EXCLUSIVE: Dive Into FRAN K. With Creator Rob Schmidt
Last week I read an article about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, in which survivors of the shooting and parents of victims, got to tell their stories and needless to say it was a heartbreaking and emotional read. The hate that exists in this world and the fact that someone can take a gun and pull the trigger on another human being -- just because of their sexuality and who they love -- is, to me, beyond comprehension. My mind can’t even begin to understand it. As a parent; all you want to do is to protect your child from that hate, which is -- as we’ve tragically seen too many times -- pretty much impossible. Try to imagine losing a child. You would do whatever it would take to bring that child back -- even if it would take for you to take your own morals and ethics, press “delete” and just forget that they even existed in the first place. We’ve seen those scenarios in cinema and on TV several times -- man trying to dominate mortality -- and it usually doesn’t end well.
The day after I read that article, a post was made in the Shock Waves Horror Movie group on Facebook that said: “Hi, My name is Rob Schmidt, I directed the original Wrong Turn horror film. This is a project close to my heart, that's sad and scary and deals with hate and suffering.” and attached to it was a trailer for a pilot -- Frank K: Frankenstein -- that almost made me feel the heartbreak and sadness I’d felt the day before -- obviously not as strong, because something fictional can’t be compared to the real life horrors of this world.
From the opening shot, were a dying child asks his father: “Daddy, what happens when I die?” to the series title character, Fran, who gets kicked out of her home by her mom just for being gay, which leads to a downward spiral into hopelessness and despair, as she is doing what she have to do to stay alive.
I had the pleasure to talk to Rob (who, by the way, is another person in a long line of filmmakers and actors to corroborate that people who work within the horror genre is some of the nicest and most intelligent people a person can talk to) and not only did we talk about Fran K, but also about his work with true crime shows for Investigation Discovery.
Ghastly Grinning (GG): I fell in love with the trailer that you posted, which was super emotional, and it kinda broke my heart.
Rob Schmidt (RS): I appreciate that. Yeah, I really care about Fran, I actually care about everybody in that show, you know, the characters.
GG: Which shows in the trailer. Just the short clips that we saw in the trailer instantly got me emotionally. How did the show come about?
RS: Well, you know that it’s the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley publishing Frankenstein. It was in 1818, I guess, and I was trying to think about what that meant, and I was trying to think about what it means to be reborn and that it’s a really complicated, messy thing, you know. And especially if your life has been troubled and you come back, all these things get, um, they get second chances. And you know, the character that plays Fran’s mom; I think that’s an especially interesting character because she, um, some people that have watched that thinks that she’s evil, you know, or that she’s a villain. But she really loves Fran and she thinks that she can fix Fran by not allowing her in the house. She thinks that being gay is something Fran is doing to make life hard for her and that she can stop it. And a thing that I didn’t realize until we were shooting it actually, was how painful it is to go to an execution, you know. In the United States we have a lot of executions and the family members come to witness it. Peoples parents come to witness their kids being executed.
GG: That is crazy. I can’t even imagine that!
RS: It's unfathomable, right? But if you’re a parent, I don’t know, you don’t have kids, right?
GG: I have two kids.
RS: Here’s the thing; I started thinking about it and I was doing research on it and I was like: “They actually come.” and then I was like: “Well you know what, it’s the last”, um, even if you do a terrible job parenting, that’s the last chance to try do something for your kid.
GG: That is true. I never thought of it like that, to be honest.
RS: Yeah and that it, um, the other thing that I hadn’t thought about was that the execution, it actually punishes many people besides the murderer, you know. Because anyone that loved or cared about that person suffers from the execution.
GG:Yeah, innocent people gets punished. Not always, but in a lot of cases.
RS: Well, I think almost always there´s someone, you know. Everyone has a mother, you know, and like that certainly, having your child executed would represent a massive failure in your life. Anyway, I don´t wanna be like Debbie Downer (laughs).
GG:(laughs) No worries, I really wanna hear everything about it. I´m super intrigued!
RS: So, you know, obviously it’s a science fiction-horror. It’s based on Frankenstein and I thought it would be cool make something that was really emotional and about, you know, shit that’s coming up.
GG: It feels like it’s coming right on time. The subject matter feels so current.
RS: Oh, that’s good to hear. Yeah, and there’s a bunch of science issues in it too. Do you know about CRISPR?
GG: No, I don´t.
RS: You should look it up. It’s basically like a word processor for genes.
GG: Oh, interesting!
RS: Yeah, and like a low level PhD candidate can operate it. It’s more complicated than you or I can operate, but pretty much anyone in any country on earth could use to, uh, pretty much anyone who is a biology PhD student would be able to figure out how to use it. And it’s making modified creatures, and it’s making gene modification really simple. And some countries have limits on its use and some don't, and in China they already started using it on humans.
GG: Wow, that is crazy!
RS: Yeah, look it up.
GG: I definitely will. That is interesting.
RS: Yeah, and so there’s a lot of science that’s um, we’re just seeing the tip of it and it’s going out of control.
GG: So you incorporated this into the pilot, or into the script?
