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Exclusive Q&A: Director Nick Simon talks Craven, Killers & “THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS”

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Last year, the horror world lost one of its most beloved icons: filmmaker Wes Craven, the man behind such chilling classics as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SCREAM and more. Not only was Craven a fantastic artist in his own right, but he was an incredibly generous man in the world of horror, helping as producer to shepherd the directorial careers of Robert Kurtzman, Patrick Lussier, and John Gulager. And before his untimely passing, Craven helped to bring one final cinematic vision to the screen, ushering up-and-coming filmmaker Nick Simon for THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS.

A brutal, intense horror-thriller, Simon’s THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS certainly carries the flavor of Craven’s early career but through a unique contemporary tale. With a strong cast, an unpredictable script and a genuinely gruesome climax, THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS is the kind of film horrorheads won’t easily shake and posits Simon as a director to watch in the genre space. With the film releasing this Friday, FANGORIA caught up with Simon to talk about Craven, vicious villains and THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS…

FANGORIA: What first inspired the concept for THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS? How did your co-writers get involved with the project?

NICK SIMON: The concept came from the flood of American Apparel ads that were all over Los Angeles a few years ago. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be terrifying if the model was staring back at the camera and was afraid of something?” There was also a strong urge to make a film that was a throwback to the old slasher films of the ‘80s, but with current themes and images.

Oz Perkins and I started working on the script immediately after we wrapped my first film, REMOVAL. It was a script we worked on intermittently for a few years and eventually, I brought my good friend Robert Morast on board to breathe some new life into it. The three of us worked on it together for several years.

FANGORIA: Wes Craven first read the script while he was your WGA mentor. Tell us about how he became involved with the project. Was there any entertaining of the idea of him directing the film?

SIMON: Wes graciously agreed to read my script at the end of my year-long mentorship with him. At the time, I didn’t think there was a chance he actually would read it and get back to me, but he did in a little over a week. He genuinely enjoyed it and without me asking, offered his help to get the film made. We asked him to consider producing it, and he accepted right away.

The idea of him directing was never approached.  Although I met him in the capacity of a writer, as we got to know each other in the mentorship program, he knew my passion was directing and he was very supportive of that.

FANGORIA: What would you say was the most influential element or advice that Craven brought to the project as a producer?

SIMON: It’s really hard to peg down one thing. I spoke with him often, sometimes daily, and his wisdom and confidence in me really kept me going. In the very beginning phases of every independent film, it’s very difficult and just having Wes in my corner got me through it. He gave me very specific notes and asked me tough questions, but at the end always reassured me that we were on the right track.

FANGORIA: The film has a great cast, including some genre vets in cameos and supporting roles. How was the casting process like with the film?

SIMON: We were incredibly lucky to have Nancy Nayor cast the film, who was a long time colleague of Wes’. Having someone like her was essential to the process and she brought some really great people to us. Once we found the actors we fell in love with, I fought very hard to make sure we were able to cast them.

The tricky part was finding actors who were capable of playing slasher film tropes but not playing the stereotypes. They are more than a “pretty girl,” a “good-looking guy,” a “model,” etc. I honestly can’t see anyone else playing these characters; they all knocked it out of the park.

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FANGORIA: The villains of the piece are fascinating; in a large part, they’re incredibly obsessive and yet are hiding in plain sight. Was it important for you as a filmmaker to go “against type” in creating these psychopaths? How did the villains of the piece evolve from script to screen?

SIMON: I think it’s important as a filmmaker to go against type in many aspects of filmmaking, especially when it comes to casting and developing characters. You’ll always get more interesting results. There are earlier drafts of the script where we had a lot more backstory on our killers. Based on a conversation I actually had with Wes, we decided to strip that down so that the less you know about them, the more terrifying they become.

Also casting Luke Baines and Corey Schmitt in those roles were really essential to bringing those characters to life. The three of us came up with moments that weren’t necessarily in the script but were really powerful on screen. We discussed certain OF MICE AND MEN elements of their characters in relation to George Milton and Lennie Small, and it really informed a lot of their performances.

FANGORIA: Kal Penn’s photographer character is certainly a unique choice of protagonist casting, especially because he’s largely painted in a non-complementary light. What informed the creation of that character as a piece of this narrative puzzle? Did Kal’s casting change the character at all?

SIMON: The character of Peter is a comical and exaggerated version of a modern day fashion photographer. In our research and meeting with actual photographers, they are nothing like Peter, but of course, they find him hilarious. In terms of his narrative purpose, he makes lot of the big decisions that drive the story and set the pace of the film.

Kal is a brilliant actor and finding someone who could handle the comedy and the arrogance of the character, but still being someone you root for, wasn’t easy. Casting Kal didn’t change the character at all– it actually heightened it to more than we could’ve ever expected. Again, I couldn’t imagine anyone else handling that better, and bringing it back to your previous question, this was another moment in playing against type and ending up with fantastic results.

FANGORIA: The film can be remarkably brutal at points, especially in the third act. As a director and horror fan, how did it feel to get to indulge so heavily with blood and gore FX? Was there ever a version of the film with a different finale in mind, considering the unconventional one you eventually chose?

SIMON: Working with Todd Masters on our gore FX was a great experience. He’s a legend in his own right and we had so much fun with it. I’m a huge fan of the SyFy Channel show FACE/OFF, so working with these guys for real was amazing. As a horror fan, it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on set.

The ending has never changed from the very earliest drafts of the script to what you see in the film. Without giving too much away, I am really glad we got to keep that ending; I was always afraid that might be something someone would want to change.

FANGORIA: Now that the film is about to hit the world, what’s next on your slate? Is there any particular horror subgenre that would be a dream for you to bring to life?

SIMON: I’m reading and developing a few projects, trying to keep up momentum. As far as horror subgenres, I would love to do a sci-fi horror film. I definitely want to remain in the horror/thriller genre because I’m very comfortable in this space. These are the films are that I grew up loving and what made me want to make movies.

THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS hits VOD and select theaters this Friday from Vertical Entertainment.

About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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