Scott Leaver of The Devil Comes at Night: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker
If you want to Direct, start learning Editing, Lighting, Color Correction, VFX and Sound. You don’t have to become an expert. But having familiarity with the basics as well as a vocabulary to talk to your team about what you want to accomplish is invaluable. This is especially true in the indie world.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Scott Leaver.
Meet Scott Leaver, a filmmaker with a lifelong love of horror and a knack for crafting compelling stories.
Starting as an actor, he quickly found himself drawn to the world behind the camera. His early work consists of producing, writing, and directing short form and branded content, including several award-winning mini-series.
Along with all his accomplishments, Scott remained a horror movie nerd at heart. This passion has brought him to his latest venture — directing his first feature film, The Devil Comes at Night.
The Devil Comes at Night is a gripping tale of survival against a cannibal cult, showcasing Scott’s love for the macabre. Here, he wears multiple hats as the director, co-writer, and co-producer, further proving his versatility in the world of cinema.
The Devil Comes at Night will be releasing on VOD and DVD starting June 06th.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
Absolutely! I was born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, but my family moved to St. Catharines, in the Niagara Region, when I was still quite young. My childhood home was loving but a conservative one. My single mom had strict rules, especially when it came to our entertainment choices. She rarely allowed secular movies in our house, and horror films were out of the question. But there was a rebellious streak in me that just couldn’t resist the allure of the forbidden!
Late into the night, after my mom had gone to sleep, I would sneak down to the basement armed with old VHS tapes that I’d managed to procure. I’d watch these films in the flickering glow of our TV, transported by the stories.
Those late-night secret screenings sparked a lifelong obsession for me. I grew up with an unwavering conviction: I needed to make movies. And so, here I am today.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began my professional career as an actor in Toronto, Canada. There is a wonderful theatre scene, and Toronto has the nickname Hollywood North because of the amount of film and television shot up here. I always found myself drawn to writing and directing. I think my filmmaking career started with playwriting, which required me to really work on my writing skills. The first show I wrote and directed was right out of high school. It was a masked Commedia dell’Arte comedy that played at the London (Ontario) Fringe Festival. After that, I was hooked.
The writing bug led to writing and producing short-form scripted content for the web that served as a foundation for my filmmaking career. I developed such great relationships in the indie filmmaking world that helped me grow as an artist. We learned by doing. Soon we were getting approached by larger companies to produce content for them. And I loved every moment of it. But I felt the need to start directing. To really make the projects how I saw it in my head. The rest is history.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
I’ve been saved by the X-Men. The Superheroes. More than once. Sort of.
It began years ago when I was a broke actor working in a call center selling theatre subscriptions. While the job was less than stellar, the people working there were amazing. That’s where I met George Merner, a semi-retired actor and prankster. George had done voice work as Magneto in the 90’s X-Men animated series, giving customers who recognized his voice a thrill. George was kind enough to agree to act in several projects to help begin my screenwriting and producing career.
Later my wife introduced me to my friend David Hayter, a wonderful actor and screenwriter on both X-Men (2000) and X2 (2003). Again, I was fortunate enough that David agreed to act in a small miniseries in one of my first ventures into directing (Fare Trade, co-directed alongside the ever-talented filmmaker Shawn Ahmed).
Finally, in the eleventh-hour of preparing to direct my first feature film The Devil Comes at Night, we found we were having trouble finding the perfect actor for Jack, the tough, grizzled boxing coach. But then we found the perfect actor. Elias Zarou had worked on everything from Who’s the Boss? to…well, I suppose you can guess, X-Men (2000). And I couldn’t have asked for a better actor in the role.
I hope I have a long filmmaking career, and if I do, I owe the X-Men family big time.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I feel like there are so many but I’d like to give a shoutout in particular to our two leads for The Devil Comes At Night! First there is my wife Adrienne Kress who is not only a fantastic actress, but she is an incredible internationally published author, with over twelve books published that include the horror tie-in novels to the Bendy and the Ink Machine videogames. She is raw talent.
