Interview With Scott Schirmer, Director of Found, Harvest Lake, and Plank Face
by Charlie Cargile
PopHorror: What inspired you to want to make films?
Scott Schirmer: I grew up on a farm in rural Indiana and we had no internet, no computers, no mobile phones, nothing. Cable didn’t even happen until I was about ten or eleven years old. So if you didn’t have a vivid imagination, you’d die from boredom. Movies were special back then, before VHS and DVDs — you went to the theater to see movies, and it was like a religious experience. That, combined with the boredom, I think, helped to make me who I am today.
PopHorror: What are your favorite horror films?
Scott Schirmer: I didn’t like horror films growing up, but friends in college made sure I saw the right ones, and then I became a fan for life. The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the best ever. But I also really love The VVitch, Pumpkinhead, Jaws, Alien, Gremlins, Poltergeist, and American Werewolf in London. Oh, and The Evil Dead.
PopHorror: You made your feature directional debut with Found. How did the project come about?
Scott Schirmer: I read the book by Todd Rigney and fell in love with it right away. I found out where he lived and drove to meet with him, and fortunately, he gave me permission to make the movie! Stories like that are so rare to find. I doubt I’ll ever stumble across another story that I connect with that passionately ever again.
PopHorror: You produced The Legend of Wasco. How did you become involved in the project?
Scott Schirmer: Wasco was a work-for-hire project that my partners and I at Forbidden Films decided to do. It was intense and crazy, because we had 2 weeks to write a script, and then 3 months to shoot, edit, and deliver the movie, because the financers had already pre-sold it to Redbox. You hear about that kind of thing happening, but I’d never experienced it before. So we were offered money to make a clown movie, pronto. It was the fastest we’ve ever worked, and unfortunately, that shows in the movie. But there are scenes from that movie that I think turned out pretty well, and I think the cast did an admirable job.
PopHorror: You produced Headless, a spinoff of sorts to Found. What motivated you to turn Headlessinto a feature?
Scott Schirmer: When I toured film festivals with Found, people would often ask about the possibility of Headless becoming its own full-length feature. For awhile, I laughed that idea off because slasher films never especially appealed to me. I enjoy watching the Fridays and Freddys, but I never wanted to make one, you know? But I knew there was interest, so I asked Arthur (Cullipher) if he’d be interested in directing if I produced, and he was able to bring a psychedelic, weird, underground, Arthur-y vibe to it that made it more interesting than just a straightforward slasher movie.
PopHorror: Harvest Lake is a film that is quite a bit different from your other work. It’s less visceral but disturbing in a completely different way. How did you come up with the idea for the film?
Scott Schirmer: Harvest Lake started out as a Deep Dwellers feature length movie. Like Headless, that would have been another Found spin-off. But it quickly evolved into a whole other thing because Deep Dwellers in Found really wasn’t much to build a feature from. That was my first movie with Brian K. Williams, and we knew we could take advantage of beautiful scenery and beautiful people, so making a sexy movie about sex just felt like the right thing to do. Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock was an influence that helped distinguish it, I think. We went with dreamy and hypnotic wherever possible, and the score by Adam Robl and Shawn Sutta definitely helps set it apart.
PopHorror: Plank Face is a film that combines elements from your two previous films, featuring the graphic violence of Found with the eroticism of Harvest Lake. What was it like shooting the film?
Scott Schirmer: Plank Face was fabricated out of thin air by Brian and I. We were going to make The Bad Man, but decided it was too expensive to make at that time. So we looked at what actors we knew and wanted to work with and then said, “What can we do with this cast?” That conversation eventually led to Plank Face, although we didn’t know Nathan Barrett who plays the lead. He was the big challenge to find for that project, but the rest of the parts were written for our actor friends, Susan, Brigid, and Jason. And Brian had just met Alyss, so… I don’t know. Sometimes a movie just lands in your lap and you go with it. Plank Face was kinda like that, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
PopHorror: You recently launched a Kickstarter for The Bad Man, a film you have been trying to make for some time. What inspired the project? How does it feel to finally be making the film?
Scott Schirmer: The Bad Man continues my exploration of the dark side of sex and sexuality. I was adapting a book into a screenplay several years ago, and I found myself taking the adaptation into darker and darker areas that really had nothing to do with the source material. That was The Bad Man whispering inside me, trying to get out. So I dropped out of that project and just decided to write this dark, dark, dark story that ended up being The Bad Man.
When I finished writing the script, I was a little embarrassed for anyone to read it, but I remember Clive Barker once saying that great storytelling is cutting yourself and bleeding in front of people — that the stories that really, truly connect with people are almost like confessions, where the storyteller is just on the verge of revealing too much about him or herself. That was what The Bad Man was kinda like. But I gave it to my circle of friends, and they gave me nothing but great feedback, so that encouraged me to move forward with it. The production started and stopped twice before we finally started shooting it this past January.
Years have passed since I wrote the script, and honestly, after the 2017 election and a whole lot of personal setbacks and disappointments I’ve had since then, I didn’t know if I really wanted to make a movie this bleak and unsettling. I didn’t know if my heart could take it. I mean, the last few years have been really, really, incredibly hard. But at the same time, I didn’t want to abort The Bad Man. I wanted it to exist in the world. So I kinda had to fall back in love with it again, and what really helped was thinking about the cast — especially Ellie, Arthur, and Jason. I really wanted to work with them and see them play these roles. And thankfully, we all know each other and are comfortable with each other enough to still have fun making the movie, even though the movie is some pretty harrowing stuff. It’s definitely a passion project. Kinda like Found was.
PopHorror: Your films typically explore the dark side of what it means to be human. What is it about this that intrigues you so much?
Scott Schirmer: I think if people would stop being afraid of sex and sexuality and just chill the fuck out about that shit, the whole goddamn planet would start to heal. I know it sounds like hippie bullshit, but seriously — how much of the turmoil around the world is connected to sex and gender? A lot of it is! Sexism, homophobia, the whole East vs West thing — I even think racism is heavily colored by sex and men’s feelings of inferiority.
Tarantino really hit on that with Hateful Eight, I thought. I think we need to come to terms with our animal instincts — our sexuality — because if you’re not honest about that kind of thing, I don’t think you’re ever going to fully rise above that, and be a true human being. Confront the darkness inside, embrace it because it’s a part of you — but learn how to control it and make a noble pursuit out of rising above it.
PopHorror: Lastly, if you could work with anyone in the indie horror scene that you haven’t worked with yet, who would it be?
Scott Schirmer: Adrian DiGiovanni is an actor I saw in Motivational Growth, and he’s been on my radar for years. I hope there’s a project that we can do together some day. Jonathan Straiton is a director who blows me away. I don’t know that he could ever possibly use my help, because he’s leagues ahead of me as a director. But if I were ever in a position to give filmmakers money to make stuff happen, I’d give a lot of that dough to Straiton. I also love Jimmy ScreamerClauz’s animation. It’s fucking avant garde and groundbreaking, really daring, original, and truly disturbing stuff.