Your new film Found
- in a few words, what is it about?
about a fifth-grade boy who discovers his older brother is a serial
How did the project
get off the ground in the first place? And how did you get in touch with
Todd Rigney's novel the film is based on?
I work for the
publishing company where Todd published the first
edition many years ago. I stumbled across it by accident, but it
sounded so interesting that I took home the galley and read it in one
sitting. Words can't describe how thrilled I was after finishing that
book. It had been years since I made a movie, and I was beginning to
wonder if anything would ever inspire me to make another one, so I
couldn't wait to talk to Todd about it. After a little research on the
web, I found his email address and we started up a conversation. I
drove to Lexington, KY to meet with him, and THANK GOODNESS he was
totally awesome and gave his blessing to continue. I don't know what I
would have done if he said no. I wanted this more than I've ever
wanted anything. Ever.
You wrote the
screenplay for Found
together with Todd Rigney - what was your collaboration like, and how
protective was Todd Rigney concerning his creation?
done another adaptation before, which was really challenging,
because some books simply aren't written with movies in mind -- and
they shouldn't be. But Todd wrote Found as though it were
movie. So the adaptation was very direct and very simple. I structured
the screenplay scene by scene, and nearly all the dialogue in the
movie is Todd's. We agreed from the start that Todd would have final
script approval, but he was incredibly gracious about letting us make
changes here and there. I don't think any of them would be considered
major. People who've read the book and seen the movie seem to agree
it's a very faithful adaptation. It was sometimes tempting to expand
or clarify points Todd brings up in the book, but we always reeled
ourselves back in because we love how open to interpretation the
characters' motivations are. We feel it's actually a pretty deep story
full of multiple meanings, and to put too fine a point on any of its
themes or issues would make it preachy. So we exercised a lot of
restraint. Probably the biggest thing we added was a visual element,
not really a story element -- we added the gas mask. In the book,
Steve doesn't wear one, but I thought it would be a cool visual
element and Todd agreed. In all, it was super easy to work with Todd
and I hope to do it again in the future.
is part coming-of-age drama, part horror film - where did you find
yourself more at home at?
I've always loved coming-of-age
movies, but it seems most of them
never take off or go anywhere. The best ones always seem to be the
darker ones -- like Stand By Me or Welcome to the Dollhouse, and
even 400 Blows has a bleak ending. So really, I think the best
coming of age movies ARE horror movies. Because growing up sucks. Loss
of innocence sucks. There are things that can't be unlearned in life,
a sense of safety you can't ever return to. Childhood could be defined
as the absence of sex or death. Once one or both of those factors
enter the equation, it's time to grow up. So, I guess if coming-of-age
is horror, then I'm more at home in horror. I see a lot of horror
movies in my future. I hope.
also contains extended clips from two fake schlock monster movies - now
how much fun were they to shoot, and could you ever be tempted to shoot a
feature length movie of this sort?
Dwellers and Headless were pretty fun to make. Since
appear within the movie (Found), we had to shoot them first. Each took
about a weekend. They were fun for me personally because the cast and
crew were so incredibly proficient and creative on those shoots. With
Angela Denton, Brigid Macaulay and Shane Beasley acting in front of
the camera, I barely had to say a word. They know what to do and they
bring it. They bring more than you could ever hope for. And The
Clockwerk Creature Company created the masks and effects -- all I had
to do was film them. Looking back, Headless may have been the
fun we had on the entire shoot. We all felt like we were in our
element. There's some talk of expanding Headless into a
I'm not sure what it would take for me to want to direct it myself.
The only way I could see making it worthwhile would be to follow the
same approach that Maniac took -- the bittersweet
approach. And I don't want to copycat Maniac. But if we can
right angle, something that makes it more than just a run-of-the-mill
slasher movie, maybe the Headless killer will rise again ...
How would you
describe your directorial approach to your subject at hand?
filmmakers are influenced by their idols, so I really borrowed
liberally from other filmmakers in my approach to Found. First
all, it was imperative that the audience identify and empathize with
Marty. So whenever possible I wanted to have closeups of Marty's face.
