Shriekfest 2011: Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Kenneth Cran

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Y2K hysteria and vicious hillbillies. They go together almost as well as peanut butter and jelly, right? At least that’s what director Kenneth Cran is hoping with his latest flick, The Millennium Bug, slated to screen during the 2011 Shriekfest Film Festival in Los Angeles on Friday, September 30th at 10:15 pm at Raleigh Studios (5300 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood).

In The Millennium Bug the normal, “everyday” Haskin family must seek refuge from Y2K hysteria in the isolated forests of the Sierra Diablos Mountains, only to have both madness and terror find them hiding there. Abducted by the vicious Crawford hillbilly clan, the Haskins fight for survival, but neither they nor their abductors can comprehend the monstrous nightmare about to erupt from the bowels of the earth.

Recently Dread Central checked in with Kenneth Cran, the up-and-coming director of The Millennium Bug, and talked with him about the real-life Y2K phenomena that inspired his script, monster movies, and his experiences making the creature feature.

Dread Central: With The Millennium Bug being your first official project, talk a little bit about your background and how you got interested in filmmaking. Have horror and sci-fi always been interests of yours as well?

Kenneth Cran: The Millennium Bug is actually my second feature film as director- the first was an ambitious horror/western than never quite gelled, but I hope to someday remake it and maybe even include the original version with the DVD!

Regardless, my parents ran movie theaters in Cleveland when I was a kid so my babysitter would oftentimes be the movies. I saw a lot of movies I probably shouldn’t have seen at a young age — The Exorcist, Phantom of the Paradise, The Psychic Killer, Jaws, and The Fury — so I’m sure that had something to do with my love of everything cinema. Actually, the first movie I think I ever saw was Pinocchio in Outer Space; I must have been three or four. But the first movie I remember actually being drawn into was the Raymond Burr version of Godzilla when I was around five years old, and I was mesmerized. That led to an interest in dinosaurs, which led to an interest in dinosaur movies, monster movies, and eventually horror.

DC: So where did the idea for The Millennium Bug come from, and what influenced the tone of your story?

Cran: I was working for the PBS television affiliate in San Diego in 1998, and one of my co-workers told me about an article he had read in Time Magazine about Y2K. When he mentioned the informal derivation, the millennium bug, it hit me: @hat a great title for a monster movie. I was sure Hollywood was going to jump on it; I was shocked that no one ever did.

So I wrote a horror script that had a real Monty Python/Airplane tone about an alien monster in the forest- it was spoofy, goofy and I thought hilarious. But it was also gory as hell, sort of an NC-17 Looney Tunes, and it was decided then by my brother and co-producer James and executive producer Mike Goedecke that we should play it a little more seriously. Black Sheep and Slither had come out, and as horror/comedies they didn’t perform well at the box office, which made us nervous.

So I did a complete rewrite, took out the goofy humor, and played it for the most part straight. I’m a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and Braindead, and they were early inspirations. The Millennium Bug just turned out to be a bit more serious in tone than those films though.

DC: I know you wore so many different hats on this project- how difficult was it to juggle all of those responsibilities on an ambitious flick like this?

Cran: It wasn’t difficult once we were shooting because James took over the day-to-day producing duties, which were considerable. Wearing many hats, though, was a blast; since I’m a bit of a control freak, I got to do most everything my way.

I read an interview with Peter Jackson during the Lord of the Rings years, and he said that he wanted to get his “fingers in the clay” but could not because he was too busy and it was “too expensive.” I knew what he was getting at, but I also thought it was sad so I wanted to make sure that I had the opportunities to sculpt monsters, build miniatures, design sets, and carve foam. Plus, I was really the only one who knew HOW to do these things anyway.

DC: How did it feel the first time you walked on the set? Was production pretty smooth on The Millennium Bug?

Cran: Well, since I was designing and building the sets, I never had that feeling of “walking on.” However, before the first scene that we shot, which was Joany and Byron waking up in the bedroom after having been abducted by the Crawford clan, I was a bit anxious. I needed to get into director mode because I had been in special effects/production designer/producer mode so it took a few days, but I eventually got it.

Actors have different needs from animatronic monster puppets, surprisingly.

As far as the smoothness of the production, if you’re asking about war stories, there really weren’t any. It was challenging to shoot when James got married and went away on his honeymoon for three weeks. And I was nervous when we were shooting the giant bug head in the warehouse because it was essentially a giant 300-pound marionette that had to be chained to the rafters above. None of us were sure if the ceiling was going to come crashing down on us.

DC: With The Millennium Bug being your first full-length movie, what would you say are some of the biggest lessons that you took away from your experiences from start to finish?

I learned a few lessons, to be sure. Because we had a massive number of effects for such a low budget movie, we had to be organized, and thankfully we were. Also, being flexible on the set and encouraging creativity and inspiration from everyone involved is something I’ll continue to do. I am most definitely the one in charge as the director, but I love to implement good ideas.

Dustin Yoder built such a terrific buggling puppet that I went and wrote more scenes for it, which in turn completely changed the ending. Trek Loneman, who plays Uncle Hibby, was carving a little wood statue while in the makeup chair, and it was so hilarious I asked him to modify it into a twisted, perverted weapon for his character to wield.

So organization is crucial to the process, but so is spontaneity.

DC: You’ve been an official selection for a ton of big genre film festivals, and now you’ve got Shriekfest coming up- how good does it feel to be getting some recognition on the fest circuit your first time ‘at bat’ as a feature director?

Cran: It feels great because I wanted to make a movie that people wanted to see. Film festivals like Shriekfest are perfect for movies like ours because they are so fan-specific, and this is definitely a movie giant monster fans, horror movie fans, and indie movie fans can hopefully enjoy.

My greatest epiphany as a filmmaker was the realization that I did not need to make things so damn complicated or serious when writing a script, to be — in a word — “relevant.” The Millennium Bug is a giant monster movie, and that’s it. If you find subtext or meaning in it, good for you. It’s there if you want to look for it, but for me I just like seeing giant monsters chewing up actors.

DC: What’s coming up next for you now? Do you feel like you’ll want to come back for more horror and monster movie madness?

Cran: I love the genre, and it’s in our foreseeable future since we’re in pre-production on MBY3K: THE MILLENNIUM BUG 3000. Then we’ll do a prequel of sorts, getting to the root of just where this thing came from; it’s the origin story.

For now MBY3K is a huge undertaking because there are three offspring from the first movie, which means we have three monsters in the sequel. Since it takes place in the year 2999, there are all sorts of possibilities, and as a filmmaker I’m looking forward to making it. But as a fan I cannot wait to see it!

For more information check out the official Millennium Bug website.

Shriekfest 2011:  Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Kenneth Cran

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