Your new movie To
Your Last Death - in a few words, what is it about?
Your Last Death is an animated horror film with sci-fi
elements. Our protagonist is a troubled young woman named Miriam. After
emerging as the sole survivor in a deadly revenge game set up by her
father to punish his children, Miriam receives an offer from a
supernatural entity to go back in time and try again. Now, Miriam must
survive both her father’s bloodlust and the Gamemaster’s
ever-changing rules to save her siblings as she relives the worst night of
her life. Basically, it’s Saw meets
Groundhog Day… meets Archer.
were your sources of inspiration when writing To
Your Last Death?
Cirile: Firstly, we love horror and really wanted to bring something
new to it. For example, there is a horror trope called “final girl”
– the female protagonist and sole survivor of a horrible ordeal crawls
out of the wreckage completely banged up but victorious. We figured:
let’s use that, but we’ll start with it. We put it at the beginning of
the movie and then send her right back to experience the ordeal again.
Secondly, we also wanted to make sure that the character development
didn’t get the short end of the stick (as too often happens in horror
films), and we spent a lot of time in crafting developed characters that
an audience can not only root for but also feel for when they die.
Your Last Death does have several layers of reality and sometimes
rewinds it story - so how hard was it to not literally lose the plot
telling your movie that way?
Very. Apart from screenwriters, we are also story analysts (the people
that tell their fellow screenwriters or producers or directors what’s
working and what’s not working in a script and how they can fix it), and
one of our biggest pet peeves are writers who don’t develop their
material. Way too often in this industry they’ll send out something they
deem “good enough” – possibly a third or fourth or fifth draft.
Writing a decent script usually takes time and notes and rewrites.
And that’s doubly important if you have a script that deals with time
travel or alternate realities, because you have to establish rock-solid
rules and have to make sure the audience gets those rules and that they
make sense within the world you’ve created. Altogether, To
Your Last Death went
through 27 drafts before production began.
Now how did the project get
off the ground, and did you always indend to do it as an animated feature,
or did that just come about eventually?
The initial plan was to shoot it live-action. You may have noticed the
limited locations in the script – mostly one floor of an office
building. In other words, the movie was designed as a low-budget horror
movie. However, our amazing producers Cindi Rice and Paige Barnett said
that even with the limited locations, we were still looking at a higher
budget than we had anticipated
(due to the numerous death traps and required special effects makeup) and
suggested a motion comic – in the strictest sense (meaning the camera
pans over flat drawings). Of course, we are also the masters of mission
creep, and one of the very first decisions we’ve made was to have full
lip sync. In other words, we went from making a motion comic to an
animated feature film.
What are the
specific challenges of making an animated movie from a producer's point of
The biggest challenge – for any producer on any movie – is usually
lack of funds. With To
Your Last Death, we couldn’t even afford to hire an animation
house (even though a couple of them were willing to cut their rates for
us). So we had to build our own animation studio from the ground up. We
found people from all over the globe. At one point, we had people on five
different continents working on this movie: line artists in Eastern Europe
and South America, Colorists in Western Europe and the US, animators in
the Middle East and Asia, etc.
What can you tell us about To
Your Last Death's approach to horror?
You have to have characters that an audience cares for - otherwise,
building tension will be difficult. The audience needs to be on board with
these people and feel and fear for them. You also need to have a theme,
something to say – otherwise, why would anyone bother watching the
movie? In essence, our approach to horror is the exact same as our
approach would be to any other movie. In general, we feel that the problem
is that “horror” is often treated as a stepchild especially where the
writing is concerned. And there was no way we were going to let that
But also, we wanted a lot of twists that feel organic, and we wanted this
movie to be bloody. And boy, did we get that in spades. I grew up reading Fangoria,
and this movie absolutely had to deliver. Tonally though,
Film Threat called To
Your Last Death an “action/horror movie”, and that’s
exactly what we were going for. In terms of pacing and tone, To
Your Last Death is more Aliens than
Alien. We wanted this to be a fast-paced fist to
the face, but with rich, believable characters.
and executive producers, how much of a say did you have in regards to
character design and the like?
Regarding the character design, luckily, we all were on the same page
pretty much from day one. When Carl Frank, our lead line artist and
character designer, came up with a new design, director Jason Axinn would
feed back on it as well as send it to the producers (Tanya, Jim, Cindi
and Paige Barnett) to give their input. It really was a collaborative effort. We
are definitely hands-on executive producers, no doubt about it. We worked
on this movie every day for five years.
What can yo tell us about
To Your Last
Death's director Jason Axinn, and what was your collaboration
The great thing about Jason (apart from obviously being a wonderful
director and having the incredible stamina and patience to see this
through) is that he has encyclopedic knowledge about all things horror.
