Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Interview with "Stupid Teenagers Must Die" Director Jeff C. Smith

Stupid Teenagers Must Die! is seriously one of the best independent horror comedies that Fatally Yours has seen in quite some time. It is a hilarious homage to all the cheesy horror films of the 80′s and features “excessive violence, gratuitous nudity and a zero budget” just as promised from the tagline.

Fatally Yours recently had the pleasure of interviewing STMD! director and co-writer Jeff C. Smith about making the film.

Stupid Teenagers Must Die! is officially being released on DVD September 25th, and we urge you to pick up this fantastic piece of independent cinema for your own viewing pleasure.

Fatally Yours: Welcome, Jeff, and thanks so much for doing this interview!

Jeff C. Smith: Thank you! I’m very happy to be here. Let’s get to this. I hope the first question isn’t about torture and making the audience uncomfortable…

FY: Well, actually…the focus in horror today seems to be more about torture and making the audience uncomfortable rather than having a good time. Can you tell us why you went against that trend with STMD!?

JS: If you had seen the first cut of Stupid Teenagers Must Die!, you would have agreed with our first audience that the movie was torture and uncomfortable. But as to why we set out to make a “good time” horror movie, those are just the type of flicks I enjoy. Especially the ones that were funny accidentally, which a lot of the 80’s horror movies are. So I decided to make an accidentally funny horror movie but on purpose.

FY: Why did you decide to make a horror movie as your first feature film?

JS: The horror movie idea was just one of many movie ideas that my movie geek friend, Drew, and I used to talk about when we’d hang out. And I’m pretty sure this is what all cool guys do when they hang out…come up with movie ideas in as many genres as possible, make notes, come up with a structure, and then never actually write the script. That was our method of screenwriting…no actual screenwriting. We had great super hero movie ideas, romantic comedy ideas, anti-romantic comedy ideas, but that was pretty much it. Curtis Andersen, who eventually became the co-writer and executive producer of STMD!, used to listen to us go on and on and decided it was time we made a movie for real. And he was also the one that thought if we were going to do this, it should be a horror movie because he thought we’d have a better chance of selling it. So already he was thinking in the typical “let’s make money” executive producer mentality. And when he heard that there was already an idea for a horror movie, which at the time was called Blood & Guts, he said “let’s make that one!” I was just happy to be making a movie. I’m glad it ended up being a horror movie because it was a lot of fun to shoot.

FY: What was the breaking point when you realized that you wanted to make a horror film that was fun and gory like back in the 80’s as opposed to another horror film that just focused on shocking the audience?

JS: The movie was always intended to be a fun, horror/comedy from the initial idea. And frankly, if I had tried to make a shocking horror movie, it would probably have come across as funny anyway.

FY: Your film really lets the audience have fun again at a horror flick. What horror films inspired STMD!?

JS: Well, the spirit of the “generic” 80’s horror movie was the main inspiration. The one-dimensional characters, the random nudity, all that good stuff. The “look” of the movie is more modern because we had no money so we shot on video, shot handheld and then went in and drained a lot of the color and added some more grain. We figured if the movie’s going to look bad, let’s go all the way and make it look really bad! One review said the only way our movie could be more low-tech was if it were a cave painting. That’s awesome. Anyway, back to inspiration. As far as the story goes, there’s certainly some Night of the Demons in there, some April Fool’s Day, The Lost Boys, Friday the 13th part VI which is the one where Jason comes back to life via lightning and a piece of iron fence. A big influence, actually, is the original Psycho, cause that’s the granddaddy of them all. And the whole “trapped in a house while characters are getting killed off one by one” is definitely inspired by And Then There Were None…or Ten Little Indians, depending on which version you’re watching. When I was in high school, my English teacher let me shoot a Hi-8 version of And Then There Were None for extra credit. So I got all the kids from the high school marching band to play the parts. Dr. Armstrong was now a 15-year-old kid with acne, Judge Wargrave was a 17-year-old drum major, I was the British butler. It was pretty terrible but, boy, did I need that extra credit. What was I talking about? Oh, inspirations. Yeah, that’s pretty much all I can think of right now.

FY: The script is absolutely hilarious. I’m curious as to what you and co-writer Curtis Andersen had to leave out of the finished film?

JS: Anything left out was due to budget. I had some big ideas for the deaths and especially for the finale. But I’m holding on to those ideas in case we get to do a sequel. Or two. Expect a prom.

FY: Did you or Curtis have any screenwriting experience before writing this film? Had you had any directing experience?

JS: Apart from the high school And Then There Were None masterpiece? I did three videos in high school so I could earn enough extra credit to graduate. I then attended Chapman University’s film school where I did a couple of shorts. I worked at a theme park in Anaheim where we’d have a banquet every summer and we’d make videos featuring the world famous theme park characters in big action movies with lasers and love scenes. Those were fun but the theme park lawyers will make sure the public never sees them! And then my friend, Drew, and I actually finished a script about a party called The Happening…not to be confused with M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming flick…and shot that on video with a cast made up of fellow theme park employees. Curtis was one of the actors in that and Curtis has been a working actor since he was a kid. He was one of the many voices of Schroeder on Charlie Brown, he was on the Teenage Witch show, I think he was on Saved By The Bell: The New Class a couple of times. So in a way, he’s been doing “horror” projects for a long time. Cause what’s scarier than Screech? But STMD! was his first screenwriting experience.

FY: STMD! wouldn’t be as much fun without the strength of the cast, who are all very impressive. How did you find the actors and what was the auditioning process like?

