The Mini-View Featuring Scott Schirmer – by Brandon Bennett, The Indie Film Revue, 4/22/11

Scott Schirmer began his pursuit of writing and filmmaking in grade school, winning prizes in the Louisville Courier-Journal Young Authors Awards and the Association of Indiana Media Educators’ annual media fairs. As a high school senior, Scott wrote and directed his first short video. The piece won regional and state-level prizes before winning 3rd place in the International Student Media Festival, sponsored by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology. At Indiana University, Scott focused on film theory and aesthetics while taking advantage of production courses in radio, film and television. He received excellent marks in screenwriting from playwright Dennis Reardon, a scholarship for his achievements in video art, and a university grant to produce his first feature-length movie.

Over the last ten years, Scott has written and directed six short films and features in various genres. His work has been selected and shown at the Pride, Dark Carnival, Cinephile, and Hometown film festivals. In 2006, Scott’s ten-minute supernatural short, The Day Joe Left, was a top ten finalist in Kevin Spacey and Budweiser’s Triggerstreet.com on-line short film festival.

Scott currently works as video producer for a large publishing company and is gearing up for his next feature film shoot, Todd Rigney’s dark coming-of-age story, Found.

1. If you could pick one film that inspired you to get into film making, what would it be and why?

I love a lot of movies, and I was very impressionable as a kid and a young adult, so a lot of movies helped shape me. My parents told me The Rescuers was my first movie, but the first movie I remember seeing was Star Wars, and after The Empire Strikes Back was released, I made up my mind. I wanted to be a filmmaker, because I wanted to be part of that craft, that art, that showmanship. I’m definitely a product of the Lucas/Spielberg era, but I’ve also been inspired by countless other films and filmmakers. As I grew up, I really latched onto the work of Peter Weir. The Mosquito Coast, Fearless, and Dead Poets Society are among my favorites. And these day’s I’m really fascinated by David O. Russell and Julie Taymor. The challenge growing up is to not let your heroes or idols influence you too much, or you’ll just wind up a pale imitation of them. You have to find your own voice, and at some point start carving out your own niche. I think if you keep working at it, if you follow your muse, it’ll happen. And you might be surprised where you end up. Twelve years ago, I had no idea that I’d get into horror the way I have, but here I am. It feels right for me, for now. And as much as my heroes and idols from the movies have inspired and influenced me, I’m really excited about developing my own voice and my own style right now.

2. What have you found has been the hardest part about promoting your own films?
Promotion is difficult when you’re an independent filmmaker. There are a lot of entertainment options competing for people’s attention, including a glut of independent films these days. It’s hard to stand out in the crowd and grab people’s attention. You have to fight. And you’re only going to have the energy and stamina to fight if you really believe in the movie you’re promoting. You have to love it like a child, because you’re probably going to be making or promoting that movie for at least a year or two. If you don’t passionately love it, you’re going to lose interest. You’re going to get tired, and the movie may not get anywhere because it will have lost its champion. No one is going to be as interested in your movie or promoting your movie than you. If you’re as passionate about the material as you should be, you’re also going to want to take the time, effort, and resources to do everything right. I know indie film making has a tendency to be wrought with compromise, but you have to fight hard to make as few compromises as possible. Two things you can’t compromise – one of the reasons people are loathe to embrace indie films and unknown talent is that indie films, no-budget films, tend to look and sound like crap. So you have to fight that perception if you want to be taken seriously. When it comes time to promote your film, the first and best weapon in your arsenal are your film’s sound and picture quality. People can smell amateur videography and recording a mile away, and they’ll judge your entire film by the first few frames of a trailer if you don’t tackle these issues head-on. There have been incredible advances in technology over the last few years. For under two thousand dollars, you can buy a DSLR camera that Hollywood filmmakers are now using to shoot some of their films. Video isn’t a four-letter word anymore, and it looks amazing. And you can edit entirely from a home computer. The playing field is leveling out, so if you’re really serious about film making, the only things holding you back are your talent and your decision-making. Money’s always an issue, but it’s cheaper than ever to make a movie, and if you want it bad enough, you can save up a few hundred or a few thousand dollars and make it happen. If your passion carries you through, and you do a good job fighting compromise, promotion is going to be a lot easier for you.

