Guest Blog: Spencer Parsons on Saturday Morning Mystery; Exclusive New Stills!
Along with some exclusive and really bloody new stills, we have a special guest blog on tap for you guys from director Spencer Parsons about his new film, Saturday Morning Mystery; old cartoons; and much, much more! Dig it!
Truth be known, I’m more of a Buford Files guy than a Scooby-Doo guy, probably because that one ripped off Smokey and the Bandit, and every episode took place in a swamp, with way more opportunity for moss monsters. But man alive, ‘70s TV barfed up a ton of these Scooby wanna bes about ghost-chasers-with-dogs. And all of them got repeated endlessly through the ‘80s in syndication, even the ones that didn’t last a whole season. Shows like Clue Club, Butch Cassidy and Goober and the Ghost Chasers, plus less dog-centric mystery team cartoons like Fangface, Speed Buggy, or The New Shmoo. There were more, and I could go on, because I watched them all.
But we all must put away childish things, right? So when Jason Wehling (producer/co-writer) and Jonny Mars (producer/”Floyd”) first pitched me the idea of a horror comedy about a team of van-driving ghost chasers and their dog, I thought it was a terrible idea. Of course at that point in the evening, I hadn’t had nearly enough to drink.
"Paul Gordon: The Buford Files' Deputy Goofer McGee never looked like this. (Paul Gordon, photo credit Spencer Parsons)."
I told them I wanted more horror, less comedy. I told them I didn’t want to do a parody of a Saturday morning cartoon. I wanted to do The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Repeatedly. But at some point they reminded me that Texas Chainsaw was about five kids in a van who investigate a spooky plot of problem real estate, and by then I seriously had my beer goggles on, so this made a lot of sense. A few drinks later, a shooting schedule of ten days sounded like an exciting challenge, and “life imitates Hannah Barbera” struck me as a deeply philosophical theme. The realization of what it would mean to start shooting in only three weeks came with the hangover, and by then it was too late. We were in it, and the rest of production would have to be our walk of shame.
The reason it came together that quickly was so we could grab the opportunity to shoot in our “haunted mansion” during its brief window of availability. Executive producer Clark Lyda had just bought the mansion, and he and his partner, producer Jesse Lyda, thought it would be a good place to shoot a horror movie in its state of disrepair. Location came first, so what we had was a real, old-fashioned Roger Corman situation, like when he pulled together The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) in just a few days to take advantage of leftover sets before they were torn down. For us, renovation on the house would begin in 5 weeks, so we would have to be finished with principle shooting by then.
But none of us even knew about any scripts that took place in creepy, old mansions just lying around ready to shoot. Of course the old saw is “write what you know,” but with only 3 weeks to write for a team of middle-class, American white boys, “what you know” distills pretty simply to “thousands of hours of cable TV.”
"Josephine and Ashley in the elevator: Will these meddling kids (Ashley Spillers and Josephine Decker) make it out alive? (photo credit Jason Wehling)"
So we’d mash up all the crazy, disreputable stuff we used to stay up all night watching on cable—flicks by New World, Full Moon, and Empire Pictures, half-remembered music videos mixed up with our first glimpses of Dario Argento movies, plus a healthy dose of Skinemax action in the immortal style of Zalman King. We’d strive to push violence and gore and trippy-ness and sex and nudity to the fever dream limits we always wanted but could rarely find in a single movie or music vide or even cartoon. As for plot, we thought it would be funny and actually a little scary to ask what would happen to a team of meddling kids who’d seen Scooby and Goober and Buford and the rest not merely as kids’ TV shows, but as a viable business model. What if they had the skills to debunk fake hauntings and monsters, but none of what it would take to survive the real thing? And actually, this was something we could sympathize with pretty deeply, given our own ill-advised, childhood-fantasy-based careers in independent filmmaking.
But the Saturday morning cartoon template also helped with characters. To bring off all the scares and violence, we needed to concentrate on story structure and set pieces, while characterization could be made up on the fly. So the actors had these cartoon archetypes to lean on and riff off of, because dialogue and behavior you can improvise…axe murders not so much.
And what kind of axe murders do you shoot in ten days on a cash budget of less than $20,000? (No, there’s not a zero missing.) All those “wasted” hours of cable viewing and VHS rewinding and freeze-framing were about to pay off in another way, because while there are plenty of terrible effects in the cheapo horror films of yore, anyone who has spent enough time watching knows there are some great ones, too. And any serious fan knows a thing or two about how they were done. The great masters like Tom Savini and Rick Baker and Dick Smith always used stage magic tricks that have been around since before cinema, while leaning on remarkably simple photographic and editing tricks to do the rest.
Luckily for us, Meredith Johns and her team at Hawgfly Productions are masters, and brought not only their mad practical effects skills from films like Teeth (2007) and Grindhouse (2007), but they also brought guts. Specifically, guts left over from Machete (2010). So I was able to insist on realizing my childhood dream of cutting one of our characters in half.
"Josephine Decker (in half): Josephine Decker and leftover intestines from Machete getting ready for their closeup in Saturday Morning Mystery (photo credit Spencer Parsons)"
This was actually how it worked with our whole crew. Because the shoot itself was so short, we were able to martial great talent in every department. All joking and boasting aside, on this kind of tight schedule, we were actually able to pull together a seasoned, albeit adventurous, crew to invest their labor for a piece of the movie rather than payment upfront. Sort of a communist enterprise with the potential of a modest capitalist payoff. And it was basically my job to be a worthy (and speedy) director of what everyone else was bringing to it.
So we shot it in a whirlwind of doing everything they tell you not to do. Night shoots. Children and dogs. And it all worked pretty well, except the flashlights and lanterns we were lighting most of the movie with kept breaking and draining batteries and eating up precious time. Free advice: don’t use flashlights for key or fill or anything if you can avoid it (but if you can’t they look pretty great).
In the end, we all emerged from Clark and Jesse’s mansion into the sunrise sleep deprived, a little psychotic and covered in stage blood. There was a Buddhist private school next door, with elementary-aged kids arriving as we passed around wrap beers and even the non-smokers lit up what felt and tasted like post-coital cigarettes. I’m sure we must have looked like the Manson Family returning to Spahn Ranch from a night of Helter Skelter, but we were completely oblivious. So while I regaled a couple of disbelieving actors with f-bomb-littered plot synopses from Hanna Barbera’s Scooby Doo ripoff-cum-Jaws (1975) cash-in, Jabberjaw, one of the schoolteachers from next door approached and joined our conversation. She smiled and confirmed that yes, Jabberjaw was a real show with a wisecracking, rock-n-roll drumming Great White that she remembered fondly, but requested for the sake of the arriving children that we please stop smoking.
The film is directed by Spencer Parsons and written by Jory Balsimo, Aaron Leggett, and Jason Wehling. You can find it on VOD beginning July 17th and in theatres on August 9, 2013.
Josephine Decker, Paul Gordon, Jonny Mars, Ashley Spillers, and Adam Tate star.
Four professional ghost hunters, who travel in a vintage van accompanied by their canine companion (sound familiar?), get far more than they bargained for when they investigate an abandoned schoolhouse with a mysterious past.
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