Scott talks with Fun With Horror about his first film, BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON, the planned next installment, BEFORE THE MASK: THE RETURN OF LESLIE VERNON, securing financing in a down economy, and his guerilla financing approach for BEFORE THE MASK. You can pledge to preorder your copy of BEFORE THE MASK: THE RETURN OF LESLIE VERNON now at http://www.facebook.com/BeforeTheMask
Tell us about BEFORE THE MASK: THE RETURN OF LESLIE VERNON
Before The Mask: The Return of Lesley Vernon is sort of a misnomer. I can’t tell you much about the plot. We’re keeping that as much of a secret as possible for as long as we can. Certainly the movie is intending to explore the conventions and the archetypes of the horror prequel and remake. So, we actually call it a spremake, because, it’s not really a sequel or a remake. It’s sort of a mash-up of everything. That’s why it’s a little misleading.
How close are you to realizing your budget for BEFORE THE MASK: THE RETURN OF LESLIE VERNON?
Close is a tricky question to answer. We’re not close in terms of the money that we’ve raised online. It’s not in any way indicative of being close to the overall budget that we need to raise. We can’t make this movie for less than a million dollars. We’d like to make the movie for somewhere north of two million dollars. I don’t think anyone has ever been able to crowd fund a movie for more than three or four hundred thousand dollars. We didn’t ever intend to raise all the money online, through crowd funding. What I do think I can do is create a big dent, a symbolic gesture that tells the wider world of would be film financiers and people in the entertainment industry that this film has a proactive genre audience. An audience that is willing to put their money where there mouth is. The size of the community that we’ve built so far, in addition to the money that we’ve raised says a lot. It really raised people’s attention. In terms of being able to go out and find financial partners, whether it’s pre-selling, television, video on demand rights, home video, foreign sales, and gathering the financing that way, or to get a larger distributor to co-finance, that becomes much more of a likelihood, given this online effort that we’ve done. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I had initially, naively, thought that we could find the people who bought the DVDs on Facebook and convince them to pre-order the BEFORE THE MASK DVD for $20 and we could in fact, raise over a million dollars to make the movie. In this DIY world of going out and trying to find alternate means for doing things, I thought that might be a possibility. Now, that has proven to be a lot more difficult. So, I have taken more of a symbolic route with that, now.
You established a relationship with Anchor Bay through the release of BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON. What prompted you to break out on your own and take more of a guerilla marketing approach?
Well, Anchor Bay was and has been a really wonderful brand name for catalogue horror titles. They have so many classic horror titles, from the most recent masters of horror, all the way back to some of the most established names in horror. Right around the time we had finished BEHIND THE MASK, Anchor Bay had made a deal to start distributing movies theatrically. Because they were new on the block, for theatrical distribution, they made a much better deal to acquire my film than IFC or The Weinstein Company or Magnolia was prepared to make. The way that Anchor Bay represented the creative control that I would have over the marketing of the film was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. But, what I quickly found was that they were in a little over their heads. Our interests were not completely in line, in terms of what I wanted out of the theatrical release for the film. I was very disappointed with how that went. Now, I think I can do a better job. So, I’m trying something else. I was also, disheartened, because Anchor Bay didn’t want to finance BEFORE THE MASK, which is fair. So, I offered to finance the film, myself. I offered to raise the money and offered them first shot at distributing the film, sight unseen, and they didn’t accept it. They wanted to see the film before they agreed to distribute it. They have every right to do that, but I’m going to pursue other options.
I think that Anchor Bay will ultimately regret that decision. Everything that I’ve read about BEFORE THE MASK looks phenomenal.
That’s really kind of you. I know these companies are far less emotional than the filmmakers and the fans. They know better than anyone, what the numbers on the first film did. If they take a very cold financial look at it and they can’t justify making the movie then that’s that. It is a meritocracy after all. Or maybe, it’s not. I don’t think that some of the films that get green lit at studios get the green light because they merit it. But, if we want to make filmmaking a meritocracy, lets leave it up to the fans to decide whether or not to fund this movie. If they don’t, then maybe the movie never deserved to be made. That’s just something you have to live with. If the fans and supporters do decide that it merits being made, and they pre-order enough copies then we’ll go out and make the film and control it.
