Unless you've been under a rock for the last few weeks (don't worry, we all feel that way sometimes), you've heard the mad buzz swarming around the horror feature film debut of FEARnet blogger and web-celeb Drew Daywalt. Originally titled Red Clover, the film is premiering on Syfy tomorrow night under the alternate title Leprechaun's Revenge (which has nothing to do with the Warwick Davis film series, just so we're clear), and among horror fans, it's quickly gained a reputation as a must-see flick. That's why we're doubly excited to pick Drew's brain for some background on the film, as well as some insights on the musical score, which was composed by Drew's fellow FEARnet scribe Gregory Burkart, and performed by CORVO, the band founded by Greg and his wife NiNi.
Read on for a round-table chat between Drew and his musical team as they discuss the origins of Leprechaun's Revenge and the sounds inspired by this darkly comic fairytale...
GREG: So... way back when you told me you'd landed this gig, it seemed like it emerged out of nowhere. How did the ball get rolling on the project, and in particular, how did you get involved?
DREW: I was actually developing another thing I had sold to Syfy and After Dark last September – a sinister and really twisted haunted house script – when After Dark said I'd been approved as director by Syfy for this creature feature about St. Patrick's Day. I read the script, had a good laugh, thought I could bring something new and fresh to the table, and agreed to go for it. I think that's when I called you and said hopefully all the short films and web series we'd done together were going to pay off and we'd get to do our first feature together... and you'd get to actually score something that was more than 12 minutes long.
GREG: I know, right? I remember you predicting that 2011 would be the year you and your team would kick off a feature... and we did, with a few months of 2011 left to spare. How does it feel to watch that prediction come true?
DREW: I was hopeful that we'd get a feature, because the fans and the critics have treated us so well with our short-form horror over the past couple years. But being on set and in post-production with the same creative team that started out together was a great feeling and I'm grateful and honored that you were there with me.
GREG: That feeling is definitely mutual.
NINI: Yes, the moment we met you and Abby and the whole team down in Baton Rouge, we felt totally at ease, even with the tight schedule and all the post-production craziness.
DREW: Having not done a feature before, did that freak you out, or was it more of a "fuck yeah" kind of thing?
NINI: I remember you describing how you'd wanted the music to be "a dark fairytale with a body count." Greg and I just looked at each other, and... well, it really was a "fuck yeah" kind of moment, because that's where CORVO lives.
DREW: Looking back on it now, the thing is almost wall to wall music, it seems. Were you intimidated?
GREG: Maybe a little bit... mostly because I knew the project would call for a ton of material in very little time, and it included aspects of sound design and music editing on top of composing, recording and mixing.
NINI: It felt like a "jumping off the high dive for the first time" kind of thing. Once you actually jump, you're ready to run back up the ladder and do it over and over again.
DREW: I could not agree more... and I'm glad it was such a growth project for you guys. It was for me as well! I learned that when dealing with impossible schedules and budgets, embrace the weaknesses and lean on your friends and teammates. They'll get you through. And you guys really did.
GREG: We were all there for each other. We had that same dynamic going on Camera Obscura, and that was basically a feature film sliced up into 20 pieces – with its own story arc, emotional highs and lows, and motifs for the characters – so I figured this would be basically the same, only on a more accelerated timeline. The first thing that got me amped for this project was reading the script, when I realized you were aiming for a more mischievous horror-fantasy. That really set the tone for me. You've written comedy before, but did you always plan on making this a kind of self-parody?
DREW: Ya know, I'll be totally honest here: I thought, for a millisecond, that I was going to make a really terrifying movie. But I quickly sobered the fuck up and remembered, "Oh yeah... it's a lepechaun monster," and that pretty much kept me in check. I also realized pretty fast that we had too little time and too little money to make it kick ass in a scary way, considering all we had to deliver with that epic Michael Bay type of script, with shit blowing up and parades of people panicking and running and leprechaun fistfights... I mean, what the hell! So, if we couldn't make it as polished as a big studio film as scripted, why throw ourselves on that land mine? Why fail trying to be something we're not? Instead, embrace the "man in a suit" component and own it. Jeff Farley said it best when he told me "Look – at this level, it's a man in a rubber suit, but let's go make the most beautiful rubber suit and the best man-in-a-monster-suit film we can."
GREG: Hell, I love rubber-suit monsters. When I was a kid that's all there was, and they scared the shit out of me. When I was nine, they showed Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D on television, and I kept moving the glasses to one side or another to block my view of the monster! I consider Jeff to be right up there with those classic monster-makers, and this time he made a creature that looks like some mad doctor's gene-splice of a tree, a human and a goat.
