Fun. Funny. Smart. Entertaining. Tongue-in-cheek. Quirky. Charming. Campy. A romp... A great night of TV... These are the words and phrases that have been buzzing around my head for 5 months, and thank GOD they're also the words that have been appearing online in reference to the recently released trailer for my latest work, a Syfy Original film called LEPRECHAUN'S REVENGE. It stars Billy Zane (TITANIC), William Devane (ROLLING THUNDER) and Courtney Halverson (DEATH VALLEY). Hearing those words means my team and I are hitting our mark.
Allow me to explain.
Last September, the Syfy channel called me and asked me to Imagine Greater by inviting me to direct a Syfy original film for them. And I pulled it off. At least, I think I did. I'll let you decide. There are already enough self-proclaimed masters of horror running around. I'm just a craftsman who makes films. I have no idea if they're any good. I'm too close to them. It's up to you to judge my work, not me. Anyway, As some of you may know, I only recently returned from Louisianna where I spent the last five months developing, directing and doing all the post production on Leprechaun's Revenge.
I've been working toward getting a horror/monster feature for a couple years now and I can't tell you how grateful I am to the executives at Syfy, as well as Lucy Muckerjee at After Dark, for championing me so passionately. And they were awesome enough to believe in me and my push for more physical effects, and my cheeky, quirky tone.
My marching orders from the execs at Syfy were to make this look like a feature film not a TV movie, have fun and make sure the audience was having fun, embrace the camp, and to apply my own brand of humor and horror. And I took those orders very seriously.
So, going into this, I really truly PASSIONATELY wanted to make something special for Syfy. I wanted to go above and beyond the usual fare and give them something bigger, scarier, funnier and better than before. Something that told the audience we were in on the joke. For me, getting this right for Syfy (and you guys) was paramount. It's like when someone invites you over to their house to cook a meal and you want everything to be perfect and for everyone to go away happy and fulfilled.
First order on the agenda was to get a good story. If there's nothing else TV has taught me, it's that no matter what the special effects look like, if the story is solid, the characters are real, and your actors can bring it home, then all else is forgiven.
The other thing was to get the tone right. If I were to approach this like a horror drama, it was going to be creative suicide. I mean, come on, it's a movie about a murderous leprechaun for crying out loud. But at the same time, I didn't want to go full camp like the Warwick Davis film series. It was a fine balance. I needed something that looked like early low-budget Guillermo Del Toro and FELT like early low-budget Coen Brothers... a tall order, but totally doable with my team.
Speaking of tone, at one point during production, my manager and dear friend Jon Klane called me up on set and asked, "So what have you got, there?" I said, "It's not my usual abysallly dark fare, man. It's tongue in cheek in-extremis, actually. We're in on the joke, with the audience. It's quirky as hell and dark, like fairy-tale dark... but I'm not directing the audience when to laugh or jump. It's up to them to find the absurdity. They're smart. They'll get it."
Jon laughed, "So you've got the Miller's Crossing of Syfy films."
"Exactly," I chuckled.
The day I met Billy Zane, he said to me, "What's the tone, brother?" And I said, "For your character, it's serious as a heart attack, but for the audience, it's 100% popcorn fun." He nodded and smiled with satisfaction and we were off to the races.
At the end of the day, now that I'm done, I think I put this film in a category with CREEP SHOW, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, TREMORS... that kind of thing.
Next up on the agenda was the use of more physical effects and a physical creature and less CGI. Why? I'll tell you. Because all of these films are on controlled budgets and unbelievably tight schedules, getting decent CGI is impossible.
We shot the entire film in 15 days and did all of post in only 3 months. It was like making a film on roller skates, on ice, downhill, on fast forward. It's just the nature of the budgets at this level. But what I wanted to do was embrace that instead of fighting it. A lot of this came from my editor Asaf Eisenberg who worked daily miracles in post production.
And while good CGI cannot be done in that time frame, a good physical creature CAN be. So I brought on master creature maker Jeff Farley to bring the Leprechaun creature to life from a Jacob Hair pre-design. Jeff had his finger on the pulse before any of us did. He said, "I'll be honest with you. We can make this thing look really cool, but at this level, it's a rubber monster movie. We just need to make a really GREAT rubber monster movie." And he was right. Get people invested in the story and they'll forgive our shallow pockets. If Jack Arnold could do it in the 1950's, so can we.
So while Jeff was busy building a monster, (later brought to life by the talented Kevin Mangold), I was working on building a mythology and a town that needed to feel at the same time fantastical and believable.
The plan was simple. Do what Guillermo Del Toro and Peter Jackson do on their films -- define the world, philosphicaly, physically and tonally, then layer in your myths, creatures and humans. This was my task.
Jeff, meanwhile, had to build a practical creature that we'd later enhance with CG so that neither the physical nor the computer generated effects have to carry the burden all the way. I've always thought CGI and physical fx worked better in tandem so that's what we were going to do. Granted, Del Toro and Jackson have 200 day shooting schedules and $100 million dollar budgets, but even though I had a tiny fraction of that budget and a mere 15 days to film an entire feature, I know that the philosophy is the same.
At the end of the day, we took a very meta approach to making this film. My cast, my crew and I wanted to do a different kind of Syfy film - one that had tongue firmly planted in cheek, one that was self conscious and knew what it was, and one that was beautiful to look at (thanks to Robert Morris, my longtime DP).
We also wanted a fun, sometimes scary, sometimes funny, often quirky creature-feature. But never stupid. Never insulting to the audience. You're smart fans and you deserve to be treated as such.
Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. Is it my most frightening film ever? Not even close. Is it fun, offbeat and entertaining? Abso-friggin-lutely. It's the perfect film to watch on St. Patrick's Day evening while you swig green beer. Hell, make a drinking game out of it. See the creature? Drink! Find an imperfection? Drink! My team and I unappologetically own this masterpiece in speed-filmmaking - this glorious low budget rubber monster movie.
Just remember as you watch, that it's hand-crafted for you, with love, by intelligent people who know the art of the creature-feature and respect their audience.
And that's why we're so proud of it.
Gaudium per atrox.