Out today, April 1st, 2016 from Vertical Entertainment on VOD and in limited theatrical release is THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS; a unique, modernized “slasher” film helmed by director Nick Simon. It also marks the final film that the late, great Wes Craven was involved with, as he helped guide Simon’s vision to the big screen as an exec producer.
In the movie, Colleen is a small time check out girl stuck in her dead end job who keeps receiving disturbing photographs of mutilated murder victims. Regardless of whether they’re genuine or not, someone is definitely watching her & sending a strange message. When Peter Hemmings, a hot shot LA photographer realizes that the killer(s) are emulating his work, he heads back to the small town and focuses on their muse to draw them out.
Shot by famed cinematographer Dean Cundey, THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS is that rare new horror movie that people should be setting their sights on. We got to talk with Nick Simon, the director and co-writer to get the full story on how the movie came to be.
Blumhouse.com: You had already directed and co-written the movie REMOVAL with Osgood Perkins. So what were the origins of THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS? Was this an idea you’d been thinking of for a while? Or just something that came together rather quickly?
Nick Simon: Oz and I started writing this right after REMOVAL. The idea came from just driving round Silverlake and seeing all the American Apparel ads everywhere and thinking it’d be interesting to do something that involved photography and something that was a throw-back “slasher,” if the girls in those billboards were actually terrified looking back at you. We started working on this script in 2009 and wrote back and forth. Oz and I got hired to do a film called COLD COMES THE NIGHT, so we paused on THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS for a while. After that, Oz went off to start working on his film FEBRUARY (currently titled THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER). And then Daniel (Meersand) and I went off to write THE PYRAMID. So we kept coming back to re-write this in between. It was a script I really liked, but also really tough to crack. Luckily, I was paired with Wes Craven through the writer’s guide as a mentor. We had these dinners at his house for about a year. At the last meeting, he asked what we were working on and I told him about this idea, so he read it and really liked it and wanted to be a part of it.
Blumhouse.com: That’s so awesome.
Nick Simon: I’d say the script part of it took about 4 years to get it to the point of where I would show it to people. It’s a weird thing. When you work on something for that long, it becomes deeply personal! So you’re nervous to show it to people. (Laughs)
Blumhouse.com: When you were working on this story, were there any specific influences you guys were pulling from? Because it’s a weird hybrid of a modern “slasher,” and yet it feels like a home invasion horror, even though that’s not what this is at all. What were some of the things you and your co-writers were talking about in terms of tone?
Nick Simon: I think we always wanted to tonally be a cross between HALLOWEEN and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Where all these characters and their backgrounds were based in a real situation, but also have it be an homage & similar vibe to the earlier “slasher “ films that we loved, like HALLOWEEN. Those are the movies that made me want to make films! We wanted to come up with a current story that reflected now. We touched on the photography element of it, and the idea of objectification and trying to keep that theme all the way through, in particular the objectification of woman in advertising. The way you perceive models, and also the idea of the woman that works at Starbucks and has to deal with this creepy guy every single day who has built in his head this relationship they have that she has no idea about. He goes in every day and talks to her and sees their relationship as something more. I’ve seen it happen. I used to work at a Suncoast video for 5 years back in the 90’s and there were a few creepy guys that would come in specifically when this one girl would work. I don’t know how they figured out her schedule! But they’d stay there for a little longer than was appropriate.
Blumhouse.com: Let’s talk about the “look” of the killers. They both wear pretty unsettling masks in the film. Wasn’t that something that Wes suggested originally?
Nick Simon: He did. We toggled back and forth in the script about whether they should wear masks, or wear like a pancake make-up. I talked to Wes about it and he had this entire great backstory about the importance of masks in these types of films. He’d explain how they go back to ancient man and how it separates the killer from the victim. Wes had a very elaborate and detailed explanation on how important it was, so we went with masks. And then it was one of those things where I thought long and hard about how to get the masks right. If you’re trying to do a horror movie where the killer wears a mask, they’ve all been done, right? So you’re trying to come up with something interesting and something that will stay with you and tell a story at the same time.
Blumhouse.com: The other thing I like, and this really isn’t a spoiler, but you reveal the identities of the killers fairly early on in the film. Was that always the plan narratively? Because it’s different from what we normally see in these kinds of films.
