Interview: Scott Schirmer

Beneath The Underground had the pleasure to delve into the mind of independent Director Scott Schirmer.

BTU: Can you tell us your background and how you got started in Directing leading up to your feature FOUND?

Scott Schirmer: I feel like this trajectory really started in the fifth grade, because from that year all the way through high school, I participated in an annual media fair put on by the Association for Indiana Media Educators. Through eleventh grade, I made filmstrips, slide shows, transparencies on overhead projectors – all illustrated and set to a story that I narrated with music that was played on tape. They were all fantasy stories, ten to twenty minutes long, and I’d begin working on the next year’s project immediately after the last fair ended. They were a big part of my growing up, these fairs, and my teachers were all incredibly supportive.

It was the 80s and early 90s, and I lived in rural Indiana, so I didn’t have access to a camcorder until my senior year in high school. So that’s when I made my first live-action video project, and a professor at Hanover College was nice enough to let me and my friends edit that at their facility – that’s where I started to fall in love with editing, and that was analog editing!

Anyway, I did very well on the state level of that media fair competition, and placed third internationally with that senior project, so it was a real confidence booster all through my adolescence – and being able to show my projects to the rest of the class each year was something that really got the taste of blood in my mouth. I loved the execution as well as the exhibition.

Then college got in the way, but half-way through college, I took a video art class where I got to make four more weird little short videos and I won a small scholarship for those. Then I applied for a grant to make a feature-length video, and I won that. It was still the days of VHS, so I shot that feature, Variations, on VHS. It was very personal, almost autobiographical – and right now it exists on one single VHS cassette, so I might end up spending some time to dig that one up and preserve it before too long. That was the last time I edited analog.

I quit college for several years and during that time I met and teamed up with Dan Dixon. And that was an amazing partnership. He taught me to be ambitious and really forced me to learn digital editing, which is now as essential to my life as oxygen. We spent almost three years working on an animated film that never ended up getting completed, but then we turned to live-action. We did an hour-long project called Boy in the Making, and then we did a short film about a one-night stand called Three Animals One Stuffed. Mini-DV cassettes were now the mode.

After those two films with Dan, I got hooked on horror. I never particularly liked horror growing up, but that’s because the only horror I ever saw were slasher movies. And those were already into self-parody by the mid-80s. Some friends showed me The Evil Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and those films inspired me tremendously. I immediately conjured up House of Hope with all that inspiration, and though Dan didn’t like horror (and still doesn’t), he let me borrow a lot of his equipment to shoot that movie in 2002. One month later (which is insane!), I shot Off the Beaten Path. And by that time, I finished college and decided to move to L.A.

Which was stupid. I lived there almost two years, which was long enough to learn that it’s a great place to talk about movies, but not to make them. The work ethic out there is terrible, and you can’t trust anyone any further than you can throw them. Everyone’s just trying to use everyone, and everyone just wants to be famous – not to make good movies. I find midwesterners are simply more reliable and sincere people than west coast people. Hollywood is insane – sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad, but it’s all a big game that you have to be willing to play, and you can very easily be eaten alive by it. It ended up leaving a very bad taste in my mouth. And it was a strange thing to realize, because Hollywood was always my dream. My childhood dream. But I wanted to make movies. I didn’t want to wait to make movies, and I didn’t want to need anyone else’s permission to make them. And that’s what Hollywood is. A huge game of “Mother, May I?” What made it even easier, though, was that my tastes were changing for the better, I think, and Hollywood’s output was getting worse.

I shot one more short film with Dan Dixon, The Day Joe Left, in 2003. I flew in from L.A. to shoot it in Bloomington, Indiana. It was a very hard shoot, and the end product was one we were very ambivalent about. I cut it down from 45 minutes to 10 minutes, and I like it at that length. Then, when I moved back to Bloomington in 2004, I put together an anthology horror series. But I only shot one episode, Full Moon Sonny, before a horrible depression set in. Full Moon Sonny turned out god-awful, and it killed me inside. It was a difficult, joyless shoot, and the movie sucked. Joe and Sonny really killed me. This thing I enjoyed doing for so long, was becoming so difficult and joyless. So I quit filmmaking for five years.

Those were the worst five years of my life. I worked my day job, which sucked at first and got better – so much so, that it was increasingly easier to forget my dreams and just be complacent. But the emptiness was always there. I knew I should be making movies. But my well was dry. It had just been too long and my confidence was obliterated.

And that’s when I read Found. Todd Rigney and his book Found saved my would-be career, and saved my life. That’s the truth. I loved that book with all my heart, and the passion to tell that story drove me to get off my ass, stop being depressed, and do what I was put here to do – what I had always been doing. Found inspired me to give it one more go with everything I had. It was a ‘go big’ or ‘go home’ moment. That, coupled with the invention of DSLR cameras, reignited my passion for filmmaking. And now I’m here to stay.

BTU: Off of the success of Found you then switched roles from Director to Co-Producer of HEADLESS, how was that change?

Scott Schirmer: Since Headless was part of Found, I wanted to be a part of it, but I didn’t want to direct it. It didn’t feel like the right way for me to follow up Found. And Arthur (Cullipher) and I have been friends for so long, I knew what he could do with it, and that seemed far more interesting than what I would do with it. So that was an easy decision – how do we make the most interesting Headless we can? Let a knowledgeable horror super fan like Nathan Erdel write it, and let a whacked out surrealist who rarely has both feet on the ground direct it. Arthur floats, actually. We have to pull the ropes down to find out what he wants for dinner.But on producing, I will say: It’s not my favorite thing to do. But somebody’s got to do it.

BTU: What can you tell us about your latest film HARVEST LAKE?

Scott Schirmer: Harvest Lake came out of the desire for me and Brian Williams to work together. I’ve known Brian for a few years, but we never worked together until he shot The Legend of Wasco for us this summer. It was such a great experience, and he and I are both trying to be full-time filmmakers, so that means we have to keep making movies, right? I originally had TWO other movies lined up to shoot this year and there was a little window of time right before those two movies where Brian and I thought we could shoot something, as long as it wasn’t too ambitious or expensive because we were going to have to self-finance it. So we pow-wowed and agreed that we wanted to do something sexy and weird. I wrote a treatment over one weekend, read it to Brian and the Forbidden team, and we were off to the races.

Harvest Lake is about four friends who go to the woods for a getaway weekend and fall into this weird sort-of sexual Bermuda Triangle. There’s something in the lake that controls the woods around it and entices people to drop any and all inhibitions. We brought together a great cast for the movie. Ellie Church is back from Headless and Time to Kill, and we brought back both our leads from The Legend of WascoJason Crowe and Dan Nye. And this was our first time working with Tristan Risk, whose done a few films with Ellie now, and Kevin Roach, who I’ve wanted to work with for a while now. Arthur heads up the special effects as always, which this time around involves sexualized flora and a new creature. It’s not a traditional horror movie, so don’t expect gore or violence. But do expect sex. All kinds. Guy on girl, girl on girl, guy on guy, threesome, foursome, sex with plants, and sex with something that isn’t human or vegetable but maybe neither or both? Anyway, sex is the scary but alluring thing here. It’s about giving in, letting go, and giving up. Is sex a release? Or is it a descent? One of the crew just saw our rough cut and called the movie “sexually liberating”. I think that’s pretty cool.

The movie will make its festival premiere next spring and we’ll have some blu-rays available shortly after that, but as part of our fundraising efforts, we’re offering a very limited edition blu-ray right now that will ship in January. Anyone who pre-orders one of these 250 blu-rays will be included in our ‘special thanks’ on the film and IMDb, and they’ll get to see and own the film a few months before anyone else – please be sure to check out all the details at http://forbiddenfilms.net/harvestlake/!

BTU: Are there still plans to Direct “THE BAD MAN“?

Scott Schirmer: Absolutely! It’s just a matter of time. I’ve received tremendous feedback on that script and it’s definitely the one I’m most excited to get made right now. It’s one of the two other movies I thought I’d be shooting this year, but our Kickstarter failed miserably, unfortunately. As soon as Harvest Lake is put to bed, I’m planning to work on a pitch package for The Bad Man, to try and raise private investor money. If anyone’s interested in investing, write us at info@forbiddenfilms.net, and when I have the pitch package ready, I’ll send it along!

BTU: Are there any other projects you have lurking inside of you that you care to share with the fans?

Scott Schirmer: I have a lot of things in development, and so does Forbidden Films. But you never know which ones will rise to the forefront and get made next. Harvest Lake is winding down for me right now, and I’m gearing up to write a new script on my own. Everyone at Forbidden Films is writing right now – we’re planning to do a really collaborative writing/directing thing in the near future. I’m trying to raise money for The Bad Man – as soon as I have it, that sucker’s getting shot. It’ll have to be next spring, though, because we can’t shoot it in the winter. We have two screenplays by Heidi Henderson that we’re breaking down to get produced, and Heidi is working on a third script right now that is a passion project for me. As soon as the next movie is solid, we’ll definitely be shouting it from the rooftops!

Author: Nick DeCarlo

Fan, Critic, Distributor, IT Professional, loving Father/Husband (and miserably failed former hardcore musician) Nick DeCarlo is the Founder of Beneath The Underground and BTU Films. Nick has been a horror fan since his first theatrical viewing experience of Motel Hell (1980).

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