For years film studios have occasionally released films to a small number of theaters for a week or two in preparation for their DTV release. There are many reasons why this (still) occurs, the studio doesn’t have any faith in the film & wants to make a quick buck & possibly even get a good review or two for the DVD cover. Or the studio realizes it has a total bomb on it’s hands & is contractually obligated to release the film somewhere, anywhere as per the contract so they toss it to the wolves only to find that even wolves have good taste every so often.
The reasons vary but it’s happened to low to no budget films all the way to big budget catastrophes (Case in point: 2008’s “Outlander”, which was filmed on a budget of $50 million dollars only to be released to about 80 theaters in the U.S. before quietly debuting on DVD a few weeks later.) Actually, a lot of films get this treatment from the studios. Most of them come & go without a trace and end up as footnotes in a horror reference book yet to be written. But every so often there is a little golden nugget hidden amongst the DTV rubble. In 2006, a film was quietly released to a handful of theaters nationwide for a week or two just to give it a little name recognition for it’s planned DVD release directly afterwards.
It had played a some festivals & garnered strong advance reviews & won numerous awards as well. Audiences loved it wherever it was shown. A no brainer for a major release from a smart studio you would think…wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be thinking wrong because the film in question, “Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon” did not get the push from Starz entertainment that it deserved & after a few weeks on less than 80 screens nationwide it made it’s DVD debut. But then something happened, people noticed this new horror film they had never heard of before & either rented or just went & bought it outright (as I did). And then the word got out.
Those words being “GREAT FUCKING MOVIE!” Leslie was making a name for himself & his movie was a sizable hit on DVD. I got lucky & managed to speak with Scott Glosserman, the director & co-writer (with David J. Stieve) of this amazingly entertaining film. And if you haven’t heard yet, it takes the most salient tropes of slasher movies & has fun with them. It sort of turns them inside out & makes them plausible & funny as well. But make no mistake, this is a slasher film & people do die in it. It’s the fun it has with the audience while killing off the cast that makes it stand out from other films of it’s ilk.
HN: I’m glad you could spend a little time with me to talk about “Behind The Mask” because I’ve got a lot of questions to ask!
SG: Great! Let’s go!
HN: I’ve seen the film about 8 times over the last 3 days or so and..
SG: Are you serious?
HN: Oh yeah. I’m gonna be honest with you, I bought it a few years ago when it was released to DVD strictly on the buzz behind it. I know it played in NY for a week or so but I never got a chance to see it in a theater.
SG: Well, unless you lived in a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn, you couldn’t have seen it.
HN: Yeah, I actually remember reading a review for it in one of the newspapers here. Either the Post or Daily News. I don’t remember which one though.
SG: Yeah, there is a darkside to theatrical movie distribution when it comes to small, tiny films. Companies like Anchor Bay say they’re going to do a theatrical release but what they really want is mainstream reviews to put on the DVD box. So what they’ll do is, they’ll hire a theatrical booker to find any theater within a market where a major newspaper is still going to cover it. So if it’s in Washington DC, it’s not like the movie is playing in Georgetown where a bunch of Georgetown seniors can walk to a theater. We were playing in Sterling, VA which was 22 miles away, so nobody was going to see that movie. But nevertheless it was listed in the Washington Post, and if it’s listed in the Washington Post as a theatrical movie then the critic for the Post is going to review the movie. And if that happens, then Anchor Bay can plaster that review on the DVD & it looks as though it had more of a pedigree because technically, it had a theatrical release. That is the dirty little secret. But they never really had any intention of releasing it wide or promoting it any more than they did. They just used it as a promotional device for the DVD release. That’s why it never played at the Angelika, or the Ziegfeld. It quite literally only played in one theater in a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn.
HN: Well, I have to be honest with you. When I bought it & got it home to watch it, I wasn’t too impressed actually. I didn’t get it quite frankly. I remember the newspaper review being kind to it but it was hardly a rave review either. So I had to rewatch it a couple of times before I got what you were up to. Call me a dunce but it took me that long to realize what you were attempting to do & that it’s actually a work of genius!
SG: Ah well…thank you.
HN: It really is though! It takes all of the tropes of a serial killer movie & turns them on their ear. And for someone who follows this kind of movie, as I do, you appreciate it that much more. Because it’s smart & it doesn’t talk down to it’s audience, it doesn’t make fun of the audience either. It actually takes other movies of it’s type, the “Friday The 13th” & “Halloween” films, rational in a sense. You guys thought up rational explanations for a lot of the “Impossible” things that killers in other movies do.
