Harrison Smith on his evolving career and his film ‘Where The Scary Things Are’

"...It highlighted how out of touch our kids are becoming. I mean, what makes two, seemingly normal girls, wake up one day and say, “We are going to kill our friend?” What is the thought process? Was it really to make a sacrifice to a fictional character? Or was it for Instafame?..."
Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith has loved movies since 1975’s Jaws. As soon as he could, he began experimenting with making films. So it is no surprise that his passion led to him becoming a producer, writer, and director of several films; some of these movies being Camp Dread, ZK: Elephant’s Graveyard, Garlic & Gunpowder, and Death House. Smith’s latest film is Where The Scary Things Are. Wanting to catch up with Harrison after our last interview, I was able to talk to Smith again for ScifiPulse.

To learn more about Smith and his films, check out his production company’s homepage and follow him on twitter @HarrisonSmith85.

 

 

 

Nicholas Yanes: We last talked about how Covid has impacted how creatives approach storytelling. How have you been since then?

Harrison Smith: I think more of the same. We are not out of the woods on this and likely not for some time. The entire globe dropped the ball on this pandemic. The impact on the industry and storytelling pervades in many ways. Horror has started giving us pandemic themed films. My latest Christmas film with Tom Arnold is based in a post pandemic world and the impact of lockdowns on a family gathering for the first time in three years. I think we just have a lot of the same and it is going to stay that way for awhile.

Yanes: It has been over a decade since The Fields was released. Reflecting on that movie, how do you think you’ve improved as a writer?

Smith: Yes. Definitely. I am more in tune with writing for the public and not just myself. I am definitely more in tune with what sells, especially since the decline of DVD and rise of streaming. I have expanded on things. I learned a lot making The Fields. It was a trial by fire, it really was. I am thankful it’s a popular film that has found a solid audience, but I didn’t direct and it’s not the movie I would have made. It veered greatly from the original script.

The point is that I have grown, and definitely improved on my structure and narrative. I think I get better with each script. You always want to improve and take chances.

Yanes: Due to Covid, an over saturation of streaming platforms, and other factors, it seems like we are in the midst of another entertainment industry wide shakeup. What do you think will be some big industry shifts over the next five years?

Smith: Hard to say. Streaming and digital have changed everything. I think I do see Spielberg’s and Lucas’s prediction coming more and more true: that eventually theaters will run big screen “event movies” and good, dramatic and other type of content will be relegated to home viewing.

We are seeing this now with super hero movies. They are event films. The new Top Gun is an event film, packaged to be exactly that. AMC recently charged more for Spider Man: No Way Home than other features, again giving credence to what Spielberg and Lucas said back in 2008 or so. The irony of it all is that Spielberg and Lucas created the beginning of this whole thing and now they lament the death of the cinema experience after laying the groundwork for it.

Yanes: You’ve recently published This Time It’s Personal – A Monster Kid’s History of Horror Memories and Experiences. When thinking about your lifelong love of horror, how do you think your relationship to this genre has evolved?

Smith: I think it’s evolved to accommodate the hard reality of writing it, directing it and making a living at it. It’s one thing to love a genre. It’s another to work in it. You have to temper a lot of things. It’s more than just love or passion, it’s commercial viability and knowing what is selling, who you need to attach to your project for proper financing and distribution. A lot of things come into play. It’s not like you grab a camera and go make your film and release it. It is a balance of commercial awareness and making the best damned film you can for the budgets you have.

Yanes: On this note, are there some movies that you have grown to appreciate more as you’ve grown?

Smith: I keep trying to appreciate The Shining more. In the wake of Doctor Sleep, I think that has happened to an extent., I feel the sequel fleshed out the world better and gave us the emotional warmth the first film lacked. It was also a more coherent film and, in my opinion, a superior one to the original for many reasons and I could write a book on it. You ask a good question and I think The Shining is one that I want to appreciate more. Having read the book, seeing the wrong casting for it and its overall abandonment of everything King wanted, it’s a tough one.

On the flipside, it is a beautifully shot and produced motion picture. There is A LOT to like about The Shining, unfortunately much of it is behind the camera.

Yanes: Your latest movie is Where The Scary Things Are. What was the inspiration for this story?

Smith: The Slender Man stabbings. It highlighted how out of touch our kids are becoming. I mean, what makes two, seemingly normal girls, wake up one day and say, “We are going to kill our friend?” What is the thought process? Was it really to make a sacrifice to a fictional character? Or was it for Instafame? Then apply that to being an 80s kid and growing up with Stand By Me, The Goonies, etc.

My question was: what if the asshole kids found the monster/alien/thing/creature? In those films and so many like them, the good kids always stumble across the stranger thing. What if the Columbine kids found it? I went from there with it. That’s the inspiration for the entire plot.

 

 

Yanes: From the first draft of the script till the film was done, what were some characters or plot points who unexpectedly came to life?

Smith: We had to compromise a character aspect of Ayla’s character (played by Selina Flanscha). She hates a girl in her history class because the girl, in the original script was mentally challenged. Ayla felt that this girl did not belong in a regular classroom and was holding back her, and the class’s learning. She also was embarrassed to be in a class with a “retard.” This makes Ayla far more despicable and a rotten monster of a human being. However, our main location owner requested we make that change to avoid casting dispersions on the mental issues outlined in the script. I did bend on that and in hindsight it was a mistake.

We compromised and simply reduced the character of Jenny to a scared girl, frightened by the scarier aspects of the class when discussing an urban legend. Jenny goes from an innocent to simply an annoyance to Ayla. I would have done it the original way looking back on it. Without spoilers, a character slated to die ended up living with a rewrite because the actor performed with such sincerity, the audience would like him and needed someone to root for. So that changed as well and gave a flicker of hope instead of a total nihilistic ending.

Yanes: It is really hard to think of a new creature design. For Where The Scary Things Are when did you know that the monster’s look was right for the film?

Smith: I wanted a bit of Creature from the Black Lagoon with Tar Man from Return of the Living Dead. I went through designs with Roy Knyrim of SOTA FX and together we worked hard on coming up with the look. To describe too much more gives away a few spoilers, especially the monster’s origin story.

 

Cast left to right in both pics:
Riley Sullivan, Peter F. Cote, Oliver Givens, Harrison Smith, Selina Flanscha, Asher Ruppert, Quinn Andrew Fickes

 

Yanes: When people finish watching Where The Scary Things Are, what do you hope they take away from the experience?

Smith: I hope they look at their own kids and this nation’s kids and open a dialogue as to what’s going on with them, social media and the state of the world.

Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?

Smith: I am working on several new things. Always working. I don’t like to list because sometimes they fall through and you look like a bullshitter to readers. It’s safe to say I have several things in development and should be up and shooting by the fall on something new. You can expect my Tom Arnold Christmas comedy, A Wonderful Time of Year to drop this holiday.

Remember, you can learn more about Smith and his films by checking out his production company’s homepage and following him on twitter @HarrisonSmith85.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow ScifiPulse on twitter @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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