[EXCLUSIVE] An Interview with “Headless” & “found.” Crew

 

   Found (stylized as found.) is a coming-of-age horror drama following a bullied and misunderstood boy named Marty, played by actor Gavin Brown, whose life is thrown a wrench (strangely kept in a bowling ball bag) when he begins to discover his older brother Steve, played by Ethan Philbeck, is, in-fact, a serial-killer. The film was written and directed by Scott Schirmer and is based on the novel of the same name by Todd Ridney. After screening various film festivals after its 2012 premiere in Bloomington, Indiana, The October People procured distribution rights for the film in 2014. I remember discovering this film at a rental store called Family Video and, only now, as I write this, I appreciate the chain-of-events that led to my exposure to this film. Family Video is a largely midwestern chain and Bloomington is less than a three-hour drive from where I live. How did Found “find” itself on video-store shelves? What was the mission-statement for the film?

Scott Schirmer

   I didn’t make Found expecting much to come of it. I didn’t expect it to be that much better than any of my previous work, to have any commercial viability, or to play in more than a couple of festivals. But after I finished editing it, I showed it to some friends and they told me that it was something pretty special. And my friends don’t usually bullshit me. We played it in Bloomington once, and we promoted the screening, and about 330 people showed up that night. It was very well received. And a few months later we won Elvira’s Horror Hunt and had a screening out in Hollywood. From there, it really took off and played at over 50 film festivals around the world. It won a lot of awards. It’s something you can’t really expect to achieve. It’s something that I think just happens sometimes. When the stars align. But I’m really grateful for the whole experience of releasing it and seeing how it was received, and I’m very humble about not expecting that to ever happen again.

   As a filmmaker, or, in turn, as an actor or producer, how would you describe the reaction you have received from this film?

Shane Beasley

   In the beginning, we didn’t expect anyone to see the movie…let alone want to buy it. We would go to each festival with around twenty copies in hand and we would just give them away. Once the movie got to Australia and was banned not only once but twice, the demand for it exploded. Everyone wanted to see this little movie and what would make a country ban it. Once people started watching it, we got mixed reviews. Some said it was slow, some said that it didn’t need the gore, but most really liked the story; which is what we fell in love with as well. The biggest question that was asked was “is this horror?” I like to think we made a film at the time where many horror creators were asking the same questions. “Where is horror going?” “What is horror?” “Who will watch horror?” The coming of age tale was relatable to enough people that would not watch a traditional horror story. Now we hear from filmmakers that say found. as well as Headless was an influence to them… and I feel we’ve done our jobs as storytellers.

Scott Schirmer

   People who don’t like horror movies tell me they like the movie. Some even tell me it’s not a horror movie. For some reason, people have this inclination to remove good horror movies from the horror genre – as though anything good can’t be horror, or anything they like can’t be horror. But then there are also people – like one of the big reviews we got in the L.A. area – that said it was gory and horrible and without merit. One of my favorite responses is something I overheard in the concession line at the Phoneix Film Festival, where we won best horror feature. Someone was saying how disturbing and awful the movie was, but then they said it was really the only movie that anyone was talking about. So that’s good.

   Found is a feast for horror fanatics, with oddball memorabilia and dialogue that references genre classics like Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Nightbreed. How did the films of yesteryear impact the film?

Shane Beasley

   Steve’s room was our “Easter Egg” set. From the posters like Street Trash and The Taint to every vhs movie on his shelf, we took a lot of time picking and placing every little reference we could think of. I personally love easter eggs in movies so we pushed a lot of them. Headless was a little different in that we focused more on “found.” references. The times that Marty finds written in the “Headless” cassette box are pointed out as little three frame “glyphs” in the top left of the corner throughout Headless. We tried to be a little more clever by adding less obvious background images and worked on types of scenes you find in a movie like that.

Scott Schirmer

   Clive Barker was a pretty big inspiration to me growing up. It started when I saw him on a TV interview with Wes Craven and Dr Ruth Westheimer about sex and horror. What he and Craven said on that show led me to buy a copy of his book The Damnation Game, and I dug it. So I went on to read Weaveworld, too. And I had a strange connection with the movie Nightbreed that I couldn’t quite explain. And around the time I came out of the closet, I think it was just a few months later that he came out on the cover of The Advocate. So that suddenly made sense. I later read that he said Cabal, the book Nightbreed is based on, was a confession of his homosexuality. That made so much sense to me when I read it – it made me realize why I was so appreciative of the movie, especially its underlying themes and subtext. Since Found also deals a little bit with homophobia, I thought a few Barker references wouldn’t hurt.

