Most of the time here at the clubhouse we get wind of things via the internet because we are slightly socially awkward web hermits. However, I first learned about Saturday Morning Mystery at a party where I met one of its writers, Aaron Leggitt. Aaron was nice enough to put me in contact with the director, and today’s special guest, Spencer Parsons. So, in the spirit of the Halloween season we sat Parsons down for a quick chat to talk about what inspired him to make the film, how the original title got “waifed” by a big name retailer and why making a horror film isn’t always about the ketchup.
SPENCER PARSONS: Definitely something I got into my head as a kid. I think it was partly falling in love with movies from a young age, plus having parents who were actors and directors in live theater. As a kid, it seemed like all I’d have to do is add a camera to what I could see my mom and dad doing all the time, and obviously there’s way more to it than that, but the big thing is, I could imagine it. Making movies seemed accessible.
I was in some plays myself early on, but I don’t think I was really much of an actor. My career pretty much peaked when I played the kid in a production of A Thousand Clowns that was directed by my mom, and I couldn’t help breaking up on stage when the audience would laugh or I would just find something funny myself, which is just really bad. But I really loved being around actors and seeing how they did what they did.
Tell us the premise of your film.
SP: Really simply, it’s about a group of professional ghost hunters who are used to uncovering hoaxes and fake hauntings who get way out of their depth when they investigate a haunted house with something really nasty in it. And I guess there’s another level about pursuing your childhood dreams (inspired, perhaps, by certain cartoons about ghost chasers in vans with dogs) can be terrible and really get you into trouble. And maybe that makes it autobiographical if you read “ghost chasing” as an allegory for “directing independent films.”
I heard you had some issues with the original title of your film? What was that noise all about?
SP: Well Saturday Morning Massacre is the original title, and that’s what you get at Redbox, because I think they get the movie and know their business pretty well. It was changed to Saturday Morning Mystery because a certain large retailer wasn’t keen on stocking their shelves with items containing the word “massacre,” even though said retailer sells nearly 200 movies, CDs, and books with that word in the title. On their website, anyway. But our movie crossed their desk a couple weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre, and given certain other products that they sell which can be used to commit massacres, maybe they were feeling a little sensitive.
SP: It’s sort of like when Nirvana released In Utero and for some retailers, the record label had to change the title of “Rape Me,” to “Waif Me” on the packaging for those stores. So I guess you could say we got waifed.
With the neutering title change at some retailers, have there been any reports of young kids accidentally watching the film?
SP: I have heard a couple reports from friends that they overheard kids at Redboxes saying the movie turned out to be too scary, but I can’t really say that’s happened for sure. When I told my mom what was going on with the title, she was upset and said, “no, the title should be a warning!” There’s a part of me that loves that possibility. I mean, there was stuff I found on cable when I was a kid that seemed right up my alley and perfectly safe, but then kind of fucked me up. I remember stumbling into Schrader’s Cat People as a kid, kind of expecting it to be like Manimal, and being shocked in a way that I will cherish forever.
As an artist, I very much hope that we give that kind of formative cinematic experience to some unsuspecting youngsters. But as a business person, I worry that “Mystery” will sound soft to horror fans who will pass over it even though they might have liked it, and at the same time attract folks expecting something spoofy or safe for kids and getting really pissed off when it’s not that and not even trying to be that. Horror mixed with comedy is always volatile, and some of my own favorites of the genre are really seriously hated by people who just don’t like the mixture of tones, so them’s the breaks. But I do worry about the no-star reviews from angry parents who thought it would be safe for kids that’ll drag down our star rating on Netflix. And my apologies to the folks expecting it to be more of an ironic Adult Swim kind of thing, like Venture Bros (which of course is genius), when it’s more along the lines of Basket Case or Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
What advice could you give to anyone wanting to direct their own horror film?
