Welcome to Camp Bloodbath: An Interview with Director Todd Strauss-Schulson

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson on the set of THE FINAL GIRLS.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson on the set of THE FINAL GIRLS.

Greetings Vault Dwellers! Your friendly neighborhood Vault Master here with an all new interview with director Todd Strauss-Schulson! Working on a variety of shorts, music videos, and TV series since the mid-2000s, Todd made his feature film debut with 2011’s A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS!

Most recently, he has directed the upcoming film, THE FINAL GIRLS (which I raved about HERE). It’s an immensely entertaining movie with a lot of heart, and I think will go over well with both casual Horror fans and even the most jaded lovers of slasher cinema.

Though he has been extraordinarily busy prepping for the premiere of THE FINAL GIRLS, Todd managed to take a little time to answer a few inquiries from yours truly. Read on to see what he had say about his future cult classic!

VM: I know you’re very busy Todd, so thanks again for agreeing to do this interview! First off, could you please share how you became attached to the THE FINALS GIRLS? Were you contacted by one of the producers or writers, or did you campaign for the director’s seat after hearing about it?

TSS: I went to college with Mark Fortin, and when we got to LA I would always hang with him and his partner Josh Miller. About eight years ago they pitched me this idea and I thought it was a great concept. And then I heard nothing about it for a long time. I went off to make my first movie, and while I was editing it, they sent me a draft.

I read it, and thought it was just such a smart and emotional and clever idea. I saw what the movie could be in my mind; it touched me. I wrote up a bunch of notes and told them I wanted to be involved, and spent the next three years working on the script and trying to put the film together.

 

VM: While watching the film, I was shocked (in a good way) to discover that many of the characters are fully fleshed-out. I also found it interesting that the main characters laugh at the violence in Camp Bloodbath while watching it in the theater, but become absolutely horrified by it once trapped inside the movie! What were your initial reactions to the script? Were you surprised by the depth of the characters?

TSS: The depth of the characters was the best part! When I read the script I never thought of it as a horror movie. It’s using the genre, and those archetypes as a leaping off point, but it’s adding depth and humanity. It’s telling a story about the reverbs of a real death, real grief, real mourning, in the middle of a movie that doesn’t take death very seriously. That was the great idea Josh and Mark came up with. That is what struck me when I first read it, and I could relate.

A few weeks before I made my first movie, my Dad died. He was my best friend, and he was so supportive of my filmmaking. He missed me booking that job by a matter of weeks, so that was difficult. And while I was working on my first movie, I would dream about him all the time. I still do. Happy dreams where were riding around on a bus through New York, or eating pizza and strolling around the Lower East Side. My father would visit me in my dreams… and that is what THE FINAL GIRLS is to me. That is what I saw in the script: The reverberations of grief and that wish to get another day.

In the film, Max (Taissa Farmiga) gets this second chance to see her Mom in this 80’s horror movie, which we made feel almost like a dream. It’s consciously hyper-realistic and ethereally beautiful. And really, the idea of the horror movie was very much consciously linked to the emotional concept. So we’re USING genre to tell that emotional story, not the other way around.

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Max (Taissa Farmiga) has a bittersweet quasi-reunion with her mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) in THE FINAL GIRLS.

VM: I’m very sorry to hear about the passing of your father Todd, but I’m sure he would be extremely proud of what you have accomplished, particularly in this film. There are some great visual moments in THE FINAL GIRLS. On that note, you utilized both GGI and practical f/x in the film. Do you prefer one over the other – Do you have a tendency to lean more towards practical or CGI?

TSS: I don’t honestly care. I think practical stuff usually looks better, but it’s really about how you use the CG. For me, digital f/x is better when used to enhance practical stuff, than to do fully CG things… although those bottle shots in my film are 100% CG, and I think they look pretty great.

Computer effects are a great tool, especially when you’re working on a budget. Let’s just say that when you don’t have the option to burn down a theatre, you can either think of a less exciting set piece, or you can utilize CG and work hard to make it feel integrated and real. I’m not orthodox either way. But given the choice to use CG, or diminish the imagination and scope of the film, it’s a no-brainer for me.

 

VM: That’s probably one of the best answers I’ve ever gotten out of anyone in the continuing CG vs. Practical f/x debate! While I myself am almost squarely on the side of practical f/x, I do see the need for CG use in films. When there is a “perfect marriage” between the two, movie magic happens!

You mentioned the “bottle shots” from the earlier in the film when the theater catches on fire. That sequence, as well as the one where all of the characters attempt to confront and defeat Billy Murphy, have some crazy shots and angles. I got sort of a Sam Raimi vibe from some of your camerawork. Are you a fan of Raimi’s films (particularly The Evil Dead trilogy), and did his past work (or any other directors’ work) inspire some of your creative decisions in the film?

