Shriekfest ’13: Director Schultz on Exorcism Horror Comedy “DEVIL IN MY RIDE”
As any seasoned fan of horror may know by now, pulling off a horror comedy that’s actually funny or scary is a difficult endeavor. To focus on the comedy, there must be a sense of brevity that off-sets any building tension and to deliver scares, the audience must still take the material seriously. Often times, filmmakers can turn to unique characters, interactive set pieces and twists on familiar scenarios to get laughs and still keep the creepy elements, but there’s a need for more filmmaking finesse to create something memorable, and that often only comes from a healthy combination of passion and wit.
However, if the building buzz surrounding Shriekfest is any indication, Gary Michael Schultz has done just that with his newest feature, the independent horror comedy DEVIL IN MY RIDE. Part exorcism film, part possession comedy and part road movie, DEVIL IN MY RIDE is unlike any other genre offering at Shriekfest this year, and by allowing unique, organic characters to thrive and work off one another in the realm of the supernatural, the film has become one of the most anticipated of the festival. Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the film also boasts an appearance by none other than genre legend Sid Haig, playing a role that is lighter than most of his fans may be accustomed to seeing. But don’t take my word for it, as director Gary Schultz sat down with FANGORIA to show off some exclusive stills for his new film and spill his guts about DEVIL IN MY RIDE…
FANGORIA: How did you come up with the concept for DEVIL IN MY RIDE?
GARY MICHAEL SCHULTZ: The film began almost out of a necessity to make a feature film. I just got to a point with short films, working on other feature films and working in the film business that I knew I needed to make a feature film and I didn’t have a lot of money in my budget to do it. Growing up, I was always inspired by filmmakers that did a lot on very little, like when you saw Sam Raimi do THE EVIL DEAD, it was impressive for a 21 year old or to see Kevin Smith go and make CLERKS on $30,000.
Filmmaking just seemed accessible and possible, so we decided we were going to go ahead and do that, and try to outdo them, if possible, especially with the size of our production. Basically, to make a long story short, I’ve always been a fan of horror movies and horror comedies, and what I’ve tried to pride myself on is making genre films that are character-based. I don’t really think you see that a whole lot these days. A lot of films work on the surface, or they scare you or make you laugh, but do you really care?
So I got together with a really good friend of mine, a great comedy writer named Mike Dozier and I started writing DEVIL IN MY RIDE. Essentially, it began with Mike and two actors, and that’s Frank Zieger and Joey Bicicchi. I’ve been making films with Frank and Joey, who are both professional actors, for the past few years and they’re both my best friends. Frank, especially, is one of the funniest people I’ve met in my life; he’s great at improv and he’s a great performer. I think they’d basically die on a film set for me, so I sat down and tried to write something I knew they’d succeed in.
So I started working on DEVIL IN MY RIDE, and it simultaneously became the hardest and most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done as a director thus far. That’s how it all began. I just decided I wanted to make a film, and I essentially wore a lot of hats. I was the producer, I raised the money, scouted locations and started putting a crew together. So we went and thanks to modern technology which is a little more accessible, we had this really small crew, we shot for 15 days of principal photography in Chicago, and then we drove our heroes’ van, “Black Mama”, from Chicago to Las Vegas. We filmed all along the way, and filmed up and down the strip of Las Vegas without permits. Every crazy indie story that you could have, I probably had on this film. It was an adventure, man. There’s probably more to it than that, but that’s how I got started.
FANGORIA: I agree with you that horror has really gone away from being a character-driven medium to become what it is now, which is an FX-driven medium. Even though effects have always been an important aspect of the genre, if they happen to or around people you don’t care about, then what’s the point?
SCHULTZ: Yeah, and then you end up with these films that only really work on the surface. We know we didn’t have the budget to compete with the WORLD WAR Z’s of the world, so we decided we were going to write some really good characters that people will give a shit about and then put them on an adventure. Once you care about the people you’re watching, the stakes are immediately raised higher. So that’s what we tried to do.
FANGORIA: Is DEVIL IN MY RIDE more of a horror comedy or is it more of a horror and road movie hybrid?
