TIFF: Wes Craven's Spirit Lives on in Nick Simon's "Girl in the Photographs"

Wes Craven Nick Simon and Thomas Maloney - H 2015
Courtesy of Nick Simon

The Midnight Madness selection was executive produced by the late horror maestro.

Landing a coveted Midnight Madness slot during TIFF for his horror film The Girl in the Photographs is a dream come true for filmmaker Nick Simon. Not having Wes Craven by his side for the world premiere on Sept. 14 at 11:59 p.m. is, well, quite the opposite.

Craven, who passed away at the age of 76 on Aug. 30 after a battle with brain cancer, not only has an executive producer credit on the film but served as a mentor to Simon for the past three years after being linked up through a WGA mentorship program.

“It’s awful,” Simon tells THR of the horror maestro, famous for A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream franchise, among many other credits. “Personally, I lost a friend. I have an email in which he says that he considered himself my godfather in film. I feel empty … like a piece is missing. Professionally, it’s sad that he never got to enjoy the hard work we did together.”

Simon remembers first seeing an email in his inbox from the WGA while walking through a Dallas airport in 2012 informing him that Craven would be his mentor. “I could not believe what I was reading.”

What followed is equally surprising: Craven then invited Simon and his selection of five WGA mentees to his home for regular dinners to discuss the craft of filmmaking. Craven would later ask Simon about his slate of projects to which he offered up a spec script Photographs, penned along with Robert Morast and Osgood Perkins. Craven volunteered to help get it made.

“He was in the trenches with us,” Simon explains, adding that Craven first saw his script in consulted on casting, had lunch with actors, attended table reads and finance meetings. “He was a very active producer. He gave notes and sat in the editing room. We moved from mentor and mentee to collaborators. As a filmmaker who has not done a lot, it’s the thing you daydream about – a legend who helps you make a movie.”

Simon describes his film as a “throwback to ‘80s horror films, something I’ve always loved.” The plot centers on a small town checkout girl who becomes a victim in a serial killer’s game when they start sending her photos of murdered women. A Los Angeles-based fashion photographer, played by Kal Penn, reads about the twisted mystery and heads back to his hometown to investigate.

Produced by Thomas Mahoney and Andrea Chung, Photographs also stars Claudia Lee, Kenny Wormald, Toby Hemingway, Luke Baines, Miranda Rae Mayo, Katherine Isabelle and Mitch Pileggi. Principal photography wrapped on May 15 and it’s been a hustle to get a final cut in time for the festival, Simon notes.

“We just finished the film on (Sept. 4) so it’s like sliding into home place,” he says. “But Wes did get to see what the cut was, the only thing he didn’t see was the final sound mix which is really sad.”

While Craven is gone, Simon says he’s left with valuable advice. “He told me to quit apologizing so much in meetings,” recalls Simon, who lists Craven’s Serpent and the Rainbow and Elm Street as his personal faves. “‘You’re a nice guy but don’t say you’re sorry all the time.’ He also said that if things aren’t going the way they should, be prepared to walk away.”

Audiences won’t walk away from Simon’s Photographs without a touching tribute to the late filmmaker. Simon tells THR that once the film fades to black, he added a deserving tribute to his friend following the title credit: “For Wes.”