Exclusive Interview: Writer/Director Michael Gallagher Talks Smiley, Sequel Plans and More
This week Michael Gallagher’s indie urban legend slasher Smiley arrives on DVD via Arc Entertainment. Gallagher’s film explores the dangers of Internet chatting through a serial killer that can be summoned if given the proper command (“I did it for the lulz”).
Smiley is a bit of Candyman meets Bloody Mary meets Hackers (minus Matthew Lillard’s sweet braids of course); and Dread Central recently hopped on the phone with Gallagher to talk about what inspired the story, his experiences working with both his younger stars as well as the more seasoned actors including Roger Bart, Keith David and Liza Weil, and whether or not Smiley will strike fear into computers once again in a sequel.
Dread Central: It’s funny to me just how much technology has changed society in the last ten years; it’s even something you can see when watching movies. Was that something that resonated with you while working on the story of Smiley?
Michael Gallagher: It was; 20-somethings now have a hard time remembering a time when there wasn’t HD video online. Just thinking about that makes me a little bit sad in some ways (laughs). But I think every generation acclimates to technology differently, and this generation has been brought up on the Internet and existing in this ‘unreal’ space rather than in reality, which is something we wanted to explore in this.
So we built our idea around the launch of these websites that allow you to video chat anonymously with strangers on the Internet, like ChatRoulette. When you think about it, ChatRoulette is really creepy, and it’s sort of unreal just how willing people are to put themselves out there like that in front of strangers. It’s so dangerous, especially with kids, and so we saw that and thought it would be the perfect launching pad for a new urban legend. Kind of like a digital Bloody Mary; it’s a new way to summon evil.
Dread Central: The design of your killer is really striking; can you talk about that process and what inspired his look?
Michael Gallagher: Because we were a microbudget movie, we knew it was going to be hard to come up with something that would be memorable so it was something we really had to put a lot of thought into. My first thought was that our killer wouldn’t be human, but because of our budget we had to forget that idea. Originally in the script he was just a guy with a stocking over his face with a smiley face sort of painted on, which was kind of creepy but just wasn’t scary enough. Then I thought of a guy who stitched an emoticon into his own face and thought, “Wow, that’s really creepy.” That’s where the idea began.
All of the credit really should go to our make-up team; they were the ones who were able to nail that really creepy vibe we wanted and create something truly memorable. Plus we did all our gags in-camera so they really worked hard on this movie to get everything to work just right.
Dread Central: You had a lot of newer actors in Smiley but also a few ‘veterans’ I always enjoy like Roger (Bart), Keith (David) and Liza (Weil)- how was it collaborating with both groups of performers on this?
Michael Gallagher: It was great; I think because this was my first feature, I kind of had low expectations going in just because I knew that it was going to be challenging, but my casting director came in and really put together a fantastic cast for this. Both Roger and Liza brought so much to this movie, too; they really added so much to those roles. Keith, too; it was a blast having him in Smiley as the cop who doesn’t believe anyone (laughs).
Dread Central: Are you thinking about a Smiley sequel at all?
Michael Gallagher: I would love to do a sequel, especially considering the ideas we were able to work with in this really lend themselves to more stories. With Smiley what I wanted to do was make a film that was smart and appealed to young teens; I don’t think there are enough movies for that demographic, especially females. That being said, if I did get to make a sequel to Smiley, I would definitely skewer it in a darker direction for the horror fans out there. Because the Internet has become such a part of our identities now, I think there are so many fascinating themes out there about the evils online and the awful nature of humans when they are left to their own devices and hiding behind anonymity that could be explored.
But since Smiley has been such a huge part of my life for such a long time now, because we did the theatrical ourselves and all the marketing, I think I want to get back to comedy for a while and then come back to this world. I guess I just need a break from this guy (laughs), but I would definitely love to make another one if we get the opportunity.
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