SCHULTZ: It’s pretty divided. I’d say it’s first a comedy with horror elements, and then we add in the road trip angle. The movie is about a guy named Hank, who gets married and on his wedding night, his new bride Doreen learns her brother has come back into town. The brother, a local screw-up named Travis, has been estranged from the family for a while, and when he comes back into town, he accidentally curses his sister at her wedding. So she becomes possessed by the devil and goes apeshit on the whole reception. From then on, it’s up to Hank and Travis to travel from Chicago to Las Vegas to find this exorcist, a homeless priest who is the last person known to have performed a successful exorcism in America. So they only have a few hours to get Doreen to the exorcist or they may not be able to get the devil out of her soul. It’s essentially an odd couple movie, set on the road because I love road trip films as most of us do, but with a devil bride in the back in the truck.
FANGORIA: It’s always interesting to see an exorcism film, especially one that’s a comedy, come out of the independent horror scene as the exorcism film has been right behind the found footage film in terms of “in vogue” horror projects. Was there anything in particular you wanted to avoid in terms of things you had previously seen in an exorcism film?
SCHULTZ: I tried to avoid stereotypes. I hate stereotypes in these movies because we’ve seen them. So we tried to do things differently and wear our indie colors on our sleeve. We just wanted to tell a really cool story. Like any great film, DEVIL IN MY RIDE started with a good script—and I was proud of the script we had—and then it was about finding the right actors to bring those characters to life. That’s really where it all begins. From there, we grabbed our little, microbudget crew and about 4 DSLR cameras, and we went on the road, filming everything I could and putting it together.
FANGORIA: The film will be premiering at Shriekfest on October 6th. Is there any reason why you’re specifically debuting the film there?
SCHULTZ: Well, Shriekfest is the premier horror film festival here in Los Angeles. It’s a great place to debut your film, it’s a great place for distributors and buyers to come out and it’s got a great fan base here. We were excited when Shriekfest decided to pick up our film and showcase it. So, really, it seemed like everything lined up perfectly for that [premiere]. The film was done, we had a certain window and we positioned the film as such for a sale hopefully this fall. Shriekfest was there and they allowed us to be one of the ten features they’re going to show there. So we’re pretty honored and pretty excited to debut it there. From there, we’re going to be playing at the end of the month at the Bram Stoker International Film Festival in England, so we’ll be having our European premiere as well this month.
FANGORIA: What are your expectations for the film’s release? Do you hope for a day-and-date VOD release or are you aiming more towards theatrical release?
SCHULTZ: The way films are distributed these days is changing, and you have to find a way to work up to that. The way people absorb media is changing, as well. What I’m looking for is a distributor who is going to care about the film. So whatever means that goes through in terms of how they distribute the film, I should be alright with it as long as they put an advertising budget behind it and they care about the film. So a really good VOD/DVD distribution would be great for this film, and a theatrical run of some kind would be off-the-charts. I’d be really excited about that, and that’s not entirely out of the question, but, you know, there are big budget films that don’t get theatrical releases these days.
Realistically, I know what our expectations are, and we’re trying to achieve them and hopefully exceed them, as long as we can tap into what our horror audience and fanbase is, like with FANGORIA. I grew up reading FANGORIA at 12 years-old. So I tried to make this film for our audience because I go to the conventions and I’m a fan of movies like DEVIL IN MY RIDE. I want a 12 year-old kid to hopefully watch DEVIL IN MY RIDE someday and hopefully get inspired in the way that films of that nature inspired me. It seems possible to make a movie like DEVIL IN MY RIDE and I want somebody to do that and try to top us, because that’s what it’s about; it’s about inspiring people, telling good stories, people getting enjoyment out of what they’re watching. The film is not a preachy film, but there’s some good hidden messages along the way, what with our exorcisms and devil brides [laughs].
FANGORIA: Did you ever find it difficult as a director to balance the horror with the comedy properly or did the script naturally lend itself to those elements?
SCHULTZ: I think it was a difficult thing to balance [horror and comedy], because we take our comedy very seriously. I know that’s going to sound ironic, but we do take our comedy seriously. It’s about putting characters that feel real into ridiculous situations and see how they react. If our characters felt silly and unlike real people, then it just feels like slapstick the entire time. So we tried to do ridiculous stuff, but if Travis is doing something ridiculous and believes in what he is doing, then the audience is going to believe that.
