Guest blog

Todd Strauss-Schulson on The Final Girls

05 Jul, 2016 Posted in: Directors, Film4 Summer Screen, Guest blog

Ahead of the Film4 Summer Screen presentation of The Final Girls, director Todd Strauss-Schulson reflects on the making of 2015′s heartfelt horror homage… 


The Final Girls came into my life when I most needed it. I had just finished my first movie, turned 30, and my father died, all within four weeks of each other. To say the least, it was an intense year.

The Final Girls arrived in my inbox as I was editing that movie. Josh and Mark who wrote it were friends from college and sent it to me randomly to get some friendly notes. I read it in one sitting and could feel it in my bones. I knew I had to make this movie.

First up, I love movies. When I was a kid I’d watch 3 movies a day every single day. I lived and breathed movies. I remember being 13 and raiding the video store next to my apartment and just having my mind blown by films like Delicatessen, Army of Darkness, Hudsucker Proxy, All That Jazz, Lair Of The White Worm, Tommy, Kentucky Fried Movie, El Topo and Amazon Women On The Moon…

The thing I loved more than any other thing in my life… more than baked ziti or knishes or getting my allowance… was sitting in a theatre full of strangers and laughing and screaming and sometimes even crying. It felt so healthy. To be with my community feeling the same thing at the same time. That’s the magic of movies. Not all of them, but the ones I loved. The ones that made me want to make movies. The magic of movies is they can puncture the armour of daily life and cut right to the heart of what it feels like to be human. And it can happen in public.

I thought The Final Girls could be one of those movies. I loved Josh and Mark’s concept. I thought it was so smart. There was the big concept: a movie about being sucked into a movie, that the movie itself could become an antagonist, that the tropes and cinematic techniques of a movie could become the biosphere of the story. All that fun meta stuff was a delight to play with as a kid who grew up obsessed with movies.

But most importantly, I loved it because it was about my Dad. In the aftermath of my father dying I was dreaming about him almost every night. They weren’t nightmares or anything, they were just simple dreams… us walking around New York eating pizza together etc… it felt like my father was visiting me in my dreams.


And to me, that’s what The Final Girls is about. It was deeply personal filmmaking cloaked in genre filmmaking. It was a story about a girl who gets a second chance to see her dead mom in a dream. And that’s all movies really are. Collective dreams.

It took almost four years to pull together the funding for the movie. And in that time Josh and Mark and I continued to work on the script, adding comedy, action and things like the 3D credits and the flashbacks and slow motion. All that fun meta stuff I felt I had never seen in a movie before.

Finally, some wonderful benefactors took a chance on this movie and gave us a tiny budget to go off and make it.

We shot it in 26 days at a summer camp in Baton Rouge. Our crew and cast were all 35 years old and under and we basically had no adult supervision. It felt like a bunch of kids let loose at camp getting away with something.

Because of that intoxicating vibe, we all broke our backs trying to pull off what was a crazy ambitious shoot. 50 set ups a day every day, explosions, car crashes, wire rigs, complicated camera rigs, for almost no money. It was not easy —  every day was a marathon. The final fight sequence in the field was shot with two lights in a single night. It was madness. And by the end of the shoot, when we shot the ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ goodbye scene in the field with Malin Akerman and Taissa Farmiga, we all cried together… the whole crew, the producers, the production designer, all of us.

It was a pure filmmaking experience.


On our last night of shooting at camp we did the big stunt where Billy comes jumping out of the cabin on fire. It was a stressful night, lots to do, two units shooting at the same time, the time crunch of getting it all shot before the sun came up, and additionally, the emotional toll of it being our last night at this camp that became home.

Before the stunt happened, I looked behind my monitor and saw the entire cast and crew. Everyone came out to watch the stunt, they were wrapped in blankets, drinking beer and eating popcorn. It was almost like they were watching a movie.

When the stunt happened there was a roar of applause. It was the experience I was chasing, the experience I was trying to give to an audience, like I had when I was a kid.

