It was early 2016 and Oklahoma City filmmaker Nick Sanford was unsure of whether his movie’s Kickstarter campaign was going to reach its funding goal. But then, days before the deadline for his locally made 2016 horror film The Harvesters had to reach a certain percentage of its $32,835 goal, he was contacted by a local film enthusiast pledging $3,500 to the project in exchange for an associate producer credit and a walk-on role.
That enthusiast was John Scamehorn, a former University of Oklahoma emeritus professor and donor who, in February 2016, had nearly all of his ties to the university severed after students raised multiple allegations of sexual misconduct to school administrators.
Scamehorn also spent a lot of money investing in the local film community, associate and executive producing more than a dozen projects since 2014. His contribution to The Harvesters came just days after his meeting with OU.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about him at that time,” Sanford said. “I had heard a handful of unsubstantiated rumors that he was kind of an asshole to work with, but I didn’t really know much about him.”
After talking to other people, Sanford now believes that Scamehorn purposefully waited until the last moment to offer his funding to local film projects so he could come across as a hero and earn favor in the community.
He now regrets taking Scamehorn’s money for The Harvesters, but Sanford knows the past cannot be corrected.
“What’s done is done, and that’s some shit we’ll just have to personally come to terms with,” he said. “In hindsight, I wish I would have listened to the people who seemed to know the most about him more.”
The primary reason allegations against Scamehorn have come to the surface is as a reaction to an article he recently posted on the openly misogynistic forum Return of Kings about his 2015 film project Pax Masculina.
Roughly one-third of the 18-minute film consists of an extended scene of the lead character Emily, played by Rebecca Bartlett, being hung in a noose. Actors and crew members who worked on the Pax Masculina set have said the movie they filmed, which included a vague female empowerment message, was scrapped by Scamehorn and re-edited by new hires with an emphasis on the torture and killing scenes.
Pax Masculina was filmed with a $208,581 investment into the local economy, which qualified it for a 35 percent rebate from the Oklahoma Film + Music Office (OF+MO) through its Oklahoma Film Enrichment Rebate Program. According to a recent statement from the Film + Music Office to Oklahoma Gazette, that rebate totaled $73,000 and was paid “after an extensive Third-Party Review to verify the Oklahoma qualifying expenditures.”
“The hardworking Oklahomans who make up the film and music industries deserve an atmosphere free of any type of coercive working conditions,” the statement said.
The statutes that govern the Film Enrichment Rebate Program have no content requirements other than excluding film and television productions that contain child pornography and “obscene materials.”
Rebate applications must include a copy of the film’s script, though the premise of Pax Masculina seems to have shifted after principal photography concluded.
Filmmakers who utilize the program must agree to the final rebate requirements certifying that all representations or statements made with their final application are true and correct in all material. This includes the content of the film, which must be in alignment with the original script submitted to OF+MO.
In its statement, OF+MO emphasized that it does not condone any form of harassment or hostile environment.
“Recent reports of intimidating behavior by individuals who have authority or influence over those who are working with them, which create an environment that threatens an individual sense of security should not be tolerated,” the statement reads. “Any such events should be brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities.”
Actress Cait Brasel had a role on the 2017 locally made horror film Hells Belle, a film that she said Scamehorn had a role in producing. There were several death scenes in the film, three of them women. Brasel said Scamehorn was insistent upon being present for all three.
“That entire film set was pretty toxic,” she said.
Terry Spears, the film’s director, could not be reached for interview. An official web page associated with Hells Belle could not be found online, but Scamehorn’s public Facebook page depicts several photos he took from the set. Hells Belle was filmed after Pax Masculina.
Brasel said Scamehorn hired a photographer to shoot behind-the-scenes images of the filming but gave him very specific instructions about shooting the death scenes. The photographer was a friend of Brasel, and she said he quit the film and returned Scamehorn’s money after discovering several disturbing photos on the memory card Scamehorn had given him to shoot with.
Brasel recalls another instance in which Scamehorn was present for the shooting of the film’s hanging scene of a female actress. (Pax Masculina also contained a lengthy hanging scene.) During the scene, Brasel said Scamehorn mentioned to her how he had been watching videos of women being stoned the night before and found them interesting. When Brasel asked him why he was watching videos of specifically women being stoned, the former university professor told her it was research for a film he was writing about the deaths of an entire college sorority.
“He called it his sorority slasher film,” she said.
Brasel wishes she had quit Hells Belle, but at the same time, it was a paycheck for her.
“The way that I told myself it was OK was that I wasn’t working for him,” she said. “I was working for this other guy I had known for awhile.”
Scamehorn often made cameo appearances in the films he helped fund. His role as Colonel Tom Parker in Mickey Reece’s Alien — a locally made, fictionalized account of Elvis Presley’s life filmed in 2016 — is perhaps his most substantial role.
Reece, the film’s director, told Gazette that Scamehorn earned a speaking role in Alien through a $1,000 donation (about a quarter of the film’s total budget) he made to the project.
The director said he had heard Scamehorn had a sexist reputation but did not know much about him before his involvement with Alien.
“It wasn’t until these allegations surfaced that I had realized what I had done by including him in our movie,” Reece said. “I made a mistake by not listening. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.”
Scamehorn had a walk-on appearance in the 2014 thriller Electric Nostalgia. He became involved in the project through its online Indiegogo fundraising campaign. Director Jacob Leighton Burns said Scamehorn donated $3,000 to the project in exchange for a speaking role. Burns believes Scamehorn was trying to build up as many film credits as possible to quickly establish validity in the community.
“I heard [Scamehorn] say multiple times that he wanted to be supportive, but he wants to be involved and he wants something he can see himself in later,” he said.
Neither director heard reports of wrongdoing by Scamehorn during his short time — a couple of hours on a single day — on their respective sets.
Brasel, who also appeared in Electric Nostalgia, said while it is often said that one should not judge a book by its cover, she believes the film community could have saved itself from a lot of Scamehorn’s involvement by taking the initiative to question his motives.
“I think [the film community could benefit from] being more diligent and knowing when someone has crossed a boundary and maybe not being afraid to offend them but instead just asking them what is their purpose,” she said.
Brasel also said a person’s personal fetishes should not leak into a professional environment, which is what these film sets were to the actors and actresses involved.
“Consent is a big thing,” she said. “I think that’s something to keep in mind going forward: knowing exactly where we stand if someone is taking our project and skewing it for themselves.”