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Interview: Lou Simon (All Girls Weekend)

I think it’s fair to say that I’m just crazy about triple threat film maker Lou Simon. I last spoke to her a few years ago while she was promoting her (then latest) film called Hazmat, and I call her a “Triple Threat” because she produces, writes and directs her films. But she’s far more than just a pretty face (She’s a knockout!), and her story is truly inspirational. Born in Havana, Lou migrated to the states (settling in Miami) with her family at age 9, and didn’t speak any English. Soon afterwards, she was assigned to write a short story that was supposed to help her learn the English language, but that assignment did a lot more than that. It led to Ms. Simon discovering that she truly loved to write, and she eventually graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in both English and Creative Writing. She continued her education at the NYU School of Law, but soon rediscovered her passion for writing when a friend asked her for help with a screenplay. Ms. Simon then developed a passion for screenwriting and film making, and rather than wait around for a miracle to happen, she simply wrote, produced and directed HAZMAT, and secured distribution for it in nine months! It went on to win Best Horror Film at the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival and the Berlin Independent Film Festival. Since then she has completed two more films AGORAPHOBIA (Starring Tony Todd), and her latest film, ALL GIRLS WEEKEND. Deep into pre-production on her latest film, 3, she was gracious enough to have a chat with me about her latest film, and some of the trials & tribulations she experienced while making it.

Gruesome Magazine: Thanks so much for taking some time to talk with us, I know you’re very busy right now.

Lou Simon: It’s my pleasure.

GM: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your latest film, All Girls Weekend, as well.

LS: Thank you very much!

GM: I first saw the film last year while it was on its festival run. Now that it’s getting a proper release, are there any changes from what I saw last year and what’s being released now?

LS: I don’t think so. It’s pretty much the same film now as it was then.

GM: What was the idea that led to you writing this script?

LS: It started with me watching The Descent (2005) for the millionth time. I started to think how cool it would be for me to direct a horror film with an all female cast. A movie where they’d be doing something adventurous, not just sitting in a cabin waiting to get slaughtered by a maniac with an ax. I’m also really into adventure sports too, so I thought about what I could take from my hobbies and apply it to a film. The producers of The Descent built an intricate cave system to make their film and I didn’t have that kind of budget, so I had to think of something a lot simpler that could be done on a relatively low budget. The idea of them getting lost in a forest got that part of my thought process started, and then I thought about a film called The Edge (1997) which I really loved and that led to me bringing elements of both those films together to write the script.

GM: How long did it take for you to put all your ideas together and write the script?

LS: I go through a long thought process! I think I came up with the idea back last May, and from then on I came up with some other story ideas which I kept until I thought I had enough to proceed to write a script outline. Now sometimes, outlines can be short, but this one was very detailed and it ended up being about 7 – 8 pages long. Once I had that locked down, I started to write the script. I can write about 20-30 pages a day once I start getting into it, so it took me three or four days to finish it up.

GM: Wait a minute…you’re saying you finished your final shooting script in 3-4 days?

LS: Correct.

GM: That’s incredible!

LS: The script for my latest film, called 3, took me 2 1/2 days to write once I had it all fleshed out in an outline. Mind you, that’s just the first draft I’m talking about.

GM: OK, so it took you a few days to come up with a first draft, how long did it take to write the final shooting script?

LS: Well, the original script for All Girls Weekend took place in the Florida Everglades, you’ll notice our early poster art has a girl in shorts, holding a human head. But then everyone was telling me about how hard it would be to shoot there. The oppressive heat, the wildlife, and the mosquitos would’ve made it very tough for all of us. So I switched the setting to the mountains, and that’s when we decided to shoot in Georgia. So there were two drafts that took place in the Everglades, and three that took place in the mountains of Georgia. Five drafts in total that led to the final shooting script.

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GM: There’s a lot of characterization in your script as well, which surprised me, it’s not just about five girls going out hiking and eventually getting murdered. The audience gets to find out a little bit about the characters motivations, and what makes them tick. That’s something you don’t see in a lot of horror movies at all, let alone one that has an all female cast. By the way, would you call this a horror movie? It certainly has its share of horrific scenarios, but…

LS: I know that it’s being pitched that way by our distributor, but I don’t look at is as a straight horror movie. I think of it more as a horrific adventure.