That was my wish for this movie. And every step of the process, from writing, to designing, to shooting, through editing and music, was all done with a painstaking focus on whipping up and conducting an audience through a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Laughter, terror, beauty, and heart. The full range of human emotion in a fun badass package. It was a movie conceived and made to be experienced as a loud, rowdy, crowd-pleaser.

But in this age of streaming and bingeing superhero civil wars, the theatrical life of Final Girls came and went and made me sad. We were released as a Day-and-Date VOD release which meant many theatres wouldn’t show the movie. It didn’t even come out theatrically in Europe at all.

And so, our movie was released with a passionate whisper, not a roar of applause.

But, what’s so cool is that this movie seems to be having an afterlife at Midnight Screenings across the country, and with this amazing Film4 screening, the world. In the weeks and months after our release, fans and local movie theatres started to throw screenings of the movie. To experience it the way it was meant to be experienced.


Cult status is in many ways so much more meaningful than a big box office weekend: it means people really love the movie, and they tell their friends, and it lives on for much longer. I feel so much gratitude for the fans who are adopting this movie, talking about it and passing it around – finding it in the same way I found something like El Mariachi when I was a kid and someone handed me a VHS promising it would blow my mind. In some circuitous and completely accidental way, we ended up making a movie that can hang with the movies that made me want to make movies in the beginning – the movies that I never even realized were “cult” movies – but were.

The Final Girls screens at Somerset House on Saturday 13th August 2016, as part of a double bill with Galaxy Quest. For more information about The Final Girls, visit

East End Film Festival 2016: six of the best

17 Jun, 2016 Posted in: Festivals, Guest blog

This year’s East End Film Festival returns to London from 23 June – 3 July and as ever represents a celebration of the communal power of cinema, from British indies to the most powerful, mould-breaking new films from around the world. Plus parties and live cross arts events! Here head of programming Andrew Simpson lays out ‘Six of the Best’ from this year’s fest. Check out the full programme at

Steve Coogan in Shepherds & Butchers

The UEL Centrepiece Gala for 2016, Oliver Schmidt’s Shepherds & Butchers is a classical courtroom potboiler with powerful turns from Steve Coogan (in one of his increasingly impressive serious roles) and Andrea Riseborough. A gripping Sidney Lumet style thriller with a powerful message, it’s screening on Wednesday 29 June at Hackney Picturehouse.


We Are The Flesh   

A grisly, wild kaleidoscope of a debut championed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Carlos Reygadas and Alfonso Cuaron, We Are The Flesh is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Set in a post-apocalyptic Mexico, a mysterious hermit is building a strange womb-like structure in the basement of an abandoned office building. When a young brother and sister arrive seeking shelter, he offers them protection in exchange for…well, that part’s a surprise – involving rebirth, cannibalism, and heavy amounts of getting down. Prepare to be wowed on Friday 1 July at Hackney Picturehouse.


Jim: The James Foley Story

Even within a festival that embraces the most timely, potent new documentaries, this may be the most prescient and relevant of the bunch. When war correspondent James Foley was brutally murdered live on the internet by the forces of ISIS, the shock and horror was palpable. Brian Oakes’ insightful, often devastating film explores Foley’s life, what drove him to enter the dangerous world of conflict journalism, and the permanent marks that his life and death left on those around him. Screening on Wednesday 29 June at RichMix.


Operation Avalanche 

A couple of years ago, everybody was rightly enraptured by Matt Johnson’s debut feature The Dirties. A hilarious, meta and highly disturbing mockumentary about teenage outcasts and high school massacres, Johnson has somehow managed to go one better with Operation Avalanche, the story of a CIA film crew going undercover at NASA during the space race. Toying with the notion that the moon landing was a ginormous hoax, it’s a rip-roaring ride through the world of conspiracy theories, Cold War paranoia and the clash of fact and fiction. Screening on Saturday 2 July at Hackney Picturehouse.


