We talk with filmmaker Nick Simon about his feature film debut, being mentored by Wes Craven, his love of horror, and his terrifying new film on Netflix.
Nick Simon is a fresh face and a fresh mind when it comes to horror, and he’s had the opportunity to be mentored by one of the greatest horror directors of all time, Wes Craven. Craven was an executive producer on Nick’s movie The Girl in the Photographs; it was unfortunately his last project, and he passed two weeks prior to the film’s release.
Be warned, you may need tissues as Nick opens up about working with the Late Director and what is was like to meet one of his long-time heroes. We also discuss Nick’s new movie called Truth or Dare, and it’s not to be confused with the 2018 Blumhouse version. And he plays along with my inner Clarice Starling to see if I can crack the profile on his infamous characters. We also get the bloody details on the original ending that Nick had in mind. So if you’re terrified of spoilers, read at your own risk.
INTERVIEW WITH NICK SIMON
Miss J: I must start off this interview by asking what’s your favorite scary movie and why is it your favorite? What was the first horror movie you saw, and what horror movies will you be introducing to your sons first?
Nick: That is a really hard question for any horror fan or filmmaker. It really changes all the time. My all-time past favorites include: The Shining, The Thing, A Nightmare on Elm St, Scream. Current films that I really love would be Hereditary and A Quiet Place; again, that has to be the hardest question I get. As far as first horror I will show my kids… That is easy, I already have. Henry is already a huge Scooby-Doo fan. He loves it. Scooby-Doo is the perfect gateway to horror.
Miss J: The amazing Wes Craven was an executive producer on the movie The Girl in the Photographs. Did you admire his work previously to working with him, and did you have a chance to interact with him? Was he involved a lot in the process of the movie, and was he everything you thought he would be in person? Were there any other Horror directors that inspired you to pursue a career as a director?
Nick: I met Wes Craven through the WGA Mentor program, and he was my assigned mentor for one year. We ended up having dinner at his house about once every couple of months or so during that time. Wes was a really great person and an amazing mentor; I got to know him well. Towards the end of the mentorship, he read a draft of The Girl in the Photographs and thought it was great. He asked me how he could help and then came on as a producer.
He gave a few notes on the script but not much. He was instrumental in casting the picture. We had several lunches with different actors discussing the project. He was a big fan of Luke Baines and helped me lock him into the role of Tom. Wes was my support beam on that picture, as there were a lot of ups and downs trying to get it into production. Wes had my back every step of the way. While we were editing, he would watch the week’s work over the weekend and give notes on progress every step of the way.
He sent an amazing bottle of champagne over to me when we found out that we were going to premiere at TIFF midnight madness. Sadly, he passed away exactly 2 weeks before we premiered the film. They say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes. But that was not the case with Wes Craven. He was everything you would want or hope for.
(Warning: The next questions and answers contain plot spoilers for The Girl in the Photographs.)
Miss J: I love the fact that even though Wes was involved with this movie, you and the other writers for the movie went the complete opposite with your ending by not having a “Final Girl,” and by letting the villains of the story triumph. Wes has had very iconic Final girl characters such as Sidney Prescot and Nancy Thompson. Was there ever a discussion about Colleen surviving? Did the killers survive as an opening for a sequel?
Nick: I have a few ideas sketched out for a sequel/follow up. It’s simply called TOM & GERRY, and it opens in a dive-bar-pool-hall in Black Hills, South Dakota. It opens as a flashback to when Tom met Gerry. Then we slam forward to the night of Colleen’s photo and see what happened to her. Tom and Gerry are basically serial killer versions of George Milton and Lennie Small, from Of Mice and Men. I think you can see that influence in The Girl in the Photographs, and I think it would be fun to explore their characters more.
Miss J: Were there any real-life serial killers, people or events that inspired the characters Gerry and Tom in The Girl in the Photographs? I love the masks they use in the film. Is there a reason they looked the way they did? I’ve always had this theory about Tom (Luke Baines), let me know if my inner Clarice Starling profiled him well or not. What I got from the character was that he was sexually abused by an older male in his life. He was confused by his sexual orientation and that’s why he photographs women and used homophobic slurs. There was some female in his life that didn’t protect him, and he probably turned to photography to cope with what happened. Or, his abuser took photos of him, and he’s now using it as his way to hurt others.
Nick: Your profiling skills are great! Luke and I did a lot of digging on serial killers, and Luke will tell you, once you go down that rabbit hole — nothing will really prepare you for the darkness you will discover. We spoke to actual profilers and read several case studies. We spoke at length as to why Tom and Gerry did what they do. That said, I feel strongly that it’s much scarier not knowing exactly why they kill and photograph the victims; as in don’t reveal it to the audience.
But, really the answer is always the same: Their mothers treated them badly, they were abused, etc. What is more interesting to me is two serial killers working together. That inherently is just so much more terrifying on so many levels. That said, you could break down their actual crimes versus Peter Hemmings and his art to juxtapose what the theme of the picture is; Sometimes being noticed isn’t a good thing.
The masks are interesting. We went back and forth between “they wear masks” in one draft to, “they have pancake make-up on” in other drafts. Ultimately it came down to a conversation I had with Wes Craven about it. We talked about the history of masks and what they were used for in ritualistic senses. So, masks made complete sense. Regardless of masks vs. make-up, we always wanted the look to be a reflection of the sexuality of the characters. Once we locked into the mask idea, we called them by two names in the script, ‘Old Lady’ and ‘Movie Star.’ Could have just as easily been Queen and Pawn.”