DREW: Jeff's the best, man. He knew from the start to just go for it. Be unapologetic about making a crazy-ass offbeat monster movie, with seams showing and all. Fuck it. And in owning that, and then putting that to the side, intellectually, I was able to focus on the script and the characters and make them quirky and fun and real. No one likes the old Kolchak or Twilight Zone or original Star Trek because of the monster effects; they like it because of the dialogue, character and story.
NINI: Don't forget Buffy... that show had monsters in rubber suits, and not all of them were so good. But it didn't matter, because it was character first – and the characters had wit, charm, and dark humor. Those were the best things about Buffy, and that's why it was okay to have monsters that were practical rather than CGI. Plus, I felt Jeff's creation is far better than a lot of TV monsters I've seen.
GREG: In all those shows you guys mentioned, the characters don't know they're in a low-budget gig. I think that's what helps the audience buy into it. But I imagine that's still a pretty tough balancing act for the director.
DREW: Yeah, at times I wrestled with the tone, and I think it does show in the film. It makes for such a weird viewing. But I also embraced that... it's a fucking weird movie, man! But I must have seemed like a crazy man coming at you asking for more fairy twinkles and oom-pah-pah sounds in the score. It's a razor's edge doing any kind of horror and comedy together, and this one was especially so, because of the subtlety of the offbeat humor. How the hell did you deal with all that?
GREG: Crazy is just part of the job description for a horror movie, especially on a low budget. But it was refreshing to go to a more lighthearted place than I'm used to... you know me, I'm always down in the heart of fucking darkness. It felt like we were going down this spooky but mostly harmless hiking trail, and I kept trying to go off the path and explore that icky cave with the deer carcass in it, and you'd yank me back and say, "Dude, chill, save that for later. Let's have fun. Do some twinkles and fun Danny Elfman-type stuff." Once I realized where you were going with that, I think that's when I started keeping pace with you and we explored some fun territory.
DREW: I know that was a tall order for you both musically – to capture fantasy, fairytale, and Americana without going too "folksy." How'd you manage that? We were working so fast just to get it done that I never did get to ask you about your process and how you avoided the dreaded "Irish jig" landmine that you could have stepped on.
GREG: We actually used a lot of traditional Irish instruments... like the bodhran, which is a hand-held drum, the tin whistle, mandolin and lots of Celtic percussion. We didn't play any of them like they're supposed to be played, though... we used them to create unearthly sounds, like something you'd hear in a Druid ritual. We also had a great solo violinist, flutist, acoustic guitar and dulcimer players to provide a more genuine Celtic feel, and they did absolutely amazing work. NiNi used a gadget called a rainstick to create some spooky sounds whenever the creature was lurking, and I highlighted some of his appearances with a kokiriko, which is a Japanese instrument that makes an insect-like sound. I also blended a lot of those with NiNi's vocals, which represent a more angelic, inviting presence in the forest.
NINI: To capture that feeling, I just imagined myself as part of the air and the leaves and the trees, like the woodland faerie I imagined myself being when I was a little girl... kind of like Galadriel from Lord of the Rings. Which reminds me: didn't you make a lot of your creative decisions with more of a fantasy theme in mind, instead of horror?
DREW: I always did want this world to feel a little fantastic, a little off-kilter, a little strange, but at the same time familiar. For example, I didn't try and cast along traditional horror casting tropes. For the lead, I wanted a fairy-princess type, a fair maiden with ethereal features and a delicate nature – that was Courtney. For her dad, I wanted a knight. Her Grandfather, the American version of a crazy old wizard. The bartender is a hobbit in my mind, and the two jocks who go looking for beer are less muscle-headed bullies than they were written in the script. Instead, I wanted them to look like elves. So I cast the film like it was a fantasy film instead of a horror film, and I hope that adds to the depth and visual palette of the movie, at the end of the day. It's a quirky fairy tale set in modern Americana.
GREG: I think it works, because you stick to that framework all the way through. As the film evolved through editing, I saw more opportunities to think outside the typical monster-movie box, because so many of the scenes had an alternate-reality look... like with that deep green lighting. You know, people expect blue lighting for moonlight in movies, but in this world it's green.
DREW: That look goes in large part to my director of photography Robert Morris, whom I've been working with for over a dozen years on music videos, TV shows, commercials and all manner of horror shorts. When I went off to DP all of my own work, it was Rob I had to thank for teaching me so much about the fundamentals of light and shadow, composition and movement. Rob invented the green moonlight in this film. It's fun, taking a page from Argento or Bava on lighting and dropping it into a monster movie. So yeah, in our world, the moonlight is green... suck it, logic police!
GREG: Well anyway, all good horror movies establish their own rules, right? Reality be damned!
DREW: We wanted to have a certain comic book splash to the film, and what better way than to tone our darkness not to look like anyone else's darkness? It's a subconscious cue to the viewer that this is all in good fun. It's St. Patrick's Day. Drink some green beer, pop some popcorn, and enjoy our quirky homage to old monster movies.