SG: Right. I like to say we’re not laughing at the genre, we’re laughing with the genre because we’re celebrating it! I like to say this is our “Love Note” to the genre because we love it so. And far from condescension, it’s celebration.
HN: Exactly. And over the last couple of days as I rewatched it a few times, I saw so many little touches in it that you would think were readily evident on first watching the film. But I laughed out loud as I saw things hidden away from my eyes in the past just suddenly appear!
SG: I just want to touch upon the few things we got some flack for. First one was “Man Bites Dog” already did this and this is just like “Man Bites Dog”. We just disagreed, “Man Bites Dog” was a brilliant movie that dealt with a serial killer who is an unforgiving one. Our movie deals with a “Psycho Slasher” in a world where this is a perverse artform designed to provide a counter balance everything that is good in a world where killers like Freddie are actually alive. So the tone & sensibility of “Behind The Mask” couldn’t be any different than “Man Bites Dog”. And to that end, the “Scream” series, where they talk about the tropes in the movies…in “Behind The Mask” they are the movie. So I think we carved out a niche in that respect. And the other place we received flack, when we received flack was “Oh man, this just turned into exactly what it’s parodying. It just turns into another horror film & it just falls apart.” But the irony of that was, that was the intention! First of all, we weren’t going for gore. We were going for an eighties-ish style of horror like when Michael Myers gets the coat hanger in his eye, there was NOT a lot of blood in those movies. So we were paying homage to the early 80’s slashers. So we were tame on the blood mostly & in the few scenes where we went over the top like the scene with the post hole digger..I mean you’re just laughing with it because you acknowledge the shots awareness for being gratuitously over the top. So I think that getting flack for not being gory enough or for being conventional….that was intentional. I’m not really sure if people understood what we were going for..
HN: No, they didn’t. Hell, I didn’t at first!
SG: Because if they had understood it, I’m sure they wouldn’t have given us flack for it. Do you know what I’m saying?
HN: I know exactly what you’re saying. And on top of all that, in my mind, Leslie is quite a likable character. I mean eventually he does what he does but up to that point as you get to know the character he sorta grows on you. There is an exuberance in what he does & how he prepares himself. There’s a palpable joy coming off of him as he’s getting ready. He’s excited about it…he’s like a little kid!
SG: That’s another thing we were going for. We’re in this world where “Psycho Slashing” is just a job. Albeit a very special one that few people do. But it is another job & when you come home from a hard day’s work you just kick your boots off & have a seat in your favorite chair and you’re just a dude…a guy. A lot of the humor came from the context, the crazy situation. If I can get my actors to play extremely dry & straightforward & really believing what they’re doing…not over the top like hamming it up. If they just play it dry, the situation itself is so absurd that the comedy just comes forth from there. And in fact, again if you were to provide an even greater juxtaposition between the “Mockumentary” style where everything is dry & straightforward and the quote “Horror Aesthetic” where everything does become stilted, over the top & campy and you get lines like “Gosh, you know the documentary is done and I’m editing it”. You know that’s where you get those stilted, campy lines.
HN: Let me touch on something I didn’t notice until last night actually (About the 3rd time I’d seen it in 36 hours I should mention). I never realized that you never see the cameramen filming the documentary until about 3/4 of the film was over!
SG: I’m so glad you noticed that! I don’t think anyone had noticed that!! What’s really funny was that Ben Pace who played Doug could not understand what I was going for, which was “Do not show your face”. He kept cheating his face to the camera & I kept telling him “No! No Pace face, no Pace face!” which became a running joke throughout production. Now of course Ben is an actor & he wants his face on screen but we had to keep reminding him that until you are a character in the horror movie, We don’t wanna see you. So we tried to deftly obscure Ben & Todd’s faces.
HN: I was telling my wife that we never see their faces, she swore that she did but she’s not into these kinds of films anyway. It reminded me of a couple of old “Twilight Zone” episodes actually: “Eye Of The Beholder” where you don’t realize that you never see the doctors or nurses faces until the end of the episode & “The Invaders” with Agnes Moorehead, where you don’t realize that she doesn’t utter one word throughout the episode. She just grunts & moans and then you find out why. You hear the cameramen speak throughout your movie and you just assume that you’ve seen them in an earlier scene when you actually haven’t seen them at all. You’ve just been listening to them for sixty minutes.