Miss J: Your new movie Truth or Dare has just been released on DVD. It’s a title and story that has been used in the horror genre before — including the very recent 2018 film of that same name from Blumhouse. In your own words, what makes your movie different, better, or equal to the others?
Nick: Truth or Dare was one of the best times I’ve had making a film. We shot in Birmingham, Alabama, last year. Thommy Hutson (Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th) wrote the script, and it was sent to me in late 2016 to read; I loved it. His writing is so fantastic and energetic, and I think that really translated onto the screen.
While we were shooting our film is when we found out about the Blumhouse version. But in all honesty, there are so many films or books with that title. They’re all different. Jessica Cameron has a great Truth or Dare as well. Let’s not forget the Madonna one! I say watch all of them and you can decide! Truth or Dare is obviously a great subject matter for a movie, and I’m sure there will be many more.
Miss J: This is your second time working with Actor Luke Baines. What was it about Luke that made you want to work with him again? Any funny stories that you can share with us about the horror hunk (who seriously gives us some Billy Loomis vibes)? Heather Langenkamp, who plays Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, also had a small role in this movie. What was it like to meet such an iconic Final Girl and have her be a part of your movie?
Nick: Luke Baines is a brilliant actor and he should be working non-stop. He came in and auditioned for Tom (The Girl in the Photographs), and I knew he was the guy immediately. We had seen a lot of actors for that role. Some bigger name actors you would know… but Luke came in and prepared something so unique and chilling; I knew he was the guy. It’s a director’s dream to meet actors that you can collaborate with so easily. I offered him a role in Truth or Dare just to work with him again. Not to mention, hilariously, I promised him I would cast him in something where is was a ‘good guy.’
Heather Langenkamp was a bucket list actor. I grew up with the Nightmare movies and always wanted to work with her. She’s great friends with Thommy Hutson and obviously Wes Craven, so she ended up doing the picture with us. She is just absolutely lovely to work with. I actually shot a different ending to the film that changes how it all plays out.
In my original ending after the girls crash the car into the tree and we smash cut to black… it holds a beat… Then we boom up off of the back of the couch and we see that we are back in Donna’s (Langenkamp) house. She’s sitting in a chair with her photo album, and she’s adding the obituaries of all the new kids to the book. Basically, telling the audience that she is still playing the game and now has to send others in, so she can continue to survive. Really love that ending. I wish we could have included it on the DVD.
Miss J: What is your biggest fear, and did you ever have to face it while working on any of these movies? How do you help mentally prepare the actors for intense scenes?
Nick: My biggest fear is moths. They flock to you and it’s just horrible. Really hate moths. But also, I think I have the same fears and insecurities as any artist or filmmaker. Failing. Fear of failing is something that drives me forward I think.
Preparing mentally to direct certain scenes differs with different actors. My wife makes playlists for certain characters on Spotify, and I give them to each actor. Luke Baines really got into it. To this day he calls my wife and asks her to make him a playlist to listen to for whatever film he’s working on. She just made him one for his work on Shadowhunters. Playlists help a lot. Music helps a lot.
But ultimately, the hardest part of my job is casting it right in the first place. The entire end of Truth or Dare with Cassie Scerbo and Brytni Sarpy is some of the most intense shit that I’ve ever shot. Both of those actors just killed it. They were in that zone the entire day. It took an entire day to shoot that end scene, and they were both just physically drained after. I saw Cassie the next day at the hotel and her voice was completely gone.
Miss J: What’s your favorite thing about directing horror movies, and is there someone from the genre that you really want to work with? Do you have any advice to give someone who would like to pursue a career as a horror director?
Nick: My favorite part of making films is that it is not work. I’m living the dream. It’s what I always wanted to do. Yes, there are complaints about small shit. Not enough days, not enough money… But I do this for a living and that’s pretty great. Advice to people, be good at being rejected. You hear ‘no’ a lot more times than you hear ‘yes.’ If you’re not good with rejection, this probably isn’t the business for you.
I’ve been really lucky to have worked with so many great filmmakers. Wes Craven, Alexandre Aja, Dean Cundey to name a few. I would love to collaborate with Greg Nicotero (whom I met once on the set of Maniac). I have a list of actors I really want to work with. I think I would be scared to work with Carpenter.
Miss J: Is there a horror movie that you would like to remake if given the chance? And is there a horror movie that you would never remake, even if given the chance?
Nick: I have a take for Friday the 13th I would love to make. I would also love to make a Final Destination film. I adore those movies so much. Film I would never remake: Escape From New York. It’s just absolutely perfect, and it never needs to be touched.
Miss J: What’s a Movie Quote, or Lyric, that means something to you, that you would want to share with the readers and horror fans to end this interview?
Nick: I’m a huge Star Trek fan. Have been my whole life. So I’ll leave this with a Picard quote: “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”
That concludes our interview. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Nick personally over the last year after we followed each other on Instagram. I’m a huge fan of The Girl in the Photographs, and it even inspired me to write my third novel, “The Black Widow”. Nick is one of the coolest and most genuine people in Hollywood. He’s a horror fan just like the rest of us and has such a passion for the genre.
It truly was an honor to get the chance to interview him, and even though I already knew some of the answers to the questions from our chats, I knew it was stuff that the readers of this site would just die to know about. Thank you so much to Nick Simon for taking the time to answer a fans questions and for sharing such wisdom with us! – Miss J.
Be sure to catch Nick’s latest film, Truth or Dare, on Netflix beginning October 3rd.
Truth or Dare Trailer
The Girl in the Photographs Trailer