Screamfest L.A. 2014: Director Peter Schuermann Talks Premiere of Creep Behind the Camera
With Emmy-award winning filmmaker Peter Schuermann’s L.A. Premiere of his feature The Creep Behind the Camera screening this coming Sunday, October 19, at 5:00 pm at the Screamfest Film Festival, read on for our exclusive interview, and have a look at some stills and a trailer for the flick.
Written and directed by Schuermann, the narrative of The Creep Behind the Camera revolves around (according to the official synopsis):
Actual filmmaker Vic Savage (AKA Art Nelson) is a real scumbag whose only real skill was in his uncanny ability to convince the residents of 1960 Glendale, California, that he was making the biggest, the BEST monster movie ever made! The true story of Savage and the making of his monster opus The Creeping Terror (1964) is told in the narrative dark comedy.
Produced by Nancy Theken and Kyle Woodiel and starring Josh Phillips, Jodi Lynn Thomas, Bill LeVasseur, and Laurel Harris, The Creep Behind the Camera, much like Tim Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood, explores the mythos of a Los Angeles filmmaker working in low budget fare in the 1960’s. Unlike Ed Wood, however, the protagonist at its center (according to Schuermann) wasn’t a very likable guy.
Of the inspiration for the film, Schuermann stated, “I had seen (filmmaker Vic Savage’s 1964 film) The Creeping Terror on late night television when I was about fourteen years old and it left quite an impression. At the time, I was already quite a buff of 50’s and 60’s era monster films and had a pretty comprehensive knowledge of the then finite amount of those kinds of movies. The Creeping Terror caught me off-guard though. My brother John and I were in hysterics over the obscure film, directed mainly at the carpet monster and omnipresent narrator.”
“Anyway, the viewing came and went, and we were left baffled by the experience,” he continued.
“A letter seeking additional information to the magazine ‘Starlog’ that my brother had written failed to provide answers, but it did reap a slew of similarly intrigued fans that had seen the film. Around this time the Harry and Michael’s book ‘The Golden Turkey Awards,’ followed by ‘Son of Golden Turkey Awards,’ presented the first and only information on the twisted back story of the film, much of which can be seen in The Creep Behind the Camera.”
Flash forward years later, and Schuermann, following the completion of his documentary feature Haze, turned his thoughts back to The Creeping Terror.
“I hit on the idea of doing a documentary on the making of the film,” he stated. “There was a picture in ‘The Golden Turkey Awards’ of The Creeping Terror monster prop being paraded down Hollywood Boulevard in the back of a pickup truck as a promotion stunt for the film. It was that iconic image that really kicked in that feeling that this was a great story to tell. A little poking around on the internet unraveled much more of the story of the film’s director, AJ Nelson, who also stars in The Creeping Terror under the pseudonym Vic Savage.”
“From there, internet probing led me to a novel by Nelson’s first wife, Lois Wiseman, ‘Hollywood Con Man’,” continued Schuermann. “Although Lois uses aliases, an interview with her revealed that the book’s contents were all in fact quite true. It was her marriage to Art that serves as a narrative thread in The Creep Behind the Camera and also conveys none-too-subtlety Nelson’s cruelty and duplicitous nature.”
As for Nelson’s nature, “I don’t want to ruin the plot of my film, but the more I learned about Nelson and his psychopathic tendencies,” Schuermann offered, “as well as some of the deranged business endeavors he had been involved in, the more it seemed I was on to a story that really exposed the dark side of bottom-feeder show business, as well as the nature of humanity to fall prey of someone that is far better at being convincing than credible.”
“As it stands now, The Creep Behind the Camera is more a narrative feature than a documentary, though there are interviews with surviving members of the production present,” he stated of the film, which was shot on the RED Camera over a total of 35 days. “There was a serious lack of archival footage or even still images from the production, so we had to recreate them from scratch. When you see The Creep Behind the Camera, you will probably get an idea why so little from The Creeping Terror was left to posterity!”
“I think the whole idea that someone like AJ Nelson, a sickly-looking, dime-store hood, can take a piece of carpet and stick vacuum cleaner hoses on it and pass it off as the main attraction in a promised, ‘biggest, best monster movie ever made’ film is intriguing and has much to say about the nature of humanity. We live in an era when words carry more weight than actions, it seems, and this basic theme of how people tend to gravitate to those who can convince over those with true credibility seems quite relevant today. There is also a nice sense of poetic justice, I feel, to Nelson’s true story and how it plays out over time. Finally, I quite intentionally left a bit of ambiguity in the manner of the storytelling. At no point do you see a ‘the following was based on actual events.’ From what I’ve heard from audiences that have seen the film, there is some great discussion going on as to what was real and what was not. I’m quite pleased with this, which in my opinion is the way people should view all movies that claim to be true stories.”
Regarding Screamfest’s selection of The Creep Behind the Camera for its 2014 run, “I absolutely love that we’re premiering there,” stated the filmmaker, “but for several reasons beyond the obvious prestige factor. First of all, we’re not your typical horror film; we’re more of a black-comedy, Ed Wood meets Silence of the Lambs. Thanks to festival director Rachel Belofsky, we were one of their very first selections, which only adds to the compliment which I hope means they just plain loved the movie! I flew out to LA to meet with Rachel and her cohort Karen to discuss plans for the premiere, figuring that they must have seen The Creeping Terror to have such an instant like for our film. I was told no, they had not. Of course this tells me we’ve got a movie that stands on its own, not needing familiarity with the subject.”
Those not familiar with The Creeping Terror will have a shot to see it, as it’ll be screening alongside Schuermann’s biopic the same day. The Screamfest screening of The Creep Behind The Camera will also feature a Q&A with the director, producer Theken and actors Josh Phillips and Jodi Lynn Thomas, which will be introduced by Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
As for what Schuermann’s now up to, “I’m developing a straightforward horror film,” he allowed. “We’re in an age of remake after remake, and I also think we’re in an age where ‘horror’ is associated with jump scares and little else. I’d like to make something wholly serious, unnerving and genuinely scary without resorting to pop-up corpses, freaky little girls or whatnot. What I’ve got in mind is a story similar to The Creep Behind the Camera in that it deals with immorality getting a very moral comeuppance. It’s a story basically about what it is like to go to Hell, deservedly and literally.”
Screamfest runs from October 14th to the 21st.