Saturday, July 13, 2024

MTSU student turns hate into hope, wins Eurpoean film festivals

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Featured Photo courtesy of Spencer Simmons

Story by Olivia Cate

Spencer Simmons became an award-winning filmmaker in February, earning five awards from film festivals in Europe. The Middle Tennessee State University film student learned to believe in himself through rejection and hardships on his road to success.

Sitting inside his Monohan Hall dorm, grooving to the artist White Bat Audio, his blue eyes stare at a computer screen editing sequences of his second film, “MONSTERS.” Eventually, he reaches the third act where he must edit the sky green— a motif used to symbolize evil in many Disney movies.

It’s a challenge, but he is determined to figure it out.

At age five, Simmons’ father introduced him to cinema by having him watch the film “Spawn.”

Despite his dislike for the film, John Leguizamo’s dedication to his role, Clown, inspired him to watch more. Movies like “Terminator,” “Scream” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” solidified
his dream to be a filmmaker.

In 2010 when Spencer was nine, the Simmons family moved to Jellico, Tennessee from Virginia Beach, Virginia to help take care of his great-grandmother. Simmons’ made movies to escape from his new reality in the small Appalachian town.

“It was a drug town, a lot of my buddies lived in houses made out of plywood and because the town was poor, there were no Walmarts, but a Save A Lot, a few gas stations and a Dollar General,” Simmons said.

Around this time, Youtube became the ultimate platform for work to be noticed. Simmons used a camcorder his mom gifted him to make short films by himself with his brother and friends in hopes of popularity. Criticism found him instead. Other YouTubers called him “ugly,” “fat” and “stupid” online. The comments gnawed at him, but he remained proud to try new things and keep the content flowing.

He decided to take his vision to the next level and submit his first feature “The Pale Ghost” to film festivals; however, he only got accepted into two without any wins. Simmons’ rage fueled his motivation to create another feature.

“I wanted to make something good, but simple and scary…People have no choice but to like it,” Simmons said. “I know that sounds egotistical, but I needed a hit and I was at a point in my life where I needed to step my game up.”

Former schoolmates at Clinton High School called him a failure. Yet again, he let the hate develop into hope. This interaction inspired the theme for “MONSTERS”.

After asking himself questions like “What can everyone universally relate to?” and “What’s a theme that can scare everyone?”


The “MONSTERS” movie poster featuring Mason Rich. (Photo courtesy of Spencer Simmons).

“It’s a thought that everyone around you is trying to go against you,” Simmons said. “At the time that’s what it felt like for me with my first feature film that no one believed in.”

Simmons took inspiration from the films “Black Christmas” and “Halloween” to toy with the theme of “man versus world.”

“Just like in “Black Christmas,” I wanted to take a young adult female and plop them in a scary situation and twist it with a tragedy similar to Micheal Myers killing his sister in Halloween,” Simmons said. He said he wanted to combine his unique “slow burn” horror style while utilizing creepy imagery and old-school synth music.

To cast the roles of Jessica, Amon, Asmodeus and Regina for “MONSTERS,” Simmons posted a casting call in MTSU’s Film Guild discord as first-come-first-serve.

“The biggest challenge I had with filming was directing six people because I never directed more than three people,” Simmons said. “I overcame this by encouraging actors to run their lines in-between shot setups.” He faced other challenges with the ending as well.

In late 2022, he completed editing and submitted the 40-minute horror movie to film festivals. He waited anxiously to see if “MONSTERS” was accepted.

Simmons was outside Monohan Hall when he learned the film got accepted in the
London Movie Awards.

“I instantly screamed of joy because I was so happy,” Simmons said.

The good news kept coming. “MONSTERS” won first place for Best Horror Film at the London Movie Awards and Boden International Film Festival. Simmons also won first place for Best Indie Short Film at the Florence Film Awards. At the Florence Film Awards and International Film Awards, he ranked second place for Best Horror. At this time, Simmons could potentially win more awards.

Simmons said the film’s success was what he needed to “get back on the horse.”

“It told me that I am going in the right direction,” Simmons said.

Movie trailers and award updates can be found on Simmons’ YouTube channel and Instagram.To contact Lifestyles Editor Destiny Mizell, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com. For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or MTSU Sidelines on Twitter.


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