Keeping keen interest in preserving historical facts while blending his own supernatural vision is writer, producer, and director Deronte Smith, with his film, Prosper.
The rumored daughter of Sarah Good, the first witch to be tried and hung during the Salem Witch trials, lives and commands the spirit world at her fingertips. Irene, as she is known, must sacrifice the lives of a small group of youths every 30 years for preserving her own youthful appearance, powers, and prosperity. On this day, Irene sets the bait for Dalton, an unassuming young man looking for closure in his brother’s accidental death. She promises Dalton the allure of reconnecting with his deceased sibling while suggesting he bring his friends along for the show. Sam, Dalton’s closest friend, ignores the warning signs, tags along for the ride and finds herself the only person left alive after a night of gruesome events.
Initially released in 2014, Prosper has found fanfare in the industry and continues to do so now while streaming on Amazon Prime. Utilizing actual haunted locations, thoughtful research, and a longtime passion to become a storyteller, Deronte Smith and crew bring a solid entry into the witchy subgenre.
PopHorror: How did you begin your filmmaking journey? What inspired you to make movies?
Deronte Smith: My journey as a filmmaker began many years ago when I was around 10 years old, and my parents divorced. I was the son of a Pentecostal pastor and restricted from the typical things kids would do like play video games, outdoor sports, or just about anything fun. Divorce on me as a child was hard, so as a means of escape, I found myself creating imaginary worlds where different characters lived in my head.
Years later, I moved from a small town Kentucky to the bright city lights of Atlanta where I met a local filmmaker who introduced me to the wonderful world of moviemaking. I was enthralled with the idea that I could not only tell my story but control the creative vision throughout the process. And that’s what put everything into motion.
PopHorror: Did you always envision yourself making a horror film as your debut feature?
Deronte Smith: Honestly speaking, no. I had tried to make a couple of other films before Prosper. And each time, we would get so far along before something happened to derail the effort. It almost happened with Prosper, too. The difference is that I had been down the road so many times before that I put a foolproof contingency plan in place that would at least get us through production.
The thing is, I needed to make Prosper. It wasn’t just another low budget indie horror flick; it was a calling card to showcase what I could do. I knew it would anchor me as a serious filmmaker and open doors of opportunity, many of which I could have never foreseen.
PopHorror: Prosper involves some historical facts in its mix. Were you always adamant about keeping this aspect in the film? How did you conduct your research?
Deronte Smith: Interestingly enough, the facts in the movie grew the closer we got to production. I did a good amount of research as I wanted the movie to have as much historical truths as possible tied to the fictional elements. However, as faith would have it, the homeowner, George, of the principal shooting location, was deeply rooted in the subject matter. He offered to come aboard as a consultant and really helped to strengthen the narrative.
PopHorror: I read that your filming locations were, in fact, truly haunted. Was this a strategic move on your part to enhance the creepy atmosphere, or was it a mere coincidence?
Deronte Smith: One of the things I pay close attention to in watching genre movies are the sets. How does the environment influence the story? How do the characters move within the space and how does it affect them? Does a location build on the storyline? Is it true to the story?
These are all factors that I consider as a director that I believe affect viewers. So when my First AD, Sam [Green], and I sat down with our location scout, it was imperative to find a location that truly fit the dynamics of the script. Then Sam came back to me with this property that was rumored to be haunted and asked how I felt about it. I wanted to see it for myself. And after I did and speaking with the homeowners, I just knew this property found its way to us to be on display once more in my movie. Great job, Sam!
PopHorror: Deronte, you produced, wrote, and directed Prosper. What was it like to juggle all these roles while filming?
Deronte Smith: It was difficult. Prosper was my first feature. And while I had helped some friends produce their feature projects in the past, I also learned why they never finished their movies; there are just so many obstacles to get to the finish line. My advice would be to have a dedicated producer or producing team on set to handle as much of the incidentals as possible.
Of course, your line producer is going to do most of that, but they can only do so much. There will be so many more decisions that could be offloaded to a trusted partner who can help you deliver a quality project if you only think about it upfront and plan accordingly. Your time as a director is best spent communicating with your actors and DP. You only get one shot to get the performances that you need. The technical stuff must be delegated to the appropriate people.
PopHorror: What are you most proud of about Prosper?
Deronte Smith: I think I am most proud simply of what we accomplished. We finished our movie within a three-week shoot. We made a movie for peanuts but created a piece of art that has gone on to debut at the Cannes Film Festival, had a nationwide theatrical run, was chosen by Horror Society as one of the top 10 horror movies for 2014, and can now be seen on any set-top device around the world. That’s a lot for a little old country boy from Kentucky, wouldn’t you say?
PopHorror: If you could program a double feature at your local theater, what two films make your bill and why?
Deronte Smith: My double feature would be the original Friday the 13th and the latest installment; I think it’s the 30-year anniversary. I think that would be cool to see and experience with an older audience and the youth now who don’t know and relate to the origin story like my generation does.
We would like to thank Deronte for his time, and we hope you check out Prosper, which is available to stream on all major platforms.