When two independent, Pennsylvania moviemakers set out to make their first film, Through Hike: A Ghost Story, little did anyone suspect that the gory horror tale would prompt a brutal murder, complete with its own terrible consequences. Rough Cut, directed by Todd Klick, is the twisted, real-life account of these moviemakers and the ulterior motives that ultimately led to the tragic stabbing of Randi Trimble, wife of Brian Trimble—Through Hike’s DP and close friend of the film’s director, Blaine Norris.
The story behind the documentary originally aired on “Dateline NBC,” attracting nearly 6.4 million viewers and exposing the two moviemakers who literally killed to make a movie. Rough Cut, available now on DVD, traces Randi’s death back to the investigation, as well as detailing the integral and peculiar sequence of events that preceded the murder.
The film’s producer, Sean Gaston—who was also a principal actor on Through Hike—answered some of MovieMaker‘s questions about this true crime doc.
Elissa Suh (MM): Getting your story on “Dateline NBC” is quite a feat, especially for a small, independent film. How did “Dateline” pick up the story?
Sean Gaston (SG): When we finished the first cut of Rough Cut, we scheduled a promotional screening for the family and friends of everyone who was involved in the making of the film and the media. We sent out press releases to all the local media including radio stations, television stations and newspapers a week before the screening. We had no idea at the time that everyone was going to cover the story, but they did.
Three TV stations covered that initial screening, it was talked about on the radio and we made the front page of every major newspaper in three counties. Every day leading up to the screening there was another news story on TV or on the front page of a newspaper talking about it. A producer for “Dateline NBC” in New York City was looking for story ideas when she stumbled across the front page of the Patriot News and there was our story. She called me the day before our screening and told me that “Dateline” was very interested in exploring the idea of doing a show and Todd Klick (director, producer and writer of Rough Cut,/i>), Todd Shill (the executive producer) and I (producer and writer) drove up to New York City and met with producers from “Dateline NBC” and discussed the film and their ideas for the show. Those producers then had to pitch the show idea to their bosses and the decision was eventually made to do the show. The entire process, from the initial phone call to the air date, was six months.
MM: You were actually an actor in Through Hike: A Ghost Story, the horror movie that started it all. How did you become involved with the project?
SG: At the time I had been working on the exhibition side of the movie business for over a decade when I decided that I wanted to get into production. I would have been completely cool with holding a boom mic on a film set; all I wanted to do was see my name in credits and just get a small taste of what it was like to make a movie. I told my wife about my desire to be involved in a film production and a few months later she noticed a tiny classified ad in our local newspaper asking for cast and crew members for an independent horror film. I called the number and spoke with Blaine Norris. I told him I was interested in a crew position and after a bunch of questions, Blaine asked me if I would be interested in auditioning for a role in the film. He said my personality fit one of the characters. I told him I would audition but I had never acted in anything before and if I didn’t get the role, I would still be very interested in working on the crew. He sent me an audition packet. I read it like 100 times, memorized my lines, went to the audition, nailed it and got the part.
MM: Did know Blaine Norris and Brian Trimble well?
SG: I did not know Blaine Norris at all before Through Hike. I met him for the first time at the audition, but I got to know him really well over the course of the next year while we were working on the pre-production, production and post-production of Through Hike. I talked, e-mailed and/or saw him many times a week from the audition through the entire production. [It was] the day we were editing my death scene when he told me about the murder; this was two months after he had committed the murder. He had only told me about the murder, not that he had done it. I was completely oblivious at the time and never even considered that Blaine could have done something like that. The thought never entered my mind. Yes, Blaine was going through a separation and divorce and had since moved out on his own, but he had a young son who was just born when he was writing the script for Through Hike, had a good job, loving family, etc. As far as I was concerned, he was completely not capable of committing murder.
I only met Brian Trimble two times. I met him first at the Through Hike meet-and-greet. Blaine held a picnic for all the actors and crew members and their significant others so we all could get to know one another before rehearsals and production would begin. Brian was there for a only a few minutes. Blaine introduced him as the director of photography and I spoke to Brian briefly. At the end of the conversation, he mentioned he had to get going because his wife Randi, who was not there, really didn’t want him there and he left. The next time I saw Brian was when he took our headshots for the Through Hike Website. We had a rehearsal at Blaine’s parents house and Brian came and set up his camera and backdrops to take our pictures. The next time I heard about Brian was a few weeks later when Blaine told the cast, before a rehearsal, that Brian wasn’t going to be making the trip. Blaine didn’t mention Brian again to me until post-production on Through Hike, when we were editing my death scene and he told me that Brian’s wife, Randi, had been murdered two months before.
MM: What was the most difficult part of of making Rough Cut?
SG: Rough Cut was definitely a difficult production. It is a documentary so there was a lot of pre-production and research involved. The initial hurdles were convincing Randi’s mother, Nancy Chavez, and Randi’s uncle, Mike Wilson, to participate in the film. Once that was accomplished, many doors opened for us as far as the interviews were concerned. The shoot itself was another hurdle. There were only three of us—Todd Klick, myself and James Hollenbaugh, our director of photography—that did the shooting. We all were working full-time jobs and getting these interviews and b-roll shots done in the evenings after we had worked a full day at our “real” jobs. So we would be at work early in the morning, then spending another six to eight hours in the evening traveling and shooting interviews, not getting much sleep, and then waking up and doing it all over again—for over a year. I can remember traveling and shooting in snow storms. The last major hurdle was finding distribution. I’m sorry, but it is really difficult to just mention one thing that was difficult because this process for me, from Through Hike to the Rough Cut DVD release was over seven years!
MM: How did victim Randi Trimble’s friends and family feel about a documentary being made about their daughter?
SG: At first they were very apprehensive, but then after Todd Klick and I had the opportunity to sit down and meet with them, they could see that our hearts were in the right place and we just wanted to tell this story and not glorify Blaine and Brian in anyway—they felt better. But I still wonder how “good” you can feel about letting someone permanently document the darkest time in your family’s history. Randi’s uncle, Mike Wilson, summed it up best by telling us that Randi being murdered was like someone had dropped a nuclear bomb in the middle of their family and they will be spending the rest of their lives picking up the pieces.
MM: Do you plan to continue producing/writing films documentary or otherwise?
SG: Because of Rough Cut I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel the country going to film festivals, colleges and high schools showing Rough Cut and talking about my experience. Two years ago I returned to college and got my secondary education teaching certification and am now teaching filmmaking and TV/media classes to high school students. The best part about teaching is that I get the summers off and once my children are a little older, I would definitely like to do another documentary. I would like to direct and produce at least two more documentary films before I retire from teaching and filmmaking.
For more information, visit www.RoughCutMovie.com.