Clinton-raised Samuel Scott talks horror movies, production work
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
Once upon a midnight dreary, filmmaker Samuel Scott set off on a perilous journey across the unknowable landscapes of Ontario, Canada. The man was in pursuit of a creature so elusive that there are those who, to this day, believe it is a thing of myths - funding for a feature film. And not just any film - a horror film. His quest has brought him to the belly of the beast - deep into the heart of the sprawling City of Toronto. He’s traversed the northlands known as Owen Sound, and stalked the streets of London, which is kind of in the middle. For years, Scott has managed his machinations mostly from the shadows at the edge of night, but his recent win of a film pitch competition at London’s Eighth Annual Forest City Film Festival forced him out into the light just long enough for the cautious investigators from The Citizen’s Horror Hunting Department to track him down for a mind-bending conversation on the subjects of high strangeness, fear, financing, and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.
There’s been many a divergence throughout Scott’s expedition to the mouth of movie madness. He went to York University for music composition, did sound design for theatre production, and spent years making music with a band of rivals. Making music videos for the band gave Scott a first taste of the profane flesh of filmmaking, awakening a ravenous craving within him. He took a job as a production assistant on a film set, and it turned out to be a revelatory experience. “It was like, ‘oh, man - they’ll pay me to do this, every day?’ A year later, I was making the schedule. And then I was making the budgets for the sets. I love seeing a movie get put together.” He eventually started working as a producer on feature films, working with production companies like Collingwood Film Co.
But how did Scott come to take on the burden of this wretched quest to make a scary movie in the first place? Like so many terminally afflicted fright aficionados, his mind was irrevocably warped at a tender young age by the irresistible pull of his local video rental store. “There was a convenience store in Clinton that had VHS tapes, and there was a good horror selection there. They maybe had more horror than anything else, for some reason. Those VHS boxes were super colourful, and horror movies have the most interesting covers. My parents didn’t really check in to see what I was watching, and what I was watching was [Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives].”
That ill-fated choice of the wrong colourful box at the convenience store in Clinton doomed Scott forever to the ship of lost souls. “Horror was the main thing that I watched for a long time. It was almost the only thing. There’s this weird thing where you think - should I be seeing this? I probably shouldn’t be seeing this. That’s the most exciting feeling. It elevates the whole experience.”
One particularly scarring cinematic experience Scott enjoyed in those times long passed is a trauma common to children of the day. “I think It had a lot to do with where I am now. I watched the first five minutes, and have a vivid memory in my mind - just constantly picturing that clown. All the time.” He spoke, of course, of Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry - a two-part tale of terror so twisted that we oft forget the mind-boggling fact that it aired on network television during ‘sweeps’ week. It’s estimated that 1.92 million tape machines recorded copies of that broadcast - it’s thought that many of them are still out there.
A less common childhood obsession also threatened to consume his young psyche. “[Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives] really sticks out in my mind as a formative one. I rented that one over and over again. I hadn’t seen [Friday the 13th] or [Friday the 13th Part 2], and didn’t until years later, because they didn’t have them at the video store. [Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives] looks beautiful. It’s full of great gags. You see characters show up, crush it for one or two scenes, then die in a funny way.”
He’s also a big fan of slightly silly scares, like David Lynch’s off-beat murder mystery series, Twin Peaks. “I love stuff that’s scary and funny. I like practical effects, and a sci-fi bent. Night of the Comet is one of the ones that comes up a lot for me. I like gore, but only when it’s so off the wall, like Evil Dead.”
Scott’s hunger for horror movies has only continued to grow, reaching a level that borders on the insatiable. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to watch all of them before I die. I’m trying to watch every single one you’re supposed to watch. A movie like A Serbian Film - just don’t watch it. Don’t ever watch it. Watch 18 straight hours of Twin Peaks: The Return instead.”
Also on Scott’s RADAR - 2022’s Skinamarink. The ultra-low budget tale of Canadian child endangerment was a real phenomenon. “I had really chill parents. For people who grew up terrified by their parents, or other family members, it resonates differently. There’s another movie from earlier this year - Outwaters. It is, and I don’t use this word lightly, bonkers… I was totally floored. I love things that cannot be comprehended, and that there’s no explanation for; stuff that, rather than explaining, compounds. I’m scared of high strangeness, of cosmic misalignment, of chaos magic, and of forces I don’t believe in. Also, heights.”
