Exclusive: ‘The Final Girls’ Director Todd Strauss-Schulson Talks Transcending Genre

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“The Final Girls” is a must see film and Todd Strauss-Schulson explains why!

Before screening “The Final Girls,” I admit that I didn’t expect much. But as I engaged in the film I found myself progressively in awe as genres seemed to blend and Todd Strauss-Schulson’s creative vision came to life on screen. It seems like so many films take the safe route to meet adequacy but you have to respect someone that pushes against the grain and takes the risk to achieve extraordinary results.

When we got the chance to speak with Todd Strauss-Schulson he elaborated upon the roots of this vision and the true heart of his inspiration. A prevalent connection to the loss of his father creates a personal connection between the film’s two main characters almost like a heartfelt goodbye to Todd’s own late father. The technicolor landscape showcased a director that took a cinematic risk that paid off sending the message that originality still has its place in film.

Film Fad:

Hi Todd how are you today?

Todd:

Hi, how are you?

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Todd Strauss-Schulson and Ryan

Film Fad:

So I got the chance to see “The Final Girls” and I’ll be honest, the premise had me thinking this would be another cookie-cutter film. But by the end it put every preconceived notion to rest and I thought it was amazing. How did you come up with such a unique satirical concept?

Todd:

It wasn’t my idea. It was Mark and Josh. The writers came up with the idea. I went to school with Mark at a place called Emerson in Boston. And maybe 8 years ago we were just hanging out one night and he pitched me it [saying], “Oh it’d be kind of cool if there was a movie where kids get sucked into a bad horror movie but the girl’s dead mom is the star of the movie.” And I was like, “Oh that is great. That is such a smart idea.” And then nothing happened with it. I didn’t hear anything about it for years. And then I made my first film and 4 weeks before I started to shoot it my father died. He’d been sick for a long time and he passed away and he was my best friend and he was very supportive of my filmmaking and he just missed me getting my first movie. And so that whole experience of shooting my first film was fraught with this feeling. And my father, I would dream about him and he would visit me in my dreams and it was intense. And while I was editing that movie they sent me the script. They were like, “what do you think? Just give me some notes.” And I just fell in love with it and I felt so connected to the material. Mostly because of that emotional connection. Mostly because of the mother and daughter story and this idea of getting a second chance to be with a dead parent in the middle of a movie, in the middle of a dream, in the middle of a death dream you know? I thought that was so compelling and that was kind of my way into the movie. And that was sort of the story we were telling cloaked in a fun genre blending, crazy movie. So that’s kind of how it happened. That was kind of the impulse.

Film Fad:

Oh wow, that sounds like a lot to deal with during the film.

Todd:

Yeah it was nuts. But “The Final Girls” was the way to work that experience out in a way. “The Final Girls” is a fun horror/comedy, it’s all of those things for sure. It’s badass, it’s cool, it’s hilarious, it’s all of those things. But for me I think it was a sort of personally expressive form of filmmaking. Using genre to sort of tell that story.

Film Fad:

Besides Friday the 13th were there any other films that you gathered inspiration from?

Todd:

Movies that inspired the look, obviously “Friday the 13th” is a big one for us. The Burning was another sort of touchstone for us as far in terms of music and Billy and some of the camp outfits and how all of that stuff looks. Any of those sleep away camp type movies we just pulled stills and watched them. Friday the 13th Part IV we took a lot of names and a lot of little narrative devices. But for me it was more “Pleasantville” or “Purple Rose” [“The Purple Rose of Cairo”] or “Back to the Future” even or “Sherlock Jr.” That was totally what I was pushing it more towards as opposed to “Cabin in the Woods” or whatever.

Film Fad:

The cast includes Malin Akerman, Taissa Farmiga, and Nina Dobrev to name a few. They work together so well, how did this cast selection come about?

