Exclusive Interview: ‘Savageland’s’ Simon Herbert Brings a New Twist To Horror…Old School Style

On the night of June 2, 2011, the largest mass murder in American history occurs in the off-the-grid border town of Sangre de Cristo, Arizona, just a few miles north of Mexico. The entire population of 57 disappears overnight, and the next morning nothing is left but blood trails into the desert…

“I love how Savageland told the actual story of what happened through 36 frames on a roll of film leaving so much speculation on the narrators as to what really happened it delves into every corner of imagination and in a frightening way spearing nothing 4.5 out of five stars!” ~Shallow Graves Magazine

Yvette: Savageland is such a different type of psychological thriller, and my question to you is where did the concept come from?

Simon: David Whelan, Phil Guidry, and myself are three ex-UCLA screenwriting graduates who wanted to make something that we could control. The genesis of the project from the beginning to the end was 6 ½ years, shooting on the weekends. We started out with a couple of basics, Yvette. First, although we love them personally, we didn’t want to make a gore movie or a jump scare movie, we were interested in the idea that one could use social commentary to elevate the genre. Second, we were very interested in the series of documentaries about the “Memphis Three”,  which gave us our style guide for the documentary. Are you familiar with the “Memphis Three”?

Yvette: My guilty pleasure are documentaries about serial killers and psycopaths, so I am very aware and fascinated.

Left to right. Phil Guidry, Simon Herbert, David Whelan

Simon: Keeping that in mind, and the fact that we live on the US border, we came up with way of making the movie by using our own money, the three of us wrote, produced, and directed it. Once we got the idea down, our next step was to get the tone right, so we brought in people to improve when needed for the first year. Once we were done, we gave the film to our first editor, who is a wonderfully talented man and he pieced it together.. Being screenwriters, we don’t normally do anything without a script so for us, this was radical. In a year and a half into filming, we took the whole edit which was approximately two hours, and decided on the connective tissue and what we really wanted to say with the story. Then we brought everyone back in, and reworked it.

Yvette: I love how you had the different narrators, the border patrol man, the journalist and the photographer, who each had their own thoughts on exactly what happened in that town that night in Sangre de Cristo, I also enjoyed the fact that you not only had a radio announcer, but you also had the sheriff from the next town over. I literally was looking it up on the Internet to find out if there was any part of it that was real.

Simon: (laughing) I love it! When we screened at festivals, we love that a lot of people had the same reaction that you had in wondering of how much of the story was real.  am pleased that you are very articulate about picking up on these points, and how everybody had the different opinions on what happened that night. That was very critical to us. In every opinion, there was a grain of truth, which is the definition of satire. Satire is a box that you open and see everybody but yourself.

Yvette: What I found brilliant was the border patrolmen who not only narrated, but took us on a walk through the town showing the path that not only Salazar took, but the evil that went through that town as well captured by Salazar with one roll of film consisting of 36 exposures. What was your thought on telling a story based on a roll of film?

 

Simon: We did that for two reasons, One it was actually pragmatic, and we wanted the story to unfold in most ambitious way possible. The second thing, is that we genuinely believed, that one picture says 1000 words. Think of Bigfoot, the execution in Vietnam, the Hindenburg exploding. There is something so poignant, and old-school about a single black-and-white image in a digital Internet culture. We felt that it would actually restore a little chill, and bring in a little creepiness.

Yvette: In that saying a picture says a 1000 words, each frame captured a huge aspect the story as Salazar made his way from his home at the edge of the town through the center to the other side of the town where the nursery school was, left so much to the imagination, making me wonder are they zombies, rabid monsters, or just a whole new breed of evil. It was just so unclear, and my imagination was consistently trying to fill in the blanks.

Even with all the interviewees, speaking about lost loved one, and Salazar in the confinement cell speaking softly to the psychologist, not saying giving away too much, the story continued progress along, where the viewers had to piece together little bits at a time.

Earlier, you stated you had people come in and speak unscripted, how did you go about doing so, did you give them an outline to follow?

Simon: We gave them specific plot line points and let them go. The cast did in amazing job clarifying exactly what we wanted, when we brought them back for the second half. For instance, Lawrence Ross the African-American gentleman who is the reporter, is actually a reporter in real life. This was the same dynamic with the therapist, the photographer, all of whom play out their real life jobs in this fictional setting.

Yvette: That is amazing; they all did such a great job. Not to give too much away of the movie, but I did love how the reporter (Ross), had his own ideas that it was the KKK and the photographer took it from a stance of behind the lens as to why Salazar would take pictures and kinda disassociate himself, to the border patrol officer being the one to take us through the town and break it down literally shot to shot on the one roll of film and in the and finally stating that whatever it was that was that went to the town that night had one purpose and that was to head north.

Simon: Thank you so much for saying that Yvette, because that was one thing that was our Lone Star was the line, “They were always going in one direction…North”.

Yvette: I know it is never revealed what they are but I am going to throw it out there and tell you what I think they look like and that is a cross between a human and a Chupacabra.

Simon: That’s brilliant! If you notice, there is one picture  that looks like a pantomime with an elephant trunk. There is some weird stuff in there, and the point wasn’t to create the mythology of what we understand–it was to create the mythology of what we don’t understand, we wanted that “what the fuck” is that moment. And I think if you give a horror audience of any strife a WTF is that moment you win.

Yvette:  Let’s jump ahead to number 36, the last picture on the role, when that picture was revealed it literally brought me to tears and terrified me at the same time.

The way the story unfolded so hauntingly, and I have to ask because the pictures were all taken without a flash with exception for the last two pictures, and I have to ask with hopefully not giving too much away, at the school, behind the little girl was a shirt that looked very familiar. Is it who I think it was, from earlier in the movie?

Simon: YES!!! You caught that? I have a question for you then. At the end of the movie, what did you see in the campground video? Maybe… some penitentiary overalls?

Yvette (Thinking Back): No freaking way! I don’t know how I did not put that together. I was so on point with the rest of this film!

Simon: (Laughing) When we first shot it, it was obvious,and then we made it a little less obvious in the next edit. I am so glad you caught that. Thank you.

Yvette: I want to thank you so much Simon, for taking the time for this interview. I am definitely going to have to go back and re-watch Savageland. I feel there are a few more Easter Eggs I may have missed!

Simon: Thank you as well Yvette. I am glad you enjoyed it.

(If you are curious to know what Simon and I were talking about, Savageland is Available on VOD on these platforms:

ITUNES: http://apple.co/2kUR0iQ

AMAZON: http://amzn.to/2lE3tVw

GOOGLE PLAY: http://bit.ly/2lNX5x0

VUDU: http://bit.ly/2lNVTK2

X-BOX: http://bit.ly/2mlM1Fa