Quantcast Scott Glosserman interview - BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON

Director/Writer
Scott Glosserman!!!

Expect to be hearing a lot more about director Scott Glosserman after his debut feature, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, opens in theaters March 16. Set in a fictional world where killers like Krueger, Voorhees and Myers are real and revered like baseball legends, Vernon is the story of a young, amiable slasher-in-training, letting a documentary crew cover his ascent to ‘success’…all the while deftly deconstructing why he does what he does, and showing the audience there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to random slashing and stalking. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s one of the best-reviewed films you will find, by genre and non-genre critic alike. But don’t take our word for it. Ask anyone who’s seen it. Scott was kind enough to take a LOT of time to tell us about seeing this modern classic/Valentine to the genre archetypes though to fruition. - by Adam Barnick 2/07


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What are your earliest memories of the horror genre?

When I was around four or five I saw the Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode where William Shatner is the only one who sees the gremlin creature tearing apart the wing of the plane. I have felt terror in the twenty-some-odd years since then, to be sure, but relatively speaking, it hasn’t been worse than my state of mind after that Twilight Zone.
Right around that time, my Aunt took me to see Time Bandits because it happened to be playing, I suppose, and I guess the poster depicted a cartoon fantasy world or something. I was petrified by that movie.

And, I remember watching some Hans Christian Anderson-type movie on TV about a scary-looking guy who kidnaps children by stealing them from their homes and stuffing them into his dog-pound, paddy-wagon-type thing. I cannot, for the life of me, remember the name of it.

For what felt like a long time, most things scared me – the walk up my neighborhood street, the older kids at school, the water at camp, the kids on the school bus. It was only after I begun to understand the movies, how they’re made, that they are not real, etc, that I emerged from that phase. Pretty soon, I was the only kid not falling for the campfire ghost stories. Seeking a greater understanding of the intricacies of horror helped to temper my fear. Perhaps Behind The Mask is a culmination of that?

I’d read you deconstructed The Shining as a college thesis. Any thoughts/discoveries from it you’d like to share with us? Was that the catalyst for doing a story one day that would examine genre conventions in detail?

My explication of THE SHINING was, in itself, a culmination of what I learned in a Conventions Of Horror class taught by a professor named David Katz. Some of the principal conventions/themes/images/archetypes running through the horror genre (i.e.: the phallic weaponry, the closed hiding places being symbolic of the womb, the tunnel imagery representing rebirth, etc…) are best captured in THE SHINING. I further explored Kubrick’s use of anticlimax to generate fear. Additionally, since Kubrick leaves nothing in the mise-en-scene unscrutinized, I enjoyed discovering all of his Easter eggs – pulling meaning out of his color choices, number choices name choices, prop choices, and so on; even, perhaps, when there was no meaning.

The idiosyncrasies that led to the making of Behind the Mask were not premeditated. However, my knowledge of the academia of horror certainly played a part in us going forward with the development of the film.

After graduating you moved to Los Angeles; can you tell me about the early work you did out there to get by and make yourself known?

Rather than film school after college, I chose to work for a large talent/literary agency in Beverly Hills in order to observe and absorb as much as I could about the entertainment industry. Leaving felt as though I was walking the plank off the epicenter of Hollywood.

I associate produced a friend’s documentary. I also did some commercial acting, table waiting, soccer coaching, piano teaching. Mostly, though, I was writing, and when I wasn’t writing I was doing anything I could to feel as though I was in motion. That meant a lot of laundry and reorganizing of my bookshelves and closets.

The adaptation of Paul Fenimore Cooper’s “Tal” might be your next project. Was adapting this book what got you into the Writer’s Guild and broke you through?

It was. TAL was my favorite children’s book growing up. I spent a year trying to option the book so that I could try to set the project up as a feature and write the adaptation. It just so happened that a producer (Chip Rosenbloom) had fallen in love with the book around this time because his two kids has read it in school and had come home raving about it. Chip learned I had the option and he offered to pay me to write a screenplay adaptation, thereby getting me in to the Writers Guild (and obtaining health coverage – yeah!!) and in return I gave him an equal ownership interest. I guess I kind of leveraged my way into the Guild.
How did you come across David J. Stieve’s script for ‘Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon’? What in it did you respond to right away?