Ryan Allen who stars as our lead, the washed-up boxer Ben, is a great actor and friend. He is also such a interesting guy. Not only is he a wonderful and successful actor on film, but he’s also an amazing singer, having worked on Broadway in Book of Mormon and in operas at the Canadian Opera Company. When he wasn’t in character as a tough guy, he’d be making up songs about the cast and crew that kept us in stiches. Maybe one day, I’ll have to direct a musical.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have always been fascinated and eternally grateful to successful artists who volunteer their time and resources to help those just starting out.
Many years ago, when I first started writing, I was working in live theatre. I was a huge fan of composer John Murphy for his work on movies like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and Michael Mann’s Miami Vice. I discovered John Murphy had a passion for helping indie filmmakers and would regularly give them the rights to use his music in their movies. Hot in the middle of developing a new theatre piece, I was desperate to use one of John’s songs for a pivotal moment in the show. I reached out with my materials, not expecting John to have any interest in helping a newbie playwright.
To my surprise, John and his people got back almost right away and made sure I got any supporting materials I needed to use the music.
Our interactions were brief, but having someone I respected go out of their way to help was a huge confidence boost, and that play would kickstart my professional writing career thanks to Playwrights Workshop Montreal.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.”
I love this quote by the poet Douglas Malloch because in film and the arts in general, it can be tough out there and at times demoralizing. But it is actually the challenges we face that make us better artists and always keeps us improving!
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
- Representation Matters: Everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in the arts.
- Richer Storytelling: The world is full of diverse characters and stories. We do ourselves a disservice to only explore a fraction of them.
- Cultural Impact: Film and television have the power to challenge and inspire. They can change the way we think. It’s important that filmmakers use that power for good.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently working on several screenplays including one for my next horror feature. I love writing all genres, but of course I’m a horror nerd at heart!
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
I love when someone has a visceral emotional response to something I’ve helped bring to the screen. It’s unlike any other feeling. When you’ve prepped in pre-production, got it all figured out on set, and put it together in post, and then it resonates exactly as you had planned it? That is a feeling unlike anything else. There is definitely such a moment in The Devil Comes at Night (several in fact, but I’m thinking of one big one in particular), but I don’t want to spoil it!
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Just five?! Okay, let me give it a try…
1. If you want to Direct, start learning Editing, Lighting, Color Correction, VFX and Sound. You don’t have to become an expert. But having familiarity with the basics as well as a vocabulary to talk to your team about what you want to accomplish is invaluable. This is especially true in the indie world.
2. Always schedule pickup days. No matter how confident you are, you won’t know what your movie needs until you are watching rough scenes. Pickups can make or break your movie.
3. In filmmaking, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And that’s okay. All that matters is how you react. Stay calm. Trust your team. Find a solution. Make your movie.
4. Don’t romanticize over-working. It might sound obvious, but in film the days are long and stressful. Eat as healthily as you can and try to get enough sleep. Taking care of yourself will make you a better director.
5. Watching great movies and reading great stories is a key part of learning how to direct and write.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision?
I’d say my artistic vision as director has the greatest impact. However, to me, filmmaking is a collaborative effort. As a director, I guide the ship into port, but I have a crew of experts in their field I trust. When an actor, writer, DP, or Production Designer has an opinion or thought, it’s vital to hear them out. You may be steering the boat, but you can’t see everything. You can’t know everything. Which is why it is so vital to find and keep crew around you that you trust.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Wow, that is quite a question. I support the idea of a universal basic income for all. There is no reason in our modern age that people are going without food and shelter.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Oh man! Just one? Wow! I am a massive fan of Guillermo del Toro. His work continues to impact me in a fundamental way. I just love his work. I really want to see his adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness. I hope it gets made.
Also as a big Warhammer 40K fan, I’d kill to chat with Henry Cavill to learn how he is adapting the property into a show with Amazon. My Grey Knights will be watching closely. 😉
How can our readers further follow you online?
I’m a little new to social media. You can find me @scottleaver7
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Scott Leaver of The Devil Comes at Night: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.