The first image that comes to mind when you hear “movie producer” is likely not a gray-haired, pudgy 60-year-old. But that’s exactly what you get with Shannon Richardson and Sherry Everett, producers of the horror movies The Lights and Deadly Obsession.
How could these two old broads—who carry around pillows for a tailbone problem and wear spring-loaded shoes to soothe chronic back pain—achieve what healthy people half their age could not?
Before completing their first two features, neither had qualifications that Hollywood regarded significant enough to produce a movie. Richardson’s resumé amounted to a few director of development, writer and co-producer credits, while Everett’s industry experience consisted of a few screenplays she’d written. But these unassuming women were determined to produce features, and they did—two in one year.
“Seventy percent of all horror films make a profit,” explains Richardson of their decision to take on the bloody genre. “No other genre can say that.”
Holding up arthritic fingers, Everett adds, “Horror audiences are faithful attendees. They also forgive almost any technical flaw.”
But for all their promotion of the genre, Everett had never even seen a horror movie until they made The Lights. “I’m too much of a scaredy cat. Even now when I watch them, I close my eyes or yell at the characters, ‘Watch out!’ However, looking at this from a business standpoint, The Lights and Deadly Obsession were the perfect two films to produce first because… [horror movies make a] profit more often than any other genre.”
The Lights, about a deadly game of cat-and-mouse triggered by a meteor shower, wasn’t in the duo’s plan when they relocated to Austin, Texas in 2007. “We kinda fell into this opportunity,” says Richardson, as she pushes her gray French braid over her shoulder. A new studio had opened up in the city and was offering to defer studio expenses on any movie shot there before January 1, 2008. Everett heard the news and called her long-time friend and aspiring moviemaker. Richardson had been on the fringes of moviemaking for more than 20 years, so was excited at the prospect. She had never heard of a studio doing such a thing. But having just undergone back surgery, she was unsure of whether or not she could sit long enough to travel to Texas, let alone take advantage of this opportunity to produce a movie.
“I could hear the disappointment in Sherry’s voice and I felt rotten, but I didn’t think I could physically do it,” notes Richardson. The idea continued to haunt her though, and the next morning, with her husband’s blessing, she packed her bags and left her Colorado home, not knowing that she would only return for two weeks that year.
“I could still hear Shannon saying, ‘I’m coming to Austin. I’ll meet you in five or six days,’” says Everett. “When I hung up the phone my heart was pounding so hard that I thought I was having a heart attack, but I started packing immediately. Deep in my heart I knew producing films was what I was meant to do the rest of my life.”
Richardson drove her RV from her home in Durango, Colorado to Austin, Texas, stopping at practically every rest stop along the way to rest her back. When she finally arrived in the City of the Violet Crown, Everett was waiting for her and work commenced on two features—Deadly Obsession and Committed. Four days later, the owner of the studio dropped by, asking if the women would like to replace two fired producers on The Lights. They read the script and began work, dividing their time between the assigned production and their own. From 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. the women worked on putting together Deadly Obsession and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. they were devoted to The Lights.
The Lights finished shooting on December 16, 2007, giving Everett and Richardson only a few weeks before the January 1 deadline. The studio owner, who at first refused to extend the deferment deadline, eventually gave in, giving the women what amounted to two months of pre-production before shooting would begin in March—the only month the studio was available.
Operating on sheer determination, the duo made more than 3,000 phone calls, sent more than 2,000 faxes to potential investors and hosted two “Champagne and Chocolates” events. “That’s one thing about being old—we know how to cook good treats,” Richardson says of the events, at which they served chocolate candies, chocolate chip cookies and chocolate/peanut butter bars.
Still, “by April we had no investors and no prospects,” Everett whispers. Downtrodden, they divided the chocolates that were left over and went home. For weeks they lamented their predicament, but continued to call potential investors. The hard work paid off when two important calls came in. The first was from the Austin studio owner, saying space had opened up in June. It was theirs for the taking. “Something deep inside told me to book it even though we didn’t have money to shoot the film. So I did,” Everett days. Two hours later an investor called. They could make their movie.
Richardson and Everett flew to Austin this time. They worked night and day in order to complete pre-production in four weeks. “We stayed up 72 hours straight, then collapsed,” Richardson remembers, adjusting her lace collar, which was tangled with the glasses chain around her neck. “We got six hours of sleep, jumped up and went back to the grind. I still don’t know how we kept going like that for two months.”
Once production began on Deadly Obsession, Richardson, who also wrote and directed the movie about a teenage couple imprisoned and tortured by a serial killer, was averaging two hours of sleep each night. “Making this movie just about killed me… but I’ve never been happier,” she says, her smile so big it makes the crow’s feet around her eyes deepen.
“My sister called me ‘brave’ for jumping in and making a movie at my age,” Richardson adds. “But I just thought, ‘My life is more than half over. I’ve raised my family and supported my husband’s career. What am I going to do the rest of my life?’ My answer: I’m going to follow my dream. This experience made me learn just how strong, flexible and creative I can be.”
With The Lights now sold to Westlake Entertainment, Richardson and Everett are in the process of getting distribution for Deadly Obsession. They already have two offers and it’s in the hands of several more, thanks to their determination at the American Film Market earlier this year. “We walked the maze of distributor suites until our feet were so swollen that our panty hose were falling down,” Richardson says with a giggle.
What’s in this duo’s future? Everett and Richardson would eventually like to start their own mini-studio, patterned after the old studio system where crew is kept working year-round. The goal is to turn out one good movie each year—some horror, some not.
“My oldest daughter, who was Wardrobe Mistress on Deadly Obsession, told me, ‘Mom, I know making movies is your dream but it isn’t mine. It’s too much work. Never ask me to do it again. And if I ever owed you anything, we’re now even,’” Everett says. “I think she thought it would be glamorous, but the reality of how much work it is set in on the second day.”
Despite the challenges, Everett and Richardson push on, already seeking investors for two more productions. With their guts, tenacity and experience, it will not be a surprise to see them hobbling down the red carpet at the Oscar ceremony. What do little grannies wear to such an event?