Going to the “Trench”: An Interview with Co-Writer and Director Leo Scherman

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Leo Scherman is a Canadian filmmaker whose mentors are none other than the legendary David Cronenberg and Paul Schrader. Making his directorial debut with the indie thriller White Knuckles, Scherman had worked in mainly TV while making a second film, Never Forget, before continuing his work in television. However, he returns to the director’s chair in feature films with the World War I horror film Trench 11, coming to DVD, VOD, and Digital HD on September 4 from RLJE Films and Raven Banner Entertainment.

World Film Geek had the chance to work with Scherman about making the film.

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Thank you so much Leo for talking about Trench 11. I love war movies and I love horror films and I have to say this was a great blending of the two genres as there was a true balance about it. Matter of fact, I saw it twice already. That’s how much I enjoyed it!
Oh no way! That’s great. I appreciate that!

Before we delve into the film, I understand you were mentored by both David Cronenberg (above left) and Paul Schrader (above right), who are considered legends as filmmakers. How did that come about?
It was just a really bit of good fortune. I’m from Toronto and when I came out of school, I was working as a production assistant on some big Hollywood and Canadian films that were shooting there. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the assistant director department and I got in good with this guy named Walter Gasparovic and he asked me if I wanted to help out on David Cronenberg’s film ExistenZ because I had worked with Walter on another film.

I said yes right away and I got to work on that film and got to know him and train under him. After the film, he actually critiqued some of my early short films and we had formed a mentorship together and he even took a look at an earlier draft of Trench 11 and giving me some very sound advice on directing, stuff like that.

And in the case of Paul Schrader, it was just after working with Cronenberg that being a part of the same group, I got to work on a film he was shooting in Toronto. I got to work with him and watch him direct as well. It was a huge pleasure to work with him. I mean Taxi Driver is awesome!

Let’s get into Trench 11. There have been many films where we see the German forces use experimentations during World War II, so I found that setting the film during World War I brings something fresh in a way.
I would think the main reason is that I had this haunted fascination with World War I. I think it’s a really weird war and my mom’s family is from England, so some of my ancestors did fight in that war. I mean, I do have some fascination with World War II, but it’s been done like you said. And going back to horror and old history, I think of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Michael Mann did a movie called The Keep (in 1983). There have been so many done. As a North American, I have never seen a World War I-set horror film. I think Europe did a few, so this was something more original and interested with a different kind of space to be working with.

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Rossif Sutherland as Berton in Trench 11 (RLJE Films/Raven Banner)

Rossif Sutherland gave a great performance as Berton as brought some depth to that role. What was he likes on the set?
I have to agree with you there. I think he’s hardcore, especially with the emotion. I think it would have been more superficial had it been with a different performance and different actor. I think that’s Rossif’s greatest asset. He can really bring that emotion. But, he is very intense on the set. I mean don’t get me wrong. He’s a great guy and I’m friends with him. He’s intense, a hard worker and very focused. He demands the same with everyone on set with both cast and crew. He takes it very seriously. He wants the film to be successful and I do too in that aspect, so all to him.

One thing that totally grabbed me and this was truly against what we are used to is that you kind of switched things up in terms of characters. Let’s face it, the British commander Jennings is a total jerk while you have the character of Müller, a German soldier, as a more sympathetic type of character. What led you to bring that to the film? I felt it brought more of that originality to the film.
I’m so glad you caught that because that was a conscious decision when we did the early stages of writing the script. I think World War II is a little easier to deal with because you have this evil empire that you’re dealing with. But, in World War I, everybody had blood on their hands ultimately. And to just have good guys and bad guys in this case would be naïve.

That was really important to me. I think Jennings is a prick. And like I said, my mom is British, so I kind of was happy to vilify England (laughs). And in the case of Müller, I was determined not just to vilify the Germans. I mean Dr. Reiner is super bad, but the whole idea was to offset that with having a positive German character. In Germany, people reacted very well to Müller because he is a human being. He’s a good person who just happens to be on the other side of the line and I think it’s more truthful of what happened.

What was the most difficult part of the shoot?
I think the most difficult part was the budget. It was a struggle because I thought I was a complete idiot to go a make a small indie film that’s period and horror and revolving around a war that was not so popular (laughs). So we had so few props and costumes from World War I to get access to in North America. It was tough. It was a huge challenge and we had to figure out where to stretch our money and then go to the FX shops and determine where to put the blood and gore and then, where to hold back on it. It just wasn’t enough to go. I mean look at World War Z (laughs). You know what I mean.

Are there any projects in the future than you can talk about?
Yeah definitely, I have a few in development. I’m working on another period horror film that my co-writer on this film, Matthew Booi, is writing and Tyler Levine is once again producing. So, once we have that ready, we’ll announce it.

Trench 11 hits DVD, VOD, and Digital HD on September 4. If you like both war and horror films but want something more original then this is your cup of tea then. Thank you again Leo for talking about the film.
Thank you so much!

A special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Leo Scherman for making this interview possible. You can follow Leo on Twitter for his latest news.

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