My manager at the time, Andrew Lewis, had had David’s script submitted to him for client consideration. I think Andrew knew I’d enjoy it because of my erudition in horror. I laughed throughout the whole read. I was at a diner on Pico Boulevard. I’ll never forget. I thought to myself, this is so different from anything I’d read before, and the dialogue was so strong.

Can you talk about your collaboration/development with David and how you shaped the script into its shooting drafts?

David and I worked on the script for a long time. Structurally, we condensed his original iteration into two acts and we put a new third act on in order to add a twist and to pay everything off. The script, as it took shape, went from a marvelous running joke to more of a classic three-act story structure. Additionally, we infused some of the true academia of horror convention into the script and we cut back the caricaturing. So, the script became less parody and more satire. Another thing that really started taking shape was the development of the juxtaposition between the docu-world and the world of full horror filmic glory, which couldn’t have been more different from each other.

As we got closer and closer to shooting, the script had to change to allow for certain locations that were the best we could do given our budget and time constraints. David was up in Portland, literally rewriting pages from the hotel while I was on the phone with him from a particular location on a scout, describing them!

You both really left no stone unturned in terms of intelligently, rationally explaining the moments that appear random or inexplicable in a genre/slasher piece. Thoughts on that?

We tried to strike a balance between imaginative, stream-of-conscious explanations for how something works or is done the way it is, and actual accepted academic theories for some of the prevalent conventions and archetypes common in horror. In context, with the right delivery, I thought both could be funny. Fortunately, we got some actors who were brilliant at pulling it off.

For the uninitiated, can you describe Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon? People who know really nothing about it might glibly compare it to Man Bites Dog or Scream but it’s really not close to either of those. But it’s when you see the movie, it’s obvious it’s neither of those movies. It’s its own beast completely. I’d call it a hyper-intelligent, entertaining meta-slasher. That happens to be really funny.

Yeah!

Can you give me your take on it, what is the film?

It’s interesting that you should bring up Man Bites Dog. What is unfortunate, but understandable I guess, some people have been very quick to say “Oh I’ve seen this movie, it’s Man Bites Dog. When they’ve read a log line or something. And the fact is, tonally…

It’s not close at all.

That’s right, it’s apples and oranges. My film takes place in a world where Freddy Krueger, Mike Myers, Jason Voorhees all exist. Where you can get on a plane and fly to Metropolis. The movie is about an aspiring psycho-slasher. NOT a serial killer. Because the movie’s not about the DC sniper or John Wayne Gacy, the audience is able to suspend their disbelief, go on this journey that if it were rooted in the real world, would be very disturbing and immoral. But rooted in the world of full filmic glory, it’s nostalgic, and celebratory and fun! Man Bites Dog was brilliant and disturbing and raw and sure, I have used the shooting style as a template for the docu-world in my film.

But I’ve also pulled from Christopher Guest; Spinal Tap came out long before Man Bites Dog. The “mockumentary” style has been around. So I took that mocu-style for the documentary world. It’s about the LeBron James of horror. This guy (Leslie Vernon) is going to put them all to shame. He has given a documentary crew exclusive access to his life, while he plans his reign of terror upon this unsuspecting, sleepy little town called Glen Echo. All the while he’s deconstructing for the documentary crew, and for the audiences, the true conventions and archetypes of the horror, specifically, slasher genre.

Part of it is in this Blair Witchian docu-style perspective, where he’s describing what it is he‘s going to do. And part of the film actually lives the world of John Carpenter, Sean Cunningham’s late 70’s/early 80’s slasher films.

What was so much fun was juxtaposing these two worlds. Everything from the acting, to the dialogue, to the music and the aesthetic, was completely different between the docu-world and the “horror world.”

In the docu-world, we had everything dry. And you played the comedy on the page, and didn’t ham it up or overact. Very ‘real’, as real as possible. The way Nathan channeled Leslie Vernon; he could have been an aspiring actor, or aspiring carpenter. He can take his acting, whatever sort of emotional transference he wants to take onto a scene and really demonstrate his full dramatic skills! But in context, it’s hilarious because he’s taking it so seriously.

