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An Interview with Jaysen B. Buterin, Director of Kill Giggles

by Mike Haberfelner

July 2019

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Your new movie Kill Giggles - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Kill Giggles is the story of Tommy dos Santos, who wasn’t born a psychopath, really, nor was he made into a sociopath, per se, either. He is something entirely new, and he's walking his own path – a path that will run red with the blood of the foulest most fiendishly frightening creatures ever conceived by man… CLOWNS!

No longer the madmen and monsters that nightmares are made of, it is the clowns who are the victims now, running for their lives from a killer who won’t stop until every single one of them is dead. As Tommy’s body count rises, he finds himself getting closer and closer to what he thought was a ghost, the once great clown king known as “Giggles”, and wonders… if laughter can’t die, how about Giggles?

With Kill Giggles, what we wanted to do was to turn the tables on a timeless terror trope by telling a tale of a serial killer of clowns, and not just a mass-murdering maniac who dresses up like one—like we’ve all seen time and time and time again. Nobody has ever really made the clowns the victims before, and while I’m still not entirely sure why I did in the first place, the story that took shape from that and the film that we made from it is something quite amazing and an independent filmmaking feat to be proud of certainly.

 

Basic question, why clowns? And are you yourself suffering from a fear of clowns?

 

Oh most certainly, I’m terrified of them! I’ve been a die-hard coulrophobe for many years now… although, if I must confess, I wasn’t born this way you know? I was actually okay with clowns when I was a kid… even dressed up like one for Halloween once (a picture of which can be seen in the proof-of-concept Killing Giggles). It was when I saw the clown marionette in Poltergeist, honestly, that just completely unhinged me and I was terrified of them after that. With the idiosyncrasies and manias that come with “adulthood”, that terror only grew into absolute hatred. Then one day a few years later I found myself holding a beautiful baby boy in my arms, my amazing son who saved my soul, and I knew that it would simply be a matter of time before I took him to a friend’s birthday party and “Bubbles the Floppy-Footed-Fucker” would be the clown entertainment du jour. So I figured I had two options: one was to have a very well-rehearsed story about where Jack’s Daddy disappeared to, when the truth of the matter was that I was actually locked in the trunk of the car crying hysterically; or 2) I attempt to get over this crippling coulrophobia (fear and/or hatred of clowns) by killing every clown I’ve ever wanted to… but on film. And so the basic idea of Kill Giggles was born and began to take shape in my mind—I mean, c’mon, it’s ill-advised self-administered psychotherapy—what could possibly go wrong?

 

(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Kill Giggles?

 

Well, it’s certainly not like there’s a shortage of clown films out there… I kid, I kid. Honestly, one of the biggest sources of inspiration for me while writing Kill Giggles was

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was one of the first horror movies I ever got to watch as a kid! I was in love with that movie long before I started making them, but as I started creating the character of Tommy do Santos, I began to see a lot of Norman Bates in him, especially with the duplicity of personalities going on inside his head. I wanted Kill Giggles to be just as much of a thriller as it was a horror film, and so much like Hitchcock did so bloody well, there are certain blanks that we want to leave for the audience to fill in, some things that we don’t want to show them, so that they can come up with something far scarier in their own minds. Actually the last scene in Psycho was a serious inspiration for the end of Kill Giggles, and so that was the first batch of scenes that I wrote. Another source of inspiration was the 2000 classic American Psycho, for a lot of the same reasons. I loved the duplicity of Patrick Bateman, as a character and a killer, and I wanted Tommy dos Santos to have the best (or worst) of both worlds. The Twilight Zone is also a constant source of inspiration in everything I write, say… do.

 

A couple of years ago you made a short by the title Killing Giggles - so how closely is that one related to Kill Giggles the feature?

 

Oh they’re practically kissing cousins really (wow, I hope that expression translates overseas), maybe kindred cinematic spirits is a better way to put it? With Kill Giggles I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting the script, so we spent many moons telling anyone and everyone that we could about what was coming soon. Once the script was finally done, we wanted to give our fans and potential investors a visual sense of what we intended to do with the movie. So we decided to shoot a proof-of-concept, which we called Killing Giggles, just to really confuse folks. It’s effectively the first scene of the feature, but it gives the audience a nice introduction to the male lead, Tommy dos Santos, played by the brilliant Michael Ray Williams! We decided to put it out on the film festival circuit to raise awareness for the feature while we also raised funds for production. Killing Giggles made quite a few appearances at film festivals and was even lucky enough to win some awards, which we hoped was a good sign! We were also lucky enough to have the original cast, and much of the crew, for both the proof-of-concept version AND the feature-length film so that creative consistency really helps tie the two together while also allowing us to open up the world of the film so much more!!

