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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [June 3, 2013]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Maybe it's a new subgenre -- horror films with that Sundance Channel, indie film sensibility (e.g., Last Look, The Shadows of Ants). Scott Schirmer's Found opens with Marty, a young boy, casually informing us that he found a severed head in his older brother's closet. Marty finds a new head every day, hidden in Steve's bowling ball bag. Apparently, Steve is a serial killer.
Marty states this matter-of-factly in voiceover narration, a device common to indie films and films noir, but rarely used in horror. He then relates other aspects of his mundane existence, as if the severed heads and a serial killer in the family were just another boring detail of life in the American suburbs.
Most horror films would play up such an absurdist situation as dark comedy, with over-the-top acting, aiming for twisted laughs. But Found plays it low-key, with serious acting, languorous pacing, and somber music. Because of this aesthetic sensibility, because no one at Marty's home or school mentions the daily murders -- isn't it headline news? -- and because for a long time every scene includes Marty, I wondered if there were any severed heads in Steve's closet. Maybe they were all Marty's fantasy?
"I never doubted the heads were real, maybe because I wanted them to be," said filmmaker Scott Schirmer to the Hollywood Investigator. "But I can see where people might question it. And that’s cool. As far as whether the murders should be in the news ... maybe they are. We also don’t know how far Steve travels to commit the murders. And we don't know how long it's been going on. Marty says 'every day,' but it could just be every day for the past three days.
"I never specifically thought 'indie' while making Found, but I definitely rebelled against the so-called 'horror film sensibility.' Mainstream horror films, and a lot of indie ones, have become so similar in content and style, they're almost self-parody. Every horror film has the shaking credits on a burlap background, the color's desaturated or monochromatic, there are obligatory jump-scares every ten minutes, and no character can be likeable, much less compelling. So the further Found could look from your standard horror flick, the better.
"I did worry whether the movie would find an audience. It was always a horror film to me, but would horror fans embrace it? The response at horror festivals and conventions has been overwhelmingly positive. To me, that says horror audiences want more diversity. Horror should be defined as more than torture porn and slasher flicks. It can also be about family and the loss of innocence."
Schirmer says that this "loss of innocence, the tragic necessity of it," is Found's main theme. "It culminates when Marty takes his brother’s advice and fights back against the church bully. We see a boy embrace violence as a solution to his problems, and forsake whatever his family and friends may think about it. It’s a sacrifice that will change him forever, but he must do it. It's necessary for his survival.
"People clap or cheer during that scene. I understand why -- because you're so with Marty at that point. But for me, that’s the most tragic part of the movie. When boys are pushed into adulthood that way, it's no wonder so many become monsters. Many men turn to violence as a rite of passage. It's a very slippery slope. Steve represents the worst possible outcome. Marty gives us a glimpse at how someone might start down the same path.
One wonders what motivates Steve in his serial killings. Based on Todd Rigney's novel, the film suggests many possibilities -- family abuse, school bullying, racism, violent films -- or that some people are just born crazy.
"What drives Steve has become one of the most talked about aspects of the movie," says Schirmer. "Todd suggests a lot of possibilities, and all of those might contribute. But he wasn't interested in a single, simple answer. On the one hand, the movie's open-ended about Steve's motivation. But on the other, we give a solid reason at the end, one that's maybe too ugly for some people to accept. One that I found the most provocative and frightening. Steve gets off on hurting and killing people. It's become his sexual fetish. Everything else is just an excuse to justify his behavior."
Steve's fetish is at least partially sparked by a violent horror film, Headless. No, it's not a real horror film -- its scenes were shot especially for Found. Marty discovers a VHS tape of Headless in Steve's room, and plays it for his friend. Headless is so over-the-top that it's sick -- but hilariously so.
"Headless was meant to be an over-the-top '70s slasher flick," says Schirmer, "so laughs are very welcome. That's my favorite part of the movie to watch with an audience, because it's when we get the most reaction -- laughing, cheering, groans. Since Found is mostly a family drama until then, it's the part horror fans -- especially gorehounds -- have been waiting for."
But why is Marty watching Headless on VHS rather than DVD? And why the small TV set? Found has a retro sensibility. Why so?
"The book is not set in the past," says Schirmer, "but it felt so nostalgic, I asked Todd if I could make it a period piece, say early '90s. We didn't entirely succeed with the cars, wardrobe, and goodness knows what else. But as much as we could afford, I wanted the movie to exist in a world before now -- without DVDs, cell phones, computers, and video games. A lot of people have commented about how nostalgic the movie makes them feel, so I'm glad we did it. And I'm glad I know people who still collect VHS tapes so we could stock that video store!"
Despite Found's indie sensibility, Schirmer "tries not to imitate other filmmakers. It can be sad when you see someone trying so hard to be the next Tarantino or Kevin Smith. After watching a lot of bad indie films I asked, how is it these movies miss the mark? How can you make a movie feel cinematic with little or no money? I thought about Sergio Leone, Terrence Malick, and Stanley Kubrick -- what makes their work feel so cinematic?
"One thing is they juxtapose wide shots with extreme closeups. 'Cinematic feel' has something to do with editing. It's the clash of wide and close, epic and intimate. Editing is the one thing that cinema brings to the table, that isn't part of some other pre-existing art form.
"The curse of many indie films is laziness about where to put the camera. The result is lots of boring medium shots. So throughout Found, Leya Taylor, my director of photography, and I were doing our best to avoid boring medium shots. It helped open up the movie and get us into Marty’s head."
Found was shot in Indiana, with a Canon Eos 7D, and edited with Sony Vegas Pro. Schirmer self-financed his $8,000 film. "The bulk of that money went to equipment. The last few thousand went to makeup effects materials and catering. No one on the movie was paid. It was a labor of love."
The film's world premiere was at Elvira's Horror Hunt in September 2012. "We'll always be indebted to the Mistress of the Dark for her kindness and support. We've played at around fifteen other film festivals and horror conventions. We've picked up 7 best film awards, 3 best actor awards, 2 best director awards, and one award for special effects. We've signed with an international sales rep who is shopping the movie overseas. We're reaching out to North American distributors."
Schirmer is a self-taught filmmaker, having majored in sociology at Indiana University, rather than in film. "I started making movies while I managed a movie theater and worked at a bookstore. I spent two years in Los Angeles after graduating, including a horrendous stint in the Paramount mailroom. I came to see Hollywood as a game I didn't want to play. I came back to Indiana, where I now work as a video editor for a global publishing company. Now that I've found some good filmmaking friends, I plan to make more films with them, right here at home."
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