North Dakota native's zombie drama wins award at Tribeca Film Festival

A Dickinson native is making his mark in the film industry following an award at one of the world's biggest independent film festivals. "Here Alone," the dramatic horror-thriller written by David Ebeltoft, was one of 90-plus films selected for th...

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Courtesy Photo by Trevor Eiler Actress Lucy Walters, covered in special makeup to look like mud and filth, prepares for a scene from “Here Alone.”

A Dickinson native is making his mark in the film industry following an award at one of the world’s biggest independent film festivals.

“Here Alone,” the dramatic horror-thriller written by David Ebeltoft, was one of 90-plus films selected for the 10-day Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

But it didn’t stop there. “Here Alone” received festival’s Audience Award for Narrative Film.

Ebeltoft, the son of Dickinson’s Paul and Gail Ebeltoft, described Tribeca as a great opportunity to advance not only his career as a screenwriter, but the careers of the director, producers and actors.

“It’s generated a lot of great conversation - people are calling us out of the blue,” he said from his home in Corning, N.Y. “We’re helping in the distribution process for the film, not only for domestic distribution, but abroad as well.”


Needless to say, the production crew was surprised by the audience response.

“Here Alone” is drama about a young woman navigating her way through an apocalyptic zombie outbreak in the upstate New York wilderness.

The film was shown at Tribeca three times, and a fourth showing was added to meet public demand. The awards were announced at the closing night ceremony. Ebeltoft was home when the director sent him a text: “We did it! We won the Audience Award.”

“I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t,” Ebeltoft said. “I’m still humbled and shocked and very, very happy. We were up against films who had budgets 50 times greater than ours. We understand people really related to the human element within the drama. We heard one audience member mention she’d never cried during a zombie film, but she shed tears during our film.”

Tribeca, which was founded in part by actor Robert DeNiro, is considered a “top-tier” festival in the film industry. It received more than 7,000 submissions in 2016.

“Here Alone” has been reviewed in Variety, Entertainment Weekly, on the BBC and several industry outlets in Los Angeles and New York City.

“Just getting your movie into the festival is considered a breakthrough for the film and its team,” Paul Ebeltoft said. “Tribeca has all the bells and whistles. It has the red carpet for premieres, it has news interview, candid shots, glamour shots - everything that one imagines of a premier “event” in New York City or Hollywood.”

Speaking of her son’s work, Gail Ebeltoft added, “We’re just incredibly proud of his independent film with an extremely limited budget. He was largely responsible for bringing it to fruition.”


Creative path

Ebeltoft traces his creative path back to Trinity High School, where he graduated in 1998, and to taking classes at Dickinson State University while still in high school.

“My brother was really big into theater. But theatrically, I was the lights and sound guy,” he said.

After graduation he was a practicing artist for 10 years in New York City.

“I always loved to read and dabbled in writing, but didn’t really take it seriously until I was working in the art world and showing my artwork in galleries,” he said.

He started his screenwriting career in 2007 while still working as curator of the Bank of America’s art collection in New York. His first screenplay, the dark comedy script, “You Were Once Called Queen City,” won the Grand Prize at the Philadelphia Screenplay Festival.

“I’ve always been interested in the visual interpretation of words,” he said. “When you think about film, it’s the collaboration of so many mediums. You have the theatrical, you have the visual, you have the literary and music. I’m using words to explain the visuals.”

With “Here Alone,” Ebeltoft went on to answer the question, “What would you do as a normal person within a world ravaged by disease?” In the course of the film, the audience also learns what happens to Ann’s husband, Jason, and infant daughter, as gunshots are fired in the distance.


“Here Alone” is Ebeltoft’s fifth feature-length screenplay in the world of independent films, though he’s also written several short films and documentaries.

He co-wrote the dramatic feature, “North,” with independent writer/director Elgin James, and is a frequent collaborator with Rod Blackhurst.

He has lectured on the process of writing, including a lecture for the Heart River Writers’ Circle in Dickinson, and has directed several theater works for the Carolina Actors Studio Theater in Charlotte, N.C. He lives in Corning with his wife, Payal, their two sons, Kavi and Nilay, and their dog, Maizey.

Working from home

Ebeltoft works from his office at home, or sometimes at the local library or coffee shop. He said he’ll sit at his computer from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., even though his creativity really comes in gulps, he said.

“Being able to adhere to a deadline is huge,” he said. “Deadlines are sort of the marker of a serious writer. You’re your own boss.”

Ebeltoft credits the actors, actresses and production team for the film’s success. The cast includes Lucy Walters as Ann, Adam David Thompson as Chris, Gina Piersanti as Olivia and Shane West as Jason, Ann’s husband.

Walters is best known for her role as the trouble-making Holly on Starz’s hit show, “Power” and West has starred in multiple films, including “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “A Walk To Remember” and is currently starring as Capt. John Alden on WGN America’s “Salem.”

Piersanti’s breakout role was in her Sundance debut in the film, “It Felt Like Love, for her portrayal of the role Lila. Thompson has been in a number of TV shows including NBC’s hit series, “The Black list,” CBS’s “Unforgettable” and NBC’s new hit drama “Blindspot.”

Blackhurst directed the film. Ebeltoft, Blackhurst and Noah Lang are all credited as producers.

“We were really lucky to find not only very talented individuals, but those who believed in the project, who believed in the script,” Ebeltoft said. “Making it to the screen was a big leap of faith for them - a first-time director, a first-time screenwriter and a small budget. We knocked it out of the park.”

He has several writing projects underway, but cannot reveal them. He likes diversity - if it isn’t horror-thrillers, it’s likely a dark comedy.

“Ten years down the road, honestly, I think I’ll be doing the same thing - being creative and having my creativity translated to the silver screen,” he said.

Website and trailer: .

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Next up: Woods Hole Film Festival. Visit  for more information. The next feature the production crew is working on “North.” Visit  for details.

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