JS: Well, Jovan [Meredith] was always intended to play the part of Kane. I met Jovan and Curtis and our producer, Sara Parrell, all while working at the theme park. There are some twisted people working at theme parks! So that’s where Jovan was found, I guess. Other than Jovan, we didn’t have anyone in mind for the other “teenagers” so we had an open audition in Hollywood and the turnout was amazing. We had something around 1,400 submissions the first week we put the breakdown online. Since Curtis is an actor, he knew how to put together an audition and he never let on that we were making a very low budget movie with a crew of three. We auditioned for a couple of weeks, we chose the best actors and all of our first choices agreed to be in the movie. It was always important to us to have strong actors in the movie because bad acting is what makes a low budget movie look even worse. So we were very lucky to have Ashley [Schneider], Devin [Marble], Lindsay [Gareth], Renee [Dorian], Cory [Assink], Jonathan [Brett], Will [Deutsch], Christina [DeRosa], Jamie [Carson], Matt [Blashaw], Anna-Marie [Wayne] and Jovan.

FY: Did the cast and crew become pretty close after working on this project?

JS: Oh, yes. Some more than others – but I’ve been sworn to secrecy on the more lurid details. Since we were so zero budget, we didn’t have things like trailers or individual dressing rooms so all of us were hanging around a pretty small house for two months. When we did escape the house, we’d usually go to a bar a couple of blocks down the street called Cha-Cha’s. Nothing brings a cast and crew together like heavy, heavy drinking (the cast members that were over 21, of course). We all had a good time and got along great. We had a sleep-over in the house, the cast played a lot of Uno between shots and Lindsay, who plays Tiffany, used to show up after she “died” just to hang out.

FY: Where was it filmed? Did you have to build your own set or did you use an existing house?

JS: We filmed the movie in a real house in the middle of an interesting part of Long Beach, California. This is the type of neighborhood where our actors would hang out on the front porch with fake blood all over their clothes, Ashley would be screaming her head off for a scene we were shooting at midnight and I would walk from my car to the house with machetes and shot guns and the Long Beach residents never looked twice. I’m very curious as to what was going on in the houses surrounding us that the Stupid Teenagers crew didn’t stand out at all. The process of finding a house for the movie wasn’t easy but we ended up in pretty cool looking location.

FY: As an independent filmmaker with a limited budget, what was the most frustrating aspect of making this film?

JS: The most frustrating thing has been and continues to be the lack of money to pay for help! When you don’t pay people a lot, it’s hard to get them to commit to working on your movie. Our special effects guy decided to quit the day before a big, blood effect. That kinda sucked. We went through four different music composers before we got to John Draisey because the other dudes just couldn’t give us the time. And now, the entire thing is pretty much run by Sara and me. Even Curtis, the guy that said “we should make this movie” has moved on to other things. We do have help from folks like Matt Worley who helps with technical things I don’t understand, Randy Catiller who does, Dean Ethington who did our logo and poster art, and our cast is good about promoting our news to their family and friends, but all of the marketing, finding distribution, entering festivals, selling this DVD- that has been the two of us and it can get overwhelming. Of course, it’s all worth it because I got to make a movie which is something I’ve always wanted to do! But on the next movie, we will have a crew! Even if we have to pay them in Triscuits! People love Triscuits.

FY: Mmmmm…Triscuits…What was the most rewarding aspect of making STMD!?

JS: The most rewarding aspect has been the people that have seen the movie and have enjoyed it. It’s a scary thing putting something you’ve created out into the world for people to judge. So far, the sites like have been very receptive and that’s a great feeling. After the DVD is released on September 25th, I’m totally prepared for the kids on the internet to rip our movie apart and say it looks like crap and the camera work sucks and all of that. I’m sure the comments on Netflix will be particularly brutal but as long as we get the occasional “good review,” I’m fine with that.

FY: From pre-production to post-production, how long did the film take to complete?

JS: We started writing the script in shifts in December 2005. The movie finished rendering in the computer for the last time in March 2007. But somehow in the middle of all of that we had a “premiere” in July 2006. That was one of the biggest mistakes we made on the movie. We finished shooting at the end of May 2006 and that gave me something like six weeks to edit the movie so it could premiere on July 13th. Once the 13th came along, the movie was nowhere near ready but invitations had been sent out, the venue had been paid for, the whole deal. That was a bad screening. Someone told Jovan that night that he was lucky no one would ever see the movie. I kept working on it for months and we had another screening at the same venue in June of 2007. It was a much better night. We even recorded the audience as a special audio feature for the DVD so you will get to hear what the audience sounded like that night for the REAL premiere!

FY: Can you tell us what your five favorite horror movies are?

JS: Psycho, Evil Dead 2, Jaws, Halloween…I should probably add Poltergeist because that was the first movie that ever did psychological damage to me. I was at my first slumber party and all the kids wanted to watch Poltergeist. Once they got to the part where the dude rips his face off in front of the mirror, I was outta there. My parents had to come pick me up. And I remember being in the theatre when the Poltergeist II trailer played and Carol Ann said “They’re back!” I wasn’t too happy that they were back. I guess those are my top five. I really liked Grindhouse this year and I’m kinda annoyed that they’re splitting the movies up for DVD.

FY: What are your plans in the future? Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

JS: I’ve been working on two scripts for the past couple of months. One comedy, one horror/comedy. Hopefully I’ll get to shoot one of those. And it would be great to get the cast from Stupid Teenagers Must Die! in there, too. And a crew. I did mention that I’d like to have a crew, right?

FY: Thank you so much for chatting with us, Jeff and we wish you and STMD! all the best in the future!

JS: Thank you! Fatally-Yours was our first REALLY good review and we’re forever grateful. And please, Fatally-Yours readers, pick up the Stupid Teenagers Must Die! DVD! It comes out on September 25th! For more info, check out and!

Buy Stupid Teenagers Must Die!

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