LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Interview with Chris Bavota, co-director of Dead Dicks
By James Whittington, Sunday 6th October 2019
Horror is the perfect genre for getting across very serious issues. Dead Dicks, which is showing at Grimmfest today does exactly that by looking at the sensitive subject of mental health. Here co-director Chris Bavota talks about this intriguing movie.
HC: How did you and co-writer and co-director Lee Paula Springer first meet?
CB: In case people don't know, Lee and I have been married for almost 10 years and we have 2 young daughters. Making movies somehow came as a natural evolution of that but wasn't really a part of our lives until about three or four years ago. We originally met back around 2004 through a mutual friend and honestly, we didn't really get along. Not too sure why, but it might have been because one of us was a jerk and the other didn't want to have anything to do with me. But skip ahead a couple of years and thankfully we met again. I was my annoying self but Lee was probably in a better mood and decided to put up with it. Our first official date was on Halloween, and I guess that set the mood for how our relationship unfolded.
HC: Where did the idea for Dead Dicks come from and did you write it with a cast in mind?
CB: I had the idea for a few years, but it was originally meant to be a short film about two friends. The one guy goes over, discovers the orifice and the main guy explains that he's been killing himself and being reborn. But that was all I really had. Then last year Lee and I were at TIFF for a bunch of meetings about another project we had been developing. That all fell through and on our drive back to Montreal we decided we couldn't go another year without making a movie. So we discussed the idea I had for Dead Dicks but nothing was really connecting in regards to why we wanted to tell this particular story. That's when the subject of mental health came up and we switched it from being two friends to a co-dependent brother and sister. Then things developed quite quickly and by November we had a first draft. We actually did write Richie with Heston Horwin in mind, but we never thought we could get him. I met him at the Chattanooga Film Festival in 2018 where he was screening Rock Steady Row. We hung out and really got along and kept in contact since. When the script was ready, I asked if he would read it. I think he did it as a gesture of kindness, but then he got back to us almost immediately with nothing but good things to say about the script and the character of Richie. We started discussing it right away but had to figure out how to get him from LA to Montreal, and also how to get permission for him to work in Canada through ACTRA. That alone was a huge challenge but somehow we managed to pull it all off.
HC: Did they have much rehearsal time?
CB: We spent a lot of time on Skype with Heston discussing Richie's character and how we saw the whole film. He arrived a few days before we started shooting so we kept talking and watched the documentaries Crumb and The Devil and Daniel Johnston to help Heston understand how we envisioned Richie's mindset. Matt is a good friend so he was always around while we were worked on the script, which meant we were always discussing Matt's character and just how far we might be able to go with him being the comic relief. Jillian only came on board a few weeks before we started shooting, so we didn't actually get a lot of time with her before we tossed her into the fray. All in all, we officially only really had one day of rehearsal, though we also did a quick table read through the night before that. Then we went straight into shooting at the beginning of March.
HC: This is your first time directing a feature alongside Lee Paula Springer, how did you divvy up which scenes each of you would direct?
CB: Lee and I have been talking about making movies together for a long time, so we somehow instinctively understood how we would actually pull it off. While we prepared for the shoot, we discussed every single aspect of the movie and each fleshed out our opinions to find which ones played out the strongest. Sometimes my ideas won out, sometimes hers did. But that didn't really matter. All that mattered was what was best for the film. A lot of people were nervous working with us, firstly because we were a duo, but mostly because we were a couple. No one wanted to get stuck in the middle but we worked really hard to make sure that we were on the same page before we stepped one foot on set. When the shoot began, I spent more time with the camera department and Lee spent more time with the actors. We would always discuss scenes together and then separate to deal with our "department." It ended up working out quite nicely. The shoot was short and intense but the mood on set was always positive and the crew really bonded. We wanted the set to feel very collaborative so we were always open to discussing ideas and allowed the best direction for the film to always win out.
HC: Were you nervous at all?
CB: I was honestly terrified. From the moment we raised the budget I stopped sleeping. Having the money meant we actually had to do this thing. And suddenly things were moving outside of our control and before we knew it the first day of shooting had arrived. I was so freaked out by it all that I didn't realize I had to yell action or cut. Lee didn't want to do it so I was responsible for that, but I totally messed it up. I couldn't believe that it was my set and it took that whole first day before I felt comfortable and confident enough to take control.
HC: The effects are quite incredible, were they hard to realise and were they all practical ones?
CB: We wanted to do as many practical effects on set as we could pull off, which meant there were a lot of demands placed on our FX artist Nina Anton. She was incredible and so many people pooled their talents together to make sure that we could realize all of our crazy ideas. We shot the entire film in 10 days, and that included stunts, the fights and all of the special effects. It was a lot and some things honestly came together the moment we had to shoot them. But everyone helped out. That final tunnel scene really came alive because we had six people pushing from all sides as Jillian crawled through it. In editing, we realized that a few things needed to be enhanced so I figured out how to do a few VFX shots and luckily we lived next door to Glenn Curry, who is an amazing visual effects artist that has worked on big Hollywood films. Our kids play together, so we were really lucky there. Glenn spent the majority of his summer vacation putting together the shot of the "bobber," which is what we called the corrupted version of Matt that rampages through the living room. It only lasts a few seconds and was originally meant to be all practical, but it didn't work out exactly as planned. Though what Glenn and our compositor Alexandre Clermont put together looks so amazing that many people think it's actually a practical effect.
HC: Underneath the humour and bizarre situations, the movie has a serious comment to make about mental illness, much in the same way as Dave Made A Maze did, would you agree?
CB: One hundred percent. Dead Dicks is a very personal film. It's about our own struggles and the struggles of some of the people we love dearly. But we didn't want it to feel preachy or for it to come across as heavy-handed. And we are also the type of people that feel comfortable defusing serious subjects by using fantastical storytelling and humour. Both Lee and I think that genre films have often taken very serious subjects and placed them at the core of their stories.
HC: You must be happy with the positive reviews it's been getting?
CB: We're actually really shocked. Obviously, we think it's a pretty cool movie but we really didn't know how people would react to it. After the world premiere, people came up to us and immediately started discussing their personal experiences with mental illness. It was really overwhelming but exactly what we kind of wanted to happen. Then we started getting positive reviews and even the critics opened up about their personal experiences. It's been incredible and we can't really believe how well it's been going. The fact that we are going to be at Grimmfest for the UK premiere is unreal. I've never actually left North America and back when Lee and I first got married I joked about taking her to Europe for our 10-year anniversary. It's a year too early but I'm still gonna count it.
HC: Canada is a hotbed of horror entertainment talent at the moment, who should we look out for?
CB: It's kind of amazing that Grimmfest screens so many Canadian films. This year they have Harpoon, She Never Died, Rabid and Dead Dicks. Last year there was Lifechanger, Alive, Summer of '84 and I'll Take Your Dead. We've been at festivals with a lot of those filmmakers over the years and it's amazing to see so many break out with features around the same time. Gigi Saul Guerrero's Culture Shock is a must-see. Seth Smith's The Crescent. Mike Peterson's Knuckleball. Elza Kephart's Slaxxx (comes out next year). Jeff Barnaby's Blood Quantum. This country had such a huge influence on horror films in the 70s so it's great that Canada is back on the map.
HC: So, what are you up to at the moment?
CB: We've seen a bit of movement on the project we were working on before Dead Dicks, which is a loose adaption and modern reinvention of H.P. Lovecraft;s The Outsider. I'm the son of Italian immigrants and Lee is of mixed race, so we wanted to subvert the underlying racism in his writing to discuss these themes further. We also love the idea of developing and realizing a kick-ass monster.
HC: Chris Bavota, thank you very much.
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