SG: It’s such a pleasure to talk to somebody who is so into the granular detail of it all actually. There are so many “Easter Eggs” in the film that people picked up on. I just love the “Forrest Gump-ian when fact meets fiction” Aesthetic & she runs into Lyndon Johnson, etc. Just to take that to a different type of level in “Behind The Mask”, you know if you can get the “Rabbit In Red” lounge in the frame with Taylor & for the few people that know that that’s the matchbook in “Halloween”. Without just being over the top, There was a scene where there was going to be a poker game with all of the horror stars of the genre but there is a fine line between over doing it & Not over doing it. Now for the sequel, as most sequels do…they just go over the top. It’s like they lose all their soul & it’s just a bunch of kills. Take “Blair Witch Project” for example, which was a $500,000 movie & the sequel was a $20,000,000 dollar movie. All of a sudden it just became crazy. So there’s gotta be some self aware nods to this over the top notion. So I think the people who thought that there wasn’t enough gore in the first one are gonna be more than satisfied this time around.
HN: Oh really?
SG: There are very fundamental reasons as to why we’re making the choices we’re making in regards to the sequel.
HN: I kind of liked the fact that “Behind The Mask” wasn’t too gory. It worked out well that way I thought.
SG: But the gore that’ll be in the 2nd one is going to be “Self Aware”. In the sense that “Oh my god, they’re adding all of this gore because they’re going over the top because it’s the sequel”. It’s all going to be part of laughing with the genre.
HN: Now it’s a prequel right? Not a sequel..
SG: Well that’s the other thing, over the last 10 years people have been doing sequels, they’ve been doing remakes such as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Halloween” & “Friday The 13th”. They’ve also been doing prequels. There was a prequel to “Silence Of The Lambs” for example. There’s every which way…every iteration of horror film. So we’re sort of addressing derivative film in general in our own way. If it’s a sequel, prequel, mash-up…I’m just calling it a “Spree-quel”.
HN: That’s pretty funny….inventive.
SG: We’re doing a “Spree-quel”! It’s going to be trying to deconstruct the conventions & archetypes of all three of these derivative tropes.
HN: On to another question, I’m not too sure how well the film did once it was released to home video. I’m pretty sure you didn’t make much during the brief theatrical release because you weren’t out there long enough. But the film has a pretty large fan base due to it’s popularity on DVD. I’ve heard that there have been some issues with funding the “Spree-quel” & I wonder why because I know a lot of people who are looking forward to it. I actually mentioned on my Facebook page that I would be speaking to you soon & I got a ton of requests from people asking me to ask you when the sequel was coming.
SG: Let’s go back, fortunately the DVD did take on a life of it’s own. It’s no “Office Space” which made something like $30 million on DVD. For the niche genre that it’s in, I think it found it’s audience fortunately & we sold a couple of hundred thousand copies. We did really, really well. The financial impact wasn’t hugely significant because there was so much money that Anchor Bay blew on the theatrical catastrophe. We would’ve been much more satisfied if they had took that money & threw it up in the air over Sunset Blvd. and watch people grab it. That would’ve been much more satisfying to me. So all that money needed to be recouped from the DVD sales, and it was because the DVD sold well.
That being said, it’s really difficult to quantify how large the online horror audience is. I’m just throwing this out there, let’s say that there are 350,000 unique viewers on CHUD, 400,000 on Dread Central & 600,000 on FANGORIA. The question is “Are they the same people?” or “Are they they different people who are loyal to different sites?”. So in other words, is the horror community comprised of a million and a half people or is it the same three hundred thousand people going to different sites? I don’t think anybody knows the answer to this because I’ve spoken to the biggest horror bloggers out there & I’ve spoken with the owners of the Alamo Drafthouse & Anchor Bay as well. And nobody seems to be able to quantify it. So the question here is “Are there just a few thousand hard core fans of Behind The Mask? Or are there 500,000 hard core fans of it?” I really don’t have any idea. It’s not as though I’m having a very difficult time mounting the sequel, I just happened to have a very disappointing discussion with Anchor Bay when I said “I’m ready with the sequel. I’ve got the script, the cast. Do you guys wanna co-finance?
Or if you don’t want to co-finance, do you want to take a distribution fee & distribute it when I deliver it to you on a silver platter?” And they basically said “No. We’re not interested”. And that’s when I realized that Anchor Bay, who had the first one didn’t want to do the second one even if I financed the movie on my own & gave it to them…I realized that it would probably be an exercise in futility to go to other people in the industry like Screen Gems or Lionsgate. Why don’t I just appeal directly to the people in the horror audience & see how many people are out there and how many of them would pledge to buy the DVD. If I can demonstrate that there’s enough people out there to justify making the movie…I’ll go make the movie.
And so that’s the path we’re going down now & I’m sort of entrepreneurial so not only can I hopefully make the movie but I’m also trying to quantify how big the hard core horror movie audience is out there because I’ll be able to come up with some sort of analytics based on the number of people gravitate to the site. That being said, I don’t really know how to talk to them other than to talk to people like you. Like you said, you have this following & when you mentioned the interview to them, hardly anybody knew about the sequel. I’m hoping maybe they tell their friends & so on & this thing keeps growing!
