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Interview with Airell Anthony Hayles, writer of Heckle
By James Whittington, Saturday 24th October 2020
Heckle poster

Airell Anthony Hayles takes us to the darker side of stand-up in the brutal movie Heckle which is having its world premiere at FrightFest today. Here he talks about this script and his future plans.

HC: What inspired you to write Heckle?

AH: I was going to a lot of stand up comedy and found the dynamic exhilarating. In that dark room there was complete freedom of speech and a purging of things somehow. It was a great environment for a story to be told. The way comedians took on hecklers was the purest head to head form of conflict, and having enjoyed over the years films like Phone Booth, Cape Fear and Play Misty for Me, I thought it would be fun to see a seemingly unstable heckler stalk a comedian after a gig. To heckle his whole life...

HC: It's a very raw and uncompromising look at stand-up comedy and fame itself, were your characters based on anyone famous?

AH: A bit, yes. Russell Brand's strutting, peacocking nature influenced Joe Johnson, and the way Frankie Boyle shot his hecklers down in a flurry of verbal bullets (that edged on him going slightly too far at times) influenced the nastier comedian/ heckler moments. The entertainment industry in general is full of larger than life characters, and I wanted a lot of our characters in this film to feel slightly exaggerated in an almost Dickensian manner.

HC: When you were writing the script did you think of who would play the parts and did you get who you wanted?

AH: Nicholas Vince's cameo yes. But mainly on our casting sessions we found some amazing people. Dani Dyer was always great playing Lucy. Toyah Willcox was great as Julie. Madison Clare was super sharp as our leading lady and Guy Combes had that cheeky flair about him as Joe. Clark Gable had a relaxed menace to him, and Helena Antonio has the right level of craft required for Joe's slightly unhinged ex-/8girlfriend. Was of course amazing to have Steve Guttenberg involved. As a kid our family hired out Cocoon, Three Men and a Baby, and Short Circuit on VHS over and over. Actually, we may have just illegally recorded the tape from the video shop. I love eighties cinema, so to pay homage to that era with Heckle and for Steve Gutenberg to play a bad guy in it, after having played so many nice guys, really is so much fun!

HC: The character of Ray Kelly really doesn't have a decent side, do you think a lot of comedians are bitter towards their audience as they bay for more?

AH: Well, I've heard it said that comedians off stage are not very funny people. Of the comedians I know, I've found them to be a lot of fun off stage too. It really does strike me as being the toughest career path in the world. Especially now with Covid, and an increasingly politically correct culture. Shout outs to Joe Rogan and Dave Chapelle for keeping it real. I think comedians love the audience wanting more from them- so long as they are on stage. There is something inherently tragic about comedians though and perhaps a little scary, that can be traced back to the unsettling image of the clown. With Heckle we wanted to dive a little into that. Though clowns are maybe a little bit cliche, they continue to have a universal timeless power.

HC: Would you dare attempt stand-up?

AH: I did. Open mic night at the comedy Store in London, where you get gonged off if you suck. If you survive five minutes you get through to a final 'joke off' segment. It's gladiatorial, and after interval drinks the audience are baying for blood. It was scary. We were a double act called 'Gin and Tonic' and we survived about a minute. That said, a comedy booker asked us to play his East End venue. We took his card but never called him. As we thought we might somehow end up dead in the back streets of the East End for telling bad jokes. Who knows. I feel now that we should have done it...

HC: 2020 has been pretty good for you, career wise, must be a bit surreal having two movies in two consecutive FrightFest events?

AH: FrightFest is my number one annual event so to be a part of it twice feels bloody brilliant. Wish it were live but the world is what it is right now, and I think we need these horror films more than ever. I buy the Wes Craven theory that horror cinema lets us examine our fears in a safe way. Robert McKee (screenwriting guru) cites that films are 'equipment for living' so along with home gyms, it's essential we log on to digital horror festivals just now...

HC: Will you be nervous when Heckle plays at FrigthFest?

AH: Of course. The FrightFest audience is like a giant pulsating horror brain. They've seen everything, have wide open minds, and are the best audience in the world. You always want people to have a good time with a film in the way I've had an amazing time with so many previous FrightFest films. Martyn Pick has directed the film with such vibrant visuals that I feel the audience are in good hands. FrightFest also attracts the press- which is a bit scary but mainly it's all fun. They're just films. There's lots of them. And it's such a joy to have had a shot at making stuff, that it outweighs anything else. It's all good.

HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?

AH: We are in post product with a horror feature called Frost Bite, in which Santa turns into werewolf on Christmas Eve. It features Mark Arnold in his first werewolf comedy since he starred alongside Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf 1985. It also features a special voice cameo from Joe Bob Briggs. Emily Booth has a fun role in it too. And in just a couple of weeks we start filming Advent, the Haunted Cinema's new supernatural horror film about a cursed advent calendar. It forms the third part of a three-part found footage trilogy, the first two films being They're Outside and Frost Bite. Exciting times!

HC: Airell Anthony Hayles, thanks you very much.


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