This next question is of special interest to me, as a Portlander. How did you come to shoot Behind The Mask in Portland, OR?
That was an interesting process. The movie takes place in Glen Echo Maryland, where I grew up. Looking around the country for locations that made sense, though, there weren’t enough tax incentives or rebates that the Maryland Film Commission was giving out to make it there. There also weren’t enough experienced crews in or around Washington DC to shoot there. So, we looked elsewhere. We looked in other states, and in Canada. Eventually we found a really good line producer who was based out of Portland. He convinced us that Portland not only had the perfect filming locations, but also had really talented crews. The only people we really had to bring up from LA were my cinematographer and the cast. Basically everyone else was already there. There were some great incentivizing programs offered by the State of Oregon for us to shoot there. There were some tax rebates, and the lack of sales tax, that were effective in making shooting there work for us. I’d love to go back there to shoot the second film. I don’t want to give anything away, but it would be nice to go back there instead of having to re-create the shooting locations somewhere else.
That leads straight in to my next question, which is, will BEFORE THE MASK be shot in Portland? It sounds like you are already leaning in that direction.
We definitely would be thrilled. That would be our first choice. It would be so much easier, creatively, to do it there. We shot the first film for a little under $300,000. Now, we are going to shoot the second film for over 1,000,000. One of the horror film conventions is that sequels get more outlandish in terms of production value. The first movie made a bundle. Like in a lot of sequels, you gain all sorts of great set pieces and cool kill shots. In order to laugh with that convention, we obviously need a bigger budget. Once you get a bigger budget, you start looking for bigger incentives to go to different places. States get very competitive in terms of what they offer, to bring in films shoots. If we had to go to a different state to shoot all of our interiors, we would probably still need to take a second unit to Portland. Our main street is that really wonderful street in Troutdale that’s situated beneath a beautiful cliff. We have other exterior shots that we would have to go and shoot, as well.
I definitely hope to see you guys back here.
If we come back. It will be a party. We would want all the bloggers and horror fans that have been supporting us to show up. We would want to get our work done but we also want to host a non stop party, wherever we shoot. We’re hoping that’s Portland.
Is TAL still a project you are actively pursuing?
Man, you must have dug deep to find that one. TAL is not something I’m pursuing at the moment. It was my most favorite childhood story. I still think it’s a great opportunity to create something very special. Everything is hard to get going in this business. An animated film that isn’t derivative of some breakfast cereal or some best-selling children’s book series is virtually impossible to get set up, unless it’s incubated at Pixar. There are two fundamental things that are very difficult to do in this business. One is independent television production. No one really dares to go out and personally finance a TV pilot and hope a network picks it up. It’s just too risky. The other one is independent animated feature films. People can do it for fairly cheap on a direct to DVD basis or you shoot for the moon. In order to shoot for the moon, there’s a lot more to it. It’s the whole nine yards. So, for where I was in my career in this business, I didn’t really have a prayer of setting up the story. That doesn’t make the story any less valuable to whoever can end up exploiting it – in a positive way.
Is it something that you would still consider revisiting, if the opportunity presented itself?
Oh, yeah! I would be thrilled to revisit it.
The Shining has been a big influence for you. What are some of your other favorite horror films?
