We chat with Erica Summers about her latest film “Obsidian”, her passion for horror, and the trials and thrills of indie filmmaking.
I can tell you one thing. You will never see me volunteering for a drug trial. That is how horror movies start. I have seen a few that solidified that this will never happen with me because I will never say yes.
To celebrate the release of Obsidian, a film about a drug trial gone awry that you could call a cautionary tale, I chatted with writer and director Erica Summers about the inspiration behind the film, the challenges she faced making the film, and what’s up next.
Morbidly Beautiful: You mentioned to me that the monsters in the film were inspired by your cancer PET scans. What inspired the story and how did the project come about?
Erica Summers: The story for Obsidian (formerly titled The Black Pills) was inspired by a visit to my late friend, Nic Wilder’s home. I traveled from Louisiana back to central Florida to film a wedding and see my friends, and he invited me to stay with him at his home. Nic was in a wheelchair and, although he regained the function of his arms the years after his accident, was initially diagnosed as a paraplegic. Everything was difficult for him, and watching him that weekend, I really got a small idea of the daily struggles he faced.
His drawings could only be hung as high as he could lean, so artwork filled up the walls to my shoulder height. Making dinner, showering, making a bed… everything was difficult for him. On the drive back to Louisiana, I thought, “I’d give anything if there were a pill that could make Nic walk again. But knowing my luck, the side effects would be so much worse than the original ailment.” After a few more hours of pondering what that would look like, I arrived in Louisiana with the entire outline of my film ready to be poured onto the paper.
I felt that the story (which has since undergone many, many revisions since the first draft) had a bevy of natural human emotions and really delved into a lot of issues that I was seeing in my friendships around the time of the first draft. The idea for the monsters stemmed from how my PET scans visually looked when I had cancer at 19. I had 72 tumors so my body lit up black and tumorous on the scans, and I knew that that would be the basis for a movie monster at some point in my life. It just fits with Obsidian.
Morbidly Beautiful: Yourself included, the majority of your crew was female. How important was that for you? And how do you feel about female representation in the horror genre?
Erica Summers: I have never been one to insist upon females in the horror genre. I think many women don’t enjoy horror, and I want only people who are passionate about horror to create it. I am tired of watching reboots and shameless cash-grabs just for the sake of trying to work a fresh hot director in the mix.
I am passionate about horror. It’s my life. And I was fortunate enough to have some amazing friends at the time who also loved horror. And although none of them had ever worked on a film set before, they brought joy and passion to the nights on set.
I’m glad they were female because it was really refreshing to see, but more than anything, male or female, I was just glad that they were passionate about gore and horror and science. I’d love to see more females directing horror… but ONLY if they’re passionate. Not just for female empowerment’s sake.
Morbidly Beautiful: You not only wrote, directed, produced, and edited the film, but you were also DP and did audio. How did you prepare for shooting, and what were some of the challenges you faced by wearing so many hats on the production?
Erica Summers: Filmmaking seems like it’s nothing but challenges, especially on an independent level. The most difficult part of this project is that I had entrusted the film to a green producer who was not able to obtain a budget of any size for the film, brought on a co-producer who wanted me fired, and subsequently tied the film up with a seven-year contract where I was unable to make the film myself. Once the contract was finally up, I was able to take the film back and make it out of pocket on my own.
Waiting to get my film back felt light a nightmare. So all of the other challenges on set, like one of our main monster costumes disappearing halfway through production and having to schedule reshoots during the dawn of Covid-19, all still sort of paled in comparison to having to wait those seven long years and then eventually self-fund, which had been the plan before the producer even approached me with the pitch.
Morbidly Beautiful: What made you want to be a filmmaker?
Erica Summer: At first, I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a Hollywood villain. But I couldn’t score a role in a play to save my life, so I opted to make a short film where I could showcase my acting skills. It was then and there, making a little no-budget film called The Stalker on my dad’s home movie camera and editing it together after school on the A/V equipment, I discovered that I really loved the power and creative freedom that being BEHIND the camera gave me.
Shortly thereafter, I realized I’m a terrible actress but that my little homemade shorts had some promise. I dedicated the rest of my life to making films from that point on. I can’t imagine choosing to do anything else with my life, even though it’s an incredibly crazy and frustrating thing to do time and again.
Morbidly Beautiful: What is up next for you?
Erica Summers: I’m working on two scripts right now. I hope to sell one and use the money from the script to secure a slightly better budget for the second script which I plan to produce here in Connecticut in the near future.
Morbidly Beautiful: What’s your favorite scary movie?
Erica Summers: My absolute favorite movie is Pumpkinhead. The monster still scares me, and the special fx and the simplistic plot still inspire me to this day. Not far behind it would be my second favorite, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, because it was the first film to ever give me nightmares. I long to one day make something as captivating as that film.