinister Grin brought me in for this novel, and we’ll be teaming up again for a traditional horror novel later in the year. Red Adept is home to another great team and my thrillers, with Seeing Evil and two more books already underway. Comet published Wrathbone, my horror short story collection, and I hope to be teaming up with Randy and Cheryl over there again soon for something… a little more aggressive. I have one or two other projects in the works and another novel I’m marketing, but I am grateful for each publisher who has taken a chance on my work and asked for more.


S&S: Did you draw inspiration for People of the Sun from the song “Children of the Sun” by Billy Thorpe?

JP:Besides the literal meaning behind it (and my titles have literal and figurative meanings—What Hides Within, Seeing Evil, Wrathbone, Unseemly), the title might have been intended to invoke Thorpe and his imaginative space opera, or maybe the hard-hitting, head-banging aggression of Rage Against the Machine, or maybe even the Yavapai (which means “people of the sun”),a Native American tribe with a fierce warrior heritage, captivating creation stories, and a penchant for living in places that are hotter than hell.

Or, maybe I just liked the name.


S&S: You’ve likened People of the Sun to I Am Number Four (but for adults).  Is this simply because of the general theme, or will people who have read the books recognize specific influences?

JP: People of the Sun is not thematically similar to the Pittacus Lore series. The similarities are on the surface: aliens with extraordinary powers thrust into a battle not of their own making. Action ensues, minus the teenage romance.


S&S: What was the most difficult part of writing People of the Sun?

JP: Creating life. Like creating a new monster for a horror novel or a mythical beast for one’s next fantasy series, building up an alien culture from scratch takes a certain kind of imagination inherent in all who appreciate speculative fiction in all its mediums. You want to make something that is entertaining and unique and avoid putting to page the next Jar Jar Binks.


S&S: Including stories that have appeared in anthologies, you now have nineteen distinct works under your belt (at least according to Goodreads). Do you think you’ve changed as a writer in that time?

JP:  Hopefully, I keep putting out better and better work. I’m trying different things, learning from my mistakes and my successes. I’d consider myself fortunate as long as I am to keep writing, so long as there are people out there who want to read it.


S&S: How long does it take you to get from idea conception to finished draft for a novella+ length work?

JP: Novellas are a good length for me. It’s always around the novella mark when I put a novel down and start working on other things. So, I could probably do the first draft of a novella in a couple months. I think I have novel first draft down to about a year, with one exception I cranked out for a competition (and soon to be another one for a deadline I have).

S&S: Do you intend on revisiting any of the stories you’ve put in anthologies and seeing if you can flesh them out into full books?

JP: A friend of mine has proposed I do so with Peter and Dervish in Unseemly, but the story idea for that isn’t jumping at me yet. Wrathbone doesn’t really allow itself for further treatment, but I’d love to do a highly researched historical horror again along the same vein. The most likely novella to get further treatment would be my 17th century Bavaria werewolf, tale, Where Wolves Run, though I am partial to my main character in “Dia de los Muertos.”


S&S: What’s your favorite horror or sci-fi film released in the last twelve months?

JP: “Get Out” was good, with powerful themes but a predictable plot. Though not films, I found “Black Mirror” to easily be one of the best shows on television, ever, period. I’m more excited about “Life” and the new film in the alien franchise. When done right, space horror always appeals to me. Movies like “Alien,” “Aliens,” “Pandorum” and “Event Horizon” are some of my favorites. I’m also looking forward to “It.”


S&S: Do you plan on doing more with science fiction? Will People of the Sun’s reception weigh in on that?

JP: I’ve already written a sci-fi/horror novel, so yes, science fiction will be part of what I write going forward regardless of reception. Like I said, I write the stories I want to write. People of the Sun’s reception, however, may affect whether it gets a sequel one day and if so, how soon. I write all my books to be stand-alones, but even with all the death in my books, I generally leave some way to continue the story if I ever want to return to it.

S&S: Got anything in the works that you can tell us about now?

JP: Lots. My next crime thriller, set in Fall River like Seeing Evil but at the turn of the millennium and unrelated, will be out in May from Red Adept Publishing. After that, I should have a couple of short stories mid-to-late year and another novel from Sinister Grin at the end of the year or early next year. Beyond that, I will have the sequel to Seeing Evil and another surprise I can’t really announce yet but that will take me back to my roots.

People of the Sun Synopsis: All life comes from the sun. Sometimes, death comes with it.

Filled with hope and compelled by fear, four would-be heroes are driven from their home planet in a desperate bid to save their civilization from extinction. But survival takes on a whole new meaning when a malfunction sends their ship plummeting toward Earth.

Surviving the crash is only the first obstacle on their path to salvation. The marooned aliens soon discover that Earth’s beautiful exterior masks an ugly foundation, a place inhabited by a warrior race that’s on a path toward self-destruction.

Brimming with action and intrigue, People of the Sun is sure to entice fans of dark fantasy and sci-fi thrillers such as Watchmen and I Am Number Four. 


Praise for People of the Sun

“Jason Parent has penned a thought-provoking, gripping scifi thriller. This isn’t your grandma’s alien invasion. My own world stopped the moment I stepped into People of the Sun. Lovers of science fiction, horror and even super heroes will revel in this roller-coaster of a tale. A true must-read!” -Hunter Shea, author of We Are Always Watching and The Jersey Devil

“With his own indelible blend of tension and dark humor, Jason Parent’s latest page-turner reminds me of what you’d get if you crossed Isaac Asimov with Kurt Vonnegut. In addition to being fast-paced and wildly entertaining, Parent’s novel also offers the occasional flash of insight into the human (and not-so-human) condition, and displays Parent’s talent for turning a given genre on its head.”
-Michael Meyerhofer, author of The Dragonkin Trilogy

Purchase: Amazon | Available on other online retailers as well such as Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc.

  • I love Audible. Tons of books, fantastic narrators, good prices.