So I wanted my actors to play as truthfully as they could in the docu-world, because when we go to the “film world”, we’re in complete melodrama. All of a sudden you get some stilted, contrived dialogue. You get the rich aesthetic of a horror film. The angles of the camera become omniscient. In the docu-world all the shots were at eye level because a guy was holding the camera. (When) We go into the horror world, all of a sudden we’re gliding over a van, or coming down from the ceiling…and there’s score, there’s “horror score.” We were meticulous about creating the theme song, about creating the iconic mask. All of this stuff was a labor of love for so many of us.

At the end, we also put in tons of Easter eggs. Really obvious homages, but also some extraordinarily subtle homages to horror films. So people could re-see the film and try to identify all the little nuanced references in there. It’s meant to be a very nostalgic celebration of all that we love about horror.

I liked you’d gotten the more flat-out ‘geek’ references out of the way early on, practically in the opening intro. This also immediately tells you what world we’re in. But you didn’t bathe in it like a lot of debut genre filmmakers do. And the film never “stops” to let us point at the archetypes and wink at them.

Exactly.

Was it difficult in shaping the performances to hit that balance, so those of us looking for the references completely acknowledge what it is, without doing something along the lines of Scary Movie? Those films stop dead so we can gawk at the reference. You were subtle.

Thank you! It’s sort of a two-part answer. The first one is, the movie is certainly not intended to be a parody. I think if you’re doing a parody, everything is so blatant and over-the-top. Because (this) movie is a satire, it gets away with a lot more subtlety.

To me, when I’m watching Pulp Fiction, and someone tells me later that the two board games in the room where (Travolta) administers the adrenaline shot are Operation and Life…that’s cool. When I make this film, I want to throw the Hellraiser box on a mantelpiece. You know? If people don’t get it, they’ll figure it out (from) a blog or something. I don’t mean to draw attention to it.
I could cast Robert Englund, and that’s a more obvious homage- but I wanted to do the horror fan right by doing a whole spectrum of layered homages. Down to the color scheme in the library. I wanted the librarian to wear yellow because in The Shining, yellow was the color for death, and sacrifice. Not that I expected anybody to make that connection. There’s so much different stuff.

We had one thing we built- you know one of those crossroads signs when you get out to Arizona, there’s a post with street signs going every which way. Like 30 of them. (laughs) We spent hours building this. We had Cuesta Verde from Poltergeist, Nellis Falls from Hills Have Eyes, every friggin’ street from like every horror film! I was so proud, so psyched about it. There’s a scene where the filmmaker’s van pulls up, and the headlights of the van were supposed to shine on this street sign. The street sign fell over, out of frame…

But to me, the more comprehensive my vision was, I can tell the prop master exactly what to get, the costume designer exactly what to do…it sort of gives everybody on set a greater sense of purpose, they’ve got more direction, and more autonomy. And if you can articulate that vision in your head to everybody- even if you don’t execute perfectly on what you’re trying to do-the overall product I’ve learned will reflect, at least, a passion. That you didn’t just phone it in. The more specific a director is about his vision, the better.

I think we as the audience do pick up, subconsciously, in the color scheme etc. If it’s NOT there, you feel the absence of a mind behind it.

One example, which will be on the DVD release. Remember the high school scene (where Leslie points out the archetypes of high schoolers and their cliques and how it relates to his stalking)? I shot that scene in one take. We shot it five times, but it was supposed to be one shot. Leslie starts talking, and we had this ridiculous choreography with all these extras, the Communion girls skipping rope, the stoners, the survivor girl landing on her mark next to the tree…. That was going to be my Scorcese/Goodfellas “going through the restaurant” one-shot. And we did the whole thing-and we nailed it! We nailed it like twice. I was so psyched!

And of course we get into the editing room and that scene’s four minutes long! It just drags out. There’s a certain point in postproduction where you have to kill your babies a little bit. And so on the DVD I’ll show that scene uncut, completely choreographed. But I’m pretty sure 99 percent of the audiences would watch that and say “I see what he’s trying to do, but I’m glad he cut it up!” There’s too much air in it, it’s boring. And as a first time filmmaker, setting out with those ideals and ideas is one thing, and executing them is another. But the fact that you set out with a specific vision –I think the end product is going to be elevated.

When you knew the script was ready did you consider trying to interest studios, or did you decide to go independent/the private investment route from day one?

Trust me I spent a lot time trying to drum up interest from within the industry. And I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t as though people didn’t like the script or think it wasn’t original, or fresh and interesting. They just didn’t know what to do with it!