One of the reasons I wanted to go with the 2.35:1 aspect ratio is so
that we could get those Sergio Leone-style extreme closeups of Marty's
eyes, especially when he's watching Headless. One of the
told Leya Taylor (our DP) was to avoid medium shots whenever at all
possible, and that's a Leone philosophy. There's something inherently
cinematic about the juxtaposition of wide shots and extreme closeups,
and you'll find that kind of thing in Leone movies. Plus, what's more
boring than a medium shot anyway? So we had Leone in mind during Found. And there are times when Marty's not saying anything,
lingering on his face you give the audience time to put themselves in
his shoes. I favored reaction shots in the cutting. I'm also happy to
hear a few people saying how voyeuristic the movie feels to them. We
intentionally tried to put objects in the extreme foreground to give
some scenes that voyeuristic kind of feeling -- like you're peeking
into someone's private life.
few words about your key cast, and why were they perfect for their roles?
the whole movie hinges on the two leading performances. So
I'm still thanking the movie gods that we found Gavin and Ethan. Gavin
came to our attention through Sheila Butler, who helped us cast the
movie. He didn't really have any prior acting experience, but I just
had a feeling about him. Whoever played Marty, it was important that I
like the kid, and that I believed he would have the stamina to do take
after take after take after take, and shoot for however many days we
ended up shooting -- 32, I think it was. We saw a number of other
kids, but Gavin was real and raw. And for a child actor, lack of
experience can just as easily be a good thing as it can be bad. A kid
with a lot of theatre or commercial experience, for example, is likely
to project their voice all the time or smile all the time -- because
that's what gets drilled into kids in musical and children's theatre,
and commercials, too. And Marty is such a disturbed, sullen boy, we
needed someone more real than all that. So I took a leap of faith with
Gavin, and working with him was by far my biggest task during the
shoot, and rightly so. He carries the movie. He carries it
beautifully, and I'm just so proud of him.
Ethan was actually a
last-minute replacement for the role of Steve,
and that's another thing we owe to the movie gods. The previous
actor's family had major issues with the movie's content, and we
didn't want that hanging over the movie. So we kinda mutually decided
to open the part back up for another actor. Unfortunately, we didn't
really like any of the other actors we had already auditioned, so we
had a week where we frantically posted on social media to send as many
actors our way as possible. And we ended up seeing five more young men
for the part of Steve, and one of them was Ethan Philbeck. Arthur
Cullipher, our makeup effects supervisor, had spent some time with
Ethan during a recent local production of My Fair Lady and
to audition, so we really have to thank Arthur for that, because Ethan
is amazing. The first thing I loved about Ethan was that he had notes
and questions about the script and wanted to talk about it with us. He
was clearly very conscientious, and I thought that was a necessary
quality for an actor going into material this dark and disturbing. He
made me feel confident that if he could wrap his head around the
character and his motivations, he'd be fearless in tackling the role.
And he was. Ethan put his ass, quite literally, on the line. And I've
got mad respect and admiration for the guy.
can you tell us about your collaboration with your producer Leya Taylor,
who as I understand it also handled cinematography and sound on
Leya Taylor and Scott Schirmer on set
needed a partner in crime on this because I knew it was going to be
way to big, emotional, taxing, and amazing to keep to myself. So while
I was still in the script-writing stage with Todd Rigney, I asked Leya
to get involved with the movie, so she read the book, loved it, and
she basically said she wanted to be as involved as possible. Early on,
we thought about hiring a cinematographer, but the more we thought
about it, the less comfortable we became with bringing in a totally
unknown person for such an important role on the movie. So we both
learned the ins and outs of the Canon 7D together, and when we
decided she should be the DP, I asked my long-time friend and
collaborator Damien Wesner to come in and help us on the producing end
so she could focus more on the camera during production. But roles
overlapped a lot during the shoot. We were operating two cameras most
days, so Damien and I both shot second camera at various times, but
Leya was always operating and most of the footage in the final movie
is hers. When you consider it was her first time, that she was largely
hand-held, and that we had no focus-pulling assistance, it's actually
a pretty amazing feat. Leya also did foley work and sound effects
editing during post-production. She made my favorite scene in the
movie, the burning of the artwork, really come to life with the foley
she did. And now that the movie's finished, she's still working on it,
submitting it to festivals and soliciting movie reviews. But when I
think of Leya Taylor, there's really no credit that does her justice
on this movie. She was there for me every day, every night, whenever
things were going well or whenever they were going to hell in a hand
basket. I need a producer who helps keep me sane, and she took pretty
good care of me. And I can be quite a mess. She cared about the movie
every bit as much as I did, we had productive arguments (fights,
even), and toward the end of the shoot there were days where it was
just me, her, and the actors. A lot of people worked very hard on Found
and it's very much the sum product of all our efforts,
hope I'm not hurting anyone's feelings to say this, but Found
couldn't have been made without Leya. There were some dark days right
before production and even half-way through production, where I'm not
sure anyone else could have convinced me to keep going.
