Scott Glosserman‘s suspense/horror “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” centers on a seemingly nice small-town guy whose aspirations are to become the world’s next great psycho slasher in the vein of Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. A true self-promoter, Leslie gives documentary filmmaker Taylor Gentry and her crew exclusive access to his life as he plans and executes his next great reign of terror over the sleepy town of Glen Echo, all the while deconstructing the conventions and archetypes of the horror genre for them. The film, which won the audience award at the 2006 Gen Art Film Festival in New York, opened in limited release March 16 by Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Please introduce yourself…
I was born and raised in Bethesda, Maryland and attended The University of Pennsylvania.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
We had a terrible thunderstorm come through when I was in Jr. High. The storm left trees down, power outages, stunned birds, no school [and] lots of structural damage. I went out with my dad’s new home video camera and I “reported” from the scene, interviewing neighbors and the PEPCO guy. I loved it! Then I got home and my brother simulated the storm by ruining all my G.I. Joes with flash floods (buckets of water) and “earth”. I had the video camera and we started making mini G.I.Joe movies. We later graduated to Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi music videos. I’d say that storm, though, inspired me to first pick up a camera.
Did you go to film school?
I actually didn’t go to film school. I was a liberal arts undergrad. Moving out to Los Angeles, I thought the best way to firmly plant my feet on the ground was to confer upon myself a business degree in entertainment. So, I worked at a large talent/literary agency (Creative Artists Agency) as a glorified secretary. I observed and absorbed as much as I could about the business –read as many scripts and contracts as I could. Seriously, it was tantamount to getting paid for grad school. When I reached my saturation point, I walked the plank off the epicenter of Hollywood (read: quit) and ventured off on my writing/producing/directing career (read: lots of rearranging books on my shelves, keeping the sink void of dishes in my house, etc…)
How did the initial idea for “Behind the Mask” come from?
[Co-writer] David J. Stieve‘s “Behind the Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon” script first came to me from Andrew Lewis, a good buddy from my CAA days. The screenplay had been a finalist in Slamdance’s Best Screenplay Competition. It was a unique, laugh-out-loud mockumentary about a guy named Leslie Vernicai, who was going to be the next ‘Michael Jordan’ of the psycho-slashers. I really got a kick out of reading David’s script. [What] I loved, more than anything, the premise–that Leslie was a guy’s guy who just happened to be in an extremely unusual profession, in a world where Chucky and Freddy Krueger actually existed!
Though I loved the script, I thought it lacked a “true horror sophistication.” I saw his script as a wonderful foundation on which to infuse true conventions and archetypes, images and homages of the horror–specifically, psycho-slasher, genre. If done intelligently, rather than haphazardly, I thought the screenplay had the potential to be something more than just a good concept with a punch line. All-in-all, Andrew and I were thrilled that we’d finally found something out of the ordinary that we could make together. He and I optioned David’s screenplay, and I worked closely with David on developing the script.
From there it all came together. As soon as I saw Nathan Baesel‘s audition, I knew he was the one to play the role of Leslie. I also thought it would be fun to give horror fans a treat by including some of the most celebrated actors from the genre. My casting directors tracked down Zelda [Rubinstein]. She was extremely gracious to read the script and when she agreed to cameo as the librarian, we went back and beefed up her part. I brought on an executive producer who had the street cred/cache to get the script to Robert [Englund‘s] agent at a tangible/high level so that it would be taken seriously. Apparently, Robert read the script right away and we were negotiating to get him up to Portland within days! We also got Kane Hodder to do a cameo appearance. It all came together perfectly!
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the movie?
The film made its world premiere at SXSW ’06. It was unbelievable–this little pet project of mine had suddenly become the real deal–the theatre was packed [and there were] acquisitions people from a variety of companies. It was a dream come true. That was the launch pad that brought a lot of attention to the film and suddenly we were being invited to festivals all over the world–so many so that we were having to turn some down [and] we were getting great buzz and reviews and winning awards. It was more than I could have ever hoped for.
What are your biggest creative influences?
I could go on forever, but some of my biggest influences include sunshine and injustice and puzzlement. [Also] Cameron Crowe and Stanley Kubrick, Guillermo del Toro, Gus van Sant, Rian Johnson, Craig Brewer, Macy [Gray] and The Boss, Walt Whitman, Rand and Twain and Salvador Dali and “The Lost Boys” (of Sudan).
What is your definition of “independent film”?
An independent film is a feature that has not indured studio development, has been financed without studio money (one could argue the scope of “studio”, for sure!), and (with few exceptions) does not have a distribution deal in place at the commencement of principal photography.
What are some of your all-time favorite films?
I have so many favorite films for so many reasons. Actually, I was just thinking about this the other day and, much to my amazement, I realized that at least four of my top ten star Bruce Willis! Follow me here: “12 Monkeys,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Sixth Sense,” and “Die Hard.”
“The Shining” is my favorite film, period. I love film analysis, and there is so much to explicate in a Kubrick film–certainly in “The Shining.” I love deconstructing films like “Psycho“–I love the barren landscape painting with the long and winding road behind Maryon Crane when she’s at the bank, bored, conflicted, empty inside. I love that attention to detail. By the way, Marion– Mary – Virgin Mary, Crane–Hitchcock’s relentless use of bird imagery throughout the film–I love that stuff!
Untraditional narratives like “Usual Suspects” and “Memento” and “The Clearing“–love them. Incredible cinematography–“Children of Men,” for instance, blew me away!
What are your interests outside of film?
I’m an avid soccer player (or at least I was until I tore my meniscus and blew out my Achilles in successive soccer injuries–I’m almost healthy enough to start playing again).
I’ve also been playing piano all of my life. I taught piano lessons in Los Angeles for a while in order to supplement my income. I have a fascination with crossword puzzles and Scrabble right now [and] collect vintage Scrabble boards. I think I’m the only one because vintage Scrabble boards sell for about nine dollars.
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
I’d define success as a filmmaker the same way Earl Nightingale defined success in life: the progressive pursuit of a worthy goal or ideal. Sure, a filmmaker may not end up executing on everything he or she sets out to do, but so long as the filmmaker pursues a passionate vision for his or her project, there is a magic in the end-product that will be reflected. Yeah. Earl Nightingale came as close to the perfect definition as I’ve found, so far.