HN: Is that the plan right now? To just get a number in your head as to how many people would definitely pledge to buy the DVD & then go from there?
SG: Well, I don’t think I can make this movie for less than one million dollars. I don’t think I’d need more than three million let’s say. Everybody is going to get paid guild minimum. The actors, myself, the writers will get guild minimum through the WGA. Nobody is looking to get rich on this we just wanna make the movie.
And we want to make it for the minimum it would take to make it. Well it’s going to take a minimum of a million dollars to green light this thing, so let’s back in to how we get that number. If we sold a couple hundred thousand of the first one & we figure “Will half those people buy the 2nd one”? If half those people pay ten bucks, well there’s your million dollars! So is it theoretically possible that I could quote “Crowd Fund” a million dollar movie? Well yeah, but it’s never been done before. People have “Crowd Funded” $8-16,000 documentaries and I think someone has done one for $150,000 but then they gave the movie away for free.
They sold frames of the movie which was great. But to make a goal of $1 million dollars is pretty groundbreaking and I don’t know if we can do it. Maybe if I can make a dent & demonstrate a groundswell of organic, core communital support, I can bring on a financial partner like a Lionsgate. I can pre-sell foreign, television & I can use that to build toward my million. But this is truly a sort of a 21st century, pushing the envelope of what we could do through social networking experiment. We’ll see.
HN: I’m very surprised that Lionsgate didn’t pony up something…
SG: I haven’t been to Lionsgate yet. Again, I think there very well might be places that would do something like this but I’ve decided to avoid the rigamarole of doing that and go directly to the horror community to see for myself if I can justify making another one.
HN: How much time do you think you have before you have to come to a decision either way regarding making/not making the film?
SG: That’s a really great question & I am spending money every day obviously through our Facebook ad campaign, just building out the Facebook site…I shouldn’t say the site, the Facebook fan page. We built what we think is the first ever Facebook application that allows people to pre-order in the same way that Kickstarter.com works. I’m burning holes through my pocket & I can’t do it forever so I’m hoping that by July…August. By the end of the Summer if we really haven’t been able to green light the movie we’re not going to be able to because the plan would be to be shooting this somewhere between September & November, the latest would be December which is when the Harvest moon..you know this is when the original took place and we want the fall in Portland. If somebody wrote a check tomorrow, we could go into pre-production tomorrow because we have the script, cast, crew, locations. So we’re really ready to start building sets & go into pre-production tomorrow. The only thing stopping us is the financing. So if I’m able to get financing somewhere between now & August we could be shooting in the Fall. The pipe dream goal would be to premiere this movie at the Alamo Drafthouse six years to the day that we premiered the first one at South by Southwest in March. So for us, that would be the time horizon.
HN: I’m looking at the Facebook page right now actually…
SG: How many likes are we up to?
SG: 1394. We had a great couple of days & it’s starting to slow down right now. That’s evident of the fact that we got featured a couple of days ago on a few different websites. But we need to keep the groundswell going. Have we passed $2000 yet in the support section?
HN: Lemme check…Site’s loading slowly here.
SG: I mean this could be a monumental, catastrophic failure. I have no idea how this is going to work. There are a lot of people in the horror community who want to see independent horror who are sort of sick of derivative studio fare. Whether or not you even liked “Behind The Mask”, why not go out & support independent horror? Come out & pre-order a DVD. You’re not going to get charged if we don’t make the movie!
HN: Well, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you. Don’t get me wrong, I watch all sorts of horror movies. Big budget studio fare to no budget independent features. I love em’ all but I especially enjoy the independents. That’s where all the action is now & that’s where you find filmmakers taking chances with their films. That’s where I get my jollies right now. And when I heard your story, I was amazed because I thought to myself afterwards “That should’ve been done a few years ago. And yet….nothing. Why?” I wanted to know the answer.
SG: I’m with you. I’ll see everything. I will totally see everything. I’m psyched to see “The Innkeepers”..
HN: Oh yeah! The new Ti West film. I heard it was great! I’m dying to see it. I loved his “House Of The Devil”.
HN: I enjoy watching small budget, independent horror films. I’m a child of the 70’s & there wasn’t much big budget studio horror films being made in the 70’s besides “The Exorcist”, “Jaws” or “The Omen”. Every horror film was low budget back then & I grew up on those. I still love them as much today as I did way back then. I always will. Oh! Here we go…it’s just shy of $2000 dollars.
SG: If the DVD is $24 bucks & we’ve got about 1400 “Likes”, that means that the people who are liking the film aren’t pledging to pre-order it right now. I figure if we’re lucky, by August we’ll have close to 20,000 “Likes”. Well, even if all 20,000 people pledged to buy the DVD that would be only about $500,000. But if we had $500,000 in pledges..that would be huge. We would have a financial partner & we’d be making this movie…no problem.
But the way things are going now, even if we had about 20,000 “Likes” we’d still only have about $20,000. So it would be a monumental failure. We’ve gotta do something to get people to support this thing. But maybe not… Maybe it doesn’t deserve a sequel because after all this is a meritocracy and what I’m doing right now is putting my heart on it’s sleeve saying “Are there enough people out there who can support this?” Anchor Bay might be right when they say it doesn’t economically justify a sequel. We will see.
HN: What are you doing in the interim? How are you supporting yourself?
SG: My living! After my 4 1/2 seconds of fame after “Behind The Mask”, I had the best representation anyone could have and I was being put out for all sorts of studio films. The interesting thing was I would meet with Platinum Dunes to do the “Texas Chainsaw” remake but I would also meet with Lorne Michaels production company to make something like “Balls Of Fury” so people couldn’t really label me as a horror director or a comedy director. What ended up happening was that they would pick a safer choice to helm the horror film & another to do the comedy film so I was betwixt & between since I had done this hybrid, ultimately a lot of doors opened for me but at the end of the day no one was really willing to take that chance since they didn’t really know which way tonally I would take it. So I ended up being the “Auteur/Writer/Director” guy who was only going to get something set up if I produced it originally. So my girlfriend at the time & I pitched Paramount Vantage a elevated horror film.
And they were looking for an elevated horror film because they had just done “No Country For Old Men”, “Babel”, “Kite Runner”, “There Will Be Blood” & “Into The Wild” and they were doing really well so they wanted a horror equivalent. So we were really fortunate in that they preemptively bought our script & they hired me to direct it. It was going to be a $25 million dollar movie & we went off and rode that for a solid year and change but the writers strike happened and after the writers strike ended, Paramount Vantage went away…and so did our project.
And the terrible thing about that was I had taken myself out of the game for over a year to write that project and when all your eggs are in one basket it’s kind of like “Oh yeah, I remember that guy! Whatever happened to him?” And that was tough because that would have put me on a different trajectory had that movie happened. But I was fortunate and got involved in a documentary during the writer’s strike which was really great for my intellect. And I got basically conferred upon me a PHD in something I would never otherwise had gotten an opportunity to write a dissertation about. And then I also developed a project for MTV that I set up and it premiered last week that was an original MTV movie which was in itself a very trying period for me but it was a job opportunity for me in video.
HN: What was the movie called?
SG: “The Truth Below”. It just premiered last week. I think for what MTV wanted it far exceeded expectations, it definitely pushed the envelope as far as a basic cable television movie is concerned. But there is a lot of my heart, passion & vision on the cutting room floor that never made it.
HN: What was the budget on “Behind The Mask”?
SG: The physical production cost was right around $250,000. The cast, in between Robert Englund & the rest of the cast we spent around $130,000 & about $250,000 on post. Because we had to marry two different types of film stock. But ultimately about $800,000 total.
HN: You mentioned changing the film stock & we should point out that once the cameramen are introduced 3/4 of the way through the movie the film stock changes completely.
SG: We wanted those two different film aesthetics. The mockumentary & the horror. If we used HD the whole way & then just tried to change the effecting it just wouldn’t have worked right.
HN: You say you have the cast set. Does that include Englund?
SG: Yeah, he is really excited. He’s read the script & he loves it. He’s our biggest cheerleader. I think it inspires him in a way, he really enjoyed working with us & he understands what we’re trying to do and he is so supportive. He can’t wait to come back to do it again. We also have some other horror icons up our sleeves for new cameos that will make the same kind of impact that Englund did when he appeared the first time out as well.
HN: You can’t mention their names….can you?
SG: Can’t mention their names but you can try guessing if you like!
HN: No chance! Let’s talk a bit about how you got started in this business?