   The coming-of-age elements of Found embed a child-like nostalgia into the film, whether it’s discovering a crazy slasher flick at the video-store to watch with friends or the sibling camaraderie that is shared with Steve and Marty. The animated opening credits instill an off-beat tone as well, bringing us back to the youthful absurdity of doodling in the notebook gone awry. This allows it to transcend genres, so-to-speak, blending a slice of life with a cutthroat horror. Is this how the film was envisioned in the early-going and, if not, how did this film change as it progressed? If you had to choose, what would you have the lasting impression be for the film? Do you consider it a social-commentary (given the elements of racism at play or how the older brother reenacts events from a horror film), a black-comedy, or … ?

Scott Schirmer

   All of those elements you mention were always in the plan. I really wanted an animated title sequence because I thought it would help throw the audience off a little bit, make them unsure what to expect next – in terms of content as much as production value. And as far as tone, I feel like the author Todd Rigney really set that up perfectly in his book, and I really just tried to keep the same tone. I think the production is crude enough in areas to get some unintended chuckles, but fortunately – at least for the most part – people seem to overlook those things and appreciate the underlying story. There’s a ton of social commentary you can harvest from Found, and it was tempting to try and dig some of it up more and throw it in the audience’s face a bit. The movie’s had criticism for not dealing more with racism, for instance. But I really don’t think it’s wise all the time to make social issues the focus of a movie. It’s a story of fiction. And honestly, the incidental, casual racism in the movie is pretty genuinely horrific all on its own. Just like in real life.

   I don’t think I need to write-up any spoiler warnings ahead of time when I say this – but found. Is violent. Do you find the darker, more niche subject-matter works to your advantage or disadvantage in-terms of how a film is made and marketed?

Shane Beasley

   I think the largest take on “found.” is that there is an audience of people that look for the types of movies that a studio would never make. I think the biggest surprise of “found.” was that people didn’t know it was a niche movie till it got to the “Headless” segment. When “found.” first came out, word of mouth was our friend. People were showing it to their friends with the “you have to see this” look on their faces. I don’t think the movie would have done as well without the “shocky gore” to give it that …kick. The U.K. and Australian versions of the movie have some scenes trimmed (mostly the “penis”scenes). I’m sure people that have only seen those versions are saying “What was the big deal?”

Scott Schirmer

   Dark, disturbing stuff, sex, and horror – all make marketing a million times easier. Without big name stars or famous source material, the fastest way to hook people is with sex or horror. Beyond that, though, the horror audience is by far the most loyal audience of any genre. They will watch any and every title that comes out, even if they know it’s probably not going to be very good. Many horror fans want to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, and if you go to horror convention, you’ll experience that from a lot of the fans. So in many ways, they are a great audience to entertain for, and horror movies are great – I love them. They’re not the only kind of movies I love, but with my limited resources, they’re the kind it makes the most sense for me to make right now.

   Personally, my favorite moments of Found are the opening minutes and ones closing it out, for their symmetry and audacity. What scene or scenes did you enjoy the most, whether it’s because of how much fun it was to film or the finished product? Is there a scene you particularly disliked? What would you change about it if you could?

Shane Beasley

   I’m a little biased, but the “Headless” segment really stands out as my favorite. It’s the moment when you realize “ Oh… Steve is doing THAT to the victims”. I personally would have liked more animated scenes intertwined with the film. We are watching through the eyes of Marty, and I think he would have more imaginary scenarios like when he burns the comics or when he finds out that Steve “knows he knows”.

Scott Schirmer

   I’m most proud of the scene in which Marty takes his drawings to the old train junk yard and burns them. There’s no dialogue, and scenes without dialogue tend to be my favorite for some reason. Aaron Marshall’s music, Gavin’s face, that location – all come together and create a powerful emotion for me. All the stuff in the Headless part of the movie turned out really well, too. Shane Beasley really brought that character to terrifying life and his and Arthur’s makeup effects turned out really, really well. I have a ton of regrets about Found, though. I do with any movie. But with Found, I wish I had more time to work with the adult actors. The kids took so much time and energy, and I knew that if the kids failed, the movie would fail. So I don’t regret prioritizing the kids, but I could have been there more for my adult cast.

