Burnt Hickory

Powder Springs, Georgia | Film Feature

Drama, Horror

Zach Zeman

1 Campaigns | Georgia, United States

Green Light

This campaign raised $15,750 for production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

49 supporters | followers

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Mock-doc about a jealous influencer who spends three nights in the house of a recently dead woman and promptly vanishes from the public eye. This film seeks to bring grounded, realistic frights back to the found footage genre. It's a mystery that requires active watching and rewards repeat viewings.

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

Burnt Hickory is a passion project which has been in development for three years, in between school and work. It defies the staples of the found-footage genre, seeking to bring its concepts back to the internet frenzy of the late 90s, where speculation and rumor fueled viewers' imaginations.

The Story


Have you ever wanted to be part of a found-footage mystery? Have you ever felt like you were a good detective? Do you enjoy true crime documentaries?

Burnt Hickory is a mock-documentary that requires the viewer to draw their own conclusions. We present the story at face-value, offer varying perspectives, and entice the viewer to dig deep into the film's fictional history. 

The project first began in 2019, conceived as a short horror film loosely based on Viy by Nikolai Gogol. What started as a nineteen-page short film script has now blossomed into a complex tapestry of characters, small-town gossip, paranoia, and how trauma can shape our history rather than the actual truth. The narrative details the toxic, decaying friendships--and eventual fallout--between Trisha Porter (Willa Sanders) and Josh Manning (Zach Zeman) with their group of influencer friends.

It all begins when Josh discovers the tragic obituary of a widow accused of witchcraft who became the local pariah and boogeyman of a small Georgia town.  As Josh begins research for a ghost hunt inside her now-abandoned home, dubbed "Burnt Hickory House" by the townsfolk, a sprawling and dark narrative unfolds, revealing tragedy and unfortunate coincidence that has plagued the local population. The residents of Scathait Springs have either succumbed to the seduction of gossip--or outright closed themselves off from the world, sheltering in their homes.

What happened to Trisha Porter?

However, when Trisha manages to worm her way into Josh's big project, she spends a total of three nights in the home, live-streaming her findings--but after the final night, Trisha's online presence vanishes for weeks. When she uploads a short, candid video announcing her channel closing, a mystery begins to take shape. Was Burnt Hickory House actually haunted or did someone hurt Trisha Porter?


Have you ever watched a strange video from some esoteric corner of the internet and wondered of its origins? The world has yet to see a found-footage movie for the contemporary digital age. We hope to spiritually return to the origins of the genre, but adapt to the new types of mysteries that fascinate online culture. What we need now is for lovers of horror and true crime to pledge to our project so the mystery of Trisha Porter can be uncovered. In order for production to commence, we need to raise $15k to pay the cast and crew. Everything is set and we have the reins to start filming, but the production can only happen with your help.

We've packed a twenty-three-person cast full of amazing and incredibly talented people--as well as a ten-person crew. Everyone involved wants to make this movie, not just be part of it. But no one can continue without compensation.


In the late winter of 2020, we began production of a short, also called "Burnt Hickory"--right before the COVID-19 sent our shoot into double-time and our scenes were rushed. Production wrapped with several scenes left unfilmed--with the intention of a rewrite and isolated reshoots to solve the problems in post-production.

Well, quarantine lent itself to our creative sides--and the story grew in scope and idea--becoming a multi-layered narrative taking place over seventy years, from 1950 to 2019. Burnt Hickory was no longer just a haunted-house found-footage short, but a faux-documentary that grapples with the bizarre and dark history surrounding an eccentric crime mystery focused on themes of loss, superstition, paranoia, and how our thoughts can shape the world around us.

Being lovers of all things spooky, we include some monsters in the film. One of them is modeled after a bloated corpse that has been rotting for two hundred years in a moldy cellar, so Bruce Dickens, a fantastic mask-maker and FX artist, joined the project and helped this nasty guy come to life! Above, you can see Zach and Bruce in an extremely messy living room. There was quite a bit of FX work put into the short--and it is even more present in our feature. In fact, it plays a key role in the story.


I've been a lifelong horror fan and filmmaker. However, I have never made an outright horror movie. This project is one that I have taken to heart--as I loathe the found-footage genre--but want to turn it into something I love and successfully scare audiences--including myself! 

I loved the real-life believability of found-footage when it first became popular. The genre really stimulates the imagination with questions like, "What is this footage? Are these people real?" I feel like the genre has moved away from its origins and strayed toward the sensational. We seek to not just make a found-footage movie, but bring it back to its roots and convince viewers the content is real. In this film, footage was found and this is a documentary about the findings.


I was excited from the moment that Zach and I started dreaming this project up. I love tight intimate horror movies. The constraints of the found-footage medium were perfect for this story. But we didn't want to make a movie with tired tropes and predictable structure. We wanted concise, active characterization to drive our story rather than have plot structure carry limp, lifeless characters.