far as I know, Found
hasn't gone into wide release yet. So what can you tell us about critical
and audience reception so far, and how do you plan to proceed,
Scott Schirmer, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley,
Leya Taylor, Damien Wesner
I'm still soaking it all in and waiting for
the other shoe to drop. I
spent about 7 months editing the movie, and I had really lost all my
objectivity at that point. But then Leya showed the movie to a group
of friends, and they were really impressed, and then we had our
premiere in Bloomington, Indiana, back on July 14th. About 350 people
showed up... and they loved it. I was numb during that screening, and
even afterwards for a few days, but the applause and initial reactions
were amazing. People started messaging us on social media about how
much they loved the movie, how it messed with their heads, and people
whom I don't know to get terribly excited about things were going out
of their way to tell me how much they liked the movie. And that kind
of reaction has continued through Elvira's Horror Hunt, our first film
festival where we won best feature. Our very first festival, and we
won. And now we have the likes of Elvira, Peaches Christ, Bill
Moseley, Joe Bob Briggs, and Sybil Danning [Sybil
Danning bio - click here] offering testimonials for
us because of that. I'm still processing how amazing all this is. I'm
shocked and humbled -- I don't know what else to say. People see Found
and they want to own it. I'm usually very skeptical of
compliments -- I don't receive them well, and I'm also very hard on my
own work. But I'm finally beginning to realize that we actually have
something here. This is the kind of great feeling I've always wanted
to have about a movie I've made, and wasn't sure I'd ever have. And
now that that dream has been realized, I'm just ecstatic. So grateful.
We do have a few distribution offers at this point, including one from
a top choice of mine, but we are not going to make a decision for at
least several more months. We want the film to screen at more
festivals around the country, and hopefully beyond. And we also
haven't ruled out self-distribution.
Scott Schirmer, Peaches Christ, Cassandra
Peterson aka Elvira
Let's go back to the beginnings of your
career: As far as I know, you started making movies at a very early age -
so what can you tell us about your early days, and how did you learn the
I was fortunate enough to have parents that took me
to the movies. A
lot. So that's what inspired me. And then I was also fortunate enough
to have some of the best teachers in the universe while I was growing
up. My fifth grade teacher, Kay Rankin, introduced me to media fairs.
She paired me with another boy that year and we made a film strip
together. We won first prize at that year's fair, and we got to show
the film strip to our entire grade. That pretty much sealed the deal
for me. I got a taste for blood that's never let up. And another
wonderful teacher, Marsha Daugherty, sponsored me at the media fairs
every year thereafter, from sixth grade all the way through twelfth.
She really championed me, never hesitated to pay whatever fees needed
paid, or whatever supplies needed purchased. She believed in me and
gave me confidence, and of course I didn't fully appreciate it back
then, but now I know it was really the greatest gift. But those media
fair projects, usually film strips with an accompanying soundtrack,
taught me to tell stories in a concise manner and to plan ahead. Most
kids would put their projects together a few months before the fair,
but I'd start working on my next project right after the last fair was
over! And the extra work and planning showed.
Other than the
media fairs, I really didn't get much hands-on
experience with video or film until college. I took a video art class
at IU that helped me a lot, at least in terms of gaining more
confidence. That class helped me to open up and tell more personal
stories. I think maybe, if you're not a little embarrassed by what
your art is saying, you're probably not making anything that's going
to stick in people's minds. It was a small class and we watched each
other's work every week and critiqued it -- by far the most amazing
experience I had at IU. I was in the process of coming out at that
time, so it weighed heavily on my mind. I made a video where the
camera was just pointed at me, and I just sort of talked about what
was going on -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was scary to make,
and even scarier to show to the class, but there was nothing but love
afterwards. My screenwriting class at IU was also pretty invaluable,
if only because the professor had no qualms whatsoever about telling
you how bad your script was. I got a very high mark from him and I
still wear it like a badge of honor.
