Many of us film fans have fond memories of scanning the shelves of the horror section of our local video store for something potentially worth renting. When that was a bust, we would turn to our collection of VHS tapes containing material we had painstakingly recorded off of television. These glitchy tapes sometimes featured bits of commercials and shaky video quality, but we would still watch them religiously – savoring these details. Filmmaker Michael Hall attempted to recreate the experience of watching an old videotaped horror movie in the presentation of his film KIDS GO TO THE WOODS… KIDS GET DEAD, and he took some time out from post production on its sequel to chat with Daily Grindhouse about his inspiration, how he went about creating the nostalgic effect, and his unique way of “touring” the film across the U.S.
Sweetback (SB): What is most intriguing about the film is that, while the characters can be sort of coarse and goofy, there’s not a lot of overtly comedic elements to the plot. Most of the humor comes from the audiences’ familiarity with slasher movies – and the stylistic surrounding elements (the clips from home movies, the Candy Adams horror host). How important was it for you to treat the characters and their fate fairly seriously?
Michael Hall (MH): I wanted KGD to be genuinely campy and not a forced spoof of the genre. I think that comes from putting out the most sincere effort you can and still being able to laugh at your shortcomings. I knew going into the film that a lot of the comedy would not only originate from the script but some of the limitations of shooting with a micro budget and we would do the best with what we had. (Our shooting budget was only around $7500).
SB: That said, this is intentionally designed to be a horror throwback – even the font on the titles is reminiscent of FRIDAY THE 13th. What is missing from modern horror movies that you were attempting to remedy with KIDS GO TO THE WOODS.. KIDS GET DEAD?
MH: As an audience we are being choked to death with re-makes. And I also hate origin stories. I don’t need to know that killer “x” was a bed wetter and tortured animals before his abusive family turned him on to a life of killing sexually deviant teenagers in the woods. KGD certainly has many similarities to any number of slasher films and in a way that served as a large part of the backstory. Audiences are coming into the film with 30 years worth of horror movie watching under their belt. The goal was never to re-invent the wheel but put together a fun throwback type of flick. A fun film your girlfriend could bury her head in your shoulder watching and hopefully get you laid afterwards.
SB: You can’t have a great slasher movie without a great killer. While his background isn’t elaborated on in detail in the movie, the hulking, heavy-breathing gasmask villain certainly cuts an imposing figure. Where did the idea for the look of the killer come from, and who are some of the slasher antagonists that most inspired him?
MH: John Carpenter is one of my all time favorite directors and HALLOWEEN was certainly a big influence. In the first film adult Michael was credited as “The Shape”, a man with no name, just evil incarnate – and I really dug that. I got a lot of flack for our man being titled simply “The Killer”. The FRIDAY THE 13TH films and Jason were also a heavy influence. I was actually watching F13th Part III when I had the inspiration to write KGD.
The gas mask and breathing tank was spawned from an earlier draft of the script that was tossed out where part of our killer’s backstory was that he was burned alive (Throw a little Freddy Krueger in there for good measure, right?) and needed the tanks to breath. We have tweaked the look considerably for KIDS GET DEAD PART II – THE KIDS GET DEADER by ditching the tanks, adding metal spikes to a custom made mask and dressing him in a sleeker black leather trench coat. The actor playing The Killer this time (Alex Kollar) is also considerably larger, about 6’8’’ I think, and he literally towers over the rest of the cast.
SB: You ended up with a very game and enthusiastic cast. Talk about the process of finding the leads, and particularly any difficulties you had casting the Casey and Scott roles.
MH: Our casting process was pretty straight for forward for KGD. After posting several ads in trade papers and casting websites we held several auditions and call backs before making our final selections. There were thousands and thousands of submissions and it was a little daunting at first. I prefer to do cold reads at the auditions to first see how the actor reacts to the character with minimal prompting.
Next, even if they hit it spot on I usually direct them to try the scene in a very different way to gauge how they take direction. I find theatrically trained actors adapt quicker to the curve balls, long hours and rigors of an indie shoot. Choosing the lead roles was a little tricky because so much of the film really does land on their shoulders. Leah Rudick (Casey) is simply amazing. Her preparation and dedication to the role went so far above expectations. She is also an accomplished sketch comedy artist with her group Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting, which shows a completely different side of her then what you saw in KGD. Just an incredible range and a wonderful actress to work with.
Andrew Waffenschmidt (Scott) was actually the very first head shot submission we received. A front runner for the role from the start, he really brought a likable nature to the Scott character. He was probably the most endearing character in the group and his heartfelt performance really drove the film and gave the audience their connection point to the story. He is also doing well these days with his production company A Stori A Film with his partner John Gebhart. I work with them as often as I can, really solid up and coming talented guys. Andy has become an accomplished editor and in addition to a cameo in KIDS GET DEAD PART II – THE KIDS GET DEADER, he has been instrumental in some of the editing and digital fx for the film. John is an outstanding cinematographer and did an incredible job shooting KGD2. The two of them make a great team.
SB: You had a rather unique releasing structure for KIDS GO IN THE WOODS.., touring it around the country and combining the screenings with Rock n Roll performances and sketch comedy. How successful was this approach, and with many independent cinemas sadly going out of business, do you see this approach becoming more common?
MH: Touring KGD with other artists, bands etc, was instrumental to the success of the film. Not only are the independent cinemas falling by the way side but traditional distribution is really no longer an option for films like this. For some time now being an independent filmmaker has far extended beyond just making the films. We are all now our own promoters, event coordinators, PR firms etc in ways we never thought we would be. It can be really hard and overwhelming when you are trying to get your film made to also be focused on organizing a two year screening tour. I really enjoy touring, meeting new people and interacting with fans and that is certainly the plan for the next film as well.
