Last October the hilarious horror comedy Killer Kart slayed its competition during LA’s Screamfest, where it won the award for Best Horror Comedy Short, making it a short this writer absolutely wanted to include in the first ever CineMayhem just a few weeks ago.
And despite already finding tons of success on the festival circuit in 2012, Killer Kart isn’t quite done just yet- the short is still making the fest rounds this year with upcoming screenings in Seattle and Houston, and it is also up for a major award during the Palm Beach International Film Festival, which will be presented later this week.
Directed by James Feeney, Killer Kart stars Christine Rodriguez, Ray Bouchard, Elly Shaefer and Britt Michael Gordon. In honor of Indie Horror Month 2013, Dread Central recently chatted with Feeney about the short film, which was also happened to be the up-and-coming filmmaker’s thesis project at Florida State University. Read on for more from Feeney about Killer Kart, and make sure to check back here all week as we celebrate independent horror films for Indie Horror Month.
Dread Central: I love that this feels like Maximum Overdrive meets Rubber– what on earth inspired you to make a story about a killer shopping cart in the first place?
James Feeney: I had this idea a long time ago while working at a grocery store- long hours collecting shopping carts in a parking lot and your mind starts to wander. I would see a cart roll clear from one side of the lot to the other just to slam into the side of a parked car and I’d wonder, are they doing this on purpose? What reason do they have to be angry with us? I knew one day that I would have to make that movie and finally got the chance twelve years later.
Dread Central: You balance a lot of comedic elements in this story but there was a nice sense of tension to the story too; was that difficult to balance since if you go too far one way, you become a farce and if you go too far the other way, you run the risk of losing the humor that really sells this idea?
James Feeney: It was certainly something I needed to always be very aware of while writing the script, while shooting and certainly while casting. I initially approached the project wanting it to be dead serious in tone but, at some point I, fortunately, realized that the sight of a shopping cart killing people was going to generate laughs so I finally allowed the script some intentional humor. However, I still tried to avoid humor that was too broad or campy and, despite the comedic additions, I kept some sense of tension by allowing the characters to (for the most part) respond to the shopping cart in semi-realistic ways. What would you do if you saw a shopping cart murder a close friend right in front of you? Well, you’d probably scream hysterically and cry and possess no ability to believe that what you just saw could have actually happened. There’s a lot of that.
Dread Central: Talk about your casting process for Killer Kart and how your actors came on board.
James Feeney: Graduate thesis films made by my school tend to cast lead actors out of town, sometimes in nearby cities like Atlanta or New Orleans but more often in cities like New York or L.A. However, I really wanted Killer Kart to show what the Florida State University is capable of, including on-camera talent, and by writing roles for young people it gave me access to a substantial amount of gifted local actors.
I must have watched 60 pre-recorded auditions for Cass, all from Tallahassee locals, and I called 20 back to re-audition with me. Of those 20, the only one that struck a perfect balance between sweet and tough and who fully seemed to understand the importance of playing the film’s frightening scenes with 100 percent seriousness was Christine Rodriguez. She was a psychology major graduating that semester and how she managed to go that long without a lead role at my film school, I’ll never understand; I think she’s one of Killer Kart’s strongest assets. I cast the character of Ryan, the boyfriend, after I’d cast Christine so I could have them audition together and cast based on chemistry.
When I saw Christine and Britt Gordon do the scene for the first time, I believed they were a couple and cast him on the spot. Plus, I’d seen Britt in other work and knew he could handle the more intense stuff. As for Bailey, I’d worked with Elly Schaefer on a thesis she was in the year prior and, after performing in some camera workshops for my film, she got the role because I knew she could handle the emotional extremes required of the part and also due to her exceptional scream.
Ray Bouchard as Hale was recommended to me by classmates based on great work he’d done in some recent supporting roles at FSU. I visited Ray on a classmate’s set, had one long conversation with him about the role, thought he was a great guy and cast him the next day. Christine, Elly and Britt were all FSU students and Ray was from Tampa so, in the end, we were able to keep it an entirely Florida cast.
Dread Central: Where did you shoot Killer Kart? Was it hard nailing down an entire store for the shoot at all?
James Feeney: We shot Killer Kart at New Leaf Market in Tallahassee, FL, which proved both to be the absolute best location in which to tell this story and the only grocery store in three counties to say yes to us. The production was, at times, far from easy, but I’m sure many of the problems we encountered are encountered by most indie short film sets. Time was always the big killer, and despite the best efforts of myself, the DP and Production Designer to plan as thoroughly for our daily responsibilities as possible, we fell behind schedule all six nights and in the last few hours of each shooting day I’d rework or combine scenes to get what we needed to get.
As an example, there’s one single shot of Bailey near the end (you’ll know it when you see it) that took four hours to execute, so over one-third of a shooting day. We had budgeted two hours for it, thinking we were being generous. Meanwhile, to get us back on schedule the next night, the entire scene in the cooler was shot in just over two hours. Thankfully, the staff at New Leaf Market was always very excited about the project and gave us all the access we needed, and the structure of the store was so close to what I’d seen in my head while writing the script that blocking out the action proved surprisingly straightforward, which was crucial, as we weren’t able to secure a location until four days before production began.
In fact, the arrangement of the back dock of New Leaf prompted me to write the ending that was ultimately shot, which I’m grateful for, as I realize now that the original ending would never have been accomplishable in the time we had.
Dread Central: I love the cart POV shots in this- can you discuss how you managed to get those shots and was it as difficult as it seems?
James Feeney: We ordered a shopping cart that we dedicated entirely to camera rigs. The other two purchased carts belonged to design team and were typically dripping with fake blood. On the camera cart, we had a plate welded to the legs just above the rear wheels. When the camera was mounted to that plate, the lens lined up centered between the bottom of the main basket and the top of the bottom tray. Renting a particularly wide lens, a Zeiss 10mm Ultra Prime, proved the final touch that got us the shot.
Honestly, all this was 100 percent the efforts of my Director of Photography, Devin Dailey. I told him what we needed and he made it happen, and it’s a great feeling to be able to put so much trust in a person that I never even thought about it again until the night the rig was needed on set.
Dread Central: You’ve enjoyed a lot of success on the festival circuit so far- what’s been the biggest surprise for you so far throughout this whole process?
James Feeney: I would say the biggest surprise for me with Killer Kart has been that the film has proven popular with audiences outside the horror movie scene, which is the only audience I ever thought I was making it for. I love horror movies and this was meant to be my love letter to the horror and action/thrillers I grew up with like Alien/Aliens, Jurassic Park and The Terminator.
However, I suppose because shopping carts are so commonplace and encountered so frequently, the film has proven relevant to just about anyone who’s ever been grocery shopping, and the lessons learned in the movie about shopping carts seem to stick with people the first time they visit a supermarket after seeing the film. I’ve had people approach me and tell me that the film has prompted them to always push their cart to the nearest cart corral after loading their vehicle when they hadn’t before. I hope someone working at a supermarket reads this and appreciates what I’ve done here.
Dread Central: What’s coming up next for you then?
James Feeney: I’ll be moving to Los Angeles in the near future which I’m very excited about. In the meantime, I’m finishing up two short film scripts and developing my first feature. I’m also exploring options to continue the Killer Kart story in other forms of media, such as a graphic novel.
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