Nick Simon: Absolutely. We never wanted it to be a who-dun-it by any means. I think once you let that out and let the audience know, it takes on a whole new life. It’s important not to let the characters know who the killers are, but giving the audience the information before the characters, it adds an extra layer of creepiness to it, especially who Tom is specifically. We ended up taking a lot of backstory out of the script, which was another discussion I had with Wes too. In the early drafts, there was a lot more to those characters where you got to know more about them. But then they become less interesting. We left it intentionally ambitious. That was a suggestion from Wes, because he said “you know what they want. You know who they are. You know where they live. And you know that they’re monsters. What more do you need? The less you know, the scarier they are.”
Blumhouse.com: Can you talk about casting Kal Penn in the movie? Because this is a little bit different for him. And I know my Killer POV co-host Elric Kane had read an early draft and said he was surprised with that casting choice because he definitely didn’t picture it. But that’s what works so well about it. When’d you first think of Kal as your lead?
Nick Simon: We were talking about casting that role for a while. And we knew we were a smaller movie, so of course people talk about “bankable” names. I remember getting the list of people from the casting agencies that had X Y Z market value, and it was all obvious choices. It was Wes’ manager who suggested Kal. That was the first name that excited me. Because I didn’t know what he was going to do. I learned early on that it’s always more interesting when you cast against type. We had a long conversation for about an hour on the phone and told him “you’re the first person suggested that I’m excited about, because I have no idea what you’re going to do with this character, but I’m sure it’ll be great.” And he was excited because he doesn’t get offered these kind of films often.
Blumhouse.com: And then you got Dean Cundey to shoot this! We of course all know him from his amazing work with John Carpenter, but the guy is a legend! How’d you get him on board as cinematographer?
Nick Simon: He is a legend! I have a couple of DP’s I normally work with and I was talking about getting one of these guys to shoot the movie. One of the producers asked, “who have you always wanted to work with? You should aim for the biggest guy you can!” So I said, “Dean!” Just to get it over with, because there was no way he was going to do it. But it turns out at this point in Dean’s career, he’s really interested in going back to his roots and doing indie films. He still does some big studio films, but he doesn’t find those films as interesting as working in the indie world, because at least there, he feels like he has input. As soon as he found out about Wes’ involvement, he wanted to read it. And then he wanted to meet with me, and I bought him lunch, twice! (Laughs) Handed him a bunch of storyboards and look-books and explained everything I was hoping to get and how his films sculpted me. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is one of my favorite films of all time! So just getting to have lunch with him was amazing. He said yes, and he was the best get in the movie!
As a director, I never had to worry about the cinematography. With these indie schedules, you have so little time, so I felt confident with him and could focus on performances and everything else. It was important with the visual style, I didn’t want this to look like every other horror movie these days. Everything these days is very dark and contrast-y and boarding on black and white, and I wanted to have color in this film. He just did an amazing transfer of HALLOWEEN for that Blu-Ray release last year and that felt like the first time I’d seen HALLOWEEN. That’s what I wanted our movie to look like.
Blumhouse.com: What’s up next for you? Would you want to continue doing genre films?
Nick Simon: I’m actually really happy and thrilled to be in the genre space. Its stuff I grew up loving. Horror and sci-fi is what drove me to do this! I can’t imagine doing anything really too far outside of that because this is where I’m comfortable and where I love to be. I was talking to Wes before he passed away about remaking SHOCKER. Wes’ ideas were always so ahead of their time, especially with SHOCKER! If you took the 13 act structure of that movie and streamlined it and focused on how everyone is connected to their devices, there’s a great idea in there. I was talking to Mitch Pileggi about it when we were making this movie, and you were the one that told me he mentioned it in his interview on the SHOCKER Blu-Ray.
Blumhouse.com: Yes! That’s right. He said in that interview he discussed it with you and that he’d be happy to cameo, but didn’t think he could play Horrace Pinker again at his age!
Nick Simon: He could totally do it! He’s in such good shape and he’s in such a good guy! He worked only 2 days on THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS, but the way the schedule was set, he had 5 days off in between those 2 days, so he hung out that whole time and was just so awesome.
Check out an exclusive clip and the trailer to THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS right here!