GM: Exactly, that’s why I asked the question. It sort of plays out like a psychological horror film until near the end, when the audience discovers what’s really going on. But that’s another reason why I found the film to be rather unique, it has unexpected layers to it. I honestly think that if a man had written this, then we’d get some characterization for one, maybe two characters – everyone else would be there strictly to die. I also think it was a great idea to have five different nationalities represented in your cast, the diversity is refreshing.

LS: Yes, we have an African American (Sharron Calvin), an Indian (Karishma Lakhani), a Hispanic (Gema Calero), and two Anglo Americans (Jamie Bernadette & Katie Carpenter).

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GM: Did you write the script with the idea that you’d be hiring different nationalities for each part?

LS: Not at all, I just wrote five different parts. Aside from Gema, whose role I wrote with her in mind, I just hired the best actresses I could find for the other parts. I actually really wanted to hire an African American to be the final girl, but aside from Jamie, no one who auditioned really fit the part. Making the hiring process a bit harder was the fact that we were going to be shooting almost entirely outdoors, in the winter, and nobody wanted to rough it!

GM: I can’t really blame them. I mean, as hard as shooting in the Florida Everglades would’ve been, it couldn’t be that much easier shooting in the mountains of Georgia during the winter. How long did it take to get the film done?

LS: We finished in 13 days.

GM: Were they 13 long days, or did you try to keep them short because of the cold?

LS: A normal shooting day for a film is about 12 hours as is. But since we were shooting outdoors in the Winter for the majority of the shoot, it would get dark at 4pm. A lot of times we would have to cut it short because of that. We also had an unexpected snowstorm that made us cut one day short, and since they’re really not used to snow in Atlanta it got pretty rough.

GM: Besides the snow, were there any major mishaps that took place while you were filming?

LS: No, the snowstorm was the big surprise. It was a pretty mild winter up until then, and I had been in Atlanta the whole season. We even pushed the production back until late February thinking the later it was in the season, the warmer it would be. It turned out that the only days that it snowed all winter long, were days in which we were filming.

GM: I follow you on Facebook, and I recall seeing you post about having investor meetings for your next film, 3. I assume you did the same for funding All Girls Weekend as well?

LS: Yes, we did.

GM: Can you take me through the process? What exactly do you have to do to get funding for your films?

LS: For this one, I went back to the investors of Hazmat (2013). That film made its budget back, and made a little profit to boot, so I went back to those investors and gave them a choice: Would you like to get your investment back now, or would you like to reinvest in my next film? All of them said “Yes“, so this one was pretty easy to get off the ground in terms of financing.

GM: Was it harder to get the funding together for 3?

LS: Yes, it was a bit harder, because I had all new investors for that one.

GM: Why did you go to new investors this time around?

LS: Since All Girls Weekend doesn’t get released till July, we won’t make any money from it at all until the end of the 3rd quarter. So we’ll get paid whatever money is due us from it come sometime in October. I could’ve just waited till later in the year to shoot 3, but I didn’t want to wait, it’s an addiction and I just can’t help myself!

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GM: The idea behind 3 is very tantalizing, but the synopsis I read doesn’t say a lot about it. Does it involve anything supernatural at all?

LS: No, 3 is a psychological thriller. It’s a sort of rape/revenge story that’s very dark and different from anything I’ve ever done before. It’s about a man and woman who kidnap a man who has supposedly raped the woman in order to record his confession. But throughout the movie you really can’t tell if the man is guilty, or if they have the wrong person, or if he even exists at all! The whole idea is that you won’t really be sure who to root for.

GM: I see you wrote/directed a film called Agoraphobia (2015), but I’ve never seen it anywhere…

LS: It hasn’t been released here in the US as of yet. It’s been released in the UK, in Russia, Italy, Germany, and a few other regions.

GM: I know how hard it is to get distribution here in the states, is that the hold up?

