There is a danger in doing a comedy/horror, its one of the genres with the most risk. Things can go terribly wrong. Fortunately Dead Shack is not one of those films. The setup is simple, a family plus one of their kid's friends go to a run down cabin for a break. The kids spy on their closest neighbour and they see something they aren't meant to. From then on there is blood, mayhem and some excellent one liners. The pace could have been a touch faster in the 3rd act but this film is definitely one you invite your friends over to watch, so you can laugh and be grossed out in equal measure.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil Ivanusic, Davila LeBlanc & Peter Ricq the writers and in Ricq's case also the director of Dead Shack which was showing at the Fantasia Film Festival. As you will find out these guys are multi-talented and were very gracious with their time and we chatted about their experiences making the film.
This interview has been edited for clarity
RMS: Can we start with your backgrounds?
Peter Ricq: Yeah so, Phil (Ivanusic) and I we went to school together, used to party and hang out, Phil and I did the comedy circuit in Montreal together, writing sketches and that just got us working together as writers and we just have a similar sense of humour. Phil is trained in animation and I have been studying writing pretty much my entire life. Phil and I went to animation school and then Phil approached Dav and I about doing an animated TV show pitch. So in 2007, we sold the TV series and moved to Vancouver and lived in a house all together and worked on TV shows from then. We did 3 series and we were kinda frustrated about working with producers because there is so much money involved in a TV series, that the producers are scared to give you carte blanche and give you want you actually envision as they are trying to be safe. So we decided we wanted to do a feature film and it was after we watched the remake of Fright Night that I went home and wrote the Dead Shack outline treatment and then decided to work on this solely as the other ideas we had going we’re like, 50 million dollar films. When I was done, I sent it to Phil and he was like we gotta make this movie and after that Phil and Dav joined in on the writing process. After 4 or 5 years we had a script and a fake trailer and approached Amber Ripley (producer) with it and she magically put the money together.
Davila LeBlanc: Between the time we started writing the screenplay and it being produced, I was taking a year off from children’s animation to just write a novel and got my first two novels published and I am working on the 3rd one right now. I also worked on a fan film called The Punisher: No Mercy and did a few music videos, met a heap of people that really gave me to courage to do a live action film.
RMS: What were the differences between creating a TV show and creating a film?
ALL: There is more money and people involved in a TV series and of course with more money the producers are far more careful and safe and don’t really let you do much outside the mainstream. With Dead Shack we had a lot of control so we could make it as crass and violent as we liked. (laughter). Doing Kids TV shows we had to play super safe. You are just so restricted by not only the fact its kids TV but the time issue. You can’t really draw out tension or drama within an eleven minute timeframe and you don’t have to rush the writing for a feature film. I am not saying that Dead Shack is Citizen Kane or anything but you have the space to create characters and moments for them. It was just nice to be able to do what we wanted.
RMS: With your comedy background was it always going to a horror comedy? Because the horror elements when placed on their own are extremely dark...
ALL: Glad to hear that! It’s a balancing act, you can’t go too much into the darkness and horror and you can’t go too much the other way. We tried to let the comedy happen organically within the story. We liked that we could create a moment where a character is in danger and then follow it up with a zinger. An American Werewolf in London had that perfect mix.
RMS: Did you have much a hand in the casting? In particular were the three kids picked singularly or was it more a case of seeing how they interacted as a group?
ALL: We were doing the casting and we had 6 different kids that we had narrowed it down too. 2 for Colin, 2 for Jason and 2 for Summer. We kinda knew who we wanted, luckily all their schedules lined up. But on the final day of casting we had Colin 1 with Jason 2 and stuff like that. The whole casting in fact was fantastic, all the stars aligned.
RMS: I thought Donovan Stinson's character stole a lot of scenes...
ALL: Donovan Stinson’s character, Roger was like a time bomb for us. If we didn’t get the casting right it could’ve been a terrible character. But Donovan just got it, he is big fan of Shaun of the Dead and Evil Dead, so he got the character straight away. His agent said to him that he could get him a better film, for more money. He was like – no, I really want to do this, so he was on our side! He was a very lovable.
RMS: Am I correct in assuming that there is GC and practical effects in the film? How is it filming the practical effects scenes, is it fun or just painstaking?
ALL: It was going to be all practical but it was so fucking cold, that it just wouldn't have worked! We had to do some CG. We didn’t have enough time to shoot all the exploding heads, so I had a friend who played around with CG effects and he showed us what it looked like and it looked good. You know the film - I Am Hero? Well, we wanted the exploding heads in that film, to look like the ones in our film. It isn’t exactly the same but we’re really pleased how it turned out. It was so nerve wracking doing the practical effect shots. We just wanted to get it right the first time. The effects guys were asking us do you want the blood sprays and squirts to be like a Tarantino film? Or more realistic? We said Tarantino, definitely or like Evil Dead 2. So, they try it and we're like - That's your Tarantino? And they were saying - No! It's just not working because it's so cold, and with the typical Canadian weather we also had a freak storm but actually all that snow was a gift because it looks good! Whenever we shot the blood scenes, all the crew and cameras had to have these cover all onesies, so it was a long process but it looks great.
RMS: Peter, you did music for Dead Shack with your band Humans, what was that process like?
PR: I always wanted to do the music, and with the cartoons I always wanted to do the music. We couldn’t afford anyone else, so I did it! (laughter)I was recording the songs at night. The credit sequence, when I wrote the theme song I just put the song in which I liked the best. I wanted it to have an eerie quality, so you would know you were watching that kind of film. I just wanted it to be cool and dark and it fits with the run down trailer park houses and it just seemed to be the right song to go with.
RMS: Who designed that suit?
ALL: We designed the suit. Being able to draw really helps because we could show them what we wanted, so it had to be sprayed black and all that. It was a problem in some of the fight scenes as the helmet kept flying open, so we had to start taping it and making sure it held together. Someone asked us – You guys only have one mask? What the fuck are you doing? And we we’re like – We have no budget!(laughter) But the crew made it work and they were all 100% professional.
RMS: I think that is what makes a film work – having everyone committed 100%.
ALL: Yeah there were plenty of nights in Vancouver sitting in the carpark thinking - Is going is this gonna be ok? We don’t know. We hoped so but you don’t know until its done right?
RMS: What is in the future for you all?
ALL: We are all doing our own things and we are working on three or four different projects. An animated feature film, more TV series and definitely some more horror stuff. We have some really cool concepts which hopefully make their way into a film. Once the Dead Shack script was done, we were already onto the next three things. At least for now its horror but with a few leaning more toward action but all of them will be really violent (laughter). We all want to make stories that we’d like to see and at the end of the day at least if the three of us think its great but everyone else says it sucks, then hey at least we made something that we like. I mean hopefully other people like it too. We also have this one idea that has really young kids and monsters and violence and we really want to do that!
We viewed Dead Shack as part of the Fantasia Film Festival 2017
Ryan Morrissey-Smith | Twitter: @TigersMS78