The Lure

The mermaid horror musical of this (or any other) year, The Lure is an absolutely barnstorming debut from Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska. Presented as a fairytale set to a phenomenal soundtrack, it sees two amphibious women emerge from the sea, and take up residence in a nightclub. Quickly installed as the city’s newest cabaret stars, their timeless bond will be challenged when one of them falls for a handsome musician. An enormous hit at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, see it Sunday 26 June at Hackney Picturehouse.



The DIY music firestarter that launched the careers of a host of rock, punk and hip hop stars gets loving, celebratory treatment. Featuring the likes of Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), along with a host of aficionados and musicians still committed to the format, this is a film for anyone who loves music, and feels the lure of the analogue. Presented at the festival by director Zack Taylor, and the inventor of the compact cassette, Lou Ottens. Screening at the Genesis Cinema on Monday 27 June.







Editor Chris Wyatt on ’71

09 Mar, 2015 Productions Posted in: DVDs, Guest blog

Editor Chris Wyatt has worked on modern classics of film and TV including  Dead Man’s Shoes, Dreams Of A Life and Dead Set. Here, he talks about his work with Yann Demange on ’71, out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.

71 jack o connell

Yann Demange and I have had a close working relationship over the last nine years or so. We first met when I’d just finished on This Is England and a mutual friend suggested that we should get together. It was one of those extraordinary things: there I was, overweight in my ill-fitting blazer, with the script in a Sainsbury’s bag, and then into the room swans this uber-trendy 25 year-old, and naturally it was love at first sight. We hit up an extraordinarily close working relationship very early on.

Charlie Brooker’s E4 series Dead Set was the project that really crystallised the way in which we work, and I always think of Dead Set as Yann’s first film. When we did come to do ’71, there was never any of that first film pressure, because to me I felt that we had done it all already.

Even when I saw his film school shorts before we met, it was clear to me that he is a cinematic talent. There was never any question in my mind whether he would be making films for the big screen – that’s where he belongs. He is a cinematic director, that has always been clear, and it has been evident in everything that he’s done, but particularly on Dead Set, and I think moments of Top Boy as well.

“It’s always about what you leave out, it’s about paring it right back.”

He is very visceral, very muscular, adrenaline-fuelled, but when one steps back and you look at the work that he’s done, it’s actually the quiet moments, those moments of pausing and reflection which make him such a great cinematic talent. It’s almost unheard of to get these passages of time in television where nobody says anything; everybody’s so desperate to fill the air time with people saying the bleeding obvious.

Yann’s always been very good at being very bullish about keeping those quiet moments. A picture really is worth 1000 words, and that has always been his great strength I think. When the ’71 script came in and we were looking at it, I was amazed how little dialogue there was. It seemed to make absolute sense to me that this would be the sort of thing that would attract Yann. It’s always about what you leave out, it’s about paring it right back.

To me the audience is the final collaborator, so if you give them 95% of the whole picture, they will happily give you the extra 5%. If you engage with them they will absolutely run with you and go on that journey. And I think that’s one of the successes of ’71 – we left out everything that might have been tedious and boring and would give too much away.

For me the riot scene in ’71 is the culmination of everything we’ve done. That, for me, represents absolutely the essence of the work that we’ve done. I can die happily thinking that that’s been left and really does for me signify everything that we’ve stood for these last nine years.

The apartment in Berlin where Chris and Yann edited the director’s cut of ’71.

The Berlin apartment in which Chris and Yann edited the director’s cut of ’71.

Buy ’71 on DVD and Blu-Ray now.





Dark Horse: Postcard from Sundance

Dark Horse director Louise Osmond on visiting Sundance for the first time, where her film premiered to critical acclaim and won the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary.

Dark Horse: winner of the Audience Awards for World Documentary at Sundance

Dark Horse: winner of the Audience Awards for World Documentary at Sundance

Sundance has such a romance attached to it – the original indie festival – and I’m glad to say it genuinely lives up to its reputation. There is some madness out there – a swanky crowd who gather on the main street of Park City and swarm over celebrities like Chris Pine (we saw the swarm snaking down the road but not the man inside.)