SP: I couldn’t give better advice than George Romero gave me when I had the chance to interview him a few years ago. He said, “don’t make it about the ketchup.” Of course the gore’s really fun, and who would know better than the guy who spread guts all over the floor of a mall in Dawn of the Dead? But I think you’ve gotta keep focused on why it’s fun or interesting, what’s behind the scares. There are a million right ways to make a horror film and a lot more wrong ones, but the thing is that zombies or home invasions or demonic possessions and all of the crazy stuff that goes with them aren’t automatically fun or interesting by themselves. What’s in it for you? What are you as a human being really afraid of? If you focus on that, then monsters and dark hallways and flying limbs and guts on might actually mean something and the movie has a way better chance of being scary and/or fun to other people. So, yeah, that, plus no more shakey-cam.
If you could work with any actor, who would it be? And why?
SP: This is gonna sound so lame, but my parents. I’d love to figure out how to put them into a movie. I’m so pro-nepotism, but I just haven’t had any story ideas where they’d fit in. Scorsese managed to put his parents in a bunch of movies, and they weren’t professional actors. I know I’m no Scorsese, but I guess I’m also a bad son!
But you probably mean someone famous, so that’s easy: Nicholas Cage. People hate on him, but he’s like a great outsider artist of film acting, making his own rules and doing things nobody else would try. He has such great, unimaginable instincts that almost everything he does is pure cinema, even in bad movies. And in a great one like The Rock, everybody just get out of the way. I’ll even throw down for The Wicker Man. Dude knows how to steal a bike at gunpoint and can wear the fuck out of a bear suit.
What was one of your favorite moments that occurred during filming? And what was one of the worst moments?
SP: Well this was the kind of movie-making experience where the best moments and the worst moments are the same thing. Everybody was really sleep deprived, and because we only had 10½ days to shoot, it was all just instinct and adrenaline. There was one shot where we had to get everything right with a kid and the dog and one of the actors actually vomiting (no Dinty Moore Beef Stew for us!) on cue, and it all went perfectly, with great timing. And somehow we did it twice. What was too bad, though, was that I’d planned that beat of the story to play out by cutting between a few different angles, and this was just the one master shot that went so well.
I was really excited that this bit of action had come together so well, when everyone would tell you it shouldn’t, but then a little disappointed that I’d have to follow the plan and cut a closeup into the middle of the master for clarity, and the audience wouldn’t be as aware or impressed with how badass the actors and the dog and the crew had been. In general, the best thing about the movie was how everyone in the cast and crew just pitched in with great, fun ideas. The worst had to be one of my craft services tantrums. Things get tense, and I take it out on craft services. It’s really embarrassing, and I should probably get help before the next movie.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you are excited and can tell us about?
SP: I’m working on a story inspired by an actual crime that kind of lives at the intersection of film noir and horror. There’s amnesia and bodily mutilation and a really gnarly femme fatale in the aftermath of a drug-fueled bar crawl that goes horribly wrong. It’s not a feature, but I guess I’d consider it an EP rather than a single or an LP, if you follow. I’m calling it Bite Radius. I’m also gearing up to do a segment of an anthology called You Scream I Scream with a bunch of other great directors who are attached. My chapter’s also a story inspired by a true crime that’s fascinated me for years, but mixed with an homage to Pieces.
When my mom was pregnant with my youngest brother, my parents took me and my brother to the hospital to see an educational movie about natural childbirth, so we’d know what they would be going through and how babies were born and stuff. We were like 3 and 5 at the time, and it was the greatest thing since Star Wars. Because this flick was made in the ‘70s, it was just full on. As in 20 foot tall vaginas and crowning and blood and umbilical cords and placentas and I mean everything. It just had this huge impact.
For weeks after, my brother and I gathered up all of our puppets, and we’d stuff one puppet up inside another and play like we were running an obstetric ward. Just birthing puppets out of puppets all afternoon and having very serious doctor conversations and averting breech births and deciding which puppet needed an emergency c-section, which was then performed with a grapefruit spoon. And my memory of this is more vivid and detailed to me than anything I did yesterday. Man, I don’t know the title of that educational movie, but if I’m being honest with myself, I’d have to say it’s one of my all time favorites.
Aww, man that video and the resulting puppet re-enactments sound amazing! Well, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us and we hope to see more work by you soon.
Saturday Morning Mystery is also currently available in Redbox and on Itunes.