How can you carve up a genuinely original horror comedy in only a few minutes? Just ask Patricia Chica, director of the short film A Tricky Treat.
While A Tricky Treat might not be for everyone, what with it following a family murdering and carving up the head of a man like a prime pumpkin, it should scare up some serious laughs and screams from horror fans. It’s one of those shorts that manages to do so much with so little, including a limited length, amount of supplies (more on that in a minute), actors and plot. And what’s more, it’s manages to slice through the fine line between horror and comedy, even playing with its insides a bit as it flips back and forth between the utter disgust of dismemberment and the sheer joy of Halloween traditions. So it’s no wonder we were dying to talk to Patricia about how this spooktacular flick came together.
We spoke to Patricia earlier this week, as she was awaiting the world premiere for the film at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival. You can read the full Q&A, including her secret to creating a man o’ lantern in the middle of the winter, below!
I wanted to start off talking about the idea, the concept, of the film. I know that Kamal John Iskander wrote the script, but did you have input on the story? Or did you just love his weird, warped idea of Halloween?
Patricia Chica: I had a lot of input on it. If you read the original screenplay that Kamal sent me and the final [script], the structure is the same is, but the dialogue is very different. Once he gave me the okay to direct his two-page script, I had carte blanche. I completely did my own style. I brought in my own actors. I did my own workshop with the actors to completely re-practice the dialogue. There’s maybe one dialogue line that stayed from the original screenplay. It’s the one where the mom says, ‘Oh, it’s a ripe one!’
But Kamal and I are very in tune. We’re great collaborators. We’ve done three screenplays together and it was the first one that got produced. It was a very easy process, but when you watch the movie, it totally has my DNA on it, my stamp on it.
Well, if that’s the case, that’s very impressive because the script really is able to balance horror and comedy, which is difficult. What do you think goes into making horror comedy work? Or is it more that you have to try it out and see what happens?
PC: I think you have to try it out. And you have to bring out the comedy.[A Tricky Treat] wasn’t supposed to be funny at first. But in my creative process, I work strongly with actors in pre-production. Before I go on set, I bring in all the actors for a table read and I had them improvise. I said, ‘Forget about the screenplay. Let’s improvise about this family. Who are they? Who are these people and why are they killing this human being for the sake of ceremonial tradition?’ It’s horrible to cut somebody’s head, right? [Laughs]
We had these two little kids and Marc, the little boy, had never been in a movie before. It was his first film, so he was very raw and new and he was very impressed with the professional actors. He came into the table read and it was at my apartment in the Hollywood hills and we were at this beautiful roundtable and I put a pineapple in the middle of it and I said, ‘This is our human, the guy’s head. So have fun with it! Make it a funny, pleasant, family gathering. It’s family time! Be playful with it.’ This is when the humour came out. They started just having fun with it and improvising and making it like it was a turkey or a pumpkin or something else they were decorating.
This is when I knew the visuals of the movie had to be completely gory and horrific and scary and disgusting. But the soundtrack, on the other hand, had to be super hilarious. When you juxtapose the two, when you put image and sound together, is when the comedy comes out. Because if you watched the film without sound, you would be completely disgusted. But if you only listened to the soundtrack, you would have no clue. You would think, ‘Oh this is a family scene. They are having fun doing something together.’ But the two together creates the tension and the comedy.
You said you wanted it to be gory, and you did an excellent job with finding the props, such as the head, which looked so real. How difficult was that to create or find someone to create for you?
PC: It was a very challenging because we had to cast the head of Leonard Waldner. We had to reproduce his own head!
Down in San Diego, we found this guy called Danny McCarthy, who is a practical effects master. And then we brought [Leonard] to his studio and for four hours he had to stay still in complete darkness because they put latex all around his head. He had to keep his mouth open because they also had to cast his teeth and his tongue. He couldn’t breathe from his mouth! He only had two little holes at the nose and he couldn’t hear anything. He had to really be zen and into mediation the whole four hours.