20th Century Fox, they know how make a broad comedy. And market it. And they know how to make and market a horror. But they don’t know what to do with a hybrid. But every so often, an Edgar Wright comes around, and does a Shaun of the Dead. And it works. He nails it. American Werewolf in London ... The Howling…and it just works! But it’s not a commodity business the studios are into. That trickles down to the production companies because studios give them distribution. So the production companies might acknowledge that something’s cool or different or worthy, but that doesn’t mean that they’re willing to do it. And that’s when you have to go out and find independent financiers.

And how did you attract investors to your project?

Initially, it was seed money. From the family. I was, and, talking to the dean, outside of Philadelphia where I went to school about getting an independent study, getting students to work for free and maybe I’d go in and lecture them on filmmaking and it would be a course credit. (I was) in the Berkshires trying to piecemeal friend’s and friends of friend’s vacation homes to shoot in, and same with outside of Washington DC.

I had enough money to go out and basically get my friends to do this for free… and then finally, I got up to Spokane Washington, which they call “Spokanada” because there so many production and postproduction facilities that are a one-stop shop for filmmaking.

I gave these guys a budget and my script, and they came back and they wanted to make a million dollar film-they wanted to invest in it. I didn’t end up going with them but it gave me the validation and legitimacy to be able to go back to my private investors and say ‘hey look, if this company here wants to make this movie for this amount of money, let’s raise like half and keep everything to ourselves. But I just need a little more money!” And this was enough to push them over the edge.

Turning to Nathan Baesel as Leslie Vernon. Everybody I know who’s seen it so far has said it…right from his opening laugh, he’s got us. He’s charming and funny and scary. Can you talk about your casting him, and your process of working with him?

First off, I should say that if more people than just my family get to see this, I think Nathan’s going to be a movie star.

Along the lines of creating subtle and not so subtle references to other films, you could say I pulled one right out of A Nightmare on Elm Street with the “introducing Johnny Depp” credit. I can kind of reference Nightmare by introducing my star, and I can take credit for discovering him. (laughs) Because he’s gonna be a freaking superstar.

What some actors don’t realize is that when they come in and they’ve prepared an audition and they just rip it and they’re really good, and the director says “All right, now try to do it this way.” Often times actors think they fucked up, but it’s not true! They did such a good job that now the director wants to see if they can work with them!

Sure! You need to see if they can take direction.

Exactly! What you find, often times, is that actors are very good at one thing- which is OK, you can create superstar careers out of that. When Nathan came in to read for this role, he was able to just turn on a dime.

He would take any direction you gave him, and he could do anything. The other thing was, I had preconceived notions of who I wanted, other people (figured I’d) want a guy who’s intimidating at 2AM in the morning in an alley. Nathan walks in and completely changes my conception of this character!

When Nathan first felt the role, he saw ‘let’s start out really charming and then create this really maniacal metamorphosis.’ He’s telling me on the phone in a precall before we got up there “I’ll end up plucking my eyebrows out and just go crazy” and it’s a true testament to Nathan’s commitment as an actor. By the way the guy had bare feet throughout the whole (finale) and got hypothermia and we never really even had the camera on his feet!
He’s that passionate – he gets that into character- and that’s what you get with him. I was so attracted to his charming personality but I knew if he’s the charming guy but he just plays the role as truthfully as possible, then it’s gonna work in context. And create even more humor. He nailed it! He’s just brilliant. He’s got Harrison Ford’s jaw and Jim Carrey’s laugh and John Malkovich’s skill, he’s just incredible.

We were in an ADR session out in Burbank, you’re watching yourself, onscreen, do things like die and run..These are called “efforts.” Like Angela Goethals has a scene where she’s running through the woods, so she’s got to (recreate the panting, grunts, etc).

You look totally silly when you do it, but we need the voiceover. Nathan’s got to do his one scene, he’s kind of gargling with blood. So Nathan goes over to this little buffet table and takes a cup out. And he puts Coca- cola in there, and fills it with non-dairy creamer, this powdered crap (laughs) and mixes it up with some water and he pounds it! And then he walks up and does this gurgling thing… unbelievable! We were just in an ADR room! But the commitment he has is truly amazing.

Now Angela, another great choice. A counterpoint to Leslie, he’s going to be the best slasher and she’s going to be the best journalist. Can you tell me about working with her?

