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Interview with Derek Carl, director of The Brain That Wouldn't Die
By James Whittington, Thursday 22nd October 2020

Cult classics always have a place at FrightFest but 2020 contains one with a twist. Director Derek Carl has delivered an updated but caring re-imagining of the cult favourite, The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Here he chats about this unique movie.

HC: When did you first see the original movie, The Brain that Wouldn't Die?

DC: I watched the original film for the first time just a few months before we started working on the remake. One day, Hank Huffman (the writer of the film) called me and asked if I was familiar with an old B-movie called "The Brain That Wouldn't Die." I told him I'd never seen it. He told me I could find it on YouTube because it was public domain. And while he didn't give a reason why, he was eager to know what I thought of it. So I watched it. And after I'd finished it, I called Hank and told him what I thought: That despite its obvious flaws (of which there were many), I couldn't help but love it. It was a brilliant little gem buried under layers of incompetence. This was a film that was, intentionally or not, dealing with social issues that were far ahead of its time, from gender inequality, to bodily autonomy, to sexual repression-and all under the guise of a silly, black and white monster movie. That's when Hank revealed his intentions. He wanted to write a remake, closely adhering to the original film, and approach it with the same reverence Gus Van Saint had for "Psycho." And he wanted me to direct it. The rest is history.

HC: What was it about the movie that caught your imagination?

DC: This movie has it all: mad scientists, sleazy night clubs, a monster locked in the closet, and of course, a reanimated decapitated head. What more could you ask for in a 90-minute movie? I fell in love with the variety of characters, sets, and visual styles. It's a director's dream project, really.

HC: How did this project all come together?

DC: I was living in New York City at the time that Hank approached me about this project. He was living in Portland, Oregon where I used to live a year before. After the script was written, we both realized that the story was too good to pass up, so I flew across the country to stay with Hank while we got the project off the ground. I figured I'd stay with Hank for just a couple of months. I ended up sleeping on his couch for nearly six months. We decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund it. Luckily, we have some very generous friends and family that helped us reach our very ambitious goal. Then I approached a friend of mine, Molly Preston, and asked her to produce the project. She found every crew member for the film. It was really Molly that made this project a reality. It would not have happened without her. Two weeks after the Kickstarter was successfully funded, we were on set filming. It was a whirlwind for sure.

HC: Was it an easy movie to cast?

DC: We were extremely fortunate during the casting process. I didn't know a ton of actors in town, so I reached out to the few acting friends I had for help. My friend, Jeffree Newman, who had been in one of my short films a few years prior (and is the blind street preacher in this film), basically cast the whole movie. He recommended Patrick Green (Bill), Rachael Perrell Fosket (Jan), Mia Allen (Doris), and Robert Blanche (Detective Mancini). The only actor I had worked with before was Jason Reynolds, who played Kurt. For most of the roles, we just offered the parts to the actors based on those recommendations. Out of the main cast, Patrick was the only one that actually auditioned. We had a handful of options for the role of Bill and had already scheduled some auditions by the time that Patrick was recommended to us. He was the last actor to be included in the auditions. Patrick did one take of our sample scene, and I knew he was going to be the one. We often talk about how lucky we were in casting. If just one of these actors had said no to us, the whole thing would have fallen apart. But somehow, it all worked out.

HC: This is your debut feature, were you nervous the first day on set?

DC: I was a bit nervous leading up to the start of the project. I had never directed a film of this scale before, while the rest of the crew was very experienced. But once we got started, all of that faded away. It was really our director of photography, Kevin Forrest, who put me at ease. He had directed multiple features himself, so he gave me a few pointers and some words of encouragement along the way. I remember pretty early on in production, maybe the third or fourth night, we all went out for a beer after work. Kevin handed me a beer and said, "You're doing a great job, by the way. No one ever remembers to compliment the director." That really gave me the confidence to keep doing what I was doing.

HC: What was the atmosphere like on set?

DC: I think the atmosphere was pretty fun and upbeat. I believe that people work their best when they actually want to come to work. I'm not the type of director who is going to start yelling when things get tough. I've never really understood that mentality. We were laughing all day anyway, since it was such a funny script, so it was hard not to enjoy our time on set. Sure, there were a few stressful days when we were behind schedule, but overall, I think (and hope) that everyone was enjoying themselves.

HC: How did you manage to slide in some humour without ridiculing the original movie?

DC: That was all Hank Huffman, the writer. He genuinely loves the original movie, so he wasn't setting out to write a remake that makes fun of the source material. I think the humor that was added just highlights some of the ridiculousness that was already present in the original.

HC: This is a warm-hearted tribute to a classic, do you think other such movies would benefit from this sort of updating?

DC: I do! We've been talking about remaking some other B-movies, including a complete reimagining of "Pod People," which is another MST3K classic, and a musical version of "Plan 9 from Outer Space."

HC: Will you be nervous when it's shown at FrightFest?

DC: I think I'll be alright! I'm sure I'd be nervous if we were showing it in person, but it's not the same experience when it is released online. That's the one benefit of all of the festivals going online, I guess.

HC: So, what are you up to at the moment?

DC: I'm just working away at my day job as a video editor and developing more story ideas with Hank. We'd love to make another film soon; we just need some money!!!

HC: Derek Carl, thank you very much.


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