Old Lyme's Madeleine Schumacher co-produces movie streaming on Shudder network
Ours is a society where grandiose self-promotion and one-upmanship are as rote as breathing air. By now, this extends beyond A-through-D list athletes and movie stars to the extent even middle school spelling bee finalists or corporate team building participants preen and strut in choreographed routines of self-congratulation.
Refreshingly, Madeleine Schumacher had an old school reaction when she learned last August that the first feature-length film she'd co-produced, "The Last Thing Mary Saw," had been picked up by Shudder, AMC Networks' premium streaming service for horror, thriller and the supernatural.
"I believe my exact words were, 'Oh my gosh! This is really happening!" Schumacher says in a polite voice that sounds as though she still can't quite believe it.
The world premiere of "The Last Thing Mary Saw" took place virtually Aug. 13 at the genre-centric 25th Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Quebec, and debuted on Shudder Jan. 20.
A 2016 graduate of Lyme/Old Lyme High School who, four years later, emerged from the prestigious New York University Tisch School of the Arts, Schumacher is on the phone from her day job in Manhattan — and, yes, she still has a day job despite of the out-of-the-box success of "The Last Thing Mary Saw."
"Every kid at NYU hopes for something like this, but I'm not sure you really expect it to happen," Schumacher says. "Frankly, it could not have gone any better for us. We worked hard for this, but there's always an element of luck. We were just hoping it would happen somewhere, at some point."
"The Last Thing Mary Saw" is an occult thriller set amid an upstate New York village in the winter of 1843. The youngest daughter of a strict Calvinist family has an illicit affair with a female servant. After the disapproving family matriarch is found dead, the daughter is held under the suspicion she was responsible. Over the course of her brutal interrogation, the narrative flashes back and reveals family secrets that extend beyond the rigid demands of faith to the darkly supernatural.
Schumacher describes "The Last Thing Mary Saw" as "slow burn horror with elements of family tension and psychological terror. Not everything in the genre has to have someone jumping out of a closet with an ax."
The film features three actors with solid horror film credentials in Stefanie Scott ("Insidious: The Last Key"), Isabelle Furhman ("Orphan") and Rory Culkin ("Signs," "Scream 4"). Reviews have been mostly favorable, including a three-star rating from Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com. The New York Times's Lena Wilson, while ultimately ambivalent about the movie, wrote, "Art house horror fans may delight in its supernatural twists and pitch-dark ending."
Despite streaming on a popular international platform and with positive reviews from prestigious outlets, Schumacher says she's still proudest that "Mary" came together as a project created and nurtured by a group of NYU pals and classmates.
Her partner in Arachnid Films, the company founded behind "The Last Thing Mary Saw," is classmate Harrison Allen. In school, they produced and/or assisted directed many short films, music videos and commercials while at school. And "Mary" was written and directed by another NYU friend, Edoardo Vitaletti.
"I've known Edoardo since he was working on a short film in school and we have a great relationship. The screenplay for 'Mary' was something he was working on for his senior thesis, and Harrison and I read the script and thought it was wonderful," Schumacher recalls. "We all wanted to know and be part of what the possibilities could be beyond his thesis. It's taken a lot of twists and turns these last four years, but we had a dream together and jumped on."
Shooting on the film was completed in 2019, just before the pandemic started, and the editing process took place in 2020. They began shopping "Mary" in early 2021 and the deal with Shudder includes distribution this year in North America, U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
An ideal platform
Schumacher says she and her colleagues definitely knew about Shudder. "Oh, we were very aware," she laughs. "Being in film school, we started paying attention when Hulu and Netflix started to hit big. And the pandemic only added to the reality that a lot of audiences want to see everything in one convenient place. Given the type of movie 'Mary' is, the fact that Shudder is a big player in that genre really helps us in a big way."
It also helps that Schumacher's day job is at Giant Pictures, a boutique company that provides digital distribution services for independent filmmakers. Her experiences there, and of course the curriculum at NYU, proved very important in her efforts as a producer — a job title she admits is amorphous and misunderstood.
Indeed, while viewers are used to seeing "PRODUCED BY" in giant letters at the top of the credits of any movie, few civilians can describe exactly what a producer does.
And, given that "Mary" was a first-time project, the gig was significantly different than what might be expected of an established Hollywood producer who can greenlight a project on his iPhone while buttering toast.
"It surprises some people that producing is a specialization that's actually taught at NYU," Schumacher says. "It's the art of putting a lot of different elements together. In this case, I've been on this show since the first draft and every step of the way — casting, direction, funding, figuring out a distribution plan and, later, all the minutiae with Shudder. I guess one way to describe it that it's like a parent raising a child."
Given "Mary's" status as an indie film on a modest budget, Schumacher says they simply followed the wisdom of what they were taught in school: "Go and make something."
Not only does the NYU film school have plenty of equipment available to students, Schumacher adds, "You're immersed in an environment where everyone knows someone else trying to get started. There's a big spirit of cooperation and people who are expert at one thing or another, and that leads to occasions when you can reach out to potential investors.
"Filmmaking is about connections and knowing and meeting people. Maybe you're at a birthday party or another social situation and someone asks what you do. 'I'm a filmmaker' is something people find interesting, and someone likes an idea and jumps onboard."
In that spirit, by the time all was said and done, the official "The Last Thing Mary Saw" credits read, "(P)roduced by Isen Robbins and Aimee Schoof of Intrinsic Value Films, Harrison Allen and Madeleine Schumacher of Arachnid Films, Stephen Tedeschi and executive produced by Scoop Wasserstein."
Not that long ago
That Schumacher only graduated from high school six years ago seems incredible considering her success so far. And when she talks about growing up in Old Lyme, Schumacher has only fond stories about her parents, Heidi Meyer and Eric Schumacher, and her younger sister Olivia Schumacher. She also credits Lyme/Old Lyme High School teachers Jennifer Burke (AP English), Kristine Pekar (chorus) and Aron D'Aquila (social studies) as being particularly influential.
"All these years later, Madeleine still stands out in my mind as bright, creative and hardworking, and also a friendly and kind person," D'Aquila says.
It's also true Schumacher thought of D'Aquila when accuracy was called for in the script writing process. She set up a Zoom call between D'Aquila and the "Mary" team.
"I'm not sure how much help I was," D'Aquila laughs, "but I think I provided some historical and religious context for that time period. It was nice to be asked. I've only seen some advance clips Madeleine emailed me, but the production and performances look excellent, and I can't wait to see the whole film and then whatever comes next for her."
Schumacher can't say much about future or potential projects other than "there is some other stuff in the works we're excited about. And we're still working on marketing 'Mary' and hoping we'll expand to other English speaking and international markets. In the meantime, I hope people see the film and like it. That's so gratifying. Truthfully, though, I'd be proud if nothing had happened because we did all this work together and just to see it come together is amazing."
What: "The Last Thing Mary Saw," a feature-length supernatural thriller
Who: Co-produced by Madeleine Schumacher, Lyme/Old Lyne High School Class of 2016
Where: Streaming on Shudder, AMC's subscription network airing horror and thriller films
When: Consult schedule
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