Lafayette’s Brooke Cellars transforms real-life horror into spooky cinema

Woman with red hair and glasses directs actors on a film set
Cellars found inspiration for The Cramps through her experience with endometriosis Photo by Robin May

Before the streaming era, movie nights took a bit of leg work. Preparation involved running down to the rental store, finding a selection everyone could agree on and remembering to “be kind and rewind.”   

It was a time of blockbuster comedies, over-the-top action movies and campy horror flicks. For Youngsville-based filmmaker Brooke H. Cellars, movie nights meant something more. Growing up, she was captivated by movies like The Lost Boys and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

Horror movies were her friends. She developed a deep connection with all things spooky that continues to serve as a source of inspiration. Her latest project, The Cramps: A Period Piece, is her first feature film, and it began production in Franklin this month.

Her defining moment came when she saw the Making of Micheal Jackson’s Thriller. The documentary offered a glimpse behind the curtain of movie production, hooking her on the magic of cinema.

“They did these special effects like the werewolf makeup and stuff like that,” says Cellars. “That was the first time I saw behind the scenes how they make movies, and that’s when I truly wanted to do one of my own.”

Cellars found inspiration for The Cramps through her experience with endometriosis, a painful condition that causes tissue similar to uterine lining to grow outside the uterus. Describing it as a monster that was “taking over her life,” she spent years in chronic pain that caused her to put her plans on hold.

When seeking a diagnosis, she wasn’t getting any answers from the doctors she visited. In her experience, it was a real-life body horror unseen by those around her.

“That’s what The Cramps is about. It’s kind of this surreal thing where nobody is helping her, and she’s still trying to live her life,” says Cellars. “There’s this monster inside her that nobody seems to see, and it’s even killing people.”    

Actors and crew working on a film set inside of a bedroom
Cellars is producing this project through Warped Witch Cinema, an all-female group of producers that grew out of the Lafayette-based Southern Gothic Film Festival. Photo by Robin May

Her path to filmmaking started in earnest when she enrolled at UL Lafayette as an English major. After learning about the Moving Image Arts program through a film studies class, she quickly changed majors to pursue her lifelong passion.

She first sat in the director’s chair in 2019 when making Ivy, a short student film about grad school rejection and identity theft — with murderous intent. Here, she met local actor Wicken Taylor, who played the lead role and has become a recurring cast member in several of Cellars’ short films.   

In this latest project, Taylor will balance a limited on-screen role while working as the film’s lead producer. She shares a passion for filmmaking with Cellars that’s developed into a friendship off-set, as the two grow professionally. 

Taylor says theirs is a symbiotic relationship where Cellars encourages her to push her creative boundaries while she keeps a mindful eye on the logistics.  

“She’s like the engine, and I’m like the caution tape. I don’t know that I would be as brave without her,” says Taylor. “In the past, I’ve been overly cautious, but she’s helped me step out of my comfort zone, and I’m really passionate about the themes and stories she’s been putting out recently.”

Cellars describes her film aesthetic as “darkly colorful,” blending vibrancy with a muted color palette. The setting becomes its own character in her films, finding purpose in even the smallest details.

When scouting locations for The Cramps, Cellars and Taylor sought areas with a 1960s vibe and eventually landed in the downtown area of Franklin. The two worked with Franklin’s public relations director, Edward Verdin, who helped coordinate meetings with local business owners open to hosting the production.

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Verdin has played a significant role in Franklin Mayor Eugene Foulcard’s initiative to draw film productions to the surrounding area. The Film Franklin initiative, started in 2018, is part of a broader effort to rejuvenate the city through beautification projects and promotional activities.  

Foulcard, who campaigned on revitalization, says it’s a way to boost the local economy and draw attention to what the city offers.

“We did that to diversify and not have all of our eggs in one basket. At one time, everything was hitched to the oil and gas industry,” says Foulcard. “We needed to find other ways to diversify our economy through tourism, through Film Franklin and just bring people into Franklin by any means necessary to enjoy and take in the beauty of our city.”

Cellars is producing this project through Warped Witch Cinema, an all-female group of producers that grew out of the Lafayette-based Southern Gothic Film Festival. She describes it as a collection of people celebrating the unorthodox and “being yourself, even the weirdo you are.”   

For Cellars, it’s a move toward women’s empowerment in a traditionally male-dominated field, and says it’s important to boost women’s voices in cinema and hear their perspectives.

“I can’t name that many female cinematographers in Lafayette, and I know they’re out there,” says Cellars. “We need to get their names out there and have them seen and heard.”