So many found-footage movies feel like they can get away with empty place-holding dialogue between scares. If you want impact, a lingering image, you have to make the people who inhabit your movie worth a damn and with Burnt Hickory we’ve done that.



We're not foolish. We know we aren't a huge production company. Hell, Hidden Gnome Films just consists of a handful of people--generally artist-friends working under one label. But we know how to work within our means; this film's scope isn't involving wild crowd scenes or any type of elaborate set pieces. We're making a human piece, so the story is emotional, small, and claustrophobic. And it's scary!


With the ongoing pandemic, we have ensured that we are taking the safest precautions regarding COVID-19. We will be providing gloves, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and disposable medical masks while on set. Our production remains committed to adjusting safety protocols as necessary, as well as following recommended industry guidelines.


Follow us on Social Media (FB, Twitter, IG): @burnthickorymovie

This is the final moment that can make or break this production, and with your support, the story can come into fruition! We are in the throes of making what we think could be a performance-defining film for a lot of those involved and we'd love to have this eerie project come to life and scare the daylights out of audiences.

We offer pledge amounts as small as $5. We'd love it if you'd take the time and skip a drive-thru coffee for a day and contribute to the arts. Without the support of film lovers, horror fans, and lovers of creative entrepreneurship--this film won't get made. The mystery will remain unsolved without your help. Make Burnt Hickory a reality and discover what happened to Trisha Porter!


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Cast Pay

Costs $7,500

The cast make the script come to life! Their immense talent can only be harnessed with compensation.

Crew Pay

Costs $7,500

The crew make everything look as good as it possibly can be. Their diligent work needs compensation.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team

Who are we?

Burnt Hickory is the fourth feature film from award-winning, independent filmmaker Zach Zeman and the first feature film for author Kyle Hughes.

Meet the Crew

J. Kyle Hughes (Co-Writer/Director) is a published author and poet with a lifelong passion for movies. His work has been a part of several online and print publications, including The Lala, District, and The Bastard's Review. He has an ear for economic and human dialogue and how that forms a narrative structure for actors to decorate with their craft. He also plays one of the supporting characters, Alex Hickson, Josh's cameraman and creative partner.

Zach Zeman (Co-Writer/Director) has previously worked in the mock-documentary format before with his comedy, Hunters' Crossing (2017), which was an official selection of the Derby Film Festival 2018, Underground Filmfest 2018, Camp Feast Film Fest and received Honorable Mention from LA Underground Film Forum & Hollywood New Directors. He has worked in special effects on several short films including Our Son (2018) and the award-winning Brown Evil (2017). He also plays one of the lead characters, Josh Manning--an urbex and paranormal investigation vlogger.

Rieves Bowers (Associate Producer) began his acting training at the age of 14 in the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts in Mableton, Georgia. In the Spring of 2017 he enrolled in the BFA acting program at AMDA-LA and graduated in 2019 with his BFA in acting. His favorite roles include Deputy-Governor Danforth in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and twin brothers Ford and Trevor Farleys in Hidden Gnome Films’ Brotherhood Bloodlines: A Hunters’ Crossing Story, wherein he also served as producer. In Burnt Hickory, he plays Andy Bowers, a music theory and review vlogger with a temper. He is grateful for his family’s support.

Josh Espinoza (Unit Production Manager/Line Producer) is a freelance production coordinator/producer who has previously worked in production offices for Jane Rosenthal at Tribeca Film Festival, Urban Studio, a 360 immersive photography studio in Chelsea, and for John Sloss (Boyhood, Before Sunset) at Cinetic Media. He currently works as a project manager for the Smoker's Club, a cannabis lifestyle brand that produces short video content and has a full length animated show in the works. 

Shanaiah Payne (Assistant Director) previously attended Pebblebrook High School as a performing arts student where she majored in technical theatre and minored in dance. She has since been published in the University of West Georgia's literary magazine Eclectic and continues to hone her literary skills in the form of screenplays and short stories. Her core tenets of her AD methodology are structured with an emphasis on collaboration and receptiveness in order to set a precedence for herself and her future within the field of film production.

Bruce Dickens (FX Makeup Artist) is an independent FX artist who specializes in character design and sculpture. He's worked in several metro Atlanta's most popular haunted attractions as an actor, superviosr, wardrobe, and masks as well as mask and prop repairs/fabrication. He currently works out of his studio in Canton, GA, making high quality Halloween masks for collectors and actors alike.

Sean & Brendan Kelly (Composers/Music Directors) are a production duo based in Savannah, GA and Montgomery, NY, respectively. Getting their start in the band A Fragile Tomorrow, they toured the US, Europe, and Israel and have collaborated and/or toured with artists like Joan Baez, Indigo Girls, The Bangles, Mark Hart of Crowded House and Supertramp, and Toad the Wed Sprocket. They co-ran a recording studio in Savannah for seven years before transitioning to film and commercial music work, with their first scored full-length feature, the critically acclaimed Danni and the Vampire releasing in 2021.

