Exclusive: Interview with 'Found' director Scott Schirmer

by Ghost, Morehorror.com

Marty is the ideal fifth grader. He gets good grades, listens to his teachers, and doesn’t start trouble in class. But darkness is beginning to fall over Marty’s life. The kids at school won’t stop picking on him, his parents just don’t seem to understand him, and now Marty must grapple with a terrible secret that threatens to destroy life as he knows it – his big brother is a serial killer! Brotherly love is put to the ultimate test in this emotional coming-of-age story that descends into full-blown horror.

I have been dying to see Found for over a year now and I can honestly say it was worth the wait.  I do wish I could have seen it first on the big screen instead of screening it on my computer, but I just couldn't wait any longer.  First of all I'd like to tell you how much I loved Found.  I think every horror fan needs to see it, not many movies have my mind racing after watching it as it is from Found.  I've chewed my nails off, I'm disturbed and I hope I can sleep tonight.  If you are lucky enough to have this movie screening close to you, I urge you to get out and see it.  Found is bloody indie gold.  

 I'm so excited to share with you this little interview with Found director Scott Schirmer.  He has some amazing stories and tricks of the trade to share with you all.

Ghost: Found has all the telltale signs of a break out film. What skills did you learn from your previous films that helped inform how to tell this story?  

Scott: Having made several movies prior to Found, I think one of the lessons that aided me was patience. I know how much planning needs to be done, both practically and in terms of your 'vision' for the movie. I'm open to the moment, but I was more prepared on Found than ever before. And I knew it was going to be a huge commitment time and energy-wise, so I also had the patience to deal with first-time child actors, too. A film is almost always going to end up compromised in so many ways that are beyond your control, that I wanted to make damned sure I didn't compromise it myself, by not being prepared or by not knowing what I wanted.

Ghost: After reading the book by Todd Rigney, what inspired you to make the film? 

Scott: I responded to the coming-of-age and bullying aspects of the story a lot. I also loved the overt horror of it, when the boys are watching "Headless," for example, and also the end, when the real-life horror comes into play. I also loved the notion that Steve kills people because it turns him on, sexually. I thought that was bold and original. And I loved Found because it is indeed original -- I couldn't think of any other movies quite like it, so it was just a real find all the way around.

This was the first time I ever directed someone else's material and it was a really liberating experience. I had the opportunity to simply read and enjoy a story, for the first time, just like an audience would. That's never going to be the case when you come up with your own story, develop it, and shoot it. You lose your objectivity. But while making Found, I could always fall back on that first experience of reading the book and remembering how much I appreciated and enjoyed it. 

Ghost: What was your process like in choosing and finding the right people to work with both cast and crew ?  

Scott: Without a budget big enough to pay people, you have to work hard and hope to get lucky. I am fortunate to have a small group of friends who all make movies, and they were all in from the get-go. Without them -- particularly Leya Taylor, Damien Wesner, Arthur Cullipher, and Shane Beasley -- it just wouldn't have been possible. No director or filmmaker can do it on their own. I'd have bashed my brains out trying to make the movie without them. And casting is just a scary thing where you often have to take a leap of faith. I took a leap of faith with Gavin Brown, who plays the lead here. He was hand-picked by our casting director, Sheila Butler, and after meeting him -- it wasn't an audition or anything, mostly sitting and talking -- it was just a hunch that he might work out and that I'd be able to get a performance out of him when he'd never acted before. Thankfully, that kid had the fortitude and patience to stick it out and carry the movie. We really lucked out with him. We knew a few of the supporting players from previous projects. We knew Phyllis Munro, Kitsie Duncan, and Andy Alphonse. Pretty much everyone else was found through Sheila's targeted efforts, open auditions, and requests on various audition websites.

Ghost: What was the most challenging part of making FOUND.?  

Scott: Working with Gavin was one of the main challenges. He'd never acted before and he was definitely full of self-doubt early on. I had to make sure he felt comfortable and able to be himself, to play and experiment -- to be 'in the moment' as they say. And I also had to make sure he never felt the weight of the movie on his shoulders. Because it was. Very much so. After filming, and maybe a few times in the middle of the shoot, I joked with him and said, "If you suck, the movie's gonna suck." But it's the absolute truth. Everything was riding on him. It terrified me inside, but I couldn't let him know that. The other main challenge was just the endurance test of it all. It took us 32 days over seven months to get Found shot. We were all really tired by the end, working full-time jobs and making Found on the weekends.

Ghost: Was there a moment on set that stands out above all? 

Scott: Shooting the end of the movie with Ethan Philbeck was probably the most memorable night of the shoot. It was just me, Leya and Arthur working with Ethan that night. Poor Ethan was covered with blood, practically naked, wearing a gas mask, and he was helpless. The fake genitalia was on a wire harness that was secured with duct tape to the small of his back, so he couldn't bend over or it might fall off. And he couldn't take the gas mask on or off because his hands were slippery with blood. And the blood was so slippery, that the fake penis kept falling off the harness. We kept hearing a 'thud' sound, and sure enough, it was that fake penis hitting the ground again. And Ethan couldn't pick it up or the harness would come off, so Arthur had to pick it up and give it to Ethan, and Ethan would attach it back onto the harness... it was just kind of a surreal night, you know? And after two or three takes, we lost power. The whole neighborhood lost power in the middle of shooting, and it didn't come back on for hours. A weird, weird night. You never know what you'll find yourself doing when you make movies. Especially horror movies.