I made several other movies -- from 10 minute shorts
to 70-minute features, and for the most part I got better with each
movie. That's all you can do at a certain point. You can read and talk
about making movies forever, but until you actually start making them,
you'll never get better at it. And prior to Found, I also
enormous number of movies. For a good three years, I was watching
12-15 movies a weekend, mostly older movies. It was a fun time, but I
guess it was also a little like research maybe.
According to my information, your first
"professional" film was Boy in the Making. What can you
tell us about that one, and lessons learned from it?
producing partner at the time, Dan Dixon, and I had just spent 3
years working on an ambitious animated project called DarWest, which
unfortunately never got finished. But after all that painstaking work,
we were eager to try our hands at live-action. Boy in the
originally a 90 or 100 minute movie, but we ended up cutting about 30
or 40 minutes out of it. I'd say the main lesson learned from that
movie is edit your screenplay so you don't waste time shooting scenes
that'll just get cut later. I also learned the importance of a good
producing partner. Dan spoiled me by being such a committed project
partner. After he left Bloomington to pursue other interests (check
out universesandbox.com!), I wasn't sure I'd ever find another Dan.
But then I met Leya.
Found, you have already
dabbled in the horror genre once or twice. So what can you tell us about
your earlier excursions into horror?
I went into House of Hope with all the best intentions, and I'm
still fairly proud of the movie -- I cast some amazing actors in that
movie, and the locations were awesome, but the script lacked suspense,
and that's all on me. That's one of the reasons that prior to Found
I watched about half of Hitchcock's entire filmography -- not that Found
particularly benefitted from that. I'm eager to work more
building suspense -- I have a long way to go in that department, but I
think it will be a fun journey. Then there was Full Moon Sonny, the
movie of which I'm least proud. Once again, I had a good cast, but the
script was clunky, nearly all the crew bailed on me, and the
production schedule was horrendously compromised. There was no time to
finesse things in post-production, and the whole experience really
damaged me for several years. That was shot in 2005, and I never shot
another movie again until Found. So there were definitely
Any other films of
yours you'd like to talk about, any future projects?
the most amazing time working with actors on my little gay road
trip movie, Off the Beaten Path. I'd love to work with that
ensemble again some day -- they were a really experienced, reliable
foursome of actors that needed very little direction. And they
improvised, which I love. That movie looks the crudest of anything
I've ever done -- we shot without lights, without external mics, and
wrapped it in just 3 days. But it was probably the best time I've had
making a movie.
As far as the future goes, I'm not sure what's
going to be next. I've
always wanted to make the world's first good Sasquatch movie and
Todd's got a collection of short stories I'm interested in adapting
for an anthology. I've also got an ambitious, dialogue-free,
post-apocalyptic sort of thing rolling around in my head.
would you describe yourself as a director?
Oh, gosh. I try
not to be dictatorial. I believe good casting is
probably 60 or 70% of the job. I hate medium shots. It pains me
tremendously that I'm not capable of composing music for my movies --
that element is so critical, and it's the one area where I have to
depend completely on the talent of others. I think I might be an
editing director. I can't imagine not editing my own movies. And I
don't see why things can't always be pretty. Even if what's happening
within the frame is very ugly.
At this moment, I'd love to see anything by
Julie Taymor, David O.
Russell, or Peter Weir. But I also greatly admire David Lynch, Peter
Bogdanovich, Ridley Scott, William Wellman, Spielberg, Hitchcock,
Kubrick, all of them. Maybe it'd be easier to say who doesn't inspire
Your favourite movies?
and the original The Texas Chain Saw
the ones to beat. The Empire Strikes Back is also way up there.
and of course, films you really deplore?
There's a Jeanne
Triplehorne romantic comedy called 'Til There Was
You that I could wipe my ass with. Also any John Cusack romantic
comedy ever made. Seriously. Why do people love him so much? I'm sure
he's a nice man, but his movies suck. His balls are always in a jar
and he's always insufferably pining after some girl who isn't worth
it. Maybe I just hate rom-coms all together. But especially if John
Cusack is in them.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
-- thanks for the opportunity!
for the interview!