Angela, with the exception of our cameos (Robert Englund, Zelda Rubenstein) had the most experience of anybody on set, above and below the line. She’s in Home Alone when we were all 10 years old, she was in all of season 4 of 24, Jerry Maguire, she’s just been around! She went to Vassar, she’s really, really smart. She’s just so wonderful and professional.

The best testament to Angela’s professionalism and superior talent- was we shot a lot of this movie in this old barn, with tons of hay and a lot of dust.. And we were always checking the gate. After you shoot you have to check to see if dust got caught in the camera and the film is ruined. Angela is doing her big emotional scene where she’s crying and we did most of these scenes in 2 or 3 takes but this scene was 4 or 5, not because of Angela, because of the camera, and dust problems, and coordinating other things. And we checked the gate, and for the first time in maybe twenty days there was a piece of dust in the gate. We had to do that whole scene over again and do ANOTHER five takes of it. Basically, she cried on cue, compellingly and believably, ten times in a row.
One of the reasons we were able to afford the production quality, the production value that we could, was that we shot with a skeleton crew on the docu-world days. A much tinier crew so that when we shot the library for instance, we could get the 30-35 people it takes to light a library and to use all the equipment. We also sped through the mockumentary stuff, which was all dialogue-driven material- and I wanted to stay true to the two-camera setup, Todd’s and Doug’s cameras.
We basically shot it once with Doug’s camera, where the cinematographer would play Doug. And once where he’d play Todd’s point of view. And we ran through the scenes uncut. All the scenes are longer than what’s seen in the movie. But what was so amazing was Nathan and Angela would run through 5-7 pages of dialogue, and we would do it in 2-3 takes at the most. If they weren’t as good as they were, we’d still be shooting this movie. (laughs) It was never because of Nathan or Angela that we had to ‘fix’ anything. It was, if anything, a technical issue. Or maybe a choreography issue.

One more thing I would say was the best piece of advice I got regarding casting was “Just cast the best actors you can.” That will make your life so much easier. That’s what I did, cast the best actors I could find and they just nailed it.

That kind of answers one of the questions I had to ask you, about whether Britian and Ben (the actors who play the documentary cameramen) were actually filming the DV footage or not. Every once in a while I’d see one of them in the other’s shot, I thought they’d really filmed it!

The DV scenes were shot on a DVX100a. We had a prop camera which they’d use in scenes. Jaron (Presant, the DP) would shoot as one of the cameramen, and we would throw the other actor in there as a cameraman. Not really show their faces much until the reveal in the “horror world.” But we put them in so you’d know as an audience member that we’re not cheating. We’re in one or the other’s point of view.

We came up with the shooting style for each of the guys too. One of them was going to be the archetypal jock; just center everything and shoot it straight on, locked off, just get everything. And the other guy was gonna be the arty stoner dude. He was going to “Dutch” all his shots and get some really artsy stuff. This was me trying to develop their personalities through their point-of-views and not through watching them. I thought could we, for the first time in cinematic history, actually develop characters through how they’re shooting scenes, and what they choose to watch?

And of course, the answer is absolutely not. (laughs) Because I realized in post how often I wanted to cut to keep the pace moving, and for different reasons I wasn’t going to hang on a shot long enough for someone to figure out what I was trying to do. I wanted to tell a story most importantly, and I want it to flow, coherently and correctly. So a lot of that had to go. But having had those set of rules and parameters, I think the overall product was still elevated in a way.
And there’s no BS in that. We’re seeing, in the docu-world, only what the cameramen see. I figured the choreography was pretty tight. When they’re going to see Stacy, it’s shot from one camera and we notice Ben in the background. Then you cut to that actual angle. They’re matched so well that I wondered if the actors really DID shoot all this.

I’m glad you noticed things like that; I wanted it to be airtight. I wanted people not to be able to point out places where “we cheated.” There’s one scene where they get separated and Taylor shows up in her van with Todd- and you’re like “who stayed at the farm to shoot Leslie?” But if you look closely, Doug was there. They were still shooting.. and Todd stuck with Taylor. There’s a scene where they’re at the van and Leslie gets angry with Taylor. And you see Leslie and you can glimpse a camera in the van through the window. At first glance you might think it’s a mistake, but then you flip POVs and realize Doug is shooting from within the van. His composition is different and at an interesting angle. It’s all a testament to my DP Jaron Presant.

