Interview With Sevé Schelenz - Writer / Director Of SKEW

Recently I was contacted by Canadian writer / director Sevé Schelenz to watch and review his POV psychological horror flick SKEW (full review here). I enjoyed the film immensely and took the opportunity to arrange an interview with Sevé who was kind enough to take some time out to answer my questions. Read on for the full interview.

Jake Cadaverous - "Hi Sevé. First of all could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into filmmaking?"

Sevé Schelenz - "Hi Jake, thanks so much for taking the time to interview me.  I’m pretty stoked to have the chance to chat with you about SKEW.  I feel pretty lucky to have been working in the film industry for over 15 years now.  Early on in high school I convinced my parents to buy me a VHS camcorder and I began shooting everything in sight.  This shooting quickly gave way to scripted material as I created short films and commercials.  It was around this time when my guidance counselor pressured me to figure out what I wanted to study for in university.  The funny thing is, I never thought of filmmaking as an option.  I guess I always believed you went on to post secondary school studying to be a lawyer or an accountant.  So I stayed clear of my counselor for weeks, as I didn't know what else I wanted to do.  It wasn't until he let me know that film school was an option when I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  After five years of study I entered the working world and started in post-production.  For the last fifteen years I've been paying the bills through jobs in editing and color-correction for movies and TV series work.  It was during this time that I made the decision to start working on my own projects.  I've had the chance to produce some television shows and write a few feature screenplays in the last while and I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by supportive people who have helped make it happen.  I’m quite excited about the success of SKEW and I’m really happy to be working on the next project.  I’m a firm believer of “do it yourself” filmmaking and I think you have to have a very positive attitude to work in the film industry"

JC - "When did you first get the idea for SKEW and how long was it in development before you actually got around to filming it?"

SS - "In 2004 I put some thought into creating my first feature film – at least one that went beyond just writing a script.  The one problem that seemed to come up was budget.  I’d seen so many independent films that tried to be greater than they could actually afford to be - essentially trying to look like a Hollywood film with no money.  I really felt these movies didn’t work because the quality of the film removed me from the cinematic experience, therefore displacing me from the story and characters.  During the summer of that year, a few days before an actual road trip with two other friends, the idea finally struck me.  How do I get around creating a truly independent film that will still be accepted by the audience?  Holding a video camera in hand for our road trip, the film’s concept fully came to mind.  I quickly wrote the first draft of the feature during the entire four days of the trip.  Six months and a few versions of the script later, I completed the final draft of the film.  Before Paranormal Activity, Quarantine, and Cloverfield were in development, I looked to The Blair Witch Project for creativity.  It had been several years since this style of “found footage” film had been created and I thought there was opportunity to explore this creativity again.  The big difference was I didn’t want to copy the idea of the films footage being discovered and edited together for the audience.  So instead of using the camera as a gimmick, as most found footage films tend to do, I decided to go a different direction.  Without giving anything away, let’s just say that once you’ve seen SKEW you’ll quickly realize it’s not like any of these other films at all.  The reason is because SKEW is not actually a “found footage” film at all.  It’s actually a narrative feature that happens to be filmed in POV style from the video camera of one of the characters along for the road trip.  We went into production in 2005 and finished the film by 2010.  It took five years to complete due to the visual effects in the film.  When you’re relying on friends and favors, and you have a limited budget, this is just all par for the course"

JC - "Being an indie film with a limited budget I was amazed at the level of quality in regards to the acting, production values and basically everything. If you had access to a bigger budget is there anything you would have liked to add or improve on?"