But most of it is people who love film watching everything they can and a very warm atmosphere that gets film teams together in brunches and lunches and events that remind you why you love the job you do.

The producer, Judith Dawson and editor, Joby Gee were out there too and, nervous as cats, we waited for the premiere. Joby had one of his trademark fantastic/horrible shirts on – brown and blue dancing horses in 100% vintage rayon. Laughing at him proved oddly calming.  Coming out here, I’d thought – worried – a lot about whether American audiences would take to the story. In Park City, listening in the dark to every sigh or cough it seemed like they did but at a screening in Salt Lake City the next day it was louder and easier to read. They did seem to take to it and better still what they loved most about our fantastic characters – Jan and Brian, Howard and the others – was their spirit of defiance.

People will sometimes tell you America is a classless society but that news hasn’t reached Utah. Taking on the elite sport of kings with a horse bred on a slagheap allotment seemed to resonate very strongly with them. One man said: ‘Good to see people who aren’t respected getting the respect they deserve.’  Can’t argue with that.

Read more about Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance




Fred Dekker on Night Of The Creeps

21 Aug, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Directors, Guest blog, Writers

As Film4 screens 80s comedy-horror Night Of The Creeps for the first time, writer/director Fred Dekker looks back on his filmmaking debut…


Night Of The Creeps was written in three weeks.

At least, that’s what I read on the Internet. To be honest, I don’t remember how long it took. What I do remember is that my fledgling career circa 1985 was shifting into a higher gear with each passing day — I’d gone from being an English major at UCLA to a working member of the Writer’s Guild of America in less than a year.

My first writing job was an American Godzilla movie to be produced and directed by Steve Miner who, after helming the second and third Friday The 13th installments, decided it was time to fry bigger fish… or bigger prehistoric reptiles.
The movie was never made (its $30 million budget was considered too exorbitant!) but working with Steve opened the next door on my journey…

I’d wanted to be a director since the day I saw Jaws, so for me screenwriting was really a preamble to the director’s chair. I had an idea for my first film. It would be a low budget shocker, albeit with some redeeming social value, about a Vietnam veteran who decides to face his demons by writing a no-holds-barred memoir about his war experiences. I decided he’d hole up in a house alone, and slowly but surely the proverbial scary shit would start to happen. The audience, in turn, would wonder if he was suffering from PTSD, or if the house was actually haunted (spoiler alert: the latter).

I wanted to call it House (clever, eh?) and shoot it down-and-dirty in the very house I grew up in — my parents’ Victorian in Marin County, California. I mentioned the project to my college roommate, Ethan Wiley, but for various reasons – the Godzilla script, girl watching, making short films with my friends or having dinner with James Cameron about working on his script for Aliens (yes, that happened)… whatever the reason, I just never got around to writing it.

So Ethan asked if he could take a crack at it. The script he wrote was more comic in tone than the movie I’d imagined, but liked it enough to show to Steve Miner, who loved it and showed it to Sean Cunningham — producer/director of the original Friday The 13th. The next thing I knew, my first screen credit –“Story by”– was in front of the cameras (three sequels followed, although I never saw a dime).

Somewhere in the midst of all this was the apocryphal “three weeks” during which Night Of The Creeps was born. Again, I don’t remember exactly. What I do remember is this: a sleepless night, and a vision of a hard drinking, hard-boiled gumshoe picking up a phone and saying, “Thrill me.” (After I saw The Terminator, I named the character “Cameron” after my one-time dinner companion. Because why not?).

So…  I had a character, and one line of dialogue. That was pretty much it. But I knew he was a detective, so the question for me as a writer became: what was he investigating?

The floodgates, as they say, opened.

Because long before I was writing seriously, long before I’d come to Los Angeles to break into “the business,” long before any of that: I was a movie nerd. Correction: genre movie nerd.