And that is a background he brought to this movie and it really shows. We
all worked very well together, which is so important -- especially with a
project that takes years to complete. Jason also has a wonderfully snarky
sense of humor, which perfectly fit the tone of the movie. He kept coming
up with ideas for a gag that just landed and fit perfectly. The elevator muzak, the “Get to the choppa!” ring tone, for example, were all his.
You of course also have to talk about To
Your Last Death's rather star-studded voice cast, and why exactly
When we first started the pre-production process, we all sat down and made
a list of possible actors to contact. Who would be great in the part? Who
do we want to work with? Are they good for this particular genre? Will
they be good for the project’s marketability? All of these are things to
keep in mind when casting. And we really got lucky because all of our
first choices actually wanted to do the movie. Morena Baccarin was a
natural because she had exactly the right gravitas in her delivery. We
went in cold to her agent with the script and an offer, and were stunned
when they accepted. Morena later told us that she was attracted to the
darkness of the script (you can see the interview with her on the Blu-ray
digital special features). An amazing talent, and of course she is beloved
by sci-fi fans… as is a certain starship captain.
We were lucky in that we discovered a personal connection to Mr. Shatner,
makeup effects expert Andrew Clement (who coincidentally also co-designed
the Deadpool makeup with his partner Bill Corso). Jim went to college with
Clement, and later discovered that he was Mr. Shatner’s son-in-law.
Clement was willing to connect us to Mr. Shatner’s manager, but after
that we were on our own. Incredibly, three weeks after sending along the
script and hearing nothing, our phone rang… “Jim, Tanya, this is
William Shatner. I understand you have a part for me?”
After picking our jaws up off the floor, we had to pitch him the movie on
the spot. He said, “Sounds interesting. Let me read the script, but
you’ll have to do a little better on the offer.” Needless to say, we
the part of Cyrus, we went out to Ray Wise mainly because of his portrayal
of Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks. That role was so eccentric. Just
wonderful. But also after rewatching RoboCop, we knew he could play
a stone bastard. As soon as he was suggested at the casting meeting, we
all went “Oooh.”
We have to mention Dani Lennon, who won the part of Miriam over 600-plus
auditions, including a few well-known actresses, and it wasn’t even
close. Only afterwards did we learn she was friends with our producers and
director and worked with them all on their Machinima series Bite
Producer Cindi Rice did not want to influence our decision and said
when we told her Dani was hands-down our first choice, she smiled and
said, “Okay, guys, there’s something I need to tell you…”
During the whole making of To
Your Last Death, what was the collaboration between the two of you
like? And how did the two of you first meet even?
We met at a writer’s conference here in Los Angeles in 2010. Essentially
the way we work is that we come up with an idea together (broad strokes, a
paragraph, something we want to say), and then we beat out detailed
character bios and a basic structure (nothing too elaborate, usually four
– six pages). Then we card it all out on index cards and make sure the
structure is solid, and then I will go off and write the first, then Jim
will put his stamp on it, then it goes back to me for a once-over and then
we send it to one of our analysts for coverage (notes). When the coverage
comes back, we’ll discuss the notes and how to address them. Then either
Jim or I will go off to write the next draft, and it all starts over
again. Rinse, repeat.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of To
Your Last Death?
Man, we are thrilled. Yeah, creators always seem to say that. But we
really, truly are. When you spent several years pouring your blood, sweat,
and tears (not to mention money) into something, you really want it to
land. And it did.
We’ve been to many festivals over the last few months and the audience
reaction was always – well, basically, what you dream of if you’ve
spent several years of blood, sweat, and tears on something. And the
reviews have been incredibly good as well. Even that guy from the
parents’ advisory council…
Right! He was like, “NOT for kids! Beware!” But he loved the movie and
gave it four stars out of five. Hilarious.
Any future projects you'd like
Yes, we are currently shopping a bloody horror comedy which is like
Ready or Not meets Ash vs. Evil Dead, and creating a
startlingly plausible Orwellian political thriller. Both have similar DNA
Your Last Death, although they are both very different in
Your/your movie's website, social media,
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as well as on
Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (#ToYourLastDeath). If you are a
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Anything else you're dying to mention and
I have merely forgotten to ask?
We really appreciate the support! We’re trying to create a brand-new
category here, animated horror for adults, and it’s challenging at
times. We got a call last year from the programmer from a prestigious film
festival apologizing for not being able to program our movie, even though
he loved it. Lovely fellow, and we appreciated his candor. We absolutely
understand. But everything commonplace started out unique. Fans of Adult
Swim, graphic novels and anime get it pretty quickly. For everyone else,
Your Last Death a shot. Who knows – you might just
freaking love it.
Thanks for the