There aren’t many sixteen year olds in this world who know what they want to do with their lives. With college beckoning while high school is just starting to get fun, usually this isn’t the time a person has an epiphany regarding their career choice. But then again, there aren’t a whole lot of people out there who can say they wrote ten full scripts in a three year span during their high school days either.
One such gal was Erica Summers, an aspiring writer growing up in Wyoming, who quickly realized she was destined to be behind the camera. Now a widely acclaimed film maker who resides in Florida, Erica continues to follow her calling. A self-made DIY horror film maker if ever there was one, Erica’s enthusiasm for the genre she has wholeheartedly embraced is what makes her a shining icon on this blog. Like all of the contemporary indie horror film makers spotlighted on the blog, Erica doesn’t make excuses or succumb to financial restraints while making a film. She accepts the challenge and makes it work for her. Erica Summers will not let anything get in the way of her doing what she loves.
While her last film, LOVERBOY, continues to draw rave reviews and is still making the festival circuit rounds after being an official selection at the 2012 Fright Night Film Festival & Horror Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, it’s her latest project that may very well vault her into the next level of horror film making.
Mister White will be the next project written and directed by Mrs. Summers. While the film seems to promise to revitalize the serial killer genre, Erica also assures audiences that this is anything but a simple hack and slash flick. With a developed story line and characters we can relate to, everything I’ve heard about this movie so far has be quite excited to finally see it.
Recently, Erica was gracious enough to chat with me about her horror film upbringing, her affinity for her cast and crews, and how wedding videography translates to horror film making.
1. You started your film making career at the age of 16. What drove you to first pick up a camera?
Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress. I constantly ran around the house with my best friend, Chelsea, and we would dress up like different made-up characters and stay in character as long as possible. This went on for years. I was constantly auditioning for school plays and consistently getting either the role of the extra or the one-liner roles.
In high school, I didn’t really fit in with any of the cliques so I developed a new film-related hobby that could pour all of my time into by myself: I started writing scripts. There’s not much to do in Wyoming and so I spent a LOT of time writing. I bought a few books on scriptwriting and went to work. I probably wrote at least ten feature-length scripts in three years, complete with the treatments. One day, in the midst of it all, it occurred to me that the best way to land my first starring role was to write a film that I could play the lead in. So, at 16, I typed up a script called The Stalker. It was like Misery only with high school kids and I was set to play the Kathy Bates type “biggest fan” role.
So I gather up a couple of people from my theater class and, of course, my younger brother and sister (who were literally forced to be in all of my early projects) and we set out to make a movie with the camcorder my father kept in the hall closet. We are all set to start filming the first shot and my friend, Lindsay, asks me “who is going to be the director?” to which I replied “You can be the director since I’m the lead.” She shook her head, wanting no part of it. After about 5 minutes of going back and forth I finally gave up, defeated, and said “Fine, I’ll be the director too.”
The moment that I stepped behind the camera and began to direct others, I knew I had found my calling. I just knew. I absolutely fell in love with it. When I found that I could mold a movie to look exactly like my vision, I left acting in the dust. I’ve been directing ever since. I don’t even cameo in my own movies any more. I love being behind the camera.
2. When did you realize horror was a world you wanted to capture on film?
From the very beginning. My parents were huge on horror when I was growing up and I was watching hardcore horror at a very young age. My mom had a writing room in the basement that was decked out top to bottom in horror memorabilia and dusty candelabras and demon skulls. It was my favorite room in the house. I would go down, turn on the candelabra and sit and read until I got caught. I was just a little kid at the time.
While in high school I wrote mostly romantic comedies (because I thought that would sell the best) but I always had a love for horror. I remember teachers in school strongly recommending me for therapy at a young age simply because I would produce gory short stories during creative writing hour. It just made sense to turn to horror film making. To me it was a no-brainer. I always loved getting creative with the effects too. Creating something realistic out of strange things I found around the house was so exciting.
3. I find it very interesting that a number of fantastic ladies I’ve had the privilege of interviewing are not only horror film makers or photographers, but also wedding photographers. How does one make the transition from wedding videography to horror film making?
Well when people see you running around with a camera in your hand all the time, you’re often the first one they think of when they need a video project. I had two shorts and two features behind my belt when I made my first dollar at videography. At first, it was a few music videos and audition tapes for the UFC, but then I found out that there are people who actually get paid to film weddings. I had never really thought about it before but I knew my day job was going nowhere and I knew I had to try. My husband was a great support during the transition into my becoming a full-time videographer. I honestly love working weddings. I have developed so much of my editing skill from editing weddings over the last four years. Its taught me so much about sound, lighting, how to use my equipment… it’s a really fun job. Everyone’s always well dressed, the food is incredible, and the dancing is top-notch.
4. You’ve really dug into the horror genre over the last few years, with shorts such as The Stalker and The Grum, as well as Sins Of The Flesh and Loverboy as features. What intrigues you as a filmmaker most, working in this genre?
I love the idea of making the audience believe something is happening that, in reality, is not. I love the reactions to it. I grew up on so many great horror films and my folks were big on making me realize it was all just fake. They would say, “See, that’s just latex on Robert Englund’s face. He’s not really burned.” Or, “Erica, that’s just a rubber shark.” whenever Jaws was in.
After a while, I got to where I still thoroughly enjoyed horror films but that they didn’t scare me any more because I knew 100% it was all fake. It’s hard for me to remember sometimes that not everyone feels that way. One of my favorite moments, as a director, was being at the Fright Night Film Festival during the LOVERBOY screening and seeing everyone react in such a big way to one of the characters getting stabbed in the calf as she’s trying to escape. There was a huge group gasp. That sort of reaction to something is always shocking to me just because I forget that people still get so lost in the story that they forget it isn’t real. I love that about movie-goers. To me that makes horror especially endearing.
5. Can you share with us a few memorable experiences working on the sets of these films?
I have so many memorable experiences. That’s something else I love about being a director. I get to be there for all of it. I remember our first feature, Sins of the Flesh, was filmed in the back of the Hollywood Video I worked at at the time. We’d gotten permission from the Store Manager and half of the cast was comprised of Hollywood employees and the other half were customers. So we were allowed to film in the storage portion of the building during work hours. It was a very, very bloody cannibal film. We had fake blood everywhere. I remember, this one night, we were filming a death sequence and one of the actors had to scream repeatedly for each take. This poor customer, horrified, told the girl working at the front desk (who was also in the film) that she was certain someone was being beaten and murdered in the back room. She was absolutely terrified.
I absolutely loved shooting LOVERBOY. Behind the current film we are in production for, Mister White, it was by far the most fun I’ve ever had behind the scenes. I had worked with the two main stars (Amber Watson and Jessie LaBorn) on the preceding drama feature Rag Doll and so we were all much more comfortable with each other. It was incredible to have the opportunity to spend more time with them behind the scenes. We were fortunate enough to land an incredible cabin location for the end of the film that allowed us to stay the night to film over the course of two days. It was the most amazing adult sleepover I’ve ever had. We were all like little kids again, dancing, giggling into the night, and telling stories.
6. Your latest project, Mister White, is catching fanfare all across the web and word is spreading big time. What can you tell us about this project?
Thank you! Yes, I am so excited. Word about it is spreading like wildfire and we couldn’t be happier. It is a really great story. Sort of a gory underdog’s tale that revolves around themes of revenge and insanity. Mister White is inspired, in part, by some of the most horrific movie monsters of our time while being a brand new entity like none you’ve ever seen before. We’ve laid the foundation for Mister White to, with any luck, become a cult icon like Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, and Freddy Kreuger. He’s got a gruesome and distinct look, he’s got the lore and the intense back story, and he’s got the body count to be up there with the best of them. Mister White is an absolutely twisted tale. You may just find yourself rooting for the bad guy in the end.
We have an absolutely phenomenal cast. Very talented. The film is chock-full of practical effects and creative death sequences. There’s not much that horror-lovers have not seen but we certainly have some fresh kills and a really entertaining story. We hope that everyone loves watching it as much as we love making it.
7. If you had to pin point one or two horror films that have left a lasting impression on you, personally or professionally, which would they be and why?
Easily the first on my list would be my favorite monster movie of all time, Pumpkinhead. The original with Lance Henrickson shaped me as a horror-lover and as a director. To this day, that movie still scares me. Not only was it visually stunning and had amazing choreography, but it was expertly acted by Henrickson. It’s such a great tale. It has so many creepy elements. The swamp witch, Hattie, still makes me shiver to this day. It’s one of those films that I bow down before humbly and I try to learn from it. The story of Pumpkinhead influenced the Mister White script as well. I wanted to pay homage, to really say thank you to a movie that will always be my favorite horror film.
There is a second, more recent, film that comes to mind as well and that is Insidious. I know it was a bit hit-or-miss with movie goers but that movie absolutely horrified me. The editing, the timing, the scares in that film… its incredible! I have seen that movie so many times and the last time I watched it I was still tensing up and beginning to perspire when I knew a big scare was coming up. That movie proved to me (a HUGE fan of 80’s horror) that movies can still scare us today… even those of us desensitized to horror, like myself.
That movie was a big boost for me. It was a film that makes me want to crack my knuckles and say “It CAN be done. Lets do this! Let’s scare the $%&* out of somebody!”
8. On that note, if you could sit down and chat with one horror icon, past or present, who would it be?
Oh wow, that’s a good question! I guess it all depends on what you mean by icon. I think as far as horror actors go, probably Lance Henrickson or Jeffrey Combs. As far as directors go, I would probably say David Cronenberg. However, all of those guys would probably render me speechless. I would probably not be able to get out any English words. It would sound like gibberish. I would have to just listen and write down my questions for them.
9. Who are some of your favorite women in horror?
Well I love any woman that gets into this industry. It makes me want to give them all high fives as I see them. I never realized until just recently how few and far between us women of horror are. That being said, I don’t really know any other female horror directors personally. However, one of my favorite actresses in horror would be Linnea Quigley. I love that she still works so hard to this day and does a lot of indie films. When I was a kid she was Fangoria’s Scream Queen and I used to watch her all the time in Night of the Demons. She is still rocking horror and I have so much respect for her.
I also want to say Denise Gossett is a real inspiration for us indie horror gals. Not only does she still act (She was just in Get the Gringo, in fact) but she heads the Shriekfest Horror film festival and she’s a really great person to boot. She’s definitely one of the coolest women of horror that I’ve gotten the opportunity to talk to. I love what she does for indie filmmakers in the horror industry.
I also tip my hat to Char Hardin, the horror reviewer. I can’t imagine having to sift through the films she gets just to write an honest review. She really has a deep appreciation for horror and I really respect that about her. We put a lot of stock into reviews and I think its great that she works so hard to bring indie horror to a larger audience.
There is one last lady of horror that I really respect and admire and have had the pleasure of working with her on three films now, and that is Amber Watson, the star of LOVERBOY. She not only is extremely professional, and a very natural actress… she is willing to do anything needed to get whatever shot I want. If I say, “Amber, in a second I need to cover you head to toe in blood.” She will say something like, “Cool. Can I finish my sandwich first?” I’ve had her climb steep mountains (literally) and swim in murky unknown waters just to get a shot that looks great. She doesn’t even bat an eye. Amber’s a real trooper. She’s definitely one of my favorite women of horror.
10. Any last words?
Please feel free to like our upcoming film Mister White on Facebook or check out our official website for updates, behind the scenes photos, and much more. We are hoping that the word about our film continues to spread as we continue on down this path of production and post-production.
Please also keep your eyes peeled for LOVERBOY as it continues to tour the festival circuit. We are in the market right now for a distributor so hopefully within the next year you will see it on Amazon, Netflix, Redbox, and more. You can also order your copy on the “Buy the DVD” page on the official website for the film.
I sincerely appreciate Erica’s time and enthusiasm with this interview. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next. Erica Summers is truly a genuine woman in horror.