   “Stuff like this can really warp a person,” and so, what type of person do you believe Marty left the movie Found as, any theorizations on what might have happened next?

Scott Schirmer

   I’m not one to ponder about what happened before or after a piece of fiction. If Todd ever writes a sequel, though, I will certainly read it! I imagine someone eventually found Marty, though. He probably received a lot of therapy. Maybe he joined the FBI’s behavioral science unit. Maybe he still visits his brother in prison. That’s all for Todd to say.

Shane Beasley

  I think after a few years of therapy, Marty emerges as an upstanding citizen. He lives a simple life, calm and stress free life in an I T representative job given to him by the state. … I’m joking… He would be fucked up for life. I think Marty would spend his every waking hour trying to find Steve, who has been hiding on the streets since the incident. He finds Steve and gains his trust before cutting his head off and leaving it there, bleeding in an alleyway. Total revenge story.

   Found was followed in early-2015 by a spiritual successor called Headless. Although they share connective tissue, by no means is this a direct sequel to the last film’s events. As well as this, I wouldn’t necessarily expect fans of Found to enjoy Headless or for fans of Headless to enjoy Found, simply because they are such a different approach toward the genre. How did the approach to developing Headless differ from its predecessor?

Scott Schirmer

   Headless was born out of audience demand, honestly. My friends at Forbidden Films and I never took a feature version of Headless seriously because we couldn’t imagine what would sustain a narrative like that. But when people kept asking us about it, we turned to Nathan Erdel to write a screenplay, and he did a pretty damned good job. To be honest, I never expected to like Headless very much because even if it hit the mark – even if it was the best of its kind of movie – that’s not usually my bag. So I asked Arthur Cullipher to direct it because he’s more savvy than me about drive-in, grindhouse, underground, sort of movies. He and Nathan both were kinda perfect to put that together. And I got to produce with Kara Geidel. I was on camera a lot, on set the whole time, and editing it with Arthur. So it was a unique experience where it wasn’t my baby, but I loved midwifing it. It was by far the hardest movie to make, but also the most fun. And it’s the one about which I have the least regrets. I think it turned out really, really well.

Shane Beasley

   In reality, “Headless” was created because of the fans of “found.”. We went to as many festivals as we could to show “found.”,and the number one question that was asked was “When are you going to make ‘Headless’?” We were always like “Do you really want to see a movie that is nothing but a guy killing people?”. So we started a kickstarter to make not a sequel, but the original movie that the boys saw in `found.”. It’s the first time I’ve heard the term “sister movie” and it worked. The resounding answer was “Hell Yes!”.

   It’s often said that Friday the 13th brought the bare meat-and-potatoes of the Halloween series and isolated them, offering gore-hounds bloodshed that oftentimes overrode other storytelling elements of the film. Do you think this sentiment applies to the Headless film?

Shane Beasley

   We literally had two storylines going on… and still overrode with effects. That was our goal. Sometimes you just want to vicariously watch people die. Does Sally finally get that kiss from Brad? Who gives a shit… When and how do they die! Headless was a tribute to those older days of filmmaking. In the way that “found.” was very story driven, it was a nice change to make a mindless slasher flick.

Scott Schirmer

   Sure. On one level, we were just trying to create a movie like B-movie slashers made in the 70s and 80s – they were made to deliver the goods and make money. They’re not deep literature. But at the same time, I think Arthur and Nathan gave us some opportunities in the material to dig deeper and think about things if we so desire. It’s not overt. But it’s there. And it’s one of the things I like the most about the movie.

   As a child, I always coveted the horror genre, in-particular, I loved the slasher genre of film. I loved Elm Street, I loved Halloween, and Child’s Play, and although we have seen a recent theatrical release for Child’s Play and Halloween has discovered newfound fame, otherwise, the slasher genre is often more niche than it once was. What are your thoughts on some of the modern-era slasher horror fare like Terrifier and Hatchet, and how do you think the current crop of slasher antagonists stack up against yesteryears?

