villisca_title_01.jpg (18773 bytes)

meter_09.jpg (21862 bytes) title_faq_01.jpg (13336 bytes)

1. Why did you choose Villisca, Iowa's 1912 axe murders as a documentary topic?

The short answer is that it's hands-down the best story we have ever heard.  It has all the elements of great drama and the added benefit of being true.  We began by developing several documentary film topics, but soon chose Villisca: Living With a Mystery as our first independently produced film.

2. Are you from Iowa?

Tammy is a native of Waterloo, Iowa and Kelly grew up in East Moline, Illinois, part of the Quad Cities and right across the Mississippi river from Iowa. They are both former residents of Bettendorf, Iowa (a.k.a. "Iowa's Most Exciting City").

3. How long have you been working on the documentary?

We first heard about the Villisca story in 1987 and began developing it as a documentary feature film project in 1992. We did initial research in 1993 and made an exploratory visit to the town in October of that same year.  We shot our first two interviews in Des Moines and Muscatine during that trip, and about half of the film was shot in the summer of 1994 (we spent one month in Villisca and another month shooting in other locations).  Then we returned every year or every other year to update the story through 2000.  We screened a fine-cut of the documentary in a dozen locations in 2002 and gathered feedback.  The final cut premiered at the State of Iowa Historical Society in Des Moines on June 10, 2004 and the film is still in limited theatrical release.

4. Why did you choose to shoot the documentary on 16mm film instead of video?

We have intended from the beginning for Villisca to receive a limited theatrical release (see question #9 below).   While video can be adequately transferred to film for exhibition, the quality and look do not equal film.  We did shoot extended interviews with seniors, who remember events surrounding the murders in 1912, on video for economic reasons.  Like most documentaries, our film will be a compilation of material originated on a variety of media  formats.   Also, distributors still prefer projects originated on film.

5. Are you editing on film or an AVID?

The initial assemblage and the rough-cut were completed on a 16mm Steenbeck 8-plate flatbed editor.  It was affordable to purchase and far more economical than renting an AVID editing bay for the many hours required to complete the film.  We used Adobe Premiere 6.0 on a Dell PC workstation to resolve final creative issues and to prepare the fine-cut for test screenings, and we used Adobe Premiere Pro to construct the final version of the film.

6. What about sound?

Starting in 1994, we gathered sound for Villisca on DAT (digital audiotape) at a time when the studios were just beginning to use digital recordings for Hollywood features.  For the purposes of the rough and fine-cuts we transferred our digital sound to 16mm mag track.  Final audio tracks will be assembled and mixed on a computer-based digital audio workstation.

7. Why is it taking so long?

Two reasons: the difficulties associated with raising money to complete the project, and the complexity of a story that spans from 1858 to 2000.

8. When will the film be done?

Villisca: Living With a Mystery was complete in June 2004.

9. Where will we be able to see it?

Villisca premiered in June 2004 and has been playing in Midwestern theaters since that time.  It appears the theatrical release will continue in to the spring or summer.  Later it will be available on DVD and VHS home video and Iowa Public Television, our fiscal sponsor, plans to air Villisca. Other interested broadcastors include Nebraska Educational Telecommunications, Kansas Public Television, and Illinois Public Television.  We are also seeking a national broadcast.

10. Are there any non-fiction books available on the Villisca axe murders?

The is one called Villisca: The True Account of the Unsolved Mass Murder that Stunned the Nation.  It's available in our Emporium.  We are co-writing a book with Dr. Epperly that we hope to have available by the time film is braodcast.   It will take a "popular history" approach focusing on the crime, investigation, and trials.  Morning Ran Red, a fictional book based on the axe murders written by Stephen Bowman, was published in 1986.  If you are familiar enough with the story you may recognize some of the characters even though their names have been changed.

11. What has been the most difficult part of making Villisca?

Financing.  Funding for documentaries is hard to come by.  Public sources are shrinking and competition for the remaining monies is fierce.  Many independent filmmakers rely on their own savings, help from family and friends, and broadcast pre-sales to complete their projects.   Editing the film to a running time under two hours was also difficult.  A lot of interesting material had to hit the cutting room floor.

12. How can I help?

See question #11.  Seriously, there are many ways that include contributing photos, stories, and documents.   Financial contributions can still be made through our fiscal sponsor Iowa Public Television (contact us to ask how) or directly to Fourth Wall Films.  Your name(s) can still be included in the final film credits before the first broadcast.  For more information regarding funding or our documentary feature film/book project please e.mail us at:

The Film | Main Menu

Website design and all content including text, art, and photographs 2005, Fourth Wall Films. All Rights Reserved.