An Interview with John Skipp & Andrew Kasch:
Telling ‘Tales of Halloween’
One Halloween night. Ten interlocking tales. That’s the premise of Tales of Halloween, the new anthology film scheduled for limited theater and nationwide video on demand release on October 16. The movie boasts an impressive lineup of creative talent, including directors Lucky McKee (May, Red) and Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers), and the writer/director combo John Skipp and Andrew Kasch.
Skipp and Kasch were kind enough to take time away from their hectic pre-release schedule to talk about their segment of the film, how it all came together, and what it was like to film a Halloween movie in the middle of the Christmas season.
(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: Tell us how you got involved with making Tales of Halloween.
ANDREW KASCH: It started at a friend’s birthday party as a discussion between Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch and myself. We were just talking about how much fun it would be to pull our friends together to do an anthology. The next day we met over coffee and started coming up with a game plan. A month later, we had Epic Pictures committed to the project thanks to our friend Mike Mendez. It came together ridiculously fast.
JOHN SKIPP: That’s when Andrew brought me in. I knew Mike, Dave, Adam, Jace, and had met Lucky once. But Andrew and I are a team. And that’s how I wound up in The October Society.
What can you tell us about your segment?
AK: “This Means War” is about two neighbors from both parts of the horror fandom divide. Dana Gould is the classical Universal/Hammer horror fan and James Duval is the loud Rob Zombie-loving gorehound. Both guys are equally obsessed with Halloween and their lawn decorations… but Dana’s character feels like he’s being invaded by his new neighbor. When the metal music gets too loud on Halloween night, Dana goes over to complain and let’s just say that things get out of hand VERY fast.
JS: Once the producers approved Andrew’s warring neighbor scenario, my job was to figure out the characters. That’s when I came up with Boris and Dante, and the whole classy-vs-trashy conflict – which I know oh so well from my hilarious splatterpunk years – took center stage.
How did you work together on the script?
AK: We conceived of it together and Skipp did several drafts. We ended up doing several rounds of notes and I wound up doing the final polish.
JS: I actually did about 8,000 drafts. (laughs) You think I’m kidding! Let’s just say that Boris and Dante’s “my-horror’s-better-than-yours” conversation got a lot more bare-toothed and incendiary in the buildup to the blowup. More meat, less sweet. That thing got whittled down to a pin.
But given the insane logistics of our shoot – and the overall fun tone of the film – I think it all worked out for the best. At least there’ve been no fistfights in the parking lot so far! I really love what we pulled off.
What was the set, and the overall experience, like?
AK: Insanely challenging. The logistics of building up two yard displays in two days on a small budget was insane. And we were shooting during December, so all the neighbors had Christmas lights. We had a lot of fun but it was also a mad dash to the finish line. The displays were being built as were shooting, so we basically had to throw out a ton of our previz and improvise shots and moments on the spot.
JS: That’s why Andrew and I prep like crazy. Knowing every single shot we need, how they’ll cut together, and why, gives us a clear battle plan that our cast and crew can follow. As we modify, they’re right there with us. And all our people were incredible.
It also helped that Epic gave us incredible lenses, and a great Steadicam operator, for DP Jan-Michael Losada to nail our visions with. We were a machine, dude. Once we got rolling, we never stopped for a second.
The joy of filmmaking is pulling a badass team of skilled creative professionals together and making something so cool that everyone’s excited to throw down. Suddenly, it’s not just “How can we get this job over with?” It’s “What can I do to help make this even more amazing?” When you’ve got your key players as psyched as you are – and just bringing it, shot after shot – that’s the best fucking feeling in the world.
I could talk for an hour about how much fun it was to wrangle 60 awesome cameo-packed extras for the crowd scene, physically throwing myself around the final lawn to give everyone their sight-lines as Andrew and Jan steered the camera across their faces. Jimmy Duval and I enacted the climactic scene together, to whip everybody up. SO MUCH FUN I cannot even tell you.
Did I mention that I love directing? And with Andrew, it’s just the best, because we have every single base of it covered. I’ve never had a better collaborator.
Were you present during the filming of segments other than your own?
AK: I was around for Neil Marshall’s and Mike Mendez’s since I played little cameos in both.
JS: I did two invisible cameos for Neil’s, and spent a couple hours on Lucky McKee’s set, but did not intrude on the actual shooting.
What does this movie overall, and your segment in particular, embrace more: horror tropes in general, or those specific to Halloween as a holiday?
AK: It really varies from filmmaker to filmmaker I think. Some take very specific sub-genres and spin them around Halloween. Others are way more unconventional. For our segment, we deliberately avoided tropes and wanted to spin something fun about the holiday and comment on fandom in general. It’s definitely the least “horror-y” of the bunch.
JS: Ours is entirely about how people celebrate Halloween. And except for one character in the crowd who might possibly be the Devil, it’s entirely non-supernatural. I’ll leave you to ponder out that deeper puzzle.
Have you seen the movie with an audience yet? If so, what was that like?
AK: Not yet. I’m dying to!
JS: I caught it with a crowd at the 2nd Annual Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival in Chicago a couple weeks back. People had a blast, and walked out grinning. It’s a party film. And I can’t even tell you how happy I am that it works on precisely that level.
A previous Halloween-themed anthology film, Trick ‘r Treat, is a fan favorite now, but it struggled to find an audience at first – or, maybe it’s better to say that audiences had to struggle to find the film. Did you all study that situation when preparing to roll out Tales of Halloween?
AK: Trick ‘r Treat‘s problems were the result of regime changes and studio politics, which we thankfully didn’t have to face. And sadly, you can’t study those situations because there’s very little a filmmaker can do when that stuff happens. They’re almost like acts of God.
JS: The big difference is that Epic isn’t burying this picture. They actually want people to see it. It’s all the difference in the world.
Why do you think horror is so well-suited for the anthology format – both in film and in literature?
AK: Because very few genres work as bite-size “what-if” stories. You’re free to toss aside conventional structures and just take people on a ride. It’s kind of liberating and I would love to see it done more often.
JS: I think short stories and novellas are the ideal length for horror stories. Most novels have a hard time sustaining the tension of a great horror story, and wind up padding it out to death. And most features based on novels wind up chopping out half the most interesting stuff. So novellas are the perfect length.
As for short stories in anthologies, they’re like sampler packs of creepy candy. It’s the variety that’s great, breaking up the pace: fast ones and slow ones, gory ones and quiet ones. It’s a great way to keep people guessing. And short horror stories are the perfect delivery system for one juicy idea, set up and paid off in no time flat.
Any chance of a novelization? I think it would be great to see prose versions of this (as well as Trick ‘r Treat).
AK: I would love to see Tales branded as an anthology in print. Not novelize our segments but get all the best horror authors together and put out yearly publications of great Halloween-centric horror stories. How cool would that be? Skipp could edit them like he did all the great anthologies like Book of the Dead.
JS: Any publisher interested in this idea should probably give Epic Pictures a call! Pulling the coolest writers in the world together is one of my favorite things.
I know you well enough to know that you’re not just sitting around waiting to make Tales of Halloween 2, so what other projects are you involved in these days?
AK: I’m currently editing Legends of Tomorrow, which is DC’s big new superhero TV series. And Skipp and I have about a dozen various projects we are trying to develop and pitch. We’ll sleep when we’re dead.
JS: Actually, I could use a nap right about now! (laughs) We’ve got our own TV series shopping. Several features in development. Two new scripts I’m burning down, with two brilliant new writers: Shane McKenzie (the author behind LuchaGore’s El Gigante) and Laura Lee Bahr, whose books Haunt and Long-Form Religious Porn are part of my genre-busting cult indie lit imprint, Fungasm Press.
Pushing all these creative projects forward is my day job. At night, I write. And my latest book is The Art of Horrible People, now available from Lazy Fascist Press. It has a lot to say about Los Angeles, and the human condition at large.
I’m basically just here to make as much subversive, mind-widening trouble as possible. And so far, so good! There’s nothing like devoting your life to playing your heart out, with brilliant friends.