With so much media available at everyone’s finger tips it can be difficult to stand out. The tours allow us to team up with other great groups of creative people and really give you an entertaining night. I live in NYC and the cost of a movie ticket is something like $15. For the same price someone can come out and not only enjoy one of our films but get to see some kick ass bands, burlesque performers, comedians and support other local artists doing great work.
SB: The movie is presented with VHS glitches, host segments and bits of commercials thrown in for that authentic “taped off of television” quality. How important was it for you to accurately recreate that feeling of watching (and rewatching) a recorded film, and what were some of the biggest difficulties in emulating the process?
MH: Emulating the VHS static was done by hand. I crunched up an old tape so when it played back in the VCR it would have all those tracking lines. Because the tape was blank it had that classic blue background which I could easily chroma key out and lay only the static on to the movie video layer. There were a few other digital filters added to get the rolling picture and distortions. It was a lot of trial and error. The home movie segments were pulled from my actual home movies. The commercials bits we specifically shot for the film. I didn’t want people to have to sit through actual commercials, but still wanted that feel like this was an old tape you found in the closet from when you were a kid. And that is exactly the same motivation for the hostess segments. I loved watching USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear when I was younger. That was such an important show for me growing up and really wanted to create that sense of nostalgia.
SB: You’ve just finished shooting KIDS GET DEAD II: THE KIDS GET DEADER. What can you tell us about the film? Is it going to have a similar presentation? What were you hoping to achieve with it?
MH: Much like the first film, it’s exactly what it sounds like: The Kids Get Deader (laughs). KGD2 sees Casey (reprised by Leah Rudick) track down the author of the book from the first film, Charles Carver (Steve Buja) in search of answers for the death of her brother his book seeming orchestrated/foretold. We also get a little more backstory on the killer, although he is still intentionally kept a little ambiguous. Brian (Bradley Creanzo) is reading “Kids Get Dad Part II” at a house party unleashing a completely revamped and more menacing gas masked Killer for another round of mayhem ensuring the slaughter of a new group of kids.
The presentation is a lot slicker. We shot with an array of Canon DSLR’s instead of camcorders. I wanted a cleaner more cinematic HD look which we were able to achieve with the prime lenses and John Gebhart’s excellent camera work. I swear that guy just never loses his focus no matter how tight the shot. The sex scenes are a lot more intense with the body count and kill scene brutality far exceeding the first film. A knife through the top of a girl’s head mid blow job, another character being gutted and strangled with his own intestines and an old-school exploding head stomp were a few of my favorite kills scenes. Although we ditched the VHS static for an updated modern look we have a brand new hostess, Peaches McNeil (Samantha Glovin) playing off a burlesque theme to keep that Up All Night vibe.
We focused on creating endearing funny characters that you genuinely don’t want to see killed. Jeff Foley’s performance as Johnny still has me cracking up even after months of post production. It’s a much more well rounded script with higher production value. The subplot with Carver and Casey – The “creator of the universe having a conversation with his one free willed creation” – was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. It gives you something profound to think about but without getting in the way of the boobs, blood and rock ‘n‘ roll you expect from a nostalgic slasher film.
SB: For readers interested in KIDS GO IN THE WOODS.. KIDS GET DEAD, or who want to keep up on the progress of your future work, what’s the best way to do so?
MH: September 1st we launch the revamped website and are going to open the flood gates with tons of great behind the scenes videos, photos, trailers, artwork, interviews and multi-media content as we prepare for our October release and upcoming tour. The best way to stay in the loop is to check out the Official KGD Page and follow us on Facebook.
SB: Anything else you would like to promote?
MH: In-between KGD projects I made a 25min short called “Lost Hero”. It’s currently a free-view on www.LostHeroMovie.com
“It’s not about the villainy you prevent, but the good you inspire”.
Sam Sander’s alter ego, Magnificent Man, has battled the “the world’s premiere criminal mastermind”, Vincent King, for generations. Now these two friends, in their old age, have met up for drinks and one last chance to reminisce about old times before King, now a world-renowned philanthropist dies of cancer.
The emergence of the city’s newest crime fighting vigilante, Nightwolfe, has left Sam questioning whether his alien-space -powered brand of antiquated heroism is still needed; or wanted.
SB: KIDS GO IN THE WOODS.. KIDS GET DEAD is – according to IMDB – your first feature length project of note. What advice would you give to other directors trying to get their first feature off the ground?
MH: There were certainly other projects “not of note” left off of there (laughs). But there were also some really important ones I did with 4 Horsemen Films, LLC, an additional 6 years worth actually, that were instrumental in taking me through the film making process.
My advice to aspiring film makers is to learn as many of the positions on set or otherwise as you possibly can. Find the job people want to do the least and become indispensable at it. You’ll always be able to find work. In my case that was producing and I fell in love with it. Producing allowed me to learn and get my fingers into nearly ever aspect of production, promotion and running my own small business.
I think the biggest thing is to not wait for someone to discover you. Get out there and start making your own films as often as you can. Robert Rodriguez had done something like 30+ shorts before he made El Mariachi. Learn your craft and work hard. So far I have self financed all of my own films, usually with credit cards. It’s a big gamble taking that route but if you really believe in your story and get creative you can make it happen no matter what your budget. It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. Your dreams stop being dreams when you make them a reality and the only person that can make them happen is you.
Most importantly always treat people well. Sincerity and thank you’s go a long way. And don’t ever forget to feed your crew…
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