We then took photos of [Leonard] from every angle–the profile, the front, the back, the texture of his hair. Everything had to be reproduced with material and they did an outstanding job. Four people in the team worked for two weeks full-time on the head alone. And they had to make two different heads because one was severely modified and the other one had to look like him freshly cut. Even eyeballs were the same colour as the actor’s eyes. Everything was done to perfection.
Danny McCarthy and his team … when they came on set with the finished head–I hadn’t seen it except in pictures [when he was] iPhoning me photos!–everybody was like, ‘Wow! This is incredibly realistic.’ It had to look realistic in order for it to work. Otherwise it would look like a B movie badly done with bad practical effects and that’s not what I wanted.
Are you a fan of Halloween season films, or did you just like the story of this and it happened to be connected to Halloween?
PC: I’m not a big fan of Halloween films. I haven’t even seen Halloween. But I was interested in talking about how people carve pumpkins and the effect it has on the environment.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to have those ceremonial traditions, but there’s other ways to be more respectful to nature and to also use recycled material. We can have a beautiful pumpkin made of recycled material and we can reuse it every year and it’s going to be great. It was my way of questioning how when we follow traditions we have to sacrifice nature. If we did this to humans, would this be okay?
That’s what really motivated me to make this short, not the horror aspect of it. But I knew horror was the right way to make this shocking enough and funny enough to make people think about it.
When did you shoot this film? Was it earlier this year?
PC: It was in January. In L.A.
I noticed you used a lot of homemade decorations like the little candles made to look like mummies or ghosts. Was it a struggle finding decorations at that time of the year? Did you use a lot of homemade stuff?
PC: You just tackled an interesting question because in our ‘Making Of’ video, which is coming out next month, we talked about this!
We had a huge struggle to find decorations. It was more Christmas decorations we could find in special, like in discount. What we did was my production designer Gabrielle Giraud … she’s Canadian, by the way, coming from Vancouver. I actually had a lot of Canadians on the team. Leonard, who plays the victim, is Canadian; Andrea Fletcher, who played the mom, she’s from Toronto; I’m Canadian; and the whole colour correction post-production team is from Toronto (Red Lab Digital). I have collaborators all over the place and I love it because it’s so international.
But so for the decorations, we had to create them because we couldn’t find any at that time of the year.
So it was all homemade?
PC: Not everything. We had to go through some Hollywood costume … all year-round costume shop to get some of the decorations. But a lot of them we had to create like, as you said, the little ghost candles and we had Christmas lights pretending to be [Halloween] decorations.
PC: We’re currently casting for Montreal Girls. We are still looking for two of the leads and that’s a challenge because they are from Middle Eastern descent. We have opened our casting call to the Middle East and we’re still waiting for tapes and auditions to come through. So until we find those leads, there’s not much we can do. We need the perfect cast and I’m willing to wait. If we have to shoot it next summer, that’s fine.
We’re actually participating with Montreal Girls at the Frontières Market at Fantasia–it’s like a co-production international market. We’re pitching that project as well as my other film one, Wolverine Hotel. So, things are moving. Each day is a new step forward.
So you’re not afraid to venture out of short film and into more longer pieces?
PC: I’m aiming at feature length productions now, but it takes a while to finance a film. So while I wait, I’m keep busy doing shorts because they’re fun and I get to travel around the world and have nice people like you call me for interviews. You keep active as a filmmaker when you’re productive, you know?
Going back to short filmmaking. Would you say it’s a good first step for young filmmakers?
PC: My advice to young filmmakers is to keep working, keep perfecting your skill, keep refining your own style and finding your voice as an artist. And the only way to do that is to keep making movies. You cannot be a filmmaker if you’re just talking about film and watching film. You have to make the film.
The more experience you get on set working with actors and collaborating with other actors and crew members, the better you become and the more confident you become. You become ready to tackle something bigger later.
A Tricky Treat premieres Saturday, July 25 at 6:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre in Montreal. It is being screened with Deadman Inferno.
For more information on the film, click here. The 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14 to August 15.