 

What can you tell us about your movie's approach to horror?

 

One of my favourite things about watching horror movies was always the thrill of being frightened and especially the anticipation that went along with it. The gore and more was always fun, but the excitement and delight with sensing that something was about to happen, yet not knowing what, was really what made my heart pound. I suppose we took a sort of old-school horror approach with this film. Early on I started thinking about Kill Giggles as a thriller AND a horror film together, because so many times it seems like it has to be one or the other. To me, Psycho was always a wonderful example of how you could pull off both in the same film and so I set out to focus more on the story and the characters involved in it and less on racking up a gratuitous body count (although rest assured clown-haters, we have some sinister sights to show you). With Kill Giggles, we wanted to focus more on the story and less on the gratuitous and gory. For us that meant eschewing some of the standard horror tropes out there in lieu of providing more thrills and chills, but ultimately I’m hoping that the audience will be so invested into that world already that they won’t even notice.

 

With Kill Giggles being about a clown killer and having the word "giggles" in the title, does your movie have a comedic edge to it, and if so, what can you tell us about your film's brand of comedy?

 

I like to think that everything in life has a comedic edge to it, even, and maybe especially, the dark, the depressing, the deadly. One of the very first things that I wrote down for Kill Giggles was a tagline, “Laughter can’t die… but Giggles sure can!” and by making that the name of one of the clowns, one of the most important clowns in the film, a lot of the humour of the story took shape from there. One of the best things to ease viewers into/out of a fright is a well-timed laugh, so having those occasional instances of levity are important to me—both as a filmmaker and a film watcher. Even in the middle of what I hope will be some of our signature cinematic death scenes, we have touches of dark humour because if you can’t laugh when you’re scared, then you’re just not doing either one of them right. On a horror/thriller film set I think it’s extremely important to be able to keep the mood as positive and pleasant as possible, to not take things too seriously, and to have as much fun as you can while still making serious movie magic.

 

Do talk about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand!

 

Oh wow… I should really crack open one of those books I have on “How to Direct a Film”, that I’ve never had time to read because I’ve been too busy writing/directing films. I honestly have no idea how to describe my directorial approach (can I use a Lifeline to call one of the actors? No… wrong show? Bugger…) I was told, from the first screenplay I wrote, that I put entirely way too much direction in it. For me it was difficult NOT to project on the page what I already saw on the screen in my head. So I’ve always been a “hands-on” director (but not in THAT way…). I like to rehearse with my actors as much as possible, I love doing tech scouts with the crew and visualizing camera placement, lighting possibilities and just the pre-production planning in general. I also think that being the writer helps me relate to the actors I’m directing because there are certain things (lines, words, actions) that I know that I want, but I also trust those same actors to put as much into the characters as they can, which often surpasses my expectations and original vision anyway. I think a director has to have as much trust and faith in everyone else as they want everyone else to have in them, and if you can’t open yourself up to suggestion, you might just miss something amazing.

 

What can you tell us about your key cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Kill Giggles really was a dream come true for me in that it allowed me the perfect chance to work with SO MANY film friends that I was lucky enough to make over the years! There were so many members of my extended film family that were able to come together for this production, it really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While some roles were written for specific persons in mind, it really was a movie-making miracle that we were able to bring in so many people from all around the country to be a part of Kill Giggles. I’ve been an avid fan of Michael Ray Williams for years and have been wanting to work with Ellie Church for just as long, so to finally bring two such amazing acting talents together was just some kind of wonderful to witness behind the camera. Patrick G. Keenan and I have been friends for ages, I just love working with him. He’s such a legend in the North Carolina film community, and he made for an amazing partner to Nereida Velazquez, who took a rewritten role and completely made it her own. Then to see these friends of mine completely hold their own alongside icons of the horror industry like Vernon Wells, Felissa Rose [Felissa Rose interview - click here] and Judith O’Dea, let alone getting to direct some of those very same people whose killer contributions to the horror rack at your local video store that you grew up watching religiously… it was sometimes too surreal to comprehend, but there we all were. Kill Giggles was an amazing opportunity to get to work with such a killer cast who were steadfastly devoted to helping us send in the clowns to die. So I think you hit the nail on the head with the phrasing of the question, the key cast HAD to be exactly these people!!

