Texas Chainsaw Filmmaker

By Sarah Durocher


[Scene: Early October, morning, fog lingers above the ground on Cuckoo’s Nest Road. The cold, dewy world is quiet except for a few birds chirping in the forest, unaware of the screams about to come.]

ENTER Jason, Tara, Kelsie, Jonathon, Vincent, Brady and camera man Cameron Parks.

The crew stands in a circle before their shoot, Jonathon Thompson doing a quick run-down of the scene and going through the actors’ lines. Their breath comes out in wisps, Tara Paterson is moving around to stay warm in her costume of shorts and a t-shirt. They are filming a fan remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: a project put together by amateur directors Jonathon and Vincent Scattolon to show their passion for classic horror movies. 

The actors all cram into the back seat of a Toyota Rav 4. Jon has to tell them where to sit, so he can place props and the camera strategically, so they are not in the shot with the actors. They drive off into the fog to start filming a driving scene; the taillights slowly disappear. For a few of the actors, this isn’t entirely new. Kelsie Bennett and Tara Paterson are part of the same acting agency as Vince which is how he found them for the movie. Andrew Iddon, the actor who plays the gas station attendant in the remake, met with Vince on a movie set in Ottawa.  But for the others, this is a whole new experience.

Director Jon with actors (from left to right) Kelsie, Tara, Jason, and Brady.

Director Jon with actors (from left to right) Kelsie, Tara, Jason, and Brady.

“It’s something to do when you’re bored,” Stirling Parks, behind-the-scenes crewmember, explains. 

The project has a 12-member crew, and with a budget of only $1,000, no one expects to get paid. 

“I’m paying it forward,” Andrew says, “I’m helpin’ [Vince,] he’ll help me one day.”

It’s not uncommon for actors to work for free; it builds experience, and in the cut-throat film industry, a little experience doesn’t hurt. When it comes to fan films, most of the money is out-of-pocket, which not only means the crew isn’t being paid, but it can also hinder the creative process. Christopher Moshier, founder of fanfilmfollies.com, sees as many fan films as he can lay his hands on, and not all of them are great. But fan films aren’t about the budget or making money; they’re about the art and “expression of self,” Chris explains.

“In most cases, fan filmmakers are [like] you and I. [They] don’t necessarily have ambitions to make a career in film. Or, [they] may already be in the industry, but want to do something for fun. They just want to play in the sand box of the properties they’ve grown up with,” says Chris. 

In Jon and Vince’s case, they wanted to make a true horror experience like all the old classics they watched growing up. 

[Scene:  Outside of a small Tim Hortons, the air is frigid; sun shines persistently through the clouds in an attempt to warm the concrete parking lot. The restaurant is full of murmurs from friends and family, crowded together at small metal tables.]

ENTER Sarah Durocher.

It is the first time I have heard the words “we’re making a movie,” uttered so seriously. Since this is a bunch of students with no money, I had imagined a couple of kids running around with a camcorder, flailing a fake plastic chainsaw at each other and then calling it a day. These fans are a bit more dedicated. 

It had taken a few months to get everything they needed for the movie. All their spare time was dedicated to mapping out scenes, writing scripts, and searching for an ever growing collection of props. Doing a remake meant everything had to fit perfectly to the original scene, which caused more stress on the first-time directors. 

“We did a remake because we wanted to test the waters,” Vince explains. “If it goes well, we might consider writing our own horror movie one day.”

Vince and Jon aren’t the first fans to consider remaking, or even writing, their own fan-made film. Chris Moshier has a fan-written Indiana Jones movie, The Legend of Bimini, in the works, and his website contains hundreds of fan films from Batman to Star Trek

A great push in fan films emerged when the demand for film adaptations clogged theatres with films such as Harry Potter, Star Trek, and many comic-book superheroes, which didn’t live up to fan expectations. In 2011 alone, the top 10 films in the US were all adaptations or sequels; Hollywood isn’t producing as many original works as it used to. Cue the fans. 

The fruits of fan labour have been around for centuries, dating back to The Testament of Cresseid by Robert Henryson. The 15th century poem does what most modern fan fiction does today; it creates an explanation for a gap in the original (or canon) version, which in Henryson’s case was the death of Cressida, as not told by Geoffrey Chaucer in his tale Troilus and Criseyde. In our time, fan fiction is thriving as a way for fans to explore the worlds and characters that their favourite authors haven’t explored. It was only a matter of time before the genre advanced to the screen. 

Graeme Balfour as Leatherface

Graeme Balfour as Leatherface

[Scene: A basement at night after a long day of shooting, a giant black armchair and cheetah print cushion offer warmth and comfort, a skeleton with a Leather Face mask keeps watch over various-sized chainsaws that sit in the corner of the room.]

ENTER entire crew.

Everyone gathers around a tiny laptop to watch the day’s footage and comment on how well it went. The stresses of work or school left everyone’s mind as they did something they loved: recreating a movie that they hoped would scare a future audience. Though the budget is low, they are confident that they will recreate a piece of art decent enough for any movie screen. Unfortunately, due to copyright laws, the only people seeing their humble remake will be close friends and family. But for now, that’s good enough for these die-hard horror fans.