Getting woke with ‘Insomnium:’ Interview with Scott Powers

Shortly after high school graduation, in the summer of 1995, Scott Powers and a few friends of mine borrowed a van and picked me up on the way from Chicago, Illinois to take a cross-country trip to Lake Mammoth, California. There, we camped, hike, drank and joked around for several days and nights. That trip was our kick-off jaunt before heading to college, and I remember that the changes underway in our lives already seemed overwhelming for me at the time. So much freedom, so much possibility, what were we going to do with ourselves? Likewise, the trip was not only amusing, but at times also frightening. We drank from ice cold glacial water, which was great, but we didn’t pack enough food to eat. Someone twisted an ankle, I think, and limped for a majority of the trip. I was awaken one night as I slept under the stars to a bear sniffing my face. Needless to say, we survived, and now as a man in my forties I look back at that adventure fondly.

However, that was the last time I saw Scott for twenty years. Then, I heard his debut horror film, “Insomnium,” written and directed by him, was racking up awards at film festivals. I reconnected with Scott during a screening in Los Angeles, and it was easy to see why his film was making a name for itself.

In the movie, George (Brad Pennington), while recovering from hiking injuries, is concerned about his roommate Phin’s (Clint Browning) increasingly disturbing nocturnal behavior and suspects his friend has become possessed by a dark entity. Suspicious that the landlord, Mr. Romanovsky (Leon Shparaga) is guarding a secret, George investigates and makes a startling discovery. Soon left with more questions than answers, George struggles to unravel the truth before it consumes him and destroys Phin.

The story is set among scenic Hollywood backdrops, and the humor and authenticity of the characters compliment nicely with the overall creepiness of the plot. When I heard “Insomnium” became available for streaming in July, I invited Scott for an interview. The following are his responses to my questions.

Ryan Hyatt, July 25, 2019

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Scott Powers, 2019

 

  1. Why “Insomnium?”

Insomnium” is part of a much larger story that I developed over the years – the sequels are called “The Gathering” and “Copia.” I’m entertaining the idea of turning them into a TV show instead. With “Insomnium,” I wanted to make a scary movie that felt real or believable. I watch a lot of content and I tune out when I stop believing the characters and their decisions. I’m tired of movies about exceptional people. I wanted my characters to seem familiar and real. I have a lot of influences but I’m a huge fan of 70s cinema. Hal Ashby in particular. Crazy original ideas presented in beautiful but realistic style. The story of “Insomnium” is inspired by many things. My sister had a roommate who would sleepwalk; her stories terrified me. It’s also influenced by “The Saddest Song” by Morphine. Also, I lived in a Russian neighborhood for eight years, and the guys who stood out on their porches seemed to me to have intriguing secrets behind their scowls.

  1. In light of your movie-making experience, what advice do you have for first-time filmmakers?

The most important thing is contracts: Get a lawyer and put everything in writing before you do a single thing.  Especially if you’re working with friends or family. It forces you to define everyone’s responsibilities and makes everything very clear. I knew this going in, but I wasn’t as diligent about it as I should have been as things changed. Especially important is to define early who has final cut and gets to make creative decisions, and who doesn’t. A movie is a huge collaboration to realize one person’s vision. In my opinion, the director and/or writer should always maintain creative control. That’s not to say you don’t listen to suggestions and trust your co-workers, but too many cooks always spoil the broth. My other piece of advice it to stay inside your bubble: people have opinions and they want to give you creative advice and criticism all the time. Only take feedback to heart if it’s from artists you admire or people you think have great taste.

  1.   You’ve been given keys to a cabin in the woods. You can invite ANY five guests. Who you bring, and what would you do?

I’m assuming they can be dead. I’d want to go on hikes and have the following people give me artistic advice:

Kurt Vonnegut – His books gave me a moral center when I was a young man falling apart, so I’d want to have him around. He’d make me laugh.

Sarah Silverman – I think she’s hilarious and she’s been my biggest celebrity crush for years. I loved her show, “I Love You, America.” I can’t believe it was cancelled. Well, I can believe it; it was too good for this world.

Jeremy Saulnier – I think he’s the best filmmaker right now, and I feel like I could learn everything I want to learn from him. “Blue Ruin” is a masterpiece. “Green Room” was one of the most intense movies I’ve ever seen. “Hold the Dark” is somehow so brutal yet mystical at the same time.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge – My favorite screenwriter going right now. “Fleabag” might be my favorite TV of all time, and “Killing Eve” is up there, too. I think she’s gorgeous and a great actress.

Ambrose Bierce – Writer, activist & occultist – I think he’s the most mysterious American ever, and I want to learn his secrets, and possibly direct his biopic, so it’d be nice to meet him.

  1.   If you had a time machine, where would go, and why?

The Old West. My main fantasy in life is to be an early American pioneer. I hate guns and meat, so I’d probably only survive for ten minutes, but it might be worth it. I’ve driven across America many times, and I always dream about seeing its beauty before humans left their stain on it.

  1. What are you working on now?

My problem is I work on too many ideas at once.  Nothing looks better than my latest idea.  I have so many screenplays to finish. I’m still deciding what to do with part three of “Insomnium” – “Copia” – the idea keeps expanding, and I’m considering making it a series. I have a documentary I’m trying develop that I really like because it has a really creepy twist. Also, I’m just finishing a pilot that I’ve had in my head for years. It’s a superhero romantic comedy.

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