Scott Schirmer

   I haven’t seen either of those movies. But I think there are a lot of great horror films coming out lately. I’m a huge fan of The Witch. I also really dug Midsommar, The Lighthouse, and The Invisible Man that just came out. Horror is pushing boundaries – it’s broadening how its defined. And I think that’s great. Because a lot of people only think of masked killers and ghosts when they think of horror, and it can be so much more than that. But in terms of slasher movies, I think we’ve seen the best already. The late 70s and 80s pretty much wrote the book on that subgenre. Scream found a way to twist it around and re-present it, but I think horror has moved on. The unknown mad man was what scared us back then. Now it’s different. I think paranoia is driving a lot of horror right now, because we’re all so jaded and skeptical.

   Dubbed as a “lost slasher film from 1978,” Headless follows a masked killer as he wreaks a violent murder spree, ripe with cannibalism and necrophilia in equal measure. The film is harsh and literally cut-throat, with a soundtrack carrying the eerie urgency of a begotten era, and a drive-through / grindhouse style cinematography, what was the mindset for developing The Killer and what methods did you take to make him distinct?

Scott Schirmer

   Well, Todd really painted the broad strokes when he wrote Found. I think Arthur and Nathan discussed ways to flesh out his routine, his modus operandi. I remember 6 or 7 of us sat around a table one day to sort of outline the script with Nathan, and then he went off and wrote in seclusion. So it’s hard to remember who said what. I remember wanting to show his childhood, trapped in a dog cage. A boy kept in a cage was something I was working into a number of things at that time – it ended up being part of The Bad Man, even. But I also have a bad memory and someone else might have come up with that. I do remember putting my foot down about the killer killing a dog. I wouldn’t let that happen, and I think Kara agreed with me. Leya, too, maybe. We made Arthur and Nathan change it to a rabbit. If you kill a dog, you lose the audience.

Shane Beasley

   I think body language is the key distinction for any “silent” killer. Freddy, and Chucky could just say a one-liner or two, but Jason, Leatherface, and Mike had to be more creative. I took a little from all of them with the Headless killer. My only communication tools were my eyes and teeth, so I would exaggerate his movements to emphasize his mood at the time. Another distinction, I think, is that our killer had remorse. He knew the difference between right and wrong, but was pushed and forced to do “skullboy’s” bidding. I think that “skullboy” was the real bad guy in this flick.

   One of my favorite aspects in the Headless film was the musical score, which felt nostalgic of the genre and yet distinct, what influences went into finding Headless’ sound?

Scott Schirmer

   Arthur was adamant about having his friend Mike Anderson score the movie, which made sense because Mike scored the Headless portion of Found, too. Mike recorded a bunch of stuff that we used and he’s prominent throughout the movie. But Arthur also recorded some stuff, and James Nash wrote a track or two. And there’s also some stock music in there. And Mike wrote a song, and someone else wrote a song. And in the editing, I layered things and threw in accent sounds. The deep groaning sounds you hear in places are slowed down whale noises. I thought that was cool. I can’t say that all the musicians were happy with the experience, but I am super pleased with how the soundtrack turned out.

   What do you think the future holds for our Headless antagonist? It’s a common saying that nothing stays dead forever in the slasher genre, do you imagine we’ll one day see Shane Beasley don the blood-covered skull mask again in a Headless follow-up?

Scott Schirmer

   Man, I love Shane, but he almost died making the last one. So I don’t know if he’d be up for another one or not. I’m interested, Todd is interested, Arthur seems interested. But movies are like boyfriends or girlfriends. You really have to fall in love before you start to dance. Headless 2 could happen.

Shane Beasley

   Due to copyrights and ownerships, I don’t think I’ll be putting the mask on any time soon sadly. I have always thought that we should make a “copycat killer” film where one of our crazed fans of “Headless” would don one of our masks and start killing in the vein of our killer. Someone would have to use “Headless” as a reference to catch the new killer. Maybe there would be one, maybe a group of people all wearing masks. Who knows. Until then, we can only hope to not only see more of our beloved killer, but to see more gory horror that makes this crazy world go round. Only time, and money, can tell.

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