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

Both the shoot, and the on-set atmosphere, were almost too amazing for words! To shoot a feature-length film in 19 days, with 148 scenes in 36 different locations and a close and cozy crew is almost unheard of in this day and age – no matter what level of production it is. To have so many fantastic filmmakers come together to support this crazy idea that sprang from my head was just heartwarming, and sometimes I still can’t believe it happened. No matter how long the filming went, or how many locations we had in one day, or how many clowns were around, there were always smiles on faces, jokes being cracked, giggles being had. Even when the film gods were throwing curveballs at us (locations being demolished days before filming, scheduling snafus that caused entire days to be shuffled around at the last minute, and of course, the lovely, enjoyable and unpredictable North Carolina summer weather), we managed to do something that many told us was impossible, and to me, that makes us mighty. Kill Giggles was one of my favourite film sets to be on, by far, and that’s a weird thing to say when it’s a dream come true being surrounded by your worst nightmare.

 

Any idea when and where Kill Giggles will be released yet?

 

We do, indeed, have an idea of where the world premiere will take place, but alas, due to the proverbial powers that be, we cannot say anything just yet. But we can promise that we have some pretty amazing sights to show you leading up to that big announcement! Very VERY soon we’ll have teasers, trailers and more BTS-brilliance than you can shake a clown-killing stick at for everyone’s viewing pleasure!! #ComingSoon

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Now that Kill Giggles is about to be knee-deep in post-production, there are at least four short screenplays that have been screamin’ like demons in my head to get out, so I’ve got a lot of writing planned that will hopefully really help me branch out as a filmmaker. Some comedy, some horror, a beautiful cinematic cocktail of the two to be sure, and even something serious and dramatic that is close to my heart… the words are stuck running amok in my head, I just need to coax them out onto the paper now. There’s also a feature-length script called War of the Living Dead that has been selected for some pretty amazing film festivals, so we’re excited to see how that develops. It’s a sci-fi/horror/action thriller that takes a slightly different twist on the zombie genre, but holy hells, would it be fun to make!! We even have an animated sword & sorcery adventure we’re plotting, just for something completely different!! And of course, there’s never any shortage of ideas for what comes next, either from my own head or from any of the amazingly talented persons that make up Mad Ones Films!!

 

As far as I know, you entered the filmworld as an actor - so what can you tell us about that aspect of your career, and your approach to acting?

 

Indeed I was lucky enough to get sucked into this magical world of movie-making through acting. Back in 2005 I was lucky enough to get cast in a horror short called The Tontine that was based off a story published in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser comic series. It was written by comic book artist Scott Hampton, who also directed the project. Even though I’m pretty sure I was only cast because I worked in the comic book shop he was hanging out in, but still, it was my first taste of filmmaking and I was hooked. A few months later, some friends and I entered a competition called the 48 Hour Film Project, where we made our very first short film and I scribbled out a five-page prose paragraph than I considered a screenplay (formatting… who needs formatting?!?)

 

As far as being an actor, I know I am one but I don’t know if I’ll ever consider myself one. It feels like I do the same thing over and over again, it’s just the accent that changes… maybe that’s what acting is? I just know that I’ve been VERY lucky to have some absolutely amazing filmmakers trust me with their words, so I’ve always considered that when being on the other side of the camera and working with the actors that I’ve trusted to bring those words and characters to life.

 

What made you branch out into writing, producing and directing eventually, and how well has your acting prepared you for these jobs?

 

Honestly, as long as I can remember, I’ve always been writing. It started off as scribbles which turned into short stories which evolved into poetry and prose, which then morphed into pop-culture columns, entertainment journalism and a whole lot of rock & roll reviews… even a couple of unpublished novels. For me, writing is intrinsically linked with everything that I do. After a couple of early film set experiences, I felt like the directors didn’t really get where I was trying to go with the story (due, in part, to the fact that I put entirely way too much direction in my screenplays). So I decided to bite the bullet and try my hand at writing AND directing, and it’s been a crazy train of artistic adventures ever since! I suppose if acting had to help prepare me for that, it’s that I still think I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, yet somehow have managed to convince people that I do… and that’s just GOT to be good acting, right?!?

