When you’re a Texas native launching a Texas production company, why not start by going back to your roots?
That’s what Fort Worth filmmaker Derek Presley is doing with Whitetail, a Southern Gothic thriller inspired by his upbringing that marks the first feature under the collective known as Muscular Puppy.
The film, which was shot entirely in Johnson County, will debut on Friday with a public screening at the Texas Theatre, with cast and crew in attendance for a Q&A afterward.
Presley is a partner in Muscular Puppy alongside three of his collaborators on the film — Alex Blackmon (executive producer), Jason Starne (producer), and Garrett Schwindt (cinematographer). All four have ties to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The film chronicles a domineering father (Tom Zembrod) trying to heal his relationship with his brother (Paul Taylor) and teenage son (Dash Melrose) during a weekend hunting trip. However, when they find a wounded man with backpack full of money, they instead become the hunted.
After starting his career directing science-fiction and horror projects, Presley (Ouija 3) spawned this script from memories of childhood hunting trips on his family’s farm near Abilene.
“As I got a little older, I wanted to make something a little more grounded and based in reality,” he said. “It was just trying to do something a little more character-oriented.”
Muscular Puppy began after the 12-day shoot wrapped in fall 2019 on a Joshua ranch owned by Dallas production company Alfa Whiskey Entertainment. The group has since made two more films, both directed by Presley and starring veteran character actor Neil McDonough (Minority Report).
“This was a great thing for starting our company. We’ve gone up and up since Whitetail,” Presley said. “We just want to keep going. We want to make good films with passion and charisma.”
Red Stone, a Western shot last summer near Corsicana, will be released in theaters in November. The follow-up Boon, which was filmed in January in Washington state, is still seeking distribution.
More projects are in the works, too, including a couple where Starne and Schwindt might handle directing duties.
“We’re just efficient. We come together and wear multiple hats, and it’s working for us,” said Starne, who lives in Frisco. “We shot three films in a year and a half, and they’re all going into distribution right now.”
As their portfolio continues to grow, the Muscular Puppy team would like to keep contributing to a burgeoning independent film scene in their own backyard.
“We’ve got such a rich talent pool in Texas,” Starne said. “We had a small crew that gave their all on this thing, and I think it shows in the film.”