So I allowed the library of genre movies in my head to spill out. I loved Animal House and the films of John Hughes, so what if there were a college romance plot? And what if that was the reason the detective’s investigating something? What if a sorority were besieged by an axe-killer? Or better yet – a zombie axe-killer? Or better yet – a zombie axe-killer infested with alien parasites?

Calling Night Of The Creeps original would be an error. But calling it an affectionate nod to all the B-movie tropes I’d absorbed in my misspent youth? Bingo. I was doing the mash-up to end all mash-ups long before anyone knew what the hell a mash-up was.

My agent found a producer who liked the script (his name was Chuck Gordon, and he would go on to make movies like Die Hard and Field Of Dreams and Waterworld. Nothing big). The first studio Chuck showed it to said yes.

It was official. I was going to be a director! I was also officially having an anxiety attack. But I soldiered through, and with the help of an amazing cast and crew, managed to cobble a movie together.

I had never had any formal training, and everything I knew about making movies was learned on the fly when I was young, shooting and cutting 8mm films or video. That, and watching anything I could, from any era, in any genre.

My “self-taught” approach made for some awkward moments on the set and in the cutting room, but my naïveté was also responsible for the film’s occasionally bravura style (my favorite scenes are Detective Cameron’s dream/nightmare, and the scene where he tells young Chris Romero the deep, dark secret that’s been haunting him for 27 years).

What did I learn from making my first feature? Three things, mostly. 1) Cast properly. I think it was Martin Scorsese who said that’s 90% of the job right there, and he’s right. 2) Keep an eye on pace, and get enough coverage so you can speed a scene up or slow it down in editing. And 3) Be veeery nice to the executives who are giving you the money to make your movie.

(Quick side-note on casting: I didn’t have an actor in mind when I wrote the detective, but Tom Atkins read for us and the second he left I turned to our casting director and said, “That’s the guy.” To this day, I think Tom is the glue that holds the movie together.)

As for the in-joke character names? An extension of the homage tone I was going for. After all, if you’re going to rip off a bunch of other movies, why not at least acknowledge the guys who made them? (Romero, Landis, Corman, etc.) More importantly, since this was my first feature – and it was ostensibly horror – I chose to specifically reference directors who had started out, or specialized, in the genre. That’s why there are no characters named Kurosawa… although Spielberg, Kubrick and Peter Hyams were probably my biggest influences at the time.

As we were shooting, I concocted another “mash-up” that was near and dear to my heart; a comic-horror adventure that would pay tribute to the “Our Gang” comedies and the Universal monster films. I asked my talented college chum Shane Black to write it and we were making a production deal for The Monster Squad even before Creeps was finished. Suffice to say, there wasn’t much time for me to reflect on the cultural impact of the work I was doing, and frankly, I was having too much fun to worry about it. It was only after both these films were released… and bombed horribly… that I realized they were barely blips on the Hollywood radar. I had committed the cardinal sin of any fledgling filmmaker: I had made two unsuccessful films in a row — a critical blow to my directing career.

It was years later that both films began to find their audience via cable TV and video rentals and word of mouth. Although considered “cult classics” now, at the time they came out they were redheaded stepchildren, beloved by only a few discerning genre buffs. Frankly, the disappointment was crushing.

So what’s the moral of the story? Well, for one thing, if I had it to do all over again, I might not have made two “comic horror” films — an oddball hybrid in any era, and rarely successful on a blockbuster scale (Zombieland notwithstanding). My true loves are adventure films and thrillers, and had I gone in that direction (i.e. more mainstream), my career might well have gone a different route, too.

But hey, hindsight is 20/20. And I’m truly gratified that at least Night Of The Creeps did find its audience… eventually. And maybe as part of Film4’s FrightFest, it’ll attract a few new fans, as well. You know what that would do?

Thrill me.

Fred Dekker
Los Angeles — August 2014