Quinn doing what he does best, playing a strange percussion instrument, here in his short film “The Maine Horror School: The Phantom Lance.” Photo courtesy of W.F. Quinn Smith

There’s a cliché calling out to me as I write about Maine-born musician and filmmaker W.F. Quinn Smith, but I’m going to resist it as long as I can. (Hint: Smith, known during his long and successful career playing music for such Hollywood films as “The Fighter,” “The Good Dinosaur” and both “Addams Family” movies simply as Quinn, is an in-demand percussionist – who makes his own unique instruments.)

So you might say that Quinn’s drumming and filmmaking career has, indeed, been… different.

“I’m a session guy,” said Quinn, whose third Maine-made short film, ”The Maine Horror School: The Phantom Lance,” premieres on his YouTube channel Thursday. “Going where it pays the bills. I work on anything – Pixar, Amazon, Netflix. They ask for me when they need something weird.”

“The Maine Horror School: The Phantom Lance” is certainly that, a five-minute introduction to a firmly Maine-based world of supernatural perils and adventure that the musician and filmmaker sees as just the beginning. “It’s all shot in Newfield, at my and my neighbor’s place,” Quinn said of the eerie and propulsive short. “It’s about seeing what’s possible, and what people are interested in. From there, I’m thinking it could become a serial-type YouTube show, a web series. It’s sort of a proof of concept.”

Well, I’m sold. “The Maine Horror School: The Phantom Lance” is a visually striking short film that serves Quinn’s goal of drawing viewers into his proposed Maine-set world with immediacy and, yes, weirdness. The Maine woods are filtered in a half-animated style where trees and water pulse and vibrate like not-yet-dry oil paintings, as a young woman in a tattered dress encounters something unexpected once she – perhaps expectedly, considering the director – plays a tune on a suspicious percussion instrument.

“The film sets up the premise that there’s this Maine Horror School. It starts off with the president (Quinn himself) writing to tell a student (leading actor and Bates College student May Le) that she’s been accepted. Once she gets the info, it becomes like an obstacle course to arrive there – most of the students rarely survive.”


Understandably, Quinn’s directorial choices are informed by his original score, a two-tiered mix of jangling ominousness and thudding, percussive chase music once the film’s protagonist realizes just how much danger she’s actually in.

“We shot on a beautiful Maine day, not that there have been many of those this summer,” said Quinn. “So it starts off with ominous horror music, but over a sunny day, with shots of the beautiful trees and river. The images and the music are saying something different. Then, when the chase begins, it becomes more percussive – even though there are sounds like strings, it’s due to this new instrument I made with string things that I play with chopsticks and springs. It’s got its own sonic and tonal quality.”

Quinn describes his life as an inveterate musical inventor, displaying shots of his sprawling studio, named Spiritropolis, in Newfield, where traditional drums of every description jostle for space with one-of-a-kind Quinn creations bristling with objects culled from salvage yards and elsewhere.

“I go through stores and hit things,” said Quinn. “I look at things and think what sort of sound it could make. It drives some relationships crazy,” he laughed, adding, “But it’s about reinventing the wheel, always moving forward to see what’s ahead of us, not what’s done.” Here, Quinn laments those times he’s gone into a scoring session for a film or TV show only to be presented with a “temp track” – chosen from other movies he’s worked on. As the self-proclaimed “indie drummer” explained, “When you have this unlimited sound palette in front of you, you want to utilize more stuff.”

Quinn, who’s released a whopping 24 solo albums of ambitious, percussion-forward music and played with noted artists like Tracy Chapman, Bruce Springsteen, Daft Punk and Janelle Monáe, describes his forays into filmmaking as just another creative innovation.

“I always try to stay active,” said Quinn, “I grew up in Old Orchard Beach and spent 34 years in L.A. before making my way back to Maine to help out my folks during the pandemic. Filmmaking is me branching out – it keeps your chops fresh. Plus, it means meeting people in Maine who can act and who can do things for you. I really wanted to bring Maine into it.”


As for why Maine seemingly and inevitably equals horror, Quinn, who hopes to lure Maine horror icon Stephen King to Newfield for a walkthrough of Spiritropolis’ many musical wonders, claims that it just sort of worked out that way. “My career trajectory saw me working on the ‘Addams Family’ movies, where I had to discover the exact kind of scary the filmmakers wanted – for Wednesday, is it metallic? watery? wooden? It’s not like I’m a horror aficionado per se, but horror allows you to expand your palette. Generally, they throw me underneath, when they want something weirder and more unique.”

As for the Maine of Quinn’s growing cinematic universe, the filmmaker is excited to work with the surprisingly deep well of local talent.

“There are a lot of theater people, and they’re working day jobs, doing unpaid theater, and they’re all so good,” said Quinn. “Finding actors is a whole new thing for me. The people here are more involved, always asking, ‘How can we do more?’ My lead actress is from Bates, and she’s a very talented violinist as well. I want to tap into these theater folks and help build this community and see what we can keep building.”

For now, Quinn’s plan is to keep erecting his fictional Maine Horror School in succeeding installments, with more and more unsuspecting students of the occult trying – and usually failing – to make their way to his Maine’s heart of darkness. Meanwhile, Quinn is always hard at work at Spiritropolis, cobbling together junkyards’ worth of abandoned things in search of just the right note.

You can learn more about W.F. Quinn Smith’s work by following @quinnmusician on Instagram, and see the first of, we hope, many Newfield-made Maine horrors, “The Maine Horror School: The Phantom Lance” at @Quinnmusician on YouTube.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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