LS: All I can say is that we really haven’t gotten a distribution deal that we’ve liked. The bulk of the money that we make is made here in the US, and North America, and I’d love to be able to say that it’s getting released shortly. But the truth is, we haven’t been offered a deal that we feel is a good fit for us yet. So it’s on the back burner for now, although our sales agent just got back from the Cannes film market trying to work a deal out. But so far, the offers we’ve received weren’t to our liking.

GM: I’m sorry to hear that. That’s gotta be tough for you, especially when you have a genre favorite like Tony Todd heading up your cast! I would think that it’d be a shoo in with him starring in it.

LS: It would be a shoo in if you’re willing to take the same risks that you do when you take on films that have no names attached to them. But if they’re not willing to give you a big enough minimum guarantee…

GM: You’re about to start on your fifth film as a producer/writer/director, something that not too many women have done, especially in the horror genre. How do you feel you’ve progressed in those roles from your first film in 2012 (The Awakened) till now?

LS: You know, I don’t really know [laughing]! I’m my own worst critic, so I don’t really think about how far I’ve gotten, I only think about how much further I have to go. And when you’re working with limited budgets like I am, it makes it very hard to do everything you want to do. So all I see are the flaws, the things I didn’t get to do because I ran out of time, or a snowstorm suddenly appears [laughing]. So it’s very hard for me to gauge my own work, because all I usually see is what I don’t like about them. I can tell you that the last 30 minutes of All Girls Weekend are my favorite 30 minutes of any film I’ve done, but even then, I see flaws. I think I’ve grown the most in the part I want to do the least of – producing. I’ve learned so much about the business over the last few years, and I’ve really learned how to navigate in the business so that I can continue to do what I love to do, which is making films. Putting deals together, talking to investors, pitching the films, going to film markets and talking to distributors are things that I’ve really learned to do very well at this point. But I’ve owned my own business for a long time, so I used a lot of my experience from that to help me with the business side of what I do. But I’m still learning about the the actual business of making films! Remember, I’d never done this before five years ago, and I’ve never been to film school either. Everything I know is self taught, and I know I have a lot to learn.

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GM: You know I forgot that? I forgot that you literally just decided you were going to write/direct a horror film, and then you just did it! That’s incredible, and I have so much respect for you as a film maker, but even more so because you’re a Latina film maker. I have no idea if there are any other Latinas writing/directing and producing horror films, but I’m willing to bet that if there are, there aren’t too many. You really are an inspiration to me and the Hispanic community. Most of the time when you see a Hispanic in a film, it’s down at the bottom of the credits as Gang Member #3. But your success shows that we can aspire to be so much more than bit players in the background. Someday, I’ll be able to say “I know her” when I see you walking across a stage to receive a major award!

LS: [Laughing] Thank you, but you know I’ll never win any awards for the films that I like to make.

GM: Don’t sell yourself short! You just said you’re still learning, didn’t you? You’re gonna make a lot of films in the future, and each one will be better than the last. Who knows how far you’ll go as a film maker? Trust me, far stranger things have happened in the film business.

LS: I seriously want to continue making films in the horror/thriller genre too. I make these films because I truly love the genre, but I just don’t see films in this genre winning too many awards.

GM: Silence Of The Lambs (1991) won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Beat Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay! So don’t sell yourself, or the genre short.

LS: But that’s not a horror movie! Or at least the people that made it don’t call it a horror movie.

GM: That’s because Hollywood doesn’t like the idea of a horror film being the best film of the year, the word “Horror” is anathema to them. But what’s that film about? It’s about a serial killer who peels the skin off of women he kidnaps, and wears it! If that’s not a horror film, then what is?

LS: [laughing] It is definitely a horror film!

GM: Excellent! Now moving on, when will All Girls Weekend be available to watch at home?

LS: The VOD release date is July 12th, and the DVD comes out on September 6th.

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GM: What do you think the reaction will be from people who purchase it? Rather, what are you hoping the reaction will be?