Meet the Cast

Willa Sanders plays Trisha Porter, a lifestyle vlogger

Willa is thrilled to be involved in her first film project, Burnt Hickory. She grew up doing local theatre and graduated from Kennesaw State University with a degree in Theatre and Performance Studies. Some of her favorite performances have been Carol, the demonic step-mother in Feathers and Teeth and Don Quixote in Don Quixote Ugly. She hopes to continue making art, collaborating with other artists to make new exciting projects, and experience life through the understanding that there can be humor and light in every situation.

Darian Stranix plays Alice Joyner, a true crime vlogger/podcaster

Darian Stranix received her BFA in Acting from AMDA College of the Performing Arts in fall of 2019. Darian wrote and directed a short film titled Bilk in 2020 that will be released later this year. Her recent live performances include: Cabaret Macabre (2021), Urban Death (2021), All Hallways Eve (2021), Cabaret Macabre Christmas (2021), Dick! A Whitty British Pantomime (2022), and Cabaret Macabre (2022). Darian’s number one passion is performing and she is very grateful to be a part of the project!

Noah Schindler plays Bucky Woodall, a successful comedian who dated Trisha

Noah is delighted to appear in his second Hidden Gnome feature after starring as Hank Williams in Hunters' Crossing. Like his character Bucky, he abandoned his friends to pursue a career in New York City where he's since acted in content not dissimilar to the violent nature of a Hidden Gnome film, programs such as Evil Lives Here and 20/20. He is also in the running to voice Swiper in the new Dora the Explorer show on Paramount Plus. With much excitement, he returns to the Gnomes' ensemble.

Donald Pitts plays Joe Patton, a stubborn neighbor

Donald Pitts has performed in numerous film productions, including Oscar-nominated Who Is Gatsby Randolph? and The Secrets We Keep, for which he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Following his undergraduate studies in theatre performance at Southern Methodist University, Donald attended law school and served as Assistant Attorney General for the state of Kansas, litigating before the United States Supreme Court. After retiring from the practice of law, he has turned his focus, once again, to film, television, radio, music video, and voice-over genres. Donald lives near Atlanta, GA, and when not working, enjoys jamming and writing music with friends, cooking, painting, and helping with animal rescue projects.

Bonny Breuer plays Carol Patton, a secretive neighbor

Bonny “retired” to Atlanta in the Spring of 2015 to be closer to her family. But, the positive energy of the film and TV industry in the city got her attention and she shortly thereafter booked a national TV commercial. She was hooked! Since then, she has been in many short films, including Driving Louise and The Promise, which have done well in the film festival circuit. In addition, she has acted in the feature film 2 Finesse. Bonny takes her new reinvention very seriously and is proud of what she has accomplished in such a short time.

Ashlynn Celia Cox plays Abby Porter, Trisha's Sister

Ashylynn Celia Cox is a 22 year old actress based in Atlanta, GA. She is originally from Scranton, PA but moved to be part of the growing film scene in the ATL area. Ashlynn comes from a background in theatre and has a BA in Theatre Performance. Since college, she has broken into the film industry in a variety of feature-length and short-form productions including Tit or Tat and Morbid. In her free time, Ashlynn works at a ballet teacher for children and teaches junior acting and musical theatre classes.

Mindy Shaw plays Stella Wilkies, Scathait Springs Historian

Mindy Shaw is an on-camera, stage, and voiceover actor. She has worked in NY, LA, DC, FL and is currently based in St. Louis. Her Midwest theatre credits include Jake’s Women (Moonstone Theatre Co, STL), It’s a Wonderful Life (Metro Theatre Co., STL), Much Ado About Nothing (Metcalf Theater, IL), Insane Sisters (Bluff City Theater, Hannibal, MO), and Title IX (Eclectic Full Contact Theatre, Chicago). DC area performances include the world premiere of Marc Acito’s The Secrets of the Universe (and other songs), The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs, Oblivion, Collaborators, Stories From the Fringe: Women Rabbis Revealed, and Silent Sky. Mindy’s on-camera work includes the features I Like Me and The American Dream and numerous award-winning short films.

Ed Force plays Ed Pervis, a survivor of unfortunate events

Ed Force is a Brooklyn-raised actor who has toured with the NY Touring Company in Hair. Shortly after his acting career began, Ed created his own business and successfully ran it for 37 years. His retirement allowed him to return to his love for acting and has been working in the burgeoning film industry of Atlanta. Since doing so, Ed has found himself in Spider-Man: No Way HomeShazam 2: Fury of the GodsGrace by Night, and the short film Sunset in the Park, for which he won the award for "Best Acting Duo" at the Los Angeles Film Festival. 

Clifton Lewis plays Jason Griffiths, a shady real estate executive

Clifton has appeared in The Deuce (HBO), Shadow of Doubt, Six Degrees of Murder, and Mysteries at the Museum. He has recently done commercials for Spotify and NJM Insurance. This will be his second feature with Hidden Gnome Films and his fourth project with Zach Zeman.

Current Team