RS: Yeah, a little bit, but not a lot. We tried to have a, um, there’s a dialogue in the pilot about, um, one of the lab technicians is Chinese and another is Russian, and in the series those characters receive pressure through loved ones to help share technology. You can see in the trailer, they actually describe it; the funding for his research is transferred to defense. So it’s not this, like: “Everyone gets to be born again” thing. It’s something more sinister than that.
GG: How has the response for the trailer been so far?
RS: Well, you know, the only place it’s out actually is on my Facebook page (laughs).
GG: Oh, really??
RS: Yeah, I just put it out last weekend and, you know, it’s not clear what’s gonna happen because my agents have it and they don't think it's commercial.
RS: Yeah, I think it might be too controversial to the U.S., maybe.
GG: Yeah, maybe. I showed the trailer to some people over here and everyone said: “When can we see it?” and “Where can we see it?”. So if you'd been in Sweden it probably would’ve worked out better for you. It wouldn’t be as controversial here, I think.
RS: Yeah, a friend of mine, in Sweden, actually, said he thinks it’s homophobia in the US.
GG: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s weird that we live in 2018 and that people STILL see this as controversial.
RS: Yeah, it’s, um, I don’t know, you know, I kind of wish it wasn't the case, but it seems like that is a thing that, I can’t figure it out because it’s, you know; I think the things people make, they love, right? You make something and you're like: “Oh, this is perfect”, I mean, you don’t think it’s perfect, you think it’s terribly flawed, but it’s about something you care about. You know what I mean? Like, this is at least, like: “We didn't succeed, but the ideas are important.”
GG: I don’t think most people instantly think commercially when they try to make a film or a TV pilot. This pilot, ot the trailer at least, feels so genuine. It feels like it’s coming straight from the heart.
RS: I appreciate that. I have very strong feelings about the pilot and the story, and I actually cry sometimes about the characters in it and not just Fran, you know, many people in it.
GG: I saw some of the comments when you posted it in the Facebook group and one of them was from a friend of ours, BJ Colangelo, and she said something like: “Wow! It looks like you made this for me!”
RS: Yeah, that was really sweet. I really appreciated that.
GG: But I can see this connecting to so many people all over the world, and I can see a ton of people feeling the exact same way.
RS: Well, it’s at that point where it’s just started to be out in the world, at least the trailer, and we'll see if, um, I mean, I think that if it doesn’t get picked up I’ll just release the pilot on Youtube or something, but I hope that it actually gets to have its own legs.
GG: From what I've seen in the trailer, I can see this being on Netflix or something like that.
RS: Well, let Netflix people know that (laughs).
GG: I'll be sure to do that. They've been known to take some risks with TV-shows and films, and their own productions as well, so I can totally see it there.
RS: I think that my agents said that they’re going to send it to Blumhouse TV this week. But, I don't know, you know, I’m just nervous now that it’s not gonna get to have the legs that I want it to have. Anyway, we will see.
GG: When did you shoot it?
RS: We shot it in April, I think. Wait, wait. Yes, we shot it in April. Its kinda flown by. You know, I live in Atlanta, which is a film center in the US and I teach at a university here called Emory, and I teach filmmaking there, and actually, Stranger Things shot in the building were we shot Fran K.
GG: Oh, really?
RS: Yeah. You know Hawkins National Laboratory from Stranger Things? That laboratory is a building at Emory. Check this out for a building; so it was an insane asylum. It was literally an insane asylum and it had tunnels underground to things called “cottages” that were little buildings away from the main building, were they kept mentally ill people so that they could observe them and the cottages has living quarters with glass walls so that you could watch the mentally ill person in like what was their home. So it was that, and then they decommissioned it because I guess, you know, it was a cruel place, and then it became a laboratory for animals, and then it got shut down. So it’s literally a place that was an insane asylum, then was a place where they did live tests on chimpanzees, and things like that. And then they were like: “Okay, we can’t do this either, we’re shutting it down.” and now it’s a place where people go to film things.
GG: That is crazy (laughs).
RS: I know, it’s like the most evil place on Earth, right (laughs).
GG: Yeah, really! What a crazy evolution (laughs). So you shot a lot of it there, then?
RS: Yeah, almost all of it. It was made with very, very little money. If we hadn't had that place, we wouldn’t been able to make it, I think. We even built the set for Ironside's wives bedroom in that building.
GG: Yeah, it’s cool that you got Michael Ironside to be in it as well. Cause you’ve worked with him on a couple of films before, right?
RS: Yeah, I’ve worked with him twice before.
GG: The Alphabet Killer, right, and, um...
RS: And Crime and Punishment. (Note: Crime and Punishment in Suburbia)
GG: Oh, yeah, that’s right!
RS: His death scene in Crime and Punishment is something I really loved. It worked out exactly the way I wanted it too.
GG: That is great.
RS: I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s like a pretty great, uh...
GG: Yeah, I’ve seen it, but it’s been a few years, but I’ve seen it, and I quite enjoyed it. And The Alphabet Killer I think is really, really good!
