Indie Filmmaker in Focus: Jeff Seemann
Mutilator 2 producer/AD Jeff Seemann (right) with director Buddy Cooper (left)
In the early months of 2022, I began to notice photos of a beach condo appearing on my Facebook feed. Not an unusual thing to see, given I live just a couple hours from the beach and have friends who visit frequently. But this oceanfront spot, with its wooden stairway leading up the left side, looked so familiar I had to stop my scroll. It was the beach condo from the 1984 film The Mutilator!
The person posting the photos was Jeff Seemann, an acquaintance of mine since his short film, Elly, played at film festivals several years ago. Jeff, having already directed his own short and feature, had picked up a new role for himself: producer and assistant director on the sequel to the gory 80s slasher, Mutilator 2. I eagerly followed his updates on the project, as much as he was able to share. Atlantic Beach, NC, after all, was only a couple hours away from my home base. A few years ago I even attended a screening of the original Mutilator, which also served as a reunion for director Buddy Cooper and several of the cast and crew. As I stood alongside the Mutilator team for a photo, I couldn’t help but notice their casual but genuine camaraderie.
“Buddy Cooper is a loyal man,” Jeff said, in response to some of my questions about the filming of Mutilator 2. “He never forgets who helped him on his journey.”
That much is clear about Mr. Cooper, who not only returned to Atlantic Beach to film the sequel, 38 years later, but also invited some familiar faces back to help. “On-screen in M2, there will be more than a half-dozen actors from the original film. Outside of Bill Hitchcock (Ralph) and Ruthie Martinez (Pam), the others are sprinkled in throughout the film. Some have lines, some are just Easter eggs for the true fans to spot.” Jeff noted that there was even a “legacy role.” Fred Tillery, who played the convenience store clerk, had recently passed away, so Buddy invited Tillery’s son, Ray, to play a small role in the new film. “That’s a cool little story,” Jeff said, “and I’m glad I got to be a part of it.”
Jeff was a big part of Mutilator 2. He and Buddy connected through a mutual friend who recommended him for the role of first assistant director during pre-production. “It was the biggest challenge I had faced in my film career,” said Jeff, “and I am so happy I took the job.” When the pandemic put the production on hold, Jeff used that time to his advantage, and cranked out his first feature film, Terror Trips, in the fall of 2020. By this point, Jeff had shown years of unwavering commitment to working in film. Having gone back to school in his 40s, he took a few film classes and met an assistant director who offered him a PA role on a local shoot. “At the time, I was 45 years old – so I had to bust my ass more than usual, because all the other PAs were in their 20s. But I loved every second of it.”
One job led to another and today Jeff boasts a resume that goes well beyond the PA role, to unit production manager, producer, and director. When asked which hat he likes to wear the most, Jeff said he prefers producer. “Piecing it all together from the day it is green-lit, hiring all the crew, taking part in casting, just watching the whole thing come together. I love it.” But he acknowledges that its hard work, adding that “every day on a film set, you’re having to put out some fires” and that “a good producer will spend enough time and effort during the prep stage to alleviate those fires, so you’re only putting out one or two a day instead of ten.” Being a part of the “fire brigade” is part of the fun for him. “It’s a total rush.”
Jeff Seemann, on set of Mutilator 2
As I thought about the films he had worked on, I noticed a common thread - Elly, Terror Trips, and - based on what I had read to date - Mutilator 2, all had “meta” elements to their stories. I asked Jeff what his thoughts were on that sort of self-awareness in horror films. “Meta is fun to me,” he responded. “It shows respect to the horror cinephiles in the audience and it adds to the full experience. We’ve all watched a movie and said out loud ‘WHY would they do that?’ I think having the characters be aware of what other characters in other horror films have done in the past adds a layer of complexity and fun. You saw that throughout the Scream franchise, you’ll see a lot of that in M2, and you certainly saw it in Terror Trips.”
Another similarity that Mutilator 2 and Terror Trips share is the critical importance of location. Both films focus squarely on very specific settings. The Mutilator simply would not be the film it is had the story not unfolded along the Atlantic coast. Terror Trips is literally a film about visiting film locations, so clearly the setting is inextricably linked to the plot. “The setting of a film is practically another character in the movie. You can set up an entire layer of creepiness with the right location. To me, that’s an incredibly important part of horror filmmaking.”
For Mutilator 2, the location was just a short walk away from Buddy’s condo, down the street from the restaurant his daughter owns. “Everyone in the area knows him and he is well-loved,” Jeff said. And the condo I kept seeing pictures of? It had changed hands since the original shoot and Jeff was concerned the owner may not give them permission to shoot any exterior shots. That ended up not being a problem. “It turns out the owner fully embraced the history of her home – she even had a framed Mutilator poster hanging in her living room.”
The Atlantic Beach, NC, beach condo as seen in The Mutilator and Mutilator 2
Though some of the creative kills depicted in the original Mutilator would certainly be enough to scare off a potential homeowner, Jeff promises that the sequel will do it justice as the team “once again went 100% practical on all of the deaths.” As evidence of that, he told me about how he managed to get a concussion while shooting and was forced to stay in bed, within earshot of the day’s filming, but unable to participate. Buddy and crew came by his room that night with a consolation prize – “a body part from one of the deceased characters.” And while he can’t give any spoilers, he does say the body count on Mutilator 2 will be higher than in its predecessor.
Though Mutilator 2 is still negotiating with potential distributors, the team is hoping to premiere the film soon. In the meanwhile, Jeff is staying busy with a re-release of Terror Trips this Spring, an upcoming project called Something’s on the Roof, and a slasher film called Dead Slate. His advice on making your way as a filmmaker: “Treat every job like it’s a job interview for the next job. There’s 100 new things to learn on every set, and I was determined to learn as much as possible so I could become a better filmmaker. No matter what film I work, I’ll give it 100% effort because I love this industry. It’s worked out for me so far.”
Images courtesy of Jeff Seemann