By Bianca Garner
Ask any inspiring filmmaker out there about the difficulties of making their first feature film and they’ll be able to reel off a dozen difficult encounters and challenges that they had to face. However, Clayton Scott’s experiences and struggles filming the tense crime thriller “Below the Fold” are something special. Shot in the town of Skidmore, Scott’s film ruffled some feathers with the locals. Despite encountering some troubles with not-so-friendly locals, Scott continued with his film. “Below the Fold” is in the same vein as classic noir/detective pictures, a slow burning crime film which has a strong female lead and a compelling story. It’s very well-made considering its low budget and goes to show viewers that the best films don’t rely on big names, big sets and big special effects. You can read our full review of the film here.
We caught up with Scott to ask him about the story behind his film and what challenges he faced along the way. Check out our interview below.
BG: What inspired you to make BELOW THE FOLD?
Clayton Scott: I grew up about 40 minutes away from Skidmore, Missouri. Skidmore is a small town of less than 300 people in the northwest corner of Missouri. It had a reputation for the random, mysterious and violent events that had occurred there throughout the years.
In 1981, the entire town kept quiet about the identity of the killer of Ken Rex McElroy. Ken McElroy was known for terrorizing the residents of Skidmore for the entirety of his life without repercussions, that was until a secret meeting was held in the town hall. The case is still unsolved today. In 2000, Wendy Gillenwater was brutally murdered by her boyfriend. Another notorious, vicious murder occurred in 2004 in Skidmore when Bobbi Jo Stinnett had her unborn baby cut from her womb. When I was twelve there was a young man named Branson Perry who went missing. He was with a friend helping fix his dad’s car, he went to grab some jumper cables and was never seen again. Growing up I’d see these billboards with Branson’s face on them and as the years went by that image would fade into nothingness. I found that faded image so haunting. The billboards were my jumping off point.
Hearing all these real-life stories in a town just like the one I grew up in (and right around the corner) really struck a nerve. Having personal connections to the town like my mother living there with my sister for short time in the 70s during McElroy’s reign of terror, and that same sister was first cousins with Bobbi Jo, inspired me to tell my own fictional story set/shot in Skidmore. I thought that mixing the real life history and haunting feel with a journalism thriller like “All the President’s Men” and “Zodiac” but set in a small town would make for an interesting movie.
Question 2: What were some of the struggles you encountered making the film? How did you manage to overcome them?
There’s almost too many to mention, but here’s a few.
We had to find a new cinematographer three weeks before we were supposed to shoot because our original DOP had gotten multiple hernias and was going to be out for months. We’d already pushed our shoot back more than half a year so I could have the actor I wanted to play Lisa in the film. We were lucky to find Iain Trimble, who is a world class cinematographer.
Filming during near zero temperatures conditions at times was tough for everyone I know.
And before we even started shooting, we were on location scout in Skidmore and we had a woman come out and start screaming at us telling us to get off of her property (we were on the sidewalk). She was yelling at us that we could be shot for trespassing. Shortly after that, as we were about to leave, we see a sheriff’s deputy pull up and he gets out and starts accusing us of breaking into houses (which we weren’t). He asks us “Do you know the history of this town?” I told him yes, sir I did. He said, “Then you should know better.” Having that encounter really did set the tone for my team and I because there was a reality to the situation that would have been hard to convey on the page.
BG: The performances in the film are great, even the supporting cast manage to deliver solid performances. Could you discuss the casting process? Were there any roles that proved difficult to cast?
CS: We cast everyone locally here in Kansas City, Missouri. We had open auditions (three rounds). This town has an abundance of talent both in front and behind the camera so we were very fortunate. The only person who was not cast locally from Kansas City was my friend Alec Ware who lives in Grant City, Missouri (where I grew up) and where we shot a portion of the film.
I will say finding the right Lisa and David was the most difficult. I knew that if I didn’t have the perfect fit for those roles, there was no point in making this film. We ended up getting the two actors we needed with Sarah McGuire and Davis DeRock. I thought they brought these characters to life beautifully.
BG: BELOW THE FOLD manages to capture the atmosphere of small town America, did you draw on any particular films as references?
CS: I’d say the biggest influence would be the town of Skidmore itself. The town has a foreboding feel to it. We shot the film in late fall and winter, so the cold gray days added to the ominous nature of the film. The juxtaposition of showing small-town America, where you can see a beautiful home and right next door is an abandoned home, was striking and true to life.
BG: In Their Own League focuses on female representation on and off the screen, at the centre of BELOW THE FOLD we have the character of Lisa who is trying to solve the disappearance of Susie Potter. Lisa is a very strong, well-developed female character who is central to the plot. Did you draw on any other strong female characters in cinema as an influence?
CS: There were two direct influences and they are also Lisa’s namesake.
The first is Hildy Johnson (played by Rosalind Russell) in “His Girl Friday”. I saw Lisa having that same kind spunk, sly wit and fearless independence that Hildy has. Plus Hildy’s a hot shot reporter and a damn good one. I wanted to bring those traits to Lisa, in my mind Lisa could have been Hildy’s granddaughter.
The other is Lisa Fremont (played by Grace Kelly) in “Rear Window”. Lisa in Rear Window is a bit of a wild card and her deep curiosity might just get her in trouble. Our Lisa is a lot like that too. She’s not afraid to break some rules for that curiosity and to do the right thing.
BG: Who are some of your favourite female filmmakers and can you recommend any of their work?
CS: The first one I want to mention is Larisa Shepitko. She was a Soviet (Ukrainian) filmmaker in the 60s and 70s . Her work is stunning. “Wings” and “The Ascent” are two of my favorite films from the Soviet era. “The Ascent” is a masterpiece. I honestly don’t know how they made that film in those brutal conditions, but I’m glad we as viewers get to enjoy it. I consider it one of the great WW2 films. Sadly, Shepikto was killed in a car accident not long after making “The Ascent.” I just wish there were more of her films to enjoy. A true loss.
Another is Sofia Coppola. I just love her films. “Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette” are two of my favorites. And I was very lucky to hear her speak at a Q&A about a decade ago. Her work is so inspiring to me.
And I’m going to cheat her a little, but I wanted to give a shout out to my fellow Missouri native and author, Gillian Flynn. Her books have had as much influence on my work as anyone. Her Missouri set stories and her self-described “nasty anti-heroes” are so engrossing for me as a reader. No one quite captures her tone or her female protagonists. She’s special and I am dying for her to release another novel!
BG: Lastly, what’s next for you.
CS: I’m writing another feature. It’s called “Flyover.” Another small-town thing, psychological horror but with a supernatural bent. Strong female characters are at the center of this one too. I don’t want to say too much about it or jinx myself, but I’m hoping we get to make it within the next year or so. It’s definitely a more ambitious film than “Below the Fold” but has some of the same themes. So, fingers crossed!
Find out more about the film here: https://www.belowthefoldmovie.com/
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