Kaukauna native Eric LarsonFirst short wins awards.
Larson, who has lived in New York for about a decade, recently completed his 15-minute short “Check the Locks: A Restless Folk Tale.” He won Best Picture at the August New York Film Awards and Best Lead Performance for Short Films at Nightmares Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio. He showed Thursday at the New York International Short Film Festival in Manhattan, the largest film festival on the east coast.
Larson came up with the idea for the film from his own experiences with anxiety and a habit he picked up during the COVID-19 pandemic: taking pictures of his stove before leaving the house to reassure himself that he didn’t accidentally leave it on.
“Check the Locks” tells the story of a woman with a similar habit – but with locked doors. After a recent nervous breakdown, the woman goes to a friend’s cabin in the woods in an attempt to unwind. She compulsively locks and relocks the cabin door, snapping a picture of the locked door with her phone to look at later to ease her anxiety. But in the night, the woman checks her phone and finds that her photographic evidence has changed.
“I like to describe it as half a good old-fashioned haunted house movie and half some kind of psychological reflection,” Larson said.
Larson and a small crew shot the film in September 2021 in upstate New York. He edited the film over the following months and had the rough cut done around December. Then Larson worked with a visual effects artist, found a composer to write the score, and did the rest of the post-production work. The film was finally finished in July.
Then Larson hit film festivals. The New York Film Awards, where “Check the Locks” won Best Picture in August, holds a monthly competition. Each month’s Best Picture winners then compete for a Best of Fest award, highlighting one of the best movies of the year. The Nightmares Film Festival showcases horror shorts and features from around the world, and the New York Shorts International Film Festival features over 340 shorts screened over seven days.
Beyond those festivals, Larson said “Check the Locks” will play at the Upstate New York Horror Film Festival this summer, as well as select online-only festivals. He said he also submitted the film to some festivals he didn’t expect to hear from for a few months.
“I didn’t really have a lot of expectations,” he said. “I was pretty green about the whole festival process, so I kind of submitted to festivals that looked interesting and festivals that were recommended to me by other directors.
“It’s been really rewarding and really cool to… not only win awards, which has been really exciting obviously, but it’s also fun to talk to people.”
Larson said he was able to network with other filmmakers and connect with people who had seen his film. He said he heard several people say they were also taking pictures of their stove to look at later to ease their anxieties.
Although Larson is relatively new to the film world, he said his love of movies grew during his childhood in Wisconsin.
“I think, like a lot of kids, I was just obsessed with movies,” he said. “My cousins had a farm outside of Kaukauna, and I spent a lot of time with them, like weekend sleepovers, just watching VHS tapes. The movies ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Batman Forever’ “for some reason were very formative for us.”
Larson graduated from Kaukauna High School in 2006. After that, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism. After college, he moved to New York for an internship at a media company Mashablewhere he worked as a screenwriter.
In this job, Larson sometimes worked with a small video team that created video packages for his stories. Their work interested him, and Larson began taking time off at night and on weekends to learn the basics of filmmaking. Eventually, he moved on to working on video-focused work for digital media companies, including News Feed. About four years ago he entered the world of advertising, where he worked as an art director.
“That’s what made me feel like I could actually do something on my own because over the last four years as an art director I’ve written and directed a lot of art direction for bigger commercials, and I spent a lot of time on set with those kind of bigger directors … and really absorbed everything they were doing,” he said.
Now Larson makes a living freelancing. But after the initial success of “Check the Locks,” he said he has more shorts in the works.
“I think I really caught the bug,” he said. “Making the movie…was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the most rewarding. I learned a bunch – like, there’s definitely a bunch of mistakes that I did a lot of things that I wish I had done differently, but now know how to do differently. I still have so much to learn, but it was really, really fun.