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SXSW ’14: The Slashing Love-Hate Letter to Musical Theatre, “STAGE FRIGHT”

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You could say the extremities of horror and musical theatre run parallel, so it’s not a surprise to find fans of both. And ultimately, when the paths do cross successfully, it’s a refreshing sweet spot. Just in recent years a musical staging of Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR found much deserved acclaim, as has a short film by the name THE LEGEND OF BEAVER DAM. The director of the latter, Jerome Sable, is set to hit fests again this month after slaying audiences with BEAVER DAM, returning in full force with a full length blend of singing and slashing and dancing and dying entitled STAGE FRIGHT. FANGORIA spoke to Sable and composer/writing partner Eli Batalion in anticipation of STAGE FRIGHT’s world premiere and found more than just a preview, but a sort of two man show.

In STAGE FRIGHT, which also hits VOD April 3 and theaters May 9 from Magnet Releasing/Magnolia Pictures, “Starry-eyed teenager Camilla Swanson wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a Broadway diva, but she’s stuck working in the kitchen of a snobby performing arts camp. Determined to change her destiny, she sneaks in to audition for the summer showcase and lands a lead role in the play, but just as rehearsals begin, blood starts to spill, and Camilla soon finds herself terrified by the horror of musical theatre.”

FANGORIA: Where do you think, for the both of you, your loves of horror and musical theatre intersect? Do you think there’s a source that is the root of both?

ELI BATALION: Horror and musical theatre generally intersect at the corner of Broadway and 42nd street.

JEROME SABLE: I think that’s where musical theatre fans from New Jersey and Connecticut intersect.

BATALION: Exactly. I’m already scared.

SABLE: True. I think, in many ways, horror and musical theatre—each is a kind of “extreme storytelling.” If you’re tired of movies playing it safe, or just watching scenes that always stay “in bounds,” it can get boring after a while. And for a scene between two people to erupt into song, or violence—both can be a function of emotions reaching a tipping point. And in cinematizing the fantasy (or nightmare), it’s like you get a chance to play out the scene someone might have in their mind but never comes to pass in real life. That’s part of the fun of musicals or horror movies—is to do the impossible—whether it’s showing people’s extreme paranoia come true or, I don’t know, whatever the equivalent is for horror movies.

Sable & Batalion. Photo: Vince Gonzales

Sable & Batalion. Photo: Vince Gonzales

FANG: What were the challenges in crafting a full length blend of both slasher and musical?

SABLE: Where to begin? So many challenges, especially since we like to do everything as “in-camera” as possible. So for instance,iIn this film, that meant that both the singing, and the blood splatter, all happened live on set. The singing was done just like Tom Hooper did LES MIZ, with small, inner-ear monitors for the actors, and we’d roll camera and record their vocals while they sang live, outside, in the woods, dancing, doing whatever they needed to do in the scene. And all the gore too; we like to do the effects practically, like the early slashers in the 70s and 80s, so the actors have something to react to. This takes a lot of planning, and time on set.

BATALION: And results in a lot of clean-up.

SABLE: What else?

BATALION: My beard.

SABLE: Right. Eli plays Oleg in the movie, the obsessive orchestra conductor of the camp orchestra, and since we like to do all of our beards “in-camera,” he had to spend months growing a real thick “Paul Bunyan.”

BATALION: Ahem, I prefer the term “Unspecified North American Lumberjack.” UNAL. It’s more P.C.

SABLE: Yeah, it was really like a big furball carpet on your face. Didn’t you donate the beard to charity at the end of the shoot?

BATALION: No.

SABLE: Oh. Cool.  C’I have it?

FANG: Musicals and Horror work with similar parallels, there’s an element of the extreme in both of them as kind of tensions and emotion boil over either into song or a murder scene. Did you find a similarity in staging a number and an elaborate kill scene?

SABLE: Hmm… tough to say. It’s true there are thematic similarities, but every scene is different when it comes to staging. For instance, there may be more in common between two scenes of any kind with the same amount of actors—musical or not—than between a dance number and a kill scene, with regards to staging.

BATALION: It’s like Fargo, North Dakota may have more in common with Winnipeg, Manitoba than it does with Los Angeles, even though Fargo and Winnipeg are in two different countries.

SABLE: Exactly. So you’re saying FARGO was essentially a musical?

BATALION: Right. When it comes down to it, yes. William H. Macy was just really out of tune.

SABLE: Yeah, this is a tough question. One thing I might add is that, in both a musical number and a kill scene, you try be creative about using the elements in the environment, and it’s always fun when you plant certain objects earlier on, and then use them later in fun ways, either for dance moves or for violent weapons.

BATALION: Speaking of which, these Capezios are KILLING me. C’I take them off?

SABLE: No.

BATALION: …Then I must take them on.

FANG: The killer is billed as hating musical theatre? Does any of the film speak to those who have snap judgments about the art form?

SABLE: Yes. I mean no. Okay yes. I think we have always had a love-hate relationship with musical theatre, so this movie is somewhere between a love letter and “hate mail.”

BATALION: A “love-hate” letter, if you will. Sprinkled with glitter and anthrax. No return address, but sealed with a kiss. Of death.

SABLE: That’s gross. There are aspects of musical theatre that can be extremely obnoxious and alienating, while at the same time, having an emotional scene be musicalized in a certain way can be extremely satisfying and fun. And yes, there are lots of people who make the snap judgment and groan just from hearing that something is a musical, but I think that’s an unfair stigma that musicals have.

BATALION: Oh snap.

SABLE: Did you just judge?

BATALION: Judy. I mean Reinhold. I mean Wapner, definitely Wapner. Horror movies too can have a stigma.

SABLE: That’s true. You hate horror movies, right?

BATALION: I hate all movies. This isn’t a movie is it?

SABLE: No this is an interview.

BATALION: Phew. Thank god

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Minnie Driver in “STAGE FRIGHT”

FANG: Finally, which Midnighters are you guys excited about seeing down at SXSW?

SABLE: Definitely excited to see THE GUEST. I’m a fan of Wingard & Barrett and their work. I also just finished a short project with John Rutland, the D.P. of EXISTS, so I’m looking forward to that; heard some funny stories from the set. And Nicholas McCarthy’s always crafty. His movie should be a fun one, too.

BATALION: I hate movies.

SABLE: I think we’d better stop. It’s past Eli’s bed time. (to Eli) Do you want me to read you Stephen King tonight?

BATALION: Ya, ya!

STAGE FRIGHT world premieres Monday, March 10 at 11:45pm at the Alamo Ritz in Austin, TX. For more, head right here.

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About the author
Samuel Zimmerman
Fangoria.com Managing Editor Samuel Zimmerman has been at FANGORIA since 2009, where fresh out of the Purchase College Cinema Studies program, he began as an editorial assistant. Since, he’s honed both his writing and karaoke skills and been trusted with the responsibility of jury duty at Austin’s incredible Fantastic Fest. Zimmerman lives in and hails from The Bronx, New York where his pants are too tight and he’ll watch anything with witches.
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