Haunted Honeymoon

Interview: Lou Simon – Director (Hazmat)

Filmmaker Lou Simon has a really pretty voice for a guy. But that’s because “she” ain’t a “he”! Hailing from Cuba but now working out of Florida, Ms. Simon is getting ready to start production on her third directorial venture, “Agoraphobia”. But right now she’s out promoting her latest release, “Hazmat”, which tells the story of a television show very similar to the SYFY channel’s “Scare Tactics” and the chaos that ensues when one of their pranks goes terribly wrong. She’s a young, beautiful & talented Hispanic woman who just happens to love writing & directing horror films (Which makes her just about the perfect girl in my eyes)! I spoke with her about her start in the business, what she hopes to achieve in her future and how the heck she ended up getting called “Lou”

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Horrornews.net: I have to ask this before I ask anything else. What’s the deal with your name? When I found out we were going to chat awhile I took the opportunity to do a little research & discovered you’re a woman, which really threw me for a loop considering your name is Lou.

Lou Simon: [Laughing] All my friends called me that, I’ve had that nickname since my college days. I’m a big sport fan and I love sports and everything connected to them so I hung out with a lot of guys back then playing sports and they just decided to start calling me Lou. And that’s what everyone has been calling me ever since so that’s what I go by.

HNN: Can I ask what your real name is?

LS: It’s “Xxxxxxx” (I promised her I wouldn’t say). The other thing is that I have a business and I didn’t necessarily want my clients to know what I did on the side since it might scare them off.

HNN: Oh really? And what kind of business is it?

LS: I’m an attorney.

HNN: Uh oh! Now I have to be really careful with what I ask you! (Now you all see why I have to keep my promise).

LS: No, it’s ok! I’m a real estate attorney, nothing too heavy.

HNN: It seems to me that being a real estate attorney is already a pretty lucrative gig so what made you want to become a filmmaker?

LS: When I was in college I wanted to become a novelist so I started out studying creative writing. But when I was ready to graduate I decided to look in the local newspaper and discovered that there wasn’t that great a demand for novelists in the workplace. So like a lot of people, unfortunately too many of us, I decided to go to law school because I really didn’t know what else to do. I convinced myself that if I went to law school in New York, at NYU, that it would give me life experience and topics I could write about. But when I got to law school I didn’t have time for any writing because it’s so demanding and then I became an attorney and still had no time for writing because it’s so demanding [Laughing]! About five years ago a friend of mine had written a screenplay and I read it and it was just awful. So I thought that I should help fix it up and I found it to be so much easier that actually writing a novel. So I started to write my own script and after discovering how hard it was to get anyone to read my script I decided to just make my script into a feature film myself. And now I’m hooked!

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HNN: That’s really interesting that you just took the bull by the horns and got it done yourself like that. That film would be “The Awakened” (2012) correct?

LS: Yes.

HNN: So with you being a first time scripter/director, how on earth did you get it funded?

LS: Sometimes I regret that it took me so long to get back to writing but I guess that things turn out the way they’re supposed to. One of the good things that came out of being an attorney is that I made some really good business connections. And I guess people trusted me more since I worked with them as an attorney so I got a group of equity investors who were excited about the prospect of investing in a feature film together and that was it! I know it’s a problem that a lot of people have in the film business but it was actually quite easy so we were really lucky in that respect.

HNN: That’s incredible! Especially considering a lot of the horror stories I’ve heard over the years from filmmakers trying to get financing for their films.

LS: Isn’t it? Even though I had to take a weird route and a long time to get to this place somehow I think that it was meant to be, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have done it. If I had tried to go straight into writing rather than go to law school I probably would’ve ended up waiting on tables somewhere.

HNN: So the process of getting a film made came pretty easily for you but why horror movies? Are you a big fan of them?

LS: You know I just love anything that’s mysterious, fun & scary. Ever since I was very young, even before I went to college or studied creative writing, all of my stories were about stuff like that. Some sort of mystery or murder or a ghost story, things along those lines. I started writing at the age of 10 and I was always fascinated by these subjects even back then.

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HNN: You started writing when you were 10 years old?

LS: Yeah, I did it for a class and the story was based on something I saw on Scooby Doo [Laughing], afterwards I was hooked and kept writing on my own.

HNN: Do you have any plans on ever writing a script outside of the horror genre? A comedy or drama maybe?

LS: As with anything else I might change my mind in the future but for now I’m so happy doing what I do so I think I’m gonna stick with horror films. I’ve been asked before if I was just making movies like this because I’m just starting out but this is what I’d be doing even if there wasn’t so much benefit to doing it. Obviously it’s a lot easier to be making low budget horror films than in any other genre but I’d still be doing this regardless because I find it strangely fascinating. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever have ideas about making films that aren’t in the horror genre but I’m just not all that interested in going there just yet.

HNN: That settles it…You are now officially the greatest woman I’ve ever met! Are you Hispanic by any chance?

LS: Yes I am, I’m Cuban. As a matter of fact I wasn’t born here, I was born in Cuba.

HNN: So, were there a lot of horror movies to be seen in Cuba? Somehow I doubt that…

LS: [Laughing] No not really. The stuff you can watch in a communist country is really limited.

HNN: So when did you come to the U.S.A.?

LS: When I was 9.

HNN: Ok, let’s get to your latest film, “Hazmat”. What gave you the idea for the script?

LS: I underwent a major surgical procedure back in October, 2012 and I was laid up in bed afterwards for two weeks straight. So all I did was watch horror movies & TV the entire time. The SYFY channel was showing a marathon of their series Scare Tactics and I really love that show so I was laughing hysterically through a lot of it but I also thought that they were being so mean to the people they were pranking as well. So then I began to wonder if any of the victims have ever actually hurt one of the actors or if maybe one of them might have gotten a heart attack from being scared so badly, how do the producers really know that something bad isn’t going to happen one of these days? I realized that was a pretty good concept for a movie and I started writing it. I had a script done in about a week.

HNN: It only took you a week to write the script?

LS: Yeah, if I had known that it would be so easy for me to write a script then I would’ve started years ago. I can usually write a script in abut 5 days. One or two days to write an outline and then 3 days to write the script.

HNN: How many hours a day do you spend writing your scripts?

LS: 8 to 10 hours a day.

HNN: So after 5 days you have a completed script. Is that your final script or is it just a first draft of the script?

LS: That’s the first draft. I usually go through a few more drafts and then once we cast I’ll change the script to fit the casting/location. For example, in the original script for “Hazmat” the location was to be an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere but it was really hard to find such a building in a remote location. There isn’t a lot of land left to build on in Miami so although we did find a suitable abandoned building to shoot in, it was in the middle of the city so I had to rewrite certain aspects of the script in order to fit the new location. There were certain script changes made after we cast the film as well.

HNN: Speaking about casting, do you cast your own films or do you work with a casting director or agency?

LS: Oh god no! We get submissions from Facebook, we get submissions from Craigslist too. IMDB has a new casting option which is really cool as well. But the acting community here is kind of small and we don’t have the money to fly actors in from around the country so a lot of it is basically just word of mouth quite honestly.

HNN: I’ve watched “Hazmat” twice now and I’ve read reviews for it as well, some of them good reviews and some of them not so good. Do you read reviews at all?

LS: I do…I do. Sometimes painfully [laughing].

HNN: Let me ask your opinion about something negative that one critic said about “Hazmat”. In a nutshell he stated that the script was so upfront about its premise that the whole film felt like a big red herring. In other words, the setup felt so obvious that he got the idea that there was going to be a big reveal towards the end of the film, a big surprise to pull the rug out from under him. But the setup is the film, there wasn’t a big reveal waiting for him at the end. His big complaint was that he thought the film was too simplistic. How do you feel about that?

LS: Well, there is a little bit of a reveal because you discover that the killer is actually a bit haunted as opposed to just pissed off, so he really is possessed. But besides that, “Hazmat” is a slasher film and I can’t think of any slasher films besides the original “Friday The 13th” (1980) that feature a big reveal at the end. It’s usually just one person killing other people, even “Halloween” (1978) didn’t have a big reveal at its end. It’s part of the sub genre that it’s in, there usually aren’t a lot of twists & turns in slasher films. So if that critic really needs a big twist at the end of a film he reviews then slashers probably aren’t going to ideal for him to critique. I’ve written scripts that feature twists & turns but I really didn’t think this film would need either of those.

