Q&A: “ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE” Producer Andrew van den Houten
Producer Andrew van den Houten and director Lucky McKee previously teamed on THE WOMAN, and now they’ve reunited on a film starring a whole squad of women: ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE, McKee and Chris Sivertson’s revamp of their 1999-lensed shot-on-video opus. Fango caught up with van den Houten, who provided us with the exclusive on-set pics above and below, at the recent Boston Underground Film Festival (where another of his productions, Chad Crawford Kinkle’s JUG FACE, screened) to get the goods on CHEERLEADERS.
Shot in Los Angeles this past winter by van den Houten’s Modernciné company, with Robert Tonino also on board as a producer, ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE is about a rebellious high-school girl who enlists a group of pom-pom girls to take down the captain of the football team, only for things to go supernaturally awry. It’s the latest of several collaborations between Sivertson and McKee (seen in the photo below on the set…and further below while making the original CHEERLEADERS), which also include 2006’s well-received THE LOST, and the two are currently deep into editing the picture, as van den Houten relates…
FANGORIA: What’s the status of ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE right now?
ANDREW VAN DEN HOUTEN: Lucky, Chris and editor Ben La Marca are all cutting simultaneously right now. We shot with two cameras, and I think it was almost a 30-day shoot—it went longer than we had planned—and a load of footage came in, so much coverage. As a producer, it’s funny, because everyone asks, “Are you there in the editing room? Do you get involved in that process?” But when you have two directors and an editor working, there’s really no room for the producer until you get to the point where they tell you they have a locked picture. On THE WOMAN, I told Lucky that I didn’t want to see a thing until he felt he had a cut that was close to a first good pass. I literally had one note for him, and it was, “I think the second act could be tightened up a little bit.” That was it.
I love working with directors I’m fans of already, because I know their style and approach and unless something is glaringly wrong, I’m not going to say anything until they get close to the end—and then, hopefully, there’s not much to say either. When we did THE WOMAN, Lucky wrote a director’s statement, and when I saw the final film, everything he wrote in that statement was verbatim what the movie turned out to be. It’s rare that you have a film turn out that close to what the writer/director’s original vision is, because things change on independent films; there’s not enough time, there are always constraints.
But what was nice about ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE was that we had a bigger budget and an excellent crew. We had a studio crew, essentially, and we got to shoot at Universal Studios for two nights on [DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES’] Wisteria Lane, so that was funny. We also shot on the street where the house from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is located, and to be able to make an independent horror film on a studio backlot for a few days, was the coolest experience. It think ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE is going to be one of those films I’ll enjoy watching for the rest of my life, unlike THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, which I honestly can only watch once every 10 years, because it’s just so painful. ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE is more of a popcorn film, so I’m really excited about that.
FANG: So it’s very different in approach from anything you’ve done with McKee before?
VAN DEN HOUTEN: Yeah, what’s great about it is that it still has Lucky’s humor, and the energy that Chris captures with these kinds of younger characters; obviously, he did the Lindsay Lohan movie [I KNOW WHO KILLED ME], and he gets teenagers really well. He’s also very talented with action, so the combination of that with Lucky’s humor and the overriding horror themes make this film so interesting. It’s really an original.
FANG: Would you call this is a horror film with comic elements, or more of a comedy throughout?
VAN DEN HOUTEN: No, it’s a horror film with comedy. That’s what I love about it. The humor comes from the characters and situations; we’re not trying to make everything over-the-top and corny to get people to laugh. I mean, there are a couple of slapstick moments, but again, the comedy comes from the people, and that’s what’s really cool. It’s organic. And kids are funny—high-school kids are f**king hilarious. It’s like [his recently released youth comedy] FUNERAL KINGS. What I love about that movie is that the kids in it, coming of age, are so raw and real. And I feel like Lucky and Chris also capture that; as those kids get older, they could be the characters in this movie.
FANG: Who’s in your cast?
VAN DEN HOUTEN: Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Kodi’s sister who was in HUNG, is in the movie, and we have Caitlin Stasey, who was in the TV show NEIGHBORS with Sianoa in Australia, so they’re friends. There’s a really awesome actress in the film named Brooke Butler who used to be, appropriately, a former USC cheerleader. We have Leigh Parker, who’s also from Australia, playing Manny Mankowitz; I’m told Leigh and I look like brothers, and he was a really cool guy. Then there’s Chris Petrovski, from New Zealand, and the male lead is a guy named Tom Williamson. So we have a really good, fresh young cast of up-and-comers. Michael Bowen’s in it too, so that’s kind of cool.
FANG: Is it just a coincidence that so many of your actors hail from Australia or New Zealand?
VAN DEN HOUTEN: It is. It was the most completely random thing that that happened. Like, what the hell? Apparently, if you make a movie between Thanksgiving and Christmas in Los Angeles, you’re going to end up hiring a lot of Australians and New Zealanders. And another actress, too—Reanin Johannink is from New Zealand.
The shoot was a lot of fun; the energy was palpable. There were days when we had 130-140 people on set, and I’d be standing there like, “This is a Modernciné film? Really? This is insane.” When you set out to make movies, you never really think about the scope of the films you want to make. For me, ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE was a noticeable step up as far as production goes.
FANG: There have been a lot of meta or self-referential slasher and horror films lately. Does ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE fall into that category, or is it something different?
VAN DEN HOUTEN: It’s something very different. I would say it has a certain level of energy like SPRING BREAKERS does, and the cool factor of a Harmony Korine film. But where it definitely moves away from Harmony Korine is in the horror. With Lucky and Chris helming it, the movie has this f**king cool, edgy vibe, with a true-to-the-genre feel. I think people are going to dig it. It’s definitely next-level stuff for me. What was especially fun was helping put all the pieces together, as I always do. In this particular case, I feel like the casting director that I brought to the table was a slam-dunk. That was my big contribution. I love actors, and whenever I can help with the casting, I really enjoy that end of it. Lucky and Chris were able to see literally hundreds of actors in LA in order to find the ones who were right for them and the film.
FANG: How about the makeup FX—who’s doing those?
VAN DEN HOUTEN: Well, we couldn’t do the film without Robert Kurtzman being involved, of course. So his company did it, and we worked with Beki Ingram and David Greathouse again; they were both on JUG FACE as well.
FANG: They were both on FACE OFF at different times too, right?
VAN DEN HOUTEN: Yeah—they’re great. Again, it was a really youthful, exciting group of people who are passionate about what they do.
FANG: Does ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE push any boundaries as far as the gore is concerned?
VAN DEN HOUTEN: I would not actually say anything other than come and check out the film. You know what I mean? I don’t want to give any preconceived notions of what this is until people experience it, because it’s so different from anything else that’s out there. When I read the script, I was like, “Wow, this is so cool,” and it was definitely a surprise in many ways.
FANG: How similar or different is it from the original version?
VAN DEN HOUTEN: I haven’t seen the original! The directors have withheld showing me that until the new movie is complete. I don’t know if they’re trying to make sure my experience isn’t going to be tainted, or maybe they were scared that I’d see it and say, “We’re remaking this piece of shit?” Obviously, I don’t think it’s that at all; I’m sure their first film is awesome and fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.