SG: Well, I had the great fortune of having an extensive alumni network of Hollywood executives who had attended my school. And so what I did was I used my Spring break of my junior year of college to write cover letters to anyone I was put in touch with from the University who was in Hollywood. And I lined up about a dozen meetings with people & everyone told me whatever I wanted to do whether it was write, direct, act or even run a studio you should start working at a talent/literary agency. Because it’s at these agencies where you can observe/absorb everything that goes on in Hollywood. Because at some points the deals all filter through these agencies. They’re like the hubs on the wheels of Hollywood. So that’s really where you confer a business degree in Hollywood on yourself but you also learn a very intelligent way to pursue whatever career you want and you create relationships in the meantime. So of all the agencies at the time in Hollywood, the biggest & best was CAA & I was lucky enough to score a job out of college as a glorified secretary to the head of the motion picture talent dept. at CAA. and I worked there for a couple of years & from there I was able to determine how to pursue a career in writing/directing & producing. Was that too long of an answer?
HN: Not at all, but you didn’t mention the name of the school.
SG: I went to the University Of Pennsylvania. It was actually there where I wrote my senior thesis on Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”.
HN: Really? “The Shining”?
SG: They didn’t have a film major at the time so basically by the end of my Freshmen year I had already taken all of the courses that had “Film” in the title. I was just seeking all of the “Film” classes and they all fell under the English major because they had all been filmed as literature & learning to critique film and stuff like that. And so by the time I had to declare a major, I was basically done with my major. I declared English & I was basically finished with it so for the rest of college I took independent studies with this screenwriting professor and that was just basically writing screenplays for the next three years of college.
After CAA, I did some commercial acting to help supplement my income, I waited tables, I was a computer tutor before there was a “Geek Squad”. I was giving Piano lessons to the children of wealthy families and just gathering up money while I was developing/optioning material. And I got lucky when I had optioned my favorite children’s book as a kid. It was called “Pal”. And a producer called me & this producer wanted the option so I managed to leverage myself into getting him to hire me to write the script & co-produce with me. And a couple of years later, I discovered “Behind The Mask” & started developing that one. And it ended up being the first film that I shot.
HN: How did you “Discover” the script for “Behind The Mask”?
SG: My manager at the time who was a very close friend of mine who also worked at CAA before he left to manage would constantly send me scripts to read. And this was a script that was submitted to him for possible representation..to represent the writer. And although he didn’t have the capability of being able to bring the writer on as a client, he loved the script. And since he knew of my horror erudition, he gave me the script to read and I loved it, so he & I began working with the writer developing the script for the next couple of years helping mold it into what became the final shooting script.
HN: So you didn’t write the original script yourself?
SG: No, this is David’s (David J. Stieve) original vision. He wrote this script & what was so great was the voice, the dialog, the characters, David gave voice to these guys. What David needed & what the script needed was it needed to become more elevated than it was. It was a really funny, but nevertheless stream of consciousness, sort of lay person’s imaginative view of what this world would’ve been like. I believe at the time it took place where the slasher movies existed. But it was a great marriage because I was able to bring my academics, conventions & archetypes of horror knowledge to the script. and I was able to layer in the true academia of the conventions & archetypes of horror. Once we did that, we took the script from sort of an amusing lark to something that was pretty smart & grounded & elevated. And something that became really a love note to horror & a horror geek’s best friend.
HN: Talking about your love for “The Shining” for a second…
SG: Oh man, that’s my favorite movie.
HN: I get such heat for being someone who isn’t all that impressed with that movie. I mean, it looks great. The performances are uniformly excellent. But I just never found it to be very scary at all. If I had a Nickel for everytime someone told me it was the scariest movie they’d ever seen I’d have a bucketful of Nickels! But it never scared me at all. Were you scared when you first saw it?
SG: It’s interesting. Scared is just a relative term. You’re right, I don’t love this movie because it’s scary per se. It’s easy enough for a director to scare an audience by quick cutting behind them & there’s a guy with an ax. But I think that “The Shining” is incredibly haunting and I think that Kubrick had this endeavor to see if he can make an overtly haunting movie through the use of anti climax because one of the amazing things about the movie is that NOTHING REALLY HAPPENS! Just when you think that something is building up into a crescendo…it doesn’t. It’s so anti climactic.
It’s so haunting. And even when something does finally happen, it’s out of the blue. So, when Halloran is desperately trying to get to the hotel to save little Danny, he gets in the door & Nicholson hits him with the ax. It was so anti climactic, like when Nicholson is chasing Duvall through the hotel with the bat & it ultimately leads to this big climax where nothing happens. It’s a wonderful manipulation of the audience, just a great experiment in film: “Can I terrify an audience through the use of anti climax?”
And I think Kubrick is very successful there because I think what horror really is, it’s all about the leading as I’m sure you would agree. It’s like going to the dentist’s office & you’re scared of what might happen. You’re sitting there & you hear the drilling & you’re waiting for them to hit a nerve. Sometimes they don’t but once they do it hurts. What you’re terrified of is the thought of them hitting the nerve, not actually hitting it. And that’s what really what the early 80’s horror was about..anticipation. Michael Myers stalking..and when he finally killed someone it was anti climactic. I think that’s what Kubrick was trying to do. I think as we got into more modern horror & all of the iterations, the 6th, 7th & 8th sequels it becomes less about the climax/build up/anticipation & it becomes more about the straight up kill.
HN: Yeah, it’s all about the uniqueness of the kills now.
SG: That’s right! That sort of takes the soul out of horror films.
HN: Is that why Englund’s character is called Halloran? Is that your “Shining” tribute?
SG: (Laughing) Yeah. “Doc” Halloran! Actually, you know it’s funny. I don’t think that is mentioned on IMDB or Wikipedia as of yet. But I’m sure people have discovered those references by now. But it’s really all about making Robert Englund look like Donald Pleasance as Loomis from “Halloween”.
HN: There are a lot of little “Easter Eggs” sprinkled throughout the movie which is why it demands repeated viewings.
SG: Some are more obvious than others. It’s like a good videogame where you can look for some of the less obvious ones. We wanted to keep horror fans on their toes.
HN: I have a question about the casting. The actress who played Taylor (Angela Goethals) looked a lot to me like Adrienne King who was the “Final Victim” in the original “Friday the 13th”. Any story behind that?
SG: That is so funny that you should say that! I wish that I could say that she was cast on her looks. I’ve heard that before but I didn’t have the luxury of casting by looks. I had to cast people who were the best actors for the roles. Angela looking a bit like Adrienne was a happy accident.
HN: It was serendipitous casting then? Awesome because she was pitch perfect!!
SG: All of our actors were…!
HN: Over the end credits The Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” plays..
SG: Oh yeah….
HN: I thought to myself as I heard it “Why hasn’t any Psycho movie ever used this as part of it’s soundtrack?” And then I got to wondering how you guys got it because it couldn’t have been cheap or easy to license either.
SG: So here’s the deal. First of all, I can’t believe that no one ever used it either. “Psycho Killer” was a song that when played at a party, we would just put someone up on the ceiling, holding them by the shoulders as they walked across the ceiling. It was just a fun song! And so I was very familiar with it. And I just couldn’t imagine making the movie without putting this song in it somewhere. And there weren’t many omniscient moments in the movie. So either the song was gonna play on the radio while they were driving for five seconds or so but that really wasn’t worth the time & money it would take to license the song nor would it do the song justice.
So I just determined pretty quickly that this would be the final punch line and just get everybody jazzed as they were leaving the theater on such a great note. “Psycho Killer” does that but to get the song was probably the biggest challenge…Robert Englund was a challenge but we finally got the script to him after a lot of effort. “Psycho Killer” was in itself a journey of epic proportions! First of all, I was writing letters to David Byrne’s manager, I was trying to get music supervisors to talk to Warner/Chappell music & it took a year and a half to ultimately get what amounted to about five minutes for the person who was in charge of giving us a form letter that said we could use the song. It took five minutes to do it but it took a year & a half to get somebody to take the five minutes to do it basically. Because David Byrne & his band are apparently notorious about NOT letting people use their music.
HN: That’s what I had assumed because I couldn’t recall any of Byrne’s music in a film that he wasn’t directly involved in.
SG: We were fortunate in so many areas. We got all sorts of favors called in all the time. And I think that people noticed that we were a bunch of earnest kids who were really working hard to make a good movie so we got a lot of favors. As a matter of fact I believe that Byrne was very interested in letting us use the song very early on. But as you probably know there are two sides to getting music: The publishing side & The masters side. The band, management & record company are on the publishing side. The big conglomerates are on the masters side. And going through corporate trying to get a $500 – $1000 song license when they’re doing huge seven figure deals with Apple or GM is impossible. But ultimately, we prevailed & the movie is better for it. The question is now how can we one up “Psycho Killer”? If you have any ideas let me know!
HN: Were you happy with all of the awards the film won? And did you think it was going to be a bigger success at the box office because of it?
SG: In order to sleep well at night, our goal was to make our investors money back & get a theatrical release for our first film. We succeeded at that. The fact that the theatrical release of the film was handled terribly was bittersweet but ultimately it was all gravy because getting the theatrical was our first goal. It would have been really nice if Anchor Bay & Starz knew what they were doing but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Most of the awards were audience awards & to have the film you made for a specific audience be recognized as award worthy by them felt really nice. Really nice.
HN: I’d like to ask about the design of the mask that Leslie wears. It’s a really effective mask. Who designed it?
