Growing up outside Grant City, in northwest Missouri, filmmaker Clayton Scott couldn’t help but notice that a lot of bad things seemed to happen 40 miles away, in the small town of Skidmore.
The most notorious incident happened before Scott was born. In 1981, a town bully by the name of Ken Rex McElroy was shot dead in the middle of the day on the main street in Skidmore. McElroy was so hated by the residents of Skidmore that not a single one of the dozens of witnesses came forward to identify the shooter. To this day, nobody’s been charged for the crime.
But there were other, more recent Skidmore stories, too. In 2000, a young woman named Wendy Gillenwater was beaten to death so badly by her boyfriend that she was identifiable to her mother only by the rings on her finger. The following year, 20-year-old Branson Perry left his house to return some jumper cables to a shed on the property and vanished from the face of the earth.
Then, in 2004, national media and law enforcement converged on Skidmore following the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett. Eight months pregnant, Stinnett was found strangled to death with the unborn fetus carved out of her body. (The child was safely recovered and returned to its father, and a woman named Lisa Montgomery was convicted of the crime. She was put to death by lethal injection earlier this year.)
“My half-sister was first cousins with Bobbie Jo,” Scott said. “Bobbie Jo went to her wedding. And with Branson Perry, I grew up seeing his face on ‘Missing’ billboards all over. You see the billboard, then you see it a few years later, and it’s faded, and he’s still missing. Those images kind of stuck in my mind, I guess.”
Years later, living in Orange County, California, Scott started writing a script inspired by those grisly, gothic events back home. The resulting film, which Scott, who’s 33, also directed, is called “Below the Fold,” and as of this week it’s available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and other video on demand platforms.
Set in Skidmore, “Below the Fold” is a fictional mystery-thriller centered on the disappearance of a young girl. Ten years later, two local reporters uncover a new detail about the case that sends them off into the dark, disturbing corners of small-town Missouri. It’s a little bit “Spotlight,” a little bit “Sharp Objects.”
“Gillian Flynn was definitely a major influence on the project,” Scott said of the Kansas City-born bestselling author. “I love that her dark, twisted tales are set in Missouri — that she’ll mention Kearney, or someplace like that. David Fincher was another person I think we were trying to emulate, albeit on a microbudget, in terms of the style and mood of the film. ’Zodiac’ is one of my favorite movies.”
Scott, who now lives in Kansas City and keeps a day job as a video editor for the marketing agency InTouch Solutions, held open auditions for “Below the Fold” all the way back in 2016. He ended up with a cast of all Kansas City-area actors, with Sarah McGuire and Davis DeRock in the lead roles.
Scott and his wife financed a large chunk of the film themselves, with some help from family and friends and an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that netted about $3,000.
“We made this cheaply, even by the standards of a cheap indie film made in Kansas City,” Scott said.
They shot the film on weekends during late 2017 and early 2018, using the Maryville house where Scott’s parents now live as a home base. A little less than half of the scenes were filmed in Nodaway County, Scott said. The rest took place in Worth County, in the towns of Allendale, Grant City and Sheridan.
“We also shot a little in KC, at an old apartment of mine in the Northland,” Scott said. “And we used the Ladybird Diner in Lawrence and Cafe Pony Espresso in St. Joe for establishment shots, though we filmed those actual scenes in Allendale.”
“Below the Fold” was supposed to debut at the Kansas City Film Fest in April 2020. But when the fest was moved online due to the pandemic, Scott decided to hold off. He wanted it to debut on the big screen in a proper theater. In the end, the horror-thriller film festival Panic Fest screened the world premiere of “Below the Fold” in April of this year at the Screenland Armour theater.
Last weekend, Hangar Cinema in Maryville held a few sold-out screenings, and Scott said the theater has picked it up for more showings. He’s also hoping to show “Below the Fold” at Screenland sometime again next year, possibly featuring a Q&A with the cast and crew. He’s hopeful Midwestern audiences will see something they recognize in the film.]
“I wanted (‘Below the Fold’) to strike a balance between the beauty of rural Missouri and the run-down, decrepit parts of Missouri,” Scott said. “And I wanted to get across that small-town life is complicated. Sometimes in small towns, they’re close-knit and everyone looks out for each other. But sometimes it’s not like that.”