LS: The message behind the movie is respecting nature. Even if you remove the supernatural element from it, the bottom line is that you can get lost in a forest, and you might just die doing so. People don’t take it too seriously, but nature is a bitch, and she is one of the most powerful forces out there. I’m definitely an environmentalist, and I really want to send out the message that we have to take care of our planet.

GM: Have you read any of the advance reviews for the film yet? I’ve read three of them so far, and two of them are really great, while the other isn’t. Have you read them yet, and how do you react to bad reviews? I would imagine that as a film maker who puts her heart & soul into her films, reading a bad review might sting a little bit.

LS: It depends on why they didn’t like the film. Even the best films have gotten a negative review or two. What I don’t like is when they compare small, low budgeted independent films to big budgeted Hollywood films. How can they compare a small micro budgeted film to something with a $200 million dollar budget? It’s just not fair, what were they expecting? That can be very annoying. I remember when Agoraphobia got released in the UK, it got some pretty good reviews. But there was one review that said I didn’t know how to direct actors, But this critic forgets that what I can do on a low budget film is very different from what can be done on a mega budgeted film. A director like Martin Scorcese, who works with the best actors in the world, can afford to have 25 takes of the same scene until he hears a line reading that he approves of. I haven’t the time or the budget to be as generous to my actors as he can be to his, I can only go for one or two takes of any scene in my films. We’re all so rushed and I simply can’t afford to do the same scene over 25 times till I like what I hear. It’s almost like I’m being judged by a standard that I’m never going to be able to achieve because of the nature of the films that I make. And that’s just not fair.

GM: But you don’t take any of that to heart, do you?

LS: Oh no, not at all, I just put it behind me and move on. That review was part of the motivation behind the creation of 3 actually. I really wanted to have a script where I really had a chance to work closely with my actors, and since there are only three actors and one location on 3, I’m going to be able to have more takes available to me. Maybe not 25 of them, but if I think I need 10 takes of a particular scene, then I’ll have that luxury available to me. It won’t be a case of “Well that wasn’t perfect, but we have to move on“.

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GM: Have you had to say those words before?

LS: Oh Yeah! All of the time. When your special effects don’t work, you just say “We’ll fix it in post somehow” and move on. When you’re talking about a 90 page script, and you have 12 days to make it, Then you’re talking about doing over 10 pages a day. And that’s a lot.

GM: How much time do you have to shoot 3?

LS: It’s a 12 day shoot. But like I said, it’s 3 characters in one location. So I’ll still be doing 10 pages a day, but it’ll be a lot easier because of the nature of the script.

GM: Okay, so All Girls Weekend is about to be released, and you’re about to begin production on 3, and that’ll be done soon enough. Do you have any idea what film you’re gonna make afterwards?

LS: I think I do actually…

GM: I knew you would, that’s why I asked!

LS: [laughing] I think I do, and I’m trying to pitch it to some people that want to make films in Venezuela and Columbia. I’m planning to go international baby!

All Girls Weekend will be available July 12th on VOD. You’ll be able to purchase it on DVD on September 6th.

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The Black Saint
Santos Ellin Jr (AKA The Black Saint) has been watching films of dubious quality since time began, he has also watched a few horror films along the way as well. He has been writing for Horrornews.net for the last four years and was promoted to the position of Lead Theatrical Reviewer/Interviewer/PR last year. He makes so much money doing this that he needs do nothing else with his life but he was also asked to be a co-host of the Horror News Radio podcast last year as well. It’s been said (by a family member) that he is indeed the glue that holds the podcast together although his co-hosts might not agree. He thinks they are all jealous of him anyway.
The Black Saint
Santos Ellin Jr (AKA The Black Saint) has been watching films of dubious quality since time began, he has also watched a few horror films along the way as well. He has been writing for Horrornews.net for the last four years and was promoted to the position of Lead Theatrical Reviewer/Interviewer/PR last year. He makes so much money doing this that he needs do nothing else with his life but he was also asked to be a co-host of the Horror News Radio podcast last year as well. It’s been said (by a family member) that he is indeed the glue that holds the podcast together although his co-hosts might not agree. He thinks they are all jealous of him anyway.