SG: I’m glad you asked! Everything had to be iconic in the movie. The mask has to be iconic as well. So we treated every facet of this as you would if you were doing a slasher film. There were two components to the mask, The more superficial component was Leslie’s legend that he created for himself is that he fell to the bottom of the river & he was picked apart by turtles. So there’s a little bit of that “Turtle Look” to the shell of the mask but that’s neither here nor there. The real inspiration of the mask was that because Leslie’s mythology was that he was killed as a boy and is now back & he’s hunting. So we went and looked at pictures of fetuses & we looked at that undeveloped, smooth, nondescript fetus look. As gross as it sounds, the mask is representative of that. We just added hair to it & hollowed out the holes & tried to give the mouth a pretty nondescript expression. We went toward the avenue of nondescript, if you look at Jason’s Hockey mask or Mike Myers mask and you see they’re very neutral but their neutrality lends a sense of terror. You’ve found out what’s happening….Behind The Mask!
HN: Who was responsible for building the mask. I’d like to give him a shout out…
SG: A guy named E. Larry Day. He had just done the makeup & visual effects on “The Ring 2” up in Portland. And he had just come off that movie & he was available & local and as visual effects guy do, he has all of those books filled with pictures of fetuses & dead bodies & stuff like that to draw inspiration from. The mask is E. Larry’s baby for sure.
HN: It’s a very effective mask, especially when Leslie puts it on for the first time. His entire body seems to change a bit when it’s on.
SG: And he was responsible for the whole outfit as well! The waffle pajamas & the overalls. He looks like an overgrown boy who’s all tattered. And the way E. Larry distressed the clothes and used the blowtorch & such to make them look just so. The amount of time, energy & imagination getting those clothes to look like that was impressive. And there had to be three identical sets of them as well!
HN: In terms of the script, who wrote up the rules to use when you’re confronted by a slasher? They were hilarious!! The main one was “Run like a motherf*cker & don’t ever look back!”
SG: That was Dave! If you’re an extremely talented writer but a layperson & you’re sort of imagining in your head “All right. I’m gonna write up a character who’s a mentor & he’s gonna tell people what to do if a slasher is attacking you”. He comes up with a very funny & prescient line like “Run like a motherf*cker & don’t look back” you know? Those lines are Dave’s. The ones that really convey an understanding of the conventions of horror like the “Yonic” imagery & going through the tunnel were really helpful in terms of the writing of it. I was adding some of the more erudite horror conventions to it. “Run like a motherf*cker”? That’s just great screenwriting. You know what I mean?
HN: I do! There was also “Don’t try to fight..you’re gonna lose”, “Don’t look back. You’re not gonna like what you see” & I started applying those rules to a lot of slasher movies that i saw & they all made sense in the contexts of all of the movies I thought of. As a matter of fact I laughed out loud when Leslie explained why he does a lot of cardio work. He mentions it almost offhandedly, how no matter his victims run..he’s right behind them. And he’s walking!
SG: It’s a sort of a perverse game of “Red Light, Green Light”!
HN: It’s such a brilliant movie full of great lines like that. It kills me that it’s not better known.
SG: The other reason for getting great actors is because they come up with great lines on their own, especially when they’re in the moment. The line in the library when Leslie finds “Paradise Lost”? That was Nathan’s line & we kept it in there.
HN: Is that something you’re open to? Improvisation?
SG: Oh hell yeah! You always encourage that because you never know where a gem is gonna come from.
HN: There is a scene towards the end where Leslie & Taylor are on the roof of the cabin before the kids arrive & Leslie starts to sob silently muttering “I’m so happy”. Then Taylor seems to try to console him & for a second I thought she was going to try to kiss him. Am I wrong in assuming that’s what was going to happen? Because it felt like a romantic moment to me.
SG: Well you know, look Leslie’s design is that this is all a courting ritual and his ultimate desire would be that he ended up with his “Survivor Girl” the way Eugene ended up with Jennie. And so that’s a continuing story that may have new developments in the “Spree-quel”. We have figured it all out already…don’t worry.
As you can see, Scott has a lot to say about the horror genre in general far & above what he has to say about his own film! But through it all he was nothing but a perfect gentleman who happens to have a couple of ideas about what true horror really is right now & how to elevate it to the next level. I really think he’s some kind of unsung genius. If you haven’t seen “Behind The Mask…”, what are you waiting for? Go see it now!! If you have & want to see more go to the FB page “Before The Mask: The Return Of Leslie Vernon” Support B4TM and pledge to buy a copy of the film if it gets made. You won’t be charged a dime if it doesn’t but I want to see it so get to pledging acolytes. Do your part to make this a reality!!
Interview: Director Scott Glosserman (Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon)