SCP Cadet School turns internet horror stories into Pittsburgh-shot short films

click to enlarge A cameraperson films up close an actor wearing robes and a giant plague mask.
Photo: Courtesy of Dark Math Films
SCP-049 from SCP Cadet School

SCP-049 is best described as a humanoid entity, something resembling a person but with a body that more closely fits that of a plague doctor, complete with long robes and a beak-like face. It’s prone to bouts of speaking French and performing surgeries, and a general distaste of anyone infected with “The Pestilence” (whatever that may be).

Welcome to the SCP Foundation, a collection of stories ranging from the curious to the horrific, all compiled on a popular internet forum for creative and disturbing writing over the years. And if you happened to recently stop by Lightbulb Rentals in Carrick, you may have seen SCP-049 spurting blood and causing general mayhem. This is the result of SCP Cadet School, a YouTube series based on the stories, all being filmed in Pittsburgh with an all-Pittsburgh cast and crew.

The SCP Foundation world is ripe for big-budget adaptation, but the entire site is under a Creative Commons License, meaning it's essentially impossible for any studio to turn a profit making the stories come to life. In its place are fan stories and YouTube creations, and that’s where Nathaniel Peters, Henry Walther, and Klay Abele come in. The creators behind SCP Cadet School, Peters and Walther weren’t exactly seasoned pros in the lore ahead of time.

“I first heard about the SCP Foundation back in 2019," Peters tells Pittsburgh City Paper over email. “A local VFX artist, Klay Abele, was seeking a producer for a live-action project based in the SCP universe. Intrigued, I reached out. After polling the fans, he was tasked to make a movie based on SCP-096: a monster who tracks and kills anyone who sees its face.”

The resulting film, simply titled 096, was a 25-minute short uploaded to YouTube in March 2020; it’s now sitting at well over 8.5 million views.

“It was writing the script that really sold me on the universe, but it was the fans who cemented my love of the community,” says Peters. “Henry and I looked at each other and realized we wanted to keep making stories for them. That’s how Cadet School was born! Really, it’s a love letter to the SCP community.”
click to enlarge A row of people in dark, short-sleeve uniforms stands in a creepy, dimly lit room. In front of them is a table with a storage box and toaster.
Photo: Courtesy of Dark Math Films
SCP Cadet School
Walther, who came to the project while simultaneously working on a project for Netflix, says, “I am forever impressed with the breadth of SCP stories that range from straight science fiction, creature feature, body horror, psychological horror, to even black comedy. SCP is a complete storehouse for whatever kind of science fiction or horror story you want to tell.”

Produced under Dark Math Films, the SCP Cadet School series unfolds over shorts, or "video journals" about cadets experiencing the "horrifying first day of class at the supernatural SCP Foundation."

Picking from such a vast array of potential topics could prove daunting, but Peters found it to be a fun challenge. “There are thousands and thousands of stories to choose from, so we thought about what we could realistically put on screen, but we also considered what we hadn’t seen before”, he says.

Equally challenging was shooting coherent and professional-looking sci-fi stories on a low budget. Says Walther, “It’s hard to turn real-life spaces into larger-than-life sets. We wrote our script with the stipulation that most of the action has to take place in one room. That way we really only had to worry about creating one very good sci-fi-looking room. There is very much a thrill, though, when we can pull off good sci-fi aesthetics only using clever design, cheap paint, and a bit of elbow grease.”

The result, however, has been rewarding for both of them, and the culmination of lots of hard work from a dedicated local cast and crew. And the good thing? There’s no shortage of stories, and, as 096 has proven, no shortage of viewers as well.