SS - "Thanks so much for your kind words on the film.  I am quite proud of the final result of SKEW.  I really took the time to utilize all my resources and focus on making the film look bigger than the budget allowed it to be. SKEW was completely funded from 3 sources – me, myself, and I.  Yet even with the money I had, I relied on a lot of friends and favors in the film industry.  Quite frankly, if I had a bigger budget on the film, I would have kept everything as is and actually paid more to everyone who was involved.  Before the final edit of the film was locked, I originally had a different opening scene to the movie.  It was actually a POV shot from the camera of one of the passengers of the tour bus in the film.  From this viewpoint we were to see the deer standing in the middle of the road as our three main characters drove by.  Following this we would view the deer actually getting hit by a car as it drove through frame.  When I brought this shot to some visual effect houses they explained how long and how much this shot would cost to create – essentially a CG deer.  The cost on this alone was almost half the existing budget for production.  I decided to scrap the scene and begin SKEW exactly where it does today.  This is an obvious case where a bigger budget would have helped in solving this issue.  Yet at the end of the day, SKEW is supposed to look a little rough around the edges as it’s shot from one of the main characters handicams.  I personally feel we’ve achieved that look and I’m not too sure if a bigger budget would have helped or hindered that in the end"

JC - "SKEW has been invited to lots of film festivals and has picked up quite a few awards. Did you have any idea how much success your film would have?"

SS - "SKEW has been a real passion film for me.  Written in 2004, shot in 2005, and finally completed in 2010, the film has been six years in the making.  Upon completion of SKEW I screened the film with a sales agent who, once the credits rolled, turned to me and said, “This is a slam dunk sale!”  I was pretty excited to hear that news.  I mean it was my first feature after all.  A few weeks later, he was headed to the AFM (American Film Market) to hopefully line up the sales.  Well, one week before AFM a little film entitled Paranormal Activity premiered and took the weekend as the highest grossing low budget horror film in history.  We figured this was great news, as it would help to garner attention for SKEW.  Well, the opposite happened.  Every production company and their grandmother had “found footage” horror trailers of films that didn’t even exist at the Market and by the time distributors arrived at our table they didn’t want to hear any more about this type of film – even though ours was complete and ready to be bought!  So SKEW sat in limbo for almost six months before its world premiere at A Night of Horror International Film Festival in Australia.  From there it gained a little momentum and buzz as it started hitting some festivals in North America.  One year later SKEW has been burning up the festival circuit by premiering in over 40 and picking up 7 awards so far.  I’m so happy for the great run SKEW has been having and am very honored to be chosen by some of these great fests as they’ve taken a chance on my film.  The general audience reaction has been quite positive. I have always described SKEW as a “thinking man’s film.” You really have to pay attention from start to finish so you don’t miss anything, including the twist of an ending.  I had the great opportunity to be a part of some Q&A sessions following the screening of my film, and I am surprised and quite pleased at how attentive audiences have been with the story.  It’s even more fun to explain parts of the film to the viewers that may have missed something.  I love catching that moment of realization on their face when they finally understand a particular action or line of dialogue they originally didn’t catch.  It truly is amazing when I hear an audience member remark that they would like to see the film again to catch what they may have missed the first time"

JC - "What kind of advice would you give to prospective filmmakers?"

SS - "I have a message on my phone that comes on every time I hang up.  It says, “Never give up.”  As an independent filmmaker, nine times out of ten (hell, ninety nine times out of a hundred) you will get “No” for an answer.  Well, that’s unacceptable.   You have to keep moving forward and look for that “Yes.”  It will come.  Don’t be discouraged.  I would also say it’s so important to do your research.  Not just research on your particular project, but on the filmmaking process itself.  There are so many levels to making a film that you will inevitably not be prepared for and it will bite you in the ass later.  And finally: Pre-production.  I cannot stress how important it is to ensure that you are fully prepared before going into Production.  Trust me when I tell you that it’s better to spend that one extra week in Pre-production, on your own, to avoid disruptions on set when twenty crew members are looking to you for answers.  Oh, and one other thing: go read Rebel Without A Crew.  Not only will it teach you how to make a truly indie-style film, but it will inspire the hell out of you"

JC - "What are some of your personal favourite horror films?"

SS - "I’ve had the chance to attend a few horror festivals when SKEW was chosen as an official selection.  I met so many horror aficionados that I felt pretty wet behind the ears when it came to all the frightening Independent and Hollywood films out there.  I learned so much from these horrorphiles that it has really opened my eyes up to films that I still need to see.  These include: Let The Right One In, Wolf Creek and A Serbian Film.  As for those that I can check off my horror film bucket list: Halloween, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Ring and, of course The Blair Witch Project are some of my favorite horror films.  The one true characteristic that secures my love for a film of any genre is story.  Without a well-written screenplay, believability is thrown out the window and you lose interest not only for the story, but also for the characters—for whom we’re supposed to be sympathetic towards because they’re living the nightmare—and that is the kiss of death for a movie.  I continue to learn from such horror masters as John Carpenter and hope to one day be able to make films as good and diverse as his"

JC - "Who are some of your favorite directors and who are your biggest influences?"