Ghost: An $8000 budget can be used up pretty quick when making a film of any length, how did you decide where to put the money?  

Scott: It went to the absolute necessities. The camera, lights, sound equipment, and makeup effects supplies were where the bulk of it went. We also spent smaller amounts on catering, wardrobe, and props. But now that we have all the equipment, our next movie could cost less than half what Found cost. 

Ghost: The cinematography was stunning, how did you decide what equipment to shoot with? 

Scott: I'd heard a lot about the Canon EOS 7D over the previous year or two, how affordable it was, and how amazing and film-like the image quality was. I really trust a few technologically savvy friends where things like that are concerned. They all said 7D, and I trust them, so I trusted Canon, and I am not disappointed in the least. Big fan of the 7D.

Ghost: The story touches on a lot of sensitive subject matters that I'm sure will not be easy for all audiences to view, how did you approach these subjects and how have people reacted so far?  

Scott: I trusted my gut and on a gut level, it all felt right to me. And so far, horror audiences really tend to appreciate the movie. General audiences are much more split -- and that's not surprising. Some people object to the graphic violence, especially in 'Headless,' one of the movies within the movie. But horror fans really appreciate that portion of the movie because it pushes the envelope maybe, and it's doubly important because you don't really see any of the violence at the end of the movie. You never see Steve kill anyone, so the "Headless" portion of the movie is what gives you an idea of that -- of what it is Steve does. And I think it's a lot more palatable to watch it being done in a stylized over-the-top slasher movie, than it would be if you actually saw Steve doing the killing people at the end of the movie. Another issue we get a little flak over is the racism, and this is the one that we struggled the most with during the shoot. I think the movie's pretty honest in its portrayal of how racism affects a mid-west nuclear family. A lot of people are racist, whether they mean to be or not. I think the Dad here definitely is, the mom might be, and so might Steve. We wanted to make sure Marty was a more noble character, though -- he rejects racism when his brother tries to push it on him. In addition to violence and racism, there's also some nudity in the film, and that's never something I take lightly. I thought it was justified in "Headless" because that's the type of film "Headless" is, and "Headless" needed to be an eye-opening experience for Marty in the movie, in as many ways as possible. At the end of the movie, when Steve appears nude, that's not a gratuitous shot at all -- that's when you finally realize why it is that Steve does the terrible things he does. Hurting and killing people is his sexual fetish. Basically, I think you earn the right to deal with controversial subject matter if you take it seriously and are able to justify why it's necessary in your movie. Otherwise you run the risk of making a movie that feels cheap or desperate. I don't think there's any subject matter or ideas so awful, they can't be explored in art. Whether you'll be able to get people to watch that art, though, is an exercise in taste. Things that make us uncomfortable are scary.  And the horror genre is probably the best genre in which to explore that type of material. 

Ghost: Your film has received many awards, the first being Elvira's Horror Hunt, what was that like both winning her festival and walking the red carpet with an icon?  

Scott: Elvira and all the judges at Horror Hunt were so generous and kind to us. I don't expect to ever have an experience that overwhelming or rewarding again -- it was a once in a lifetime thing. I hope I'm wrong, but if that's the only time I ever walk the red carpet at my own Hollywood premiere, I'm perfectly happy with that. And we couldn't have asked for a better way to premiere Found to the world. It gave us all a lot of confidence to take more chances and aim higher, both with Found and everything else we hope to do in the future.

Ghost: Do you have any words of wisdom for people wanting to do an independent film? 

Scott: FIrst of all, the story is everything. Don't make just another zombie movie and expect the world to fall in love with it. Do something interesting, because I've been on a film festival screening committee for several years now and lack of originality turns me off a lot quicker than a lack of production value or resources. Second, don't cast your friends unless your friends are good actors -- and learn to know the difference. Third, don't be lazy with your camera angles. Go really wide, go really close, go low or high if it makes sense -- again, it's a way to stand out, to look unique and not amateurish. Nothing's more boring than a medium two-shot of people talking, and if you're shooting close ups, don't do profiles or distant-feeling three-quarter angles on the actors' faces. Get up in their faces, make sure the audience is pretty close to the actors' line of sight. The actors' eyes are the windows to their souls, and if your audience can't see them, you're in trouble. 

Ghost: Where and when can people see found.?  

Scott: Found is playing at the Fright Night Film Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, Friday, July 26th. It's also screening for free on IndieHorror.tv that very same night. After that, we're closing out our festival season with a bang in October and November -- a lot more festival announcements will be made, including a few more international premieres, and then we hope to announce our distribution plans for home viewing this holiday season. We're courting some distribution deals, but we're also interested in self-distribution for some territories. So stay tuned. In the meantime, we also have our limited edition DVD available at www.foundmovie.net. It's a run of 1,000 copies and we're down to about 200 or 250, so get them while you can. No other release will have the two commentary tracks on this particular edition -- and it's the first!

Ghost: Are you working on any new projects?  

Scott: I am developing four or five different horror feature projects at the moment. A few of them are ambitious and really need funding to happen, but there's one or two that I could make just like Found -- out of my own pocket, and that's probably what I'm inclined to do. I hope to announce the next project this Fall and start shooting early next year or even earlier. 

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