So you never ran two cameras at the same time on set.

The only time we ran two cameras in the docu-world was when we were locked off, for the “interview” environment. We did use two film cameras in certain horror scenes.

Britain and Ben, the cameramen characters. In early scenes we can hear them, but we really don’t physically meet them until the third act. Did you have them on set? Or the lines just dubbed in afterwards?

They were on set the whole time, and the majority of the things that they said were scripted. But after a particular scene we’d record wild lines of theirs. But then we edited the movie together, if there was some space in a scene where we could fill in a line here or there, we brought Ben and Britain in to just improvise a bunch of lines. They’re both improv actors, standup comedians. Early on in the shoot they were able to get situated and comfortable, not having to do a lot of dramatic acting, but getting to riff! Then they both got opportunities to rip their dramatic stuff later, when we went to the “film world” days. They both did excellent work.

I have to bring up your noted genre/acting veteran trio making cameos. Robert Englund, Zelda Rubinstein, Scott Wilson. Can you tell us a little bit about working with them and how they came on board?

You can’t even imagine how excited I was to get all of them! Robert’s role was written with him in mind. We always talked about how great it would be to get him to play the ‘Doctor Loomis’ archetype. We were certain that if we were able to offer him a role, we should absolutely offer him that one instead of the retired psycho-slasher. It would have been SO telegraphed had we done that. Actually he told us later on that he would have been turned off if we’d offered him the retired slasher role.

Getting back to that parody/farce depiction where we stop and point at the ironic horror reference.

Yeah it would have been too on-the-nose. He respected the fact that we had too much respect for him then to offer him that role. He responded right away, and jumped on board.

Scott Wilson was an acquaintance of mine through a mutual friend. We were already in Portland shooting, desperate to fill that role, and I called him and sent him the screenplay, and just begged him to come up for two days.

Zelda, I’m not saying this as a joke, we didn’t even know if she was alive!

I felt that way too, to be honest. When she shows up in the film I was like “Oh my God it’s HER!”

Our casting directors tracked her agent down. And we offered her the role, it was a bit part. But when she accepted, we re-wrote her tons of pages of completely expositional dialogue that went on and on. Which in itself was supposed to be funny, she’s got the ridiculously expository dialogue, and she would not quit talking- but that was the point! She’s the conventional harbinger of doom. (laughs) it was meant to be overly expository.

That matches the rest of the ‘slasher world’ though where the acting is amped up a melodramatic notch, the dialogue is stilted.

Right! Exactly!

But going back to Scott Wilson and Robert Englund, it was amazing. When they got up there, it completely legitimized what we were doing. Everybody felt a greater sense of purpose when they showed up. “Oh my God, this is for real! This is an actual movie!” It did a lot for the morale and professionalism of what we were doing.
One guy showed up with the 1960’s Time/Life cover of In Cold Blood with Scott on the cover to get an autograph! But from a business perspective, getting Robert Englund was great for street cred in the horror world. Of course the objective of this film is to do the horror fan right. But getting a guy like Scott Wilson- there’s certainly an argument for the fact that this film, because of its cerebral, satirical nature, it might be accessible to a broader demographic of people who wouldn’t normally see a horror film but who might see this because of its tone. Scott Wilson gives it the indie/arthouse street cred.

Both veterans!

That’s right, it also helped us attract a whole different type of film critic, for instance.

Obviously the DV/docu-world scenes are more free-form and natural. I was wondering how tight a script you were working from in those scenes.

It’s a different style of shooting, but it’s meticulously choreographed. Because when you’re shooting any film, if you’re going to do multiple takes and angles, and somebody doesn’t do the exact same action-whether it’s pouring a cup of coffee or crossing a room-than you can’t cut it together and create continuity. So it’s meant to look free-form. It’s meant to look “documentary”, because that’s the intention. But it’s still rehearsed, and choreographed.

But there are less setups and camera angles, and you do it less. We didn’t have ‘shot lists’ per se for the DV. We knew that we were gonna shoot two different point of views, and shoot the scene in the vernacular that these people would shoot it in. But in the “horror world” scenes, we had comprehensive, meticulous shot lists. It looks a lot more sophisticated but I would say both styles were just as comprehensive.

The idea of switching back and forth from the docu-world to the movie/film world, was that part of the script from the beginning?

It definitely evolved. The opening scene of the first version of the script was a voiceover over a typical horror movie, in a death sequence. And then it went into a mockumentary. And the script ended before everything pays off as it does in horror films. But what we did was really take this from more of a glorified short film with a really good premise to paying everything off.


We condensed everything into two acts, we added that third act where everything goes to the “horror world.” And then we interspersed some of the film/horror scenes through the first two acts. That idea really took shape during the development process. In order to really create a three act structure, a rising action and a resolve, and to create some real depth and conflict for characters, and of course to create something that wouldn’t get stale before the movie ended…all of this stuff had to pay off. And the way to do that was to actually show Leslie Vernon “at work.”

On the DV days, you’ve got the skeleton crew. On the 16 millimeter days, it’s a fully crewed picture. But Jaron is still in charge of the cinematography on both. Can you talk about working with him and his approach to each style?

We were shooting two movies at once, but Jaron and everybody else got to do two different styles in one movie, which was such a thrill for all of us. I was a ‘backpack.’ Jaron basically carried me the whole way.

It was so incredible just being able to wake up every morning, and go to our coffee shop, and go over what we were going to do that day with our shot lists and storyboards. Just like Angela with the acting, Jaron had so much more experience that I truly felt like I was in good hands. And Jaron really responded to the fact that I wanted to do things as geeky and meticulous as give the shooting styles characteristics (the way Doug and Todd shoot) and that I had a very specific vision about things like coming in on our ‘horror shots’ in a very Godlike omniscient way, just telling people ‘were in the horror movie now’.
And he is just such a perfectionist when it comes to the aesthetic- you talk to Jaron about the moonlight in Halloween, how it’s Two Electric Blue- and the muddy greens in horror films, and how nothing is truly black! Even black has a color in horror… When you can have conversations with people on those types of levels, you know you’re working with the right people. He really knew his stuff. I got his reel, he read the screenplay and we met.
One of my biggest pieces of advice would be if you really know in your gut who you want, better not to be a penny wise than a pound foolish. Go out and follow your gut

You touched on a lot of the extra footage shot ‘by the documentarians’; just how much is there? One of my favorite little moments is when you show clips of Leslie Vernon and Eugene (the retired slasher), with Scott Wilson’s voiceover, and they’re just hanging out skipping rocks at the lake. The student and the mentor just shooting the shit. Was that another scene that was cut down?

No, actually, we finished early that particular day. And we had time to kill, and I had Scott Wilson! And I just said to myself “We’ve gotta do something!” And there was this gorgeous ravine near the house, so we went there and turned the cameras on and just told them to hang out, skipping rocks. And we also shot them on the porch, talking.

How do you approach it as a director, in terms of the two distinct styles of the movie? And did you shoot about two weeks of each format?

We started film around day 14; I think we shot 24 days. One of the reasons why this film was such a good first film for me, as a director, was because I was able to demonstrate myriad skills in one film. I was able to show people (who might be looking at me for other projects) comic timing, as well as horror timing, tonally, in the same movie- I was also able to demonstrate a more improvisational, indie type of shooting. In the same movie I was able to show, say, a Universal executive that I knew how to shot-list and choreograph an action sequence.


Now although we weren’t trying to compete with the cinematography of, say, the Texas Chainsaw remake, we were certainly creating an homage to around 1981.

I certainly wanted to demonstrate a wide spectrum of skills, so that I didn’t have to do three films before someone gave me an opportunity to direct a comedy, or a horror film.

Can you tell me about how Leslie Vernon has been received on the festival circuit, and a little bit about your first screening with a (festival) audience?

Our first screening was the best day ever (at SXSW) next to having kids and getting married - neither of which I have done yet, as far as I know. So yeah, it was awesome. A midnight show. Tons of energy. My whole family. Interactive and thrilling. Nathan couldn't make it so I held up the phone and everyone cheered for him and it was visceral and wild. I knew about The Rocky Horror show, how awesome it is, how alive. And that night was even better...for me. And maybe for the audience. I hope anyway. It felt like a concert!

Someone yelled from the audience at SXSW "I hope Leslie gets his own McFarlane figure" - and this was sort of the beginning of Leslie's rise. Dread Central's Christmas card featuring Leslie Vernon, for example. People really seem to like him. But then, who doesn't like a psycho-slasher? They're like hairdressers. We all need at least one in our life.

The best part of the festival circuit has been getting to know other directors, like Adam Green (Hatchet), Simon Rumley (The Living and the Dead), Lucky Mckee (The Woods) and Chris Sivertson (The Jack Ketchum Adaptation of The Lost). There's a real camaraderie. We've all kind of run our own gauntlet and want to talk about our injuries, brag a little, cry a little. And then, of course, the casual conversations with movie fans, but specifically horror fans, of which, I guess, there is never really the chance for casual conversation - it's always intense and awesome and mind-blowing. A very opinionated crowd.


How did you come up with Leslie’s look and costume? His “work uniform.” I think of it like the movie, it’s a balance of imposing and funny. When I realized what the mask was, it was still creepy. But humorous.

Thanks! Again, just like everything else, we were trying stay within the conventions of horror; and of course, what is so vitally important is the weapon of choice and the mask!

We developed a whole backstory about how Leslie was forced to till the soil as a child using only a hand scythe, which was ridiculous but self-aware at the same time. So of course that’s his weapon. (As for) the mask; a lot of the exposition of Leslie’s back story and what not ended up on the editing room floor. But if you piece together this story that Zelda tells in the library, Leslie is “The Boy, Returned.” As a boy he was thrown off a waterfall and “drowned.”

Since he was an undeveloped child when he died, his mask-and this was the brainchild of E. Larry Day, my visual effects and makeup guy-he went through a book of unborn fetuses and we honed in on a fetus-form face. This whole idea of a nondescript face with human features, but also sort of subhuman features. And I thought it came out really well.

I interpreted the mask slightly differently! Maybe it was because of the way the mouth curved…I thought it was a takeoff on a turtle!

That’s hilarious!!

We’ll there’s the backstory line about turtles picking Leslie’s bones clean as a boy!

Right, and he collects turtles.

The mask’s face is a bit-off green too!

That’s great!

That was my take on it.

That’s awesome.

Can you tell us about how Anchor Bay is supporting the film?

We’re coming out in theaters on March 16th (2007) and will continue to expand to more theaters. If we hit whatever that magic number is, if we do enough as a per-screen average, we will continue to go wider and wider. So it has a lot to do with how those initial weeks, and opening weekend, is attended.

Anchor Bay is extremely passionate about the film, their reputation as horror tastemakers precede themselves. They now have this opportunity to be Starz’s genre theatrical label, now that they’ve got a partnership with them. I’m really honored to be their first theatrical venture with their new partnership with Starz. They’ve been very, very cordial and open about me having creative input; this has been a really great process for all of us. We can only hope that the audience responds.
Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

I would say the barriers to filmmaking have all but evaporated. Everybody realizes it’s a lot easier these days to pick up a camera, go out and shoot a film. But what aspiring filmmakers have to see is, they’ve got to see the bigger picture. You have to prepare and anticipate taking that content you’ve shot and actually preparing for the process of putting it onto celluloid, which is so comprehensive.

It took me two years to develop the script for Behind the Mask, and it’s been two years since we shot it…24 days to shoot the film. So people have got to develop a script that is airtight. That’s certainly worthy and ready to go.

And then the best thing you can do is get a postproduction supervisor on your film WHEN you shoot it, so that person can plan out a roadmap so you can actually finish your film. So few films get finished because people make tremendous financial mistakes. I would map it all out.


What are you hoping to do next, or a particular dream gig, like Tal?

I’m actually about to go to an island on the east coast to immerse myself in a particular environment with my writing partner/girlfriend, to finish a script. A psychological thriller that we’re really excited about, which I’m hoping is going to be my next film. But I’ve got a ton of projects that hopefully one day I’ll be in the position to make. I have high ambitions for some huge movies, historical epics, Scorcese/Spielberg/Zemeckis type movies. Both within and without the genre. It’s a marathon though.

Not a sprint. Thanks for your time!


Special thanks to Jennifer Garnick and The Lippin Group.

Visit: BehindTheMaskTheMovie.com
and MySpace.com/BehindTheMaskTheMovie


Official trailer for BEHIND THE MASK:
THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON


Alternate Trailer

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