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Kill Giggles, in whatever position?

 

All I can say is that it’s a damn good thing I’ve got such a gigantic cranium (seriously, it’s like I’m lugging around an orange on a toothpick) because having such a large head has allowed me to wear damn near every hat possible on a film set, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can honestly say that every set I’ve been on before Kill Giggles was a learning experience, no matter what role I was in or side of the camera I was on. I was lucky enough to work with very patient people because if I don’t know how something works on set, or how a certain job is to be done, I like to ask questions. And so, I’ve done everything from being a PA to gripping to camera operating; I’ve been an editor, a sound director, the boom pole holder AND the stinger re-wrapper; I’ve taken turns as set decorator, casting director, location scout, and gratuitous cameo maker. But without all those experiences and adventures, I would not be the filmmaker I am today.

 

Filmmakers, actors, writers, whoever else who inspire you?

 

One of the beautiful things about working on Kill Giggles was being able to surround myself with so many creative people who inspire me. Getting the chance to work with celebrities who I grew watching quasi-religiously in various films, was just an absolute dream come true. Being able to work with film friends and family, who have stood by me since the beginning of my film “career” was a constant source of inspiration… especially 18 days into a film shoot. And of course, being perhaps one of the proudest papas ever, my son is one of my biggest inspirations, my hero in fact. The way his brain works already, at the amazing age of seven, never ceases to blow what’s left of my mind. We’ve even started writing a story together, which I’m very excited about. There’s my golden goddess of a wife who was the muse that dared me to get into filmmaking in the first place, without her I would be lost, let alone uninspired. My amazing mother and my photographer father, who opened my eyes to a creative way of looking at the world around me. Honestly, there are just so many, I’m a very lucky boy. I really think that anyone who not only sets out to make a film, but actually does so, is inspiring as that simple act of creation can never be unmade. It’s out there, in the world and a part of it, and that’s something that’s pretty amazing to me!

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Horror: The Exorcist, Halloween (1978), Sleepaway Camp, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Psycho, Re-Animator, The Exorcist III, Phantasm, Army of Darkness, 28 Days Later, ALL the classic Universal Horror movies, Night of the Living Dead, The Blob (80s remake), Lost Boys, American Werewolf in London.

Everything else: I will always have a soft spot in my nerd heart for 80s fantasy flicks: Beastmaster, The Sword & the Sorcerer, Krull, Willow, Princess Bride, The Neverending Story, Legend - and then, of course, there’s EVERYTHING John Hughes ever did, speaking to my tortured artist soul years before I even knew of its existence. Comedy was always very important to me, as growing up an only child with a chip on his shoulder the size of Pangea, having a smart mouth that could make the same people laugh that you just pissed off, was essential. So I studied at the temple of the masters like Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Gene Wilder, Savage Steve Holland, the Zucker Brothers and watched everything of theirs I could get my VHS-hands on. Honestly, one of the things that had the biggest impact on me, creatively, was The Twilight Zone television show (both the original and even the 80s incarnation). I would, and still do, watch those original episodes religiously just because of how amazing so many of those stories will always be. Oh, and last but certainly not least, Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars!!!

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

Oh of course there are films I just absolutely cannot bloody stand… lots of movies I just don’t get. Flicks that I’ve sat thru where I really wanted to compose a well-written letter to the producers asking for both my ticket price AND that amount of time of my life back. But part of the dark side of social media, at least to me anyway, seems to be how negativity seems to get more exposure these days. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean everyone else is wrong for liking it, so yeah, there’s definitely stuff out there that’s not for me, but there’s so much more out there that is!

 

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Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

Oh we’re all over the interwebs and social media: www.madonesfilms.com, www.killgiggles.com, facebook.com/madonesfilms, twitter.com/madonesfilms, Instagram.com/themadonesfilms, facebook.com/killgiggles.

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

If there’s anyone out there with an obscene amount of money who really hates or loves clowns, we’re still looking for investors to help us bring Kill Giggles to the big screen for big screams. Because remember kids, while all the world may love a clown, no one said it had to be alive.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD