The official word just came across from The Hollywood Reporter, but we got the scoop on a fun story a little early, and here's why: Our pals from 'Best Worst Movie' have teamed up with the Alamo Drafthouse's Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly ... and they're going to make a horror comedy called 'Destroy.' It's got (non-)vampires and elderly people and, well, let's just let Michael Stephenson (director and star of 'Best Worst Movie') and Zack explain this one.
Cinematical: Give us a brief-run down on what the flick is about, and tell us something especially unique that you won't tell other interviewers!
Zack Carlson: It's a dark comedy about a would-be vampire hunter named Steve Howard. He's really very good at what he does, but there's this one problem: vampires don't exist. So this well-intentioned schlub from New Jersey is traveling through Eastern Europe killing old men asleep in their beds, when he truly believes he's saving the world from monsters. There's a lot more to it ... he basically convinces this local woman that there's a supernatural threat and she becomes his assistant, ultimately helping him kill adorable grandpas. Various other characters end up colliding over all of this, and some of them end up with a stake in their chest. It's really primarily a comedy of errors, just with a lot of innocent blood splattered all over it.
But even though the protagonist is basically a rampaging murderer, he's still sympathetic due to the purity and delusional nobility of his "quest." He just wants to do what's right. We actually named the character Steve after my dad, because they're both likable, nice guys and incredibly devoted to doing things properly, but kinda just screw 'em up. I'm not spreading this around much as I don't want to hurt my pop's feelings, but it's a fact. At least my dad doesn't kill people, to my knowledge.
You've both worked in the film-related field for several years, but these are definitely new roles for you guys. How's it feel?
Michael Stephenson: I'm equally thrilled and terrified! And for me, I guess that both of these emotions are really one and the same. The challenges and opportunities that surround 'Destroy' have me gulping with gut-wrenching fear while wanting to scream with absolute excitement in the same breath.
In short, I feel like I may puke. But I mean that in best possible way. See, I found Zack and Bryan's story to be ridiculously smart, bold and fiercely original, and with such a great script, comes great a deal of responsibility. Feeling like I may puke is the best possible feeling I could have at this stage. It's exhilarating.
Zack: Well, it's exciting to the max that someone actually wants to make a movie we wrote. Bryan Connolly and I have been writing screenplays together for nine years now. The original draft of DESTROY was the first one! It's changed a whole lot since then, and we had a lot of near-misses in getting other things made in the meantime. The worst was when a production company in New York told us they were going to shoot a script we'd submitted. This was in 2004 or so. We flew out to Manhattan, sat in this tremendous boardroom and were introduced to the producers. They assigned a shooting date and everything. Then, to celebrate, they took us out to this diner nearby for lunch. All the producers' credit cards bounced and I ended up having to pay for everyone's sandwiches. That movie didn't get made. Surpriiise!
Explain the importance of working with people you know, like, and trust when working on an indie film.
Michael: Filmmaking is the greatest example of teamwork that I've ever experienced. And indie filmmaking is not dissimilar to fighting an uphill battle. The only way to survive is to surround yourself with good people who are more talented than you are, and to step into the battle alongside those you admire and trust. There's something to be said about those filmmakers, like the Coen brothers, who continue to work with the same people over a lifetime. There's simply no replacing the experience of collaborating alongside the same people who you'd trust your life with
Zack, as a non-stop movie-watcher, what lessons do you bring to the writing process?
Zack: That's a good question, because I think it's so important to not bring any direct influences from other movies into something you create. There seems to be a fairly recent swell of filmmakers who brazenly lift scenes or dialogue or shots or even characters from older movies. It's lazy as hell. Some viewers seem to openly accept this type of thing, I guess because the source material is from "a bygone era," like '70s exploitation or '80s horror, but that material was done better then than it could ever be re-done now, so why degrade it by recycling it in a weaker form? Those movies exist already. Make something new!
Sorry. I'll get off my high horse now. Maybe one way to take something from other movies creatively is to just find a tone that you really like in a film, and then try to understand what it takes to create that tone in your own story. If you just love a really great moment from 'Robocop 2' or some old W.C. Fields short, you can have fun dissecting it, figuring out what gives it an impact, and then applying it to your own work. And you can replicate a feeling or tone without plagiarizing the script or other specifics of another movie. I mean, 'Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey' has a whole pile of nods to Ingmar Bergman's 'The Seventh Seal' -- seriously -- but the films themselves couldn't be more different. The fact that I just made that comparison probably insures that I'll never get another screenwriting job again.
Mike, what did you learn as an actor and a documentary director that could help you to direct a fiction piece?
Michael: Truthfully I almost forget that I've spent a good deal of time on-set as an actor. For what it's worth, I've observed the inner workings of smoothly-run sets and I've even had the opportunity of working with a few great directors. I've also played a role in productions, one in particular, (hint: it ends with "2") that fell-apart or became a complete train-wreck. Strangely, after twenty years, it's that same train-wreck, or 'Troll 2,' that led me to making the documentary, 'Best Worst Movie,' which has led me to the opportunity of making my first narrative film.
Although, stylistically-speaking, 'Destroy' couldn't be any further from 'Best Worst Movie.' I'd like to think that being a documentary filmmaker has given me experience in delivering what many narrative films lack today: emotional honesty.
If you had to describe the project, right now, as "blank meets blank," what would the blanks be? Also try this one on for size: "If you love blank and blank, you'll love our movie!!!"
Zack: It's a character-driven comedy that takes place in a quasi-horror film, so maybe the closest comparison would be to say if the Coen Brothers or Alexander Payne directed 'An American Werewolf in London.' That's close to what we're aiming for.
"If you love laughter and the graphic murder of helpless retirees, you'll love our movie!!!"