So, after decades of witnessing so much cinematic carnage, what films top his list? “I think REC is probably one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s genuinely frightening, but it’s also fascinating, from a filmmaking perspective. It’s just so well made.” REC is a 2007 Spanish found-footage film that follows a journalist and her camera crew as they become trapped in a quarantined building. It’s a stand-out entry into the found-footage sub-genre, and not for the faint of heart.
It’s not all about pure love when it comes to horror - Scott sees the potential for a real future in the genre. “You gotta sell movies - there’s a business to it, and it’s kind of a viable business. If I made a drama, and it was a great drama, I probably couldn’t sell it. Maybe if it was one of the most incredible movies of all time. But with horror, I can just get a bunch of friends, and some heads exploding, and maybe it’ll sell. Will it sell for more than it cost to make? Maybe, maybe not. But it will be out there. We’re not trying to make Shakespeare, we’re trying to entertain for 90 minutes. And not go over budget. And hopefully, get good at it. That’s the world I want to play in.”
Many of the greatest filmmakers of our time started out toiling in the relentless realm of shoestring horror before going on to direct critically-acclaimed films and legendary blockbusters. Steven Spielberg’s (Schindler’s List) directorial debut was the made-for-TV classic Duel. Sam Raimi’s (Spider-Man) first film was discount splatter-fest The Evil Dead. His assistant director on that picture? Joel Coen (Fargo). However, Scott has no aspirations to join that lauded pantheon of cinema gods. “The idea of having $10 million to make a movie terrifies me. Give me half a million and we’ll go do it.”
Scott knows the quest for funds is a just and necessary one, but still finds many of the arcane rituals of film finance to be beyond the limits of his mortal comprehension. “I’m more of a boots-on-the-ground producer - I don’t really understand all that complicated tax stuff yet. Once we have the money, I translate it into a budget and a day-to-day shooting schedule. We go out and we shoot the movie. Don’t send me to hand out business cards at a conference - for me it’s all about asking, “If it costs us $1,200 to make this head explode - is it worth it? That’s the fun.”
So when the Forest City Film Festival held a pitch contest for a movie that can go to camera in 18 months, to be filmed at least 50 per cent in London, it seemed like it was worth a shot. “The last movie I produced, The Hyperborean, was at the festival that weekend. It’s one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen, and I worked on it!” The Hyperborean was directed by Canadian B-movie maverick Jesse Thomas Cook (Monster Brawl) and written by Tony Burgess, the mind behind the brilliant Pontypool.
Cook teamed up with Scott to help work out a winning concept. Competitors were given four minutes to pitch their ideas, which had to include an overview of the film’s concept, a high-level outline of the team, budget and a shooting plan. Their winning presentation earned them a $30,000 cash grant, as well as funding to put towards things like marketing and legal fees. “There’s also a lot of free labour, and a lot of free gear,” he explained.
But securing these boons is only the first step - it’s no guarantee that their pitch will become a reality. There’s still much that must be achieved in order to bring his hideous vision to life. “I’m trying not to get my hopes up. Right now, I’m just working on the script.”
He may not be counting on it just yet, but Scott hopes that the project comes to fruition. He finds the prospect of filming in London to be a compelling one, for a lot of reasons - not the least of which are the potential financial benefits that come along with shooting in the historic city. “In Toronto, a location that could cost you $25,000 a day. In London, it’s like - ‘here, here’s a big old warehouse. Here’s a giant house. Because they’re there.”
Scott has seen first-hand what can happen to a place when a horror movie shoot descends onto the scene. “The last two movies I’ve produced were in Owen Sound. Cook makes a movie there almost every year. And one of the things you start to see is businesses reaching out, sending e-mails asking if we’re going to be doing these big catering orders again this summer? A lot of the money for a film goes into the community. You’re staying in their hotels, going around in their town all day, every day.”
Be it London, Owen Sound, Toronto or beyond, Scott will go wherever he has to. “Working in Canada is great… if somebody offered me a bunch of money to make a movie in L.A, I’d go there. If somebody asked me to go to Tallahassee, Florida to make three movies, I’d go. If there was funding and community support, I’d absolutely make a movie in Huron County. It’s got a lot of great locations that would look good on film, and I’d love to shoot there. It’s a place where you could make a movie.”
So, take heed, readers - should Samuel Scott secure all that is needed to bring about his macabre movie, don’t be surprised if his next dark endeavour brings his cursed carnival of cinema to a town near you!