With The Horror Anthology Handbook: A Filmmaker’s Reference for Making Features out of Shorts set to arrive in stores on October 27, author Keith Tyler Hopkins reached out to Dread Central to provide us with an exclusive extract from what sounds like a book which horror fans will not be able to put down.
As its name suggests, The Horror Anthology Handbook: A Filmmaker’s Reference for Making Features out of Shorts offers in-depth advice for filmmakers on how to adapt their short films into features, while also containing detailed articles and interviews with some of the leading figures in the horror film and television industry. When discussing why he wrote the book, Hopkins was quoted as saying “When I set out to direct a horror anthology film, I searched high and low for a book on the topic. It didn’t exist, so I decided to write it myself.”
Some of the TV series which Hopkins examines throughout the volume include Goosebumps, Creeped Out, and Black Mirror, while films he covers include Southbound, the V/H/S franchise, and the The ABCs of Death duology. The book even features an exclusive interview with Simpsons show runner Al Jean, in which he discusses the hugely popular Treehouse of Horror episodes. On the other hand, Volumes of Blood creator P.J. Starks and Terrifier director Damien Leone are both featured heavily throughout The Horror Anthology Handbook as well.
Hopkins allowed us to publish his interview from the book with Robert Ivison, who served as the editor on Trick ‘r Treat, prior to the book’s release, and we are proud to present it in full below. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of The Horror Anthology Handbook, it will be available from Amazon for the reasonable price of $10.11.
Interview with Robert Ivison (Trick ‘r Treat editor)
Editor’s note: The following interview was conducted by Keith Tyler Hopkins and will appear in The Horror Anthology Handbook: A Filmmaker’s Reference for Making Features out of Shorts. We were given permission from Hopkins to publish the interview here on Dread Central prior to the book’s release.
-Keith Tyler Hopkins: How did you get involved in editing Trick ‘r Treat?
-Robert Ivison: The film was already underway with another editor and I was asked to come in and help smooth some scenes out and take things over. So I came on. They were still shooting. They probably had three weeks to shoot still. It was shot in Vancouver. So I was in Vancouver for January through April of that year and then we tested it in Los Angeles two times. So it was finished by June I think of that year, so six months.
-KTH: It seems like it was a really complex film to assemble.
-RI: It was. It was written as an anthology of stories that overlapped at particular places and times. I think that once we put it together the way it was written and we screened it, Mike Dougherty [director], and Brian Singer [producer], and the studio said, okay we really like the crossovers, we like the way that we go back and forth between tales. Is there any way to engage the audience more by going back and forth more frequently or maybe changing the order of the stories? Originally it was four distinct stories that played out in progression and overlapped at certain points. And you would realize, okay now we’re on the other side of the door of the trick or treaters with the principal or now we’re on the outside. Now we’re seeing that scene from a different perspective. And I think they really liked that feature of it, but they wanted to enhance that. They wanted it to play in a different order. So there was some structural work that had to be done after the first preview. Like any film you want to make it as tight as you can and take time out of it if the audience is moving around in their seats or you’re feeling like, okay their minds are wandering. You need to keep them in the palm of your hand for the whole duration. And I think we succeeded in that. I know that the end product was very different structurally from how Mike had written it, but I think ultimately he was very happy with the way that audiences received it. I’ve been in screenings with him… and the crowd goes crazy for it.
-KTH: So in the original script did each short play out in full as its own isolated story?
-RI: Yes. Each chapter, when you see the titles, you see the classic full-page story of a comic book represented in the opening titles. The four tales of mayhem or whatever they say in the titles, played out from start to end but they had an overlap. So it starts, the cold open with the robot couple coming home, and it ends with you seeing that repeated. There are some other crossovers where you saw the werewolf girls pull up in front of that house and they almost run into Rhonda, and then you realize, oh yeah that’s the girls, I’ve already seen that story. So there were crossovers just at the end of the chapter. And like I say, we introduce the crossovers a little more frequently and changed the order of the stories.
-KTH: That aspect really makes Trick ‘r Treat unique amongst horror anthology films. And I actually sometimes feel like labeling it as an anthology is kind of incorrect. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the term “hyperlink cinema,” but it refers to films like Traffic, Crash, Magnolia, Pulp Fiction, Love Actually, things like that. I wonder, did films like that ever come up in your discussions with Michael? Were there any films that came up when you were talking about structure?
-RI: I think we talked about maybe Pulp Fiction. We said, oh yeah, Pulp Fiction does a good job of crossing over one tale to the next and sort of jumping time back and forth over the course of the evening and people are alive at the end who are dead in the middle. There’s a reworking of audience expectations of who’s loyalties you’re rooting for. So we did talk about Pulp Fiction a little bit, just more the effect of it, you know? There were so many movie references within Trick ‘r Treat that I think Mike was more interested in showcasing the in-jokes and the references… There were all kinds of little tributes to horror films along the way, and I think we paid more attention to those features…
-KTH: I find it really interesting that the structure of Trick ‘r Treat seemed to have come very organically. I wonder if there are times, as an editor, where you’re so involved in the story, and the story really changes shape drastically as you go, do you ever reach a point where you’re wondering if the audience has everything they need to keep up with the story, and understand what’s going on?
-RI: That’s what test screenings are for. Certainly in the horror genre, just like in comedy, you’re looking for an impact that’s involuntary. You want people to jump, you want people to laugh. It’s not a voluntary reaction, so you have to test those moments out. You can’t rationalize them. You can’t sit in the editing room and say, oh there’s a laugh here. They may not. It’s all about beats and timing in comedy and the same is true in horror. There are certain rhythms to a horror reveal that you have to either, just like the movie, you have to abide by the rules in an interesting and unobstructive way. And that’s what the test screenings are for.
Ultimately that’s how we came to modify the structure to feature those scary moments, those jump scares, those reveals in a pattern that was a little more evenly distributed than all of them happening at a certain point in the timeline of the movie. We did pay attention to where jump scares happen, where big reveals happen, where information was gained by the audience that they didn’t necessarily know going in… We paid a lot of attention to laying those bread crumbs out and rearranging them… We certainly played around with structure and with like, how many times can we cut away from one story and go to the next? How can we interweave the stories more than we have? I think we probably ended up backing off on a couple transitions to other threads of the story. We were just forcing it too much.
Like you said, there are some naturally organic crossovers, and if we couldn’t make those seem natural, like they were always in the design even though they weren’t, then we didn’t want them to be in the movie. We wanted to be true to the spirit of the movie which was that it was a multi-threaded narrative and we wanted to keep the audience more on its toes. I think that was one of the things that we discovered with the first screening was that if you indicate to the audience that each chapter is its own standalone, then they grow to anticipate the end of each chapter just by their own internal clock. They know it’s a 90 minute movie and every segment of it is going to be 23 minutes roughly, or whatever. When I was a kid going to horror movies I knew when the end of one segment was coming up; when it was going to be time. You can feel it in a story when it’s wrapping up you feel like you’re in act three.
One of the things I think we did successfully was defeat that internal clock to throw it out of rhythm. So suddenly you’re back in the werewolf story and you’re, oh we’re picking up with the principal again. And we did that deliberately in a way that was more organic, crossing over sound effects or using the turn of a character as a reaction to something that was happening in another story.