RS: Oh, that’s sweet. You know I have a thing about The Alphabet Killer, actually, which is that the producers on that were very, very nice and they let me do whatever I wanted in the edit and, um, I think that it’s to slow. I think I got too indulgent and made it too slow.
GG: But you see it in another way than the audience does.
RS: Yeah, perhaps, perhaps. I always wonder about that; sometimes it’s good to have someone pressing you to make something more commercial.
GG: So now the plans are to find a home for Frank K, then?
RS: Yeah, that would be my summer, knock on wood. And then I’m doing, um, I do some crime TV; like I direct crime shows sometimes.
GG: Oh really? Like true crime stuff?
RS: Yeah, true crime stuff; there’s a network in the U.S. called ID Discovery.
GG: Yeah, I know which network it is. I’m obsessed with their shows (laughs).
RS: I do Swamp Murders and Dead Silent and Your Worst Nightmare.
GG: Wow, really? I’ve seen a bunch of those.
RS: Oh yeah, they’re really fun to make.
GG: Yeah, I can imagine.
RS: Well, you know, I should say; they are, um, like I’m very happy when I’m making them, but sometimes the subject matter is very wearing, because you meet people at the worst point in their lives, and, yeah.. And actually, you know, I come in, I do maybe like two episodes, and other directors are doing the other episodes, so I get to go in and go out. But the crews are there for the entire seasons, and they have a really great costume designer and she had to quit for half a season, because she said that to many teenage girls were getting killed and it was to hard to, like, dress these girls that she knew were representing people who had lived and died.
GG: That must be rough to, um..
RS: Can you imagine?
GG: No, no I can’t.
RS: ‘Cause you have to think about, like, this person and what would make them happy and how they would dress, and then you’re putting clothes on somebody and you know that that person, you know, was destroyed.
GG: And we treat true crime shows almost like fiction, really.
RS: Yes! They’re like, um, when you watch them it’s kind of like a snack.
GG: Exactly! But I never really thought about that; that it takes its toll on people who works on the show.
RS: Isn’t that crazy, yeah.
GG: That’s crazy, yeah. My mind is kinda blown now (laughs), ‘cause I watch a lot of those shows.
RS: Well, and you should keep watching them, you know, but it’s interesting that, I did one last year and it was a father who would come back from Vietnam and he was drinking to much and his wife, uh, he was violent with his wife, and they were separated and there was, like, a fight over custody and he ended up killing her and her father in front of the, he wounded her and ran out of bullets and went to his car and reloaded his gun, and his son, his like twelve year old son was with his mom, when he shot the mom, you know, his wife, and she was very badly wounded, and the kid tried to hide her and she realized she wasn’t gonna, they got as far the bedroom, and she realized that she wasn’t gonna make it and she couldn’t move anymore, and he put her down on the floor and she was like: “Get away! Go! Go!” and he, instead of going away, he hid under the bed, and she was lying next to the bed, and then the father, his father came in and executed her when she was like, a foot away from her son. He didn’t see his son and he executed his wife. And that was pretty hard to, uh..
GG: That must've been really hard!
RS: It was a very, um, interesting day, because there was a very strange energy on set.
GG: Yeah, I was just about to ask how everyone are on set when you shoot something like that.
RS: Yeah, it’s, um, do you know the word “dissociative”, like a “dissociative state”? I think there’s a good deal of that, where people aren’t dealing with what’s actually, um, you know, the people are, they have to work really fast and the crews are really good. And they, um, you know, they sometimes people make jokes, but mostly they just try to crank through. When you’re directing, you know, you need to be in the story, and so your heart has to be with the character.
GG: I can see some people shut off emotionally, just shut your emotions off, you know.
RS: I think you have to do that a bit, sometimes, you know, ´cause it’s just, um, these are like the most, the saddest, most traumatic moments of somebody’s life; you’re telling that story, you know.
GG: It must be different from shooting a horror film, like Wrong Turn, for example, because that is fiction.
RS: Yeah, but you know, the thing is, it is just fiction, but still, um, I think to make the scenes work, you want to have the emotion be truthful. You know, like in the cabin when Eliza and Desmond are under the bed, um, she is, you know, Eliza cries, actually. Like, she's so scared she cries and I think that's a truthful emotion, you know.
GG: And that’s a great scene in that film, because you feel her emotions and you can feel how afraid she is.
RS: Yeah, so that’s a trick that, um, the fiction has to be, has to have truthfulness in it, you know. Or some people don’t do that in their movies, that are really great, that aren’t that. Like, I think, you know, Evil Dead is an amazing movie and it’s very different from than that, it’s about fun.
GG: Yeah, and especially if you go to Evil Dead 2, which is a lot more fun than the first one.
RS: Yeah, and it works a hundred percent, you know. It’s a different type of entertainment, I guess.
GG: Back to Frank K; I really hope that you´ll find a home for it, because like I said; I´m so intrigued and I wanna see more of it.
RS: I’m really grateful that people like you are interested in it, and spread the word.
GS: We are definitely spreading the word for it, and if y'all want to see more of this series, we urge our readers to do the same, so we can try to help this find a home.
Check out the trailer below!