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The movie swings for some big comedy with some of the [characters]

Todd:

Yeah. The tone of the movie, people were confused by it. They didn’t totally get what it was. Is it horror, is it comedy, what is this movie? For me it was very clear what it was. I was just sort of telling the story very simply with my voice but I thought that it was very important to feel the tone of the movie in the casting. The movie swings for some big comedy with some of the [characters]. So we cast Adam Devine, Thomas Middleditch, and Angela Trimbur and they’re bringing a lot of that heavy comedy. And you know them from comedy. But also the movie wants to be about three dimensional real people so you cast people so you cast Alia [Shawkat] and Nina [Dobrev] and they’re the friends so you feel it’s a more grounded performance. And then the movie also wants to be genuinely emotional and maybe even tender by the end so it elicits some tears. And so Taissa [Farmiga] and Malin [Akerman] really bring that and you know Taissa is able to do that stuff. She’s got a beautiful face and she’s sort of ethereal, porcelain looking, really emotive, emotional girl. And you can feel it in the scenes. She just tethers everything into a really emotional place. And Malin too. Malin’s able to straught the line. She’s both hilarious when she has to be but she’s able to completely be there with Taissa. I don’t know if you saw “Happy Thank You More Please” but she’s so heartbreaking, full of empathy and compassion in that movie. And I wanted to run the gambit so you have Adam doing Adam and you have Nina and Taissa doing this whole other movie and I thought it would be really exciting to see them all together in a scene. They’re all in their own little movies and I would sort of be the container for it. The filmmaker would hold it all together like a Jello mold.

Film Fad:

There were many creative elements throughout, particularly in the visual areas of the film. What was the idea behind the flashback transitions and also the vibrant yet ominous backdrop for the final scene?

Todd:

Actually the whole movie was really super designed before we shot anything. Almost every shot, every camera move, almost every edit of the movie the way the scenes would be cut, almost all of that was sort of designed before we shot because our shooting schedule was incredibly brief. And we didn’t have a lot of money or anything but I had a tremendous amount of ambition. So the only way to execute it was to be super prepared. I know we had to do 50 things and we had to not stop until we got them all in order to make the sequences work. For the big finish you’re talking about the red skies and the lightning and the fog and everything?

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“Everything is just like a technicolor dreamscape.”

Film Fad:

Yeah, that worked so well. It looked like it definitely clashed but it was just so smooth at the same time.

Todd:

For me, I loved the idea that a kid got sucked into a movie. Even more than a horror movie, they just got sucked into a movie. So you get this sort of tilt into “Wizard of Oz” a little bit. So everything has to be incredibly vibrant and colorful and hyper real. And the skies look like “Gone with the Wind.” Everything is just like a technicolor dreamscape. But there was a more intuitive idea where it wanted to feel ethereal, it wanted to feel dreamy. It wasn’t literally a dream but for me I almost wanted it to feel like the dreams I have of my dad that get to be super beautiful and gorgeous and ominous but in a pretty way. And I love the idea of doing a fight scene in a beautiful 80s neon world with hot pink lightning. That was part of the excitement about the design of the movie was that this particular story lends itself to filmmaking like that. The kind of filmmaking that I’m most excited about. The expressionistic filmmaking where the telling of the story and the form of the film is integral to the story itself. It’s the opposite of a Paul Feig movie, which are hilarious but it’s like point the camera at the words and let’s just stand back. Film is not just a capture medium, it’s also a performance medium and the movie can be performing along with the actors. It can be lifting up scenes and subverting scenes and that’s what all of the greatest films do. And that’s what we were trying to do there with making it so beautiful and playing almost against your expectations.

Film Fad:

Horror satire proved that it has an audience with films like “You’re Next.” What do you think it is about the mockery of this genre that has gained momentum with audiences? Is it nostalgia or something else?