Right! Well, I have favorite horror films for different reasons. PSYCHO and THE BIRDS, from an analytical viewpoint. I never really had an emotional reaction to PSYCHO. It wasn’t a film that truly scared me. I really appreciated it as a cinephile, though, because I can break it down in to individual shots, set pieces, production design, and set design. Everything has meaning. The movies that really appeal to me have to have much inner meaning to them. I have so much fun trying to find the Easter eggs. That’s why I’ve tried to create the obvious and not so obvious Easter eggs in BEHIND THE MASK. I want horror fans to have fun trying to identify them. In recent horror films from an entertainment value, I really liked what the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY did. It took the found footage horror film and made it its own sub-genre. If I were teaching a film class, I would require BURIED to be watched by my students. Rodrigo Cortes has demonstrated what you could do if you shot a movie in a box. I think he cheated one time, by pulling the camera out of the box, but it’s absolutely amazing what he did. He has a brilliant creative mind. I thought that THE DESCENT broke new ground, at the time of its release. The first SAW movie. In twenty years, SAW will be categorized as a classic. The best horror films out there are reflecting the social and political zeitgeist. I’m not saying that it was intentional, but SAW clearly reflected the helplessness of the post 9-11 mentality, with seeing somebody in a room through a video camera. You don’t know where they are and you can’t get to them and they are suffering. That, to me, was equivalent to seeing a beheading. That connection to me was such a visceral one. I’ve seen some of the most disturbing films over the last ten years. IRREVERSIBLE. FUNNY GAMES. My buddy, Simon Rumley’s film THE LIVING AND THE DEAD. I’ve never had more of a need to throw up in a movie theatre, before. He really hit home with this one.
Which filmmakers have served as your greatest inspiration?
That’s constantly changing. What Rodrigo Cortes did with BURIED was amazing. To know that there are people my age who are doing incredible things like that is so inspiring. It raises the bar and it challenges me to want to reach that level. That’s the level I need to be at. Then there’s a guy like Kubrick. The color of the light behind a character in his films is going to have literary significance. It’s not just there as a part of the set design or to light the scene in an aesthetically beautiful way. It means something, in the film. It’s going to symbolize something. Someone who’s thinking on that level really inspires me. As far as the older directors. I would never dare say they’re phoning it in, now, but I don’t think that many of the older directors today are doing anything new. I think they’re the safe choice for studios to arm with huge budgets. They are also the guys who the studios then take the movie away from, and the studio creates the final edit. I think some of these big directors, who are getting on in years, who made extraordinary cutting edge films are not really turning out great material these days. The good news is that there is a whole new generation of directors who are doing wonderful things.
On that same token, which up and coming horror filmmakers are you looking forward to seeing more from?
Here’s what’s interesting. I now empathize with this. I think the second or third film of any horror director, particularly, the second is the toughest to make. You’ve just done your first film. You’ve gotten the money together from your uncle and your buddies and somehow you made a film. You had one hundred percent control. Nobody was expecting to make a buck on you. Nobody was giving you a time limit. You had three years to do it. You were just making a film. It was your unencumbered vision and it was great. Guys like Lucky McKee, Adam Green, Rodrigo Cortes and Ti West. All these guys did an incredible job with that first film. Then when they get an agent and their agent slam dunks them in to a studio film, all of a sudden, there are more cooks in the kitchen. That next work isn’t necessarily indicative of all the potential that they have shown in their first film. It’s very hard to evaluate what they’ve produced that second time around. It’s very difficult to say who the new up and coming directors are, because a lot of times they get marginalized as soon as they score with their first major hit. The exception to that are foreign filmmakers. Guys coming out of Mexico or Spain who are outside of the studio system have more freedom to explore narrative and explore different things. You may get four, five, or six films under your belt and really build a name for yourself before you do a studio film and get plugged in to the cookie cutter mentality. That’s not to say that foreign directors are better than American directors. But, they weren’t marginalized until later on in their careers. I didn’t really answer your question, but it’s hard to evaluate based on a limited amount of work. I think you can see who the future stars are if they are given creative control. I didn’t totally love where THE INNKEEPERS went, but I love the director. I saw RED LIGHTS at Sundance. I was pretty disappointed with Rodrigo Cortes, but he’s still my very favorite director, right now. I will give him a couple of misses, because I loved BURIED so much. I don’t know who was with him in the editing room for that film.
You can find Scott on Twitter at: https://www.twitter.com/scottglosserman