HNN: Now one of the positive reviews felt that “Hazmat” really moved along at a nifty pace and that the film is split into two parts: One part deals with the execution of the prank and the other part focusing on a fight for survival from those left alive. Now was that something you had planned on putting into the script from the beginning?

LS: I’ll be very honest with you, sometimes when I’m writing I make decisions that I’m not even conscious I made until I read the finished product, so I don’t remember having that precise thought. What I do know is that unlike characters in other slasher films, I did want to keep the focus on my characters for awhile before they died. Otherwise it’s like there’s a new character introduced every few minutes and they die before the audience even really knows their name. I did want people to get to know my characters a little bit, their backgrounds, their dilemmas, etc, so that if/when they die you know who they were and hopefully a little something in regards to what they were all about.

HNN: There is a lot more character development in “Hazmat” than in the average slasher film, I’ll give you that. What I found curious was the fact that every guy in the movie had kids…

LS: [Laughing]

HNN: I found it kind of odd when each guy couldn’t do something that might’ve gotten them all out of the building because they all had kids waiting for them at home and they didn’t want to take the risk of getting caught. Was that a conscious decision on your part to put that into the script?

LS: I really didn’t think of it that way! What I wanted were older characters in my film, not five kids camping out in the woods waiting for someone to kill them, the usual setup. I wanted to go down a different path with older & younger people all working together in the film, I wanted more diversity in the characters. You know until you just mentioned this I hadn’t realized that I gave all of the older male characters children! [Laughing]

HNN: There’s not too much gore/blood on display in “Hazmat” which surprised me given the setup. That’s not to say that there isn’t any of the red stuff flying around because there is but was that your decision to keep the gore/blood minimal or was it more a budgetary issue? Are you even a fan of extreme gore/blood in horror films?

LS: It was more a result of the budget we had to work with, and we had a lot of production delays as well due to some construction that was taking place right outside of the building we were filming in. There were a lot of times when we had to rush through certain setups rather than take our time and really gore it up and start throwing blood everywhere, I would’ve loved to have done that! But it was either have a finished film with less gore in it or go crazy with the blood, I decided I’d rather have a finished film with a little less gore and a bit more characterization in it. Trust me I would’ve loved to have been able to have blood splattering all over the place, that’s how it was originally written to look.

HNN: So tell me more about your next film, “Agoraphobia”. What about the script for this film is going to make it different from what I’m expecting?

LS: If you want blood/gore then “Agoraphobia” isn’t going to be for you because it’s definitely a ghost story that relies more on mood, atmosphere & tension. I think what I like about it is that it’s not straight up horror, it’s more of a thriller since there’s a lot of questions regarding the sanity of the main character. So it’s a psychological thriller but its got some supernatural elements to it as well since she believes her home to be haunted. It’s definitely very character driven and very reliant on misdirection so whoever the critic is that’s looking for twists & turns is gonna get them in this movie! It’s very different from “Hazmat”

HNN: And the film is fully financed and ready to shoot?

LS: Yes! We’re ready and we start shooting in June. We have Tony “Candyman” Todd in our cast too, we just cast him last week actually!

HNN: He’s a great actor! That automatically elevates your production.

LS: It most certainly does.

HNN: And what’s the long term plan for Lou Simon?

LS: Just continuing! Just moving on to the next film and hopefully getting higher & higher budgets on each one. I have eight different scripts that I can go to after “Agoraphobia”. A lot of it will depend on the success of both it and “Hazmat”.

“Hazmat” is now available on VOD and Comcast. It will be available on Redbox on April, 29th.

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Those of you who don't know of The Black Saint & have yet to commit yourselves to him body, mind & soul will find yourselves in a most uncomfortable position when my army of acolytes is complete & ready to wreak havok upon this pitiful blue ball we live on. Oh, I really like horror movies as well & will take on all comers in a horror trivia contest. Bring it on!
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