That was kind of our motto: take our comedy seriously and then the scares will develop. That’s what we did and I think that’s what attracted Sid Haig to come on to our project. Sid doesn’t really get the chance to do real comedy; he’s known for what he’s known for in his career, which is playing really great heavies and being an amazing actor. When I met Sid, I thought, “Man, Sid is a really funny guy and it’d be amazing if he did this role.” So we had him come on and play a character named Iggy, who is essentially a “Big Kahuna”-type character to this story; he’s [Travis and Hank’s] spirit guide. He’s the one who sets them off on their journey in the first act. He was a great actor to have and I think the fans of Sid’s work are going to be excited, because you’re going to see him do something a little different.
FANGORIA: Did you write the character of Iggy with Sid in mind for the role or was his casting somewhat of a happy accident as the character served his sensibilities?
SCHULTZ: It was a little bit of both. Early on, when we were writing this part, I knew that I wanted somebody who was a horror icon figure in the film. But I’ve seen a lot of that, especially when it’s “let’s get all the horror guys and mash them up together in one movie and make them do something.” That wasn’t something I wanted to do. Early on, when I was writing the script with Mike Dozier, we both laughed and said, “Man, it’d be great to see Sid do this.”
When we approached him for the role, he seemed into it and he was really excited. From there, it was about negotiating schedules and from there, we were filming on Halloween, so getting Sid’s schedule free in October is rough but we were able to work it out. What I ended up doing is taking off one day of principal photography and we were able to shoot Sid’s stuff four weeks after we had wrapped the rest of the film. I wanted Sid to do this role because, to me, he was the right guy for the role. I just love that man’s face, let’s be honest! [laughs] He’s got a great face! The stars aligned for us, essentially.
FANGORIA: I’d assume that, this being an independent production, you’d try to keep most of the FX within make-up and practical means. How were you able to pull off your FX when you’re also making this an independent road movie?
SCHULTZ: Actually, that wasn’t really the case! The way you’re describing it is the way most people would have to do it, but what I ended up doing was shooting everything on location- we had no sets- but we had to shoot a lot of the driving with dialogue on a mock stage. We turned this parking garage essentially into our mock green-screen stage, so right now, DEVIL IN MY RIDE has 279 digital effects shots. For a DSLR film, that’s insane.
It’s loaded full of practical stuff, and I prefer practical effects, but it’s just not possible to make a bride levitate on our budget. You’re going to have to do some compositing work; it’s just the way it is. Then, filming things on the road, we weren’t able to film every single segment on the road, so we had to shoot a lot of things on, basically, a portable green screen. We did shoot on the road, though, and we edited together with my editor, Mike Heffler. Then we passed it to our digital effects guy, Tim Montijo, who works out of Red Band Films, a subsidiary of Unified Pictures, which is the company I do a lot of work for and whom I’m doing my next feature with, which is pretty exciting stuff.
FANGORIA: Now that DEVIL IN MY RIDE is hitting screens for the first time, what’s next? What are you in development with at the moment?
SCHULTZ: My next feature has already been greenlit, and it’s called VINCENT ‘N’ ROXXY, and it’s not a horror film but it’s a genre picture. It’s a “lovers on the run” film set against the backdrop of a very violent world. It’s kind of like BADLANDS or TRUE ROMANCE, but without all the catchy one-liners. I’m pretty excited about it and it’s a script I’ve been developing for a while now. That’s going to go into production by the end of the year.
VINCENT ‘N’ ROXXY is another character-based genre film. You have to care about who you see on screen. If it’s a horror film, give [the audience] their scares. If it’s a comedy, give them their laughs. If it’s a shoot-‘em-up, give them the action and the violence. Just respect your audience because they’re smart.
People who are independent filmmakers who are looking to make their mark, if there’s ever a piece of advice that I’d give that worked for me, it’s go out there and do something, man. Do something that you care about because it’s going to follow you around forever, even if it’s something small like DEVIL IN MY RIDE. If you put your heart to it and work your butt off, and if it turns out well, you’re going to get another opportunity. That’s what I was able to turn DEVIL IN MY RIDE into before it came out. I had another script with a bigger budget greenlit, and that’s pretty exciting.
DEVIL IN MY RIDE, directed by Gary Michael Schultz, will be premiering at 4:00 p.m. at Shriekfest 2013 this Sunday, October 6th. For more information on the film, you can visit its official Facebook page or its official Shriekfest page. You can also follow Gary Michael Schultz on Twitter: @garymschultz. For more on Schultz, Shriekfest and DEVIL IN MY RIDE, check back here at Fangoria.com