As part of our continuing coverage of the 2011 Screamfest LA Film Festival, we chatted with Ryan A. Levin, the writer and producer of one of the fest’s selections, the feature Some Guy Who Kills People, and got the lowdown on the horror-comedy, which is set for its Screamfest premiere on Friday, October 21st, at 10:00 pm.
Written by Levin and produced by him and John Landis, Michael Wormser and Micah Goldman with directorial duties handled by Jack Perez, Some Guy Who Kills People stars prolific actor Kevin Corrigan, Barry Bostwick, genre vet Karen Black, Ariel Gade, Lucy Davis (“Reaper”) and Leo Fitzpatrick. It revolves around “Ken Boyd (Corrigan), who, fresh out of the loony bin, returns to his small hometown to seek revenge on those he deems responsible for ruining his life. However, his plans are complicated when his estranged daughter shows up, looking to bond with her father, and the sheriff investigating the growing pile of bodies begins sleeping with Ken’s mom.”
“The inspiration came from a short film I made in 2007 called The Fifth,” Some Guy Who Kills People (henceforth: SGWKP) writer Levin told us of the spark for the feature, “which fortunately had some success on the festival circuit. The Fifth is about a serial killer playing poker with his best friends, and during the fest tour I found I was interested in delving deeper into the life of the ‘Everyday Joe’ serial killer as a protagonist. So I began with the idea of centering the feature screenplay around a ‘guy-next-door’ serial killer and learning about his background, family, career, motivations, etc.”
Balancing horror and comedy effectively is never an easy process, and thusly we questioned Levin on his approach, as well as what his experience was with working with producer John Landis on SGWKP, the man who arguably wrote and directed the pinnacle of filmic horror-comedy: 1981’s An American Werewolf in London.
“This balancing act was one of the toughest parts of writing the script,” offered Levin. “Each day I’d find the script drifting too far in one direction or another. There were times I wanted to say ‘fuck it’ and just make a slasher film. But that’s not really what I wanted. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the process was to know in my heart exactly what I wanted and struggling to translate that to the page. I’m frequently asked how I’d define the film, and honestly, it seems to defy a label. Gun to my head, I’d say, ‘dark-comedy with horror elements’, but some people say, ’horror-comedy’, some say, ‘comedy’, some have even called it, ‘a drama’. That’s always flattering for a comedy writer to hear.”
As for Landis’ input on the script, “He focused on fleshing out the characters and adding that thriller layer to really amp up the stakes,” Levin stated, “and he was great at pin-pointing weak areas and giving me some ideas of how to strengthen them. That was a very difficult part of the rewrite because I’d never written anything in the neighborhood of a thriller, and I certainly had never written anything where a cop is piecing clues together to solve a crime. I flailed around for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out how I would write about a cop hunting a killer based on leads and clues. It felt so technical, but fortunately I finally found a way that allowed me to do it in a fun way that was consistent with the rest of the script.”
Possessing a tone decidedly ‘un-Californian,’ we asked Levin about his original intent for the geographical placement of Some Guy Who Kills People, which was filmed over the course of sixteen days in January, 2010, in Los Angeles and its surrounding environs.
“I always saw this film taking place in small-town Americana in Michigan or Ohio,” answered Levin, “so it was written with that sense of community and insularity. Not knowing those places well, I wrote the locations that I knew these towns would have, though not specific locations. For example, I wanted Ken working at the small town ice cream parlor where all the high school kids come after the big football game, and I know most small towns have something akin to that. So shooting in L.A., I spent the first half of principal photography begging Jack to keep all palm trees out of frame, but that eventually became impossible. Now they have like fourth billing in the credits.”
Of the other challenges encountered during the shoot, Levin stated, “It rained non-stop our first three days of shooting, and it slowed everything down, which is not ideal when you’re already behind the eight ball in terms of making your days. The rain definitely hampered us and precluded us from getting certain footage because we ran out of time. The silver lining was that it forced me to delve back into the script and cut scenes that ultimately would have been extraneous. But, yes, there are things for which I wish we had more time. That refrain could be echoed by any indie filmmaker.”
“Los Angeles snow” apparently also posed a hurdle for the SGWKP shoot.
“The owner of the first location had a severe cocaine problem,” related Levin, “and constantly confronted various members of our crew, accusing us of everything from disrespecting his parents to crashing his car. In the end he didn’t stab anyone, though, and we got all our shots so it worked out!”
People were stabbed on-set, however, and beheaded and more, all in gleeful fashion, albeit cinematically.
“The effects were the team effort of Kristina Frisch, Steve Costanza, Yvonne Wang, Leah Herzberg and Andy Chavez,” Levin stated of the gore on hand in SGWKP. “Jack and I wanted to show the murders, but we also knew we weren’t making a horror film that would rely on unprecedented deaths. Also, our budget limited how much we could show and how awesome our FX could be. We wanted fun deaths, though, without putting too much weight on them.”
Given the structure of the film, this weight would fall on the actor selected to play the lead.
“Along with our great casting director, Lisa Essary, Jack and I focused on finding the perfect Ken, knowing the film was essentially on his shoulders,” said Levin. “In all honesty, I don’t recall who first threw out Kevin Corrigan as an option, but once he was mentioned, we unanimously opted to pursue him, with the hope that the script would sell him on the film. We knew he was the guy who could elevate a potentially unsympathetic character and inject the role with the pathos, creepiness and grounding we needed. We sent him the script and just kept our fingers crossed.”
As for supporting actors and veterans Karen Black and Barry Bostwick, “Much to our shock and delight, they both auditioned for their roles,” Levin related. “Most people with their experience would have been ‘offer-only,’ but they came in, both ultra-prepared for the audition, and then blew our socks off with their strong, unorthodox and hilarious choices. Again, there was not a single dissenter when it came to making them offers, and given our budget, they were really, really shitty offers. Fortunately they accepted and then brought to set their experience, talent and willingness to go to unsafe places. Lucy Davis was a very similar situation. I was pleasantly shocked she was auditioning and then thrilled by her ability to take what was on the page and make it her own. And finally, Ariel Gade, who plays Ken’s daughter. She was the first person to audition for that role, and while other girls were strong, Ariel blew each of them out of the water. Sure, I’m biased, but we got the best young actress in Hollywood in our movie, and without an ultra-strong actress in her role, the movie would have failed miserably. I am certain of that.”
“I’m thrilled to be making our LA premiere at Screamfest,” concluded Levin of the debut of Some Guy Who Kills People. “It’s where we wanted to make our LA premiere, where we should be making our LA premiere, and I’m damn grateful to Rachel (Belofsky) for giving us the chance, and now I’m just trying to get the word out and get people to attend in a city where there are so many other things to do.”
If you’re planning to hit Screamfest before it wraps up on October 22nd, buy tickets here.
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