TSS: Yeah, I mean obviously I love Raimi. When I was a kid I always wanted to be a director, and I just watched a million movies. The ones I loved the most were the ones where you could feel a filmmaker. Feel a storyteller, feel a style… I wanted THE FINAL GIRLS to feel like the films I saw when I was thirteen, while wandering around my local video store in Queens where I grew up.

I was renting all the movies I could, exploring filmmakers, and finding things like THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, BOOGIE NIGHTS, ALL THAT JAZZ, AFTER HOURS, DELICATESSIN, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, ONE FROM THE HEART, THE FISHER KING, DEAD MAN, ZELIG, TRAINSPOTTING, THE RED SHOES…. I was like WHO MADE THIS?! WHO IS THIS PERSON?!

I’m always excited to try to squeeze something new out of film I haven’t seen before. I’m always asking “how far we can push it?”, to give the emotion, or the story visually, in a new way. I like being ambitious like that! I think maybe ambition is my favorite quality in a movie: Reaching for something new and special!

I’m so bored with today’s cinema sometimes. Some new films aren’t ambitious and they have nothing to do with what cinema is capable of. You watch most movies now and they feel like photographs of people standing and talking to each other. I like when the film performs WITH the actors: It is not just a capture medium, it’s a performance medium too!

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Selfies on the other hand, are NOT a performance medium.

VM: I absolutely agree! And speaking of performances, you had a very talented cast in this film. They all did a great job with their roles, and were clearly having a good time. Also, it seemed like some of the dialogue in the film was ad-libbed (particularly by Adam DeVine). Was there a lot of improvisation on the set during filming?

TSS: It was a mix. We spent a lot of time with the script, trying to add jokes and come up with alternative lines for scenes. But when you have ten other people in the room with you, who are as talented as this cast is, you have ten other imaginations. I would have been crazy not to use them! So YES, we did my jokes, but then Adam, Thomas, Alia, Malin, and Angela… they are just SUCH talented improvisers! It was exciting to see what they would come up with!

Almost that entire scene where Thomas and Adam meet is improvised by them, and it’s fun for me because it comes to life on set, and all I have to do is tell them to do more of what is making me laugh, and less of what isn’t. It’s a pleasure to sit back and watch their brains work!

 

VM: Billy Murphy (portrayed by stuntman Dan Norris) is the villain of this film, and as we discussed elsewhere, he is a blatant parody of Jason Voorhees. (Naturally changed enough so that the powers that be at Paramount Pictures won’t be lawyering up.) Of all the slasher villains (or anti-heroes to some of us), why ape Jason?

TSS: He’s kind of a mix of Jason and the villain in THE BURNING. It’s more of a mashup of summer camp killers.

 

VM: Ah yes, I def got a Cropsy vibe from Billy’s origin tale. Also, since you utilized the slasher sub-genre as the backdrop to the story, I did begin have to wonder if THE FINAL GIRLS was originally intended to have an R-rating with plenty of nudity and gore. Am I right, or was this always intended as a PG-13 project from the start?

TSS: It was initially R and the script was violent and gory. The studio mandated the PG-13, and I flipped out and starting fighting with everyone. But, and this is completely true, as I started designing the movie, and shooting it, it became so clear to me that the bloodlust, the relishing in the kills, people getting chopped in half, spines getting ripped out of bodies, eyes gouged out… that would have totally broken the tone!

Like it or not, this is a movie about Max and her mom: It’s about losing a parent and letting go. And the big genre idea is there to service the emotion. In some ways, this is more of a Douglas Sirk movie cloaked in a horror movie, than a slasher movie with a little bit of heart.

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Sadly, Sirk’s films had a distinct lack of machete-wielding maniacs and half-naked women.

VM: Well, let us hope that unlike Sirk, you gain recognition for your body of work long before you retire from filmmaking! So far, it seems like you’re on the right track as THE FINAL GIRLS is getting a very positive reception. And for good reason: It’s an excellent film that pokes fun at slasher tropes, while delivering characters we can actually care about. If successful, what are the odds of seeing THE FINAL GIRLS 2, and if it is greenlit, can you maybe drop us a few hints at what we can expect?

TSS: I would love to make another one! I loved the cast and the crew, and it really felt like Summer camp! Just a bunch of kids making something special with no adult supervision… Trying to GET AWAY with something. As for what is the sequel about…

We all have ideas, and would love the opportunity to do another one, but that is completely determined by YOU GUYS OUT THERE!!! So go see this movie on Oct. 9th! Talk about it online, spread the word, and convince Sony that the world wants more!

VM: Again, many thanks for doing this interview Todd, and thank you for directing one of my favorite films of 2015!

To our readers, please be sure to support THE FINAL GIRLS when it is released on Friday, October 9th in select theaters, and on Video On Demand. Prefer physical media? Well you’ll just have to wait until November 3rd, to get this film on DVD & Blu-ray.

If (for some reason) you’re still on the fence about seeing THE FINAL GIRLS, watch the trailer HERE, and read my glowing review HERE. For more info about Todd Strauss-Schulson and his films, be sure to visit Ulterior Productions.com.