3. Historically, Indiana is not well known for film making. What would you say, as a film maker are the limitations and facilitations of working in the state?

I don’t feel limited by making movies in Indiana. I mean, obviously, Indiana isn’t Hollywood, and we don’t have access to many stars or any industry movers and shakers, but if you’re a no-budget or low-budget independent, you can’t really afford take advantage of Hollywood’s resources anyway. And Hollywood doesn’t give anything without taking a lot in return. It’s political. It’s a game. Things rarely ever come to fruition there, and if they do, you don’t usually have much control over how they turn out. I have friends who work in Hollywood and I’ve heard a lot of their stories, and it’s madness. I don’t want to fight to get permission to make the movie I want to make. I don’t want to have to convince anyone of its legitimacy, and I certainly don’t want them interfering with how it’s made. I just want to make the damned thing, and I want to make it my way. And you can do that in Indiana just as easily as you can do it anywhere. I lived in Los Angeles for a few years, and people would occasionally see my movies out there, and they liked them. And then I’d tell them I made these movies with pocket change and tax return checks in Indiana, and their jaws would drop. If you have no money, or very little money as I do, Indiana is where you want to be. People in Indiana are generally very curious and enthusiastic about helping on a movie shoot, and there are a lot of talented people who are eager to build their portfolios or resumes for nothing more than credit and kindness. Hoosiers also have a remarkable work ethic. In L.A., people told me they loved hiring mid-westerners because their work ethic is so much better than other people’s. There’s something great about working with people who take pride in their work, people who have something to prove. That energy and enthusiasm can infect your whole movie, and you’re less likely to find it in a Hollywood crew that’s there to get a paycheck.

4. I read that while a student at Indiana University, in 1995, you received a grant to produce your first feature-length film. Could you elaborate on this.

Indiana University gives grants for undergraduate research. I saw a post about the grants outside the office of the Individualized Major Program, which I was part of for a short time, before I switched my major to Sociology. I don’t know if they still do this, but at the time, you could propose a project or study, and the board would determine which projects or studies they would fund. Since my project was a movie that would employ students, and it dealt with themes of tolerance and diversity, the board decided to give us the grant. I believe it was for $1,500. We used it to buy a steadicam for the IMP’s camcorder (we were using VHS back then!) and it also covered a lot of script printing and copying. The movie was called Variations, which we finally completed and showed on campus a year or two later. It was a great learning experience, and I’m grateful to the university, particularly to Joan Hawkins, associate professor in the Department of Communications and Culture, for supporting me in that and many other study projects.

5. Finally. If you could see any film in history remade (imagine that the budget is unlimited): what would it be, who would you cast, and would you direct it or who would you see helming such venture?
With so many remakes, sequels, and movies built around video games and comic books, I’m not too keen on adding to the woodpile, even in my dreams. I don’t feel that Dune, Frankenstein, or The Island of Dr. Moreau have ever been done quite right, and I love all three of those books. But if you want to talk about pipe dreams, I’d have to embarrass myself and tell you the truth: I’d love to make a hard-R, violent, super-sexy, rock-opera version of ThunderCats. I’m not talking about a cartoon here. I’m talking about sexy cat people and gnarly-looking mutants in full body prosthetics, beating the shit out of each other in exotic locales. And an immortal mummy as the big baddie? How cool is that? I think it’d be best to cast unknowns, but I’d try to get Toto, Queen, or Muse to do the score. It would be a flop of Heaven’s Gate proportions, but it’d be bad-ass, and I could die a happy man for having that dream fulfilled. And if I couldn’t be at the helm, my dream director would be Julie Taymor. She’s just crazy enough to do it, too!
Thanks to Scott for being a part of The Mini-View!
– Brandon Bennett
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