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Exclusive: Gehenna Director Hiroshi Katagiri on Practical FX, Crowdfunding Platforms, and Hellboy

Following its premiere last October, we haven’t heard much about the practical FX-heavy horror film Gehenna and its release. While we can’t offer too much in the way regarding news on that front, we managed to steal a few minutes of time from director Hiroshi Katagiri to discuss how the film was funded, his approach towards practical FX, and what the future holds for him, which includes working on the Hellboy reboot! Head on down for this exclusive interview.

Gehenna stars Patrick Gorman, Simon Phillips, Katherine Wallace, Eva Swan, Sean Sprawling, Justin Gordon, Matthew Edward Hegstrom, and Doug Jones with a cameo appearance by Lance Henriksen.

Synopsis:
Five people travel to the remote, pristine Pacific island of Saipan to scout locations for their company’s new luxury resort. They find curious natives, strange dolls, and learn of historic curses, but they finally find an ideal spot.

On this spot is a cave – and when they enter, what appears to be a Japanese WWII bunker turns out to be much more, and they learn that curiosity can kill, that everyone has private secrets and inner demons, and that there are some places on Earth where death itself can live….

Dread Central: Before making Gehenna, you directed a few short films and did special FX for some of the biggest movies of the past 20+ years. How did that history help prepare you to direct a feature-length film?
Hiroshi Katagiri: My history of FX works definitely helped out funding my first feature-length film. I was able to present myself by referencing my past works. For the Kickstarter presentation, I created high quality FX in the clip by myself which could help so much to convince backers and investors.

DC: What were some valuable lessons you learned as a special FX artist that you feel helped you as a director?
HK: When I watch horror movie or creature movie, I watch them through professional eyes. Always criticizing effects, I imagine how they were made, or how they were shot. I always think of the behind-the-scenes as I watch the film because of my work, which can get in the way because sometimes I can’t focus on the film. But those experiences really help me when I shoot my film as I can easily imagine how to do it.

DC: By having such a history as a special FX artist, there’s clearly going to be a bias towards creating real monsters versus using CGI. But what are the challenges that going practical offer that people might not realize?
HK: There is a tendency for producers and directors now a days using a term such as “don’t shoot now, CG them later”. If you have money and time, yes, sometimes this could be a good solution. But many people don’t understand how hard it is to create something that was not there. I believe practical FX and CGI have both a good side and downside.
I had challenged myself to use as much practical FX as possible, and also add-in tiny CGI on top of that for a few shots. If you make good quality creatures, those can be so believable because those are existing in front of the camera. But even though those are realistic, they are not real. It can be enchanting to shoot.
I don’t want say which one is better, but I know the limit of practical FX and what’s missing. I challenge that limit and covered some FX by using CG. I believe that had provided believable FX for the audience.

Hiroshi headshot 1 - Exclusive: Gehenna Director Hiroshi Katagiri on Practical FX, Crowdfunding Platforms, and Hellboy

DC: When you create your works of art, where does your inspiration come from?
HK: Through FX works, I often see various materials such as animals, dead bodies, crazy expressions etc…and I’m always seeking good references. My inspiration comes from those huge amount of memories.

DC: Tell me a bit about the process of using Kickstarter to help fund Gehenna and what benefits and negatives going such a route presented?
HK: There was a huge amount of effort for the campaign. I spent six months preparing the initial video for Kickstarter. Creating the creature, shooting the opening sequence, preparing the website, I tried to make them all as impressive as possible. It was so much work. Once the campaign started, every day I placed updates on Facebook to continue to get attention. Yes, every day. I constantly made funny videos to entertain audiences to get continuous attraction. Also there were huge amounts of daily emails, with offers, suggestions, etc…

Luckily I had a marketing person working with me and he supported me with those many emails. Once the campaign was done, there were many rewards for backers that I had to send, such as T-shirts, posters, props… To save money, I had to pack and ship everything myself, it was hundreds of items. Creating address labels were a pain too.

So, the downside of a Kickstarter campaign is I have so, so many things to do besides creating the film. But of course, the positive part is that I got funded. Without using Kickstarter, I could never have made the film. So in the end, it was all good.

DC: The film featured both Lance Henriksen and Doug Jones. What was it like to work with such iconic names from the horror/fantasy world?
HK: I had worked with Doug Jones many times in the past. I had created several characters he played, such as in The Time Machine, “Crusade”, “The X-Files”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and many more that I don’t even remember. But this was a first time to direct him. So it was a very unique experience for myself. He was so nice and took my direction very well. His attitude was exactly the same as working for big budget films.

About Lance Henriksen, I never met him before. I was like, “Oh my God! He is a Bishop from Aliens!” That of course made me very nervous to direct him because I’m such a fan of his. Same with Doug Jones, he was taking my directions very well and had an incredible performance. He is only in a cameo for this, but I had shot extra footage to please fans. You will see that extra scene after the end credits roll.

DC: I hear Gehenna is getting a sequel in the form of a VR game that will be coming out later this year. What can you tell me about it?
HK: I had put some ideas together on how to scare the audience in a different way from the film. Unlike the film, with the VR game you can be inside of the world of Gehenna, so you can experience a fear you had never experienced before.

DC: What else is next for you?
HK: I have another feature I am directing which is still low budget. It’s a sci-fi film, most of which happens inside of a spaceship. Planning to begin shooting in October.

But right now, I’m working on the Hellboy reboot to design and create many creatures for it and I’m having so much fun!

gehenna where death lives - Exclusive: Gehenna Director Hiroshi Katagiri on Practical FX, Crowdfunding Platforms, and Hellboy

Written by Jonathan Barkan

Lifelong horror fan with a love of music on the side.

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