Todd:

I don’t know. I know this movie can be categorized kind of like that but I didn’t feel like that was the kind of film we were making when we were making it. I assume that it just feels more modern than a regular horror movie. Everyone is so self-aware at this point. Self-aware about everything. You watch the news and you know it’s lies. You watch a cooking show and you know the food’s fake. People are just sophisticated, they just get it. They are so saturated with media that it’s almost like the new media is to make fun of the media. And it’s a very reactionary kind of culture so I get something about taking something that you know very well and subverting it or twisting it and making fun of it within itself. I don’t know, it just feels more modern. “The Guest” is a good example. I thought “The Babadook” was a pretty amazing movie because it’s not like a horror parody or satire. But it’s one of these movies where they’re using the genre to push a different agenda which is to say it’s a movie about the fears of parenthood, of being a mother. That’s a very psychological and very subversive theme to put in a movie. But using a horror genre to push that narrative along I thought was so smart. And we’re doing the same thing. We’re doing a story about the reverbs of death and loss which is serious business. Sad, melancholy, but we’re doing it in the middle of a genre that does not take death very seriously. In fact, the genre where the higher the body count and the grosser the kills, the better the movie. And I thought that conflict, that sort of friction would be super interesting in a movie. On the one hand we have a girl who is dealing with losing her mom and that’s meaningful to her and she’s trying to save her mom. And on the other hand we’re in the middle of a movie where everyone is supposed to have sex and then dies. And that just seemed really clever to me and really very modern.

Film Fad:

“The Final Girls” obviously has a transitional moment for a sequel. Do you have plans to do a sequel or was this just another nostalgic mechanism in relation to the genre?

Todd:

I would love to make a sequel. I think we all would. We all had a really great time making this movie. The cast, me and the crew, and all of us. It was just so fun. And we’re all still friends and we’re all here doing press together and it’s a blast. There’s no plans to make a sequel yet unless people really turn out and it becomes one of those movies that people love. Which I would love to happen. But I think the idea for the ending was that you couldn’t let them get out of there scot-free. It still wants to be a “fun little twist at the end” movie. She lets go of her mom, she gets her friends back, so happy, but if that was the end of the movie you’d be like, “F*ck this movie.” So we wanted to go back to the fun of one last little bit and they go to that double feature so they get sucked into the sequel. It just seemed like a very funny lift at the end of the movie, very similar to how horror movies would play that game. So that was more of an homage to that kind of stuff. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously. It’s serious but it’s really full of personal, emotional stuff. But we’re not making “Amour.”

Film Fad:

After things settle down with “The Final Girls” what other projects do you have in your queue?

Todd:

Yeah there’s a bunch of stuff just swirling around. I’m writing something for myself that’s a little bit thematically tied to “The Final Girls.” It’s about a guy that invents a machine that can record his dreams. And I’m writing and directing a TV show about sensitive modern men. It’s called “Pussies.” So that’s coming up and there’s some other movie stuff that I probably shouldn’t talk about.

Film Fad:

Thank you so much for your time Todd. It was a refreshing film to watch among so many other films that I’m just slammed with throughout the year and I have to say it’s one that stands out and I’ll definitely be promoting it quite a bit.

Todd:

Awesome man! Thank you!

 


 

Todd Strauss-Schulson was a very charismatic and intelligent person to speak with but you definitely have to be on your guard because if you don’t know what you’re saying, he’ll call you out on it. We learned a lot of interesting things about the film with the Q&A follow up in New York. Despite losing cast members (such as Kate Hudson), having a ridiculously tight shooting schedule, and really having to sell the idea, “The Final Girls” turned out to be a must-see, truly organic film. It’s something that cinephiles will definitely appreciate and audiences are sure to remember. I can’t wait to see what Todd’s next project will be.

Ryan

Author: Ryan

Ryan has been fascinated with film and pop culture since childhood. Throughout college he "played it safe" taking the more lucrative route of being a computer programmer while squeezing in film related courses where he could...but even during his post college career, he could never escape his true passion. After following one of his favorite blogs for a long time, he approached the site's Editor about writing and they reluctantly gave him a shot. He later became their Senior Writer which led to a variety of other projects, radio show appearances, features, and high profile celebrity interviews. Despite his success with blogging, he still wanted more so in order to expand his creative addiction, he merged his IT skills and blogging know-how to create FilmFad.com which has continued to grow into a creative Mecca of pop-culture fun and integrity.[email protected]   Film Fad

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