SS - "I am very fortunate to have grown up in the 70s and 80s.  These two decades are filled with some of the greatest films ever:  Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Terminator, Jaws and Back To The Future are just a few that have had a huge impact on me.  The writers and directors connected to these films have been a big influence in my life.  Spielberg, Cameron, and Zemeckis are fantastic directors who know how to tell a story through film.  When I hit university, Tarantino had a huge influence on me.  His storytelling, development of characters, and use of timeline manipulation really intrigued me.  Not to mention how he killed off characters in a cool way.  I am also a big fan of early M. Night Shyamalan – and let me clarify that by specifically referring to The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Shyamalan developed a sense of anticipation in his first two features that really grabbed my attention.  Once again, it’s the story that I’m most interested in and it’s that relationship between the screenwriter and the director that really makes or breaks a film.  Ultimately you cannot have a good film without a good script and more often than not I find directors who have either written it or had a large influence in the screenwriting process tell the best stories"

JC - "SKEW has a very ambiguous ending and leaves a lot to the viewer’s imagination. Do you enjoy hearing different people’s personal opinions of it?"

SS - "Any movie that makes you think and discuss it afterwards is a good thing.  Especially if the film lingers long in the mind and has you asking more questions about it in the days following its viewing.  As the writer of SKEW I know exactly how the movie ends and its meaning.  Granted there is an opportunity for the audience to draw their own conclusion, but the clues are there to help you come to the same outcome.  I had a chance to end the film a few different ways and I debated over each one for some time.  The most important thing for me was having an ending that made sense and caught the audience off guard.  I didn’t want to have a conclusion that was too obvious or had been used the same way in many other horror films, especially ones that are deemed “found footage.”  I’ve had quite a few fans contact me and provide their own interpretation of the ending.  Quite frankly I’m honored that they took the time to write me.  Some of their insight into what the ending means and how the rest of the film is intertwined with it is quite incredible.  I’m stoked that fans took the time to think about what they saw and pieced that giant puzzle together.  I welcome viewers of Skew to drop me a line if they have any questions about the film.  The best way to reach me is through the IMDb page or my Youtube channel"

JC - "And finally are you working on any upcoming projects? If not then what are your plans for the future?"

SS - "I appreciate you taking the time to discuss SKEW.  I’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity to show it at several venues around the world.  So far we have screened at over 40 festivals, won 7 awards, and are streaming on Netflix in the U.S.  SKEW will also be on DVD in Germany, will have its U.K. premiere on Horror Channel, and will be available on PayTV in Russia all in the month of May 2012.  The movie will also have its Canadian premiere on TMN in June of 2012.  In addition to all this, I’ll be attending Fantastic Planet Film Festival in Sydney, Australia in late March 2012 and will not only be screening SKEW there along with a Q&A afterwards, but will have the honor of being a feature judge at the festival.  So if you happen to be in the area, come down to the fest, support some independent film, and grab me for a chat.  Oh, and I should mention here that we’ve been working on the next script – yes, another horror feature – and hope to go into production in 2013.  This time we’ll be going a little more traditional and moving away from the handheld camera style of filmmaking.  Not to worry though, we promise a lot of blood, boobs, and black ooze on this one… and maybe a few twists too"

Once again I'd like to thank Sevé for taking some time out to partake in this interview. If you ever get the chance to see SKEW then I strongly urge you to do so, and if you have any questions about it Sevé will be glad to discuss them via the film's IMDb page or Youtube channel.
As Sevé said, he will be attending the Fantastic Planet Film Festival in Sydney which runs from March 22nd until April 1st. He will be screening SKEW and also appear as a feature judge so check it out if you can and go support independent film.
SKEW is currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S.

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