2015 Slamdance Filmmaker Profile: Michael Steves (Director/Co-Writer –‘Clinger’)

Clinger_Poster_SlamdanceFern Petersen (Jennifer Laporte), a driven high school senior, has her life turned upside down when her overly affectionate and possessive high school boyfriend Robert Klingher (Vincente Martella) dies in a gruesome accident. Things go from bad to worse when Robert returns as a love-sick ghost and tries to reunite with Fern – only to have his heart broken. As Robert plots to kill her so they can be together for eternity, Fern will have to fight to stay in the world of the living. 

Supported by an offbeat cast of characters, CLINGER is a fun campy blood-soaked teen horror flick that takes paranormal love to a whole new level. 

Anticipating the WORLD PREMIERE of ‘Clinger‘ at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival we profile the film’s Director Michael Steves.  ‘Clinger‘ screens on Saturday, January 24 & Thursday, January 29, 2015 in Park City, Utah.

Find More Information & Tickets to ‘Clinger’ at the 215 Slamdance Film FestivalHERE


What inspired you to turn a familiar story of first love into a horror comedy?
I was inspired to turn a familiar story of first love into a horror-comedy after a violent theater accident that I had in my freshman year of college. I was directing a stunt that involved a plastic sword, and our stage manager confused this prop with a very real steel sword. The puncture landed me in the ER.

On the night I got stabbed with a sword, I was in the midst of dealing with my first real break-up. Ever the opportunist, I used the fact that I had nearly died after a stabbing to text my first love and try to turn back the clock on our break-up. But, much to my surprise, my plan failed miserably.

I was shocked – every romantic comedy I had ever seen had the hero lose the girl in act three. Then a big event would happen, he’d profess his love, and his persistence and good intentions would win back the girl. That was the way it was supposed to be. But somehow, I found myself in an ER, covered in blood, sending unreturned texts with cheesy emogis.

Things didn’t go as planned, and I was forced to realize that life isn’t a coming-of-age rom-com. Loving someone persistently doesn’t mean that you deserve their affection or that they owe you their love. First love – and first heartbreak – is horrifying in many ways while you’re going through it, and usually hilarious when you look back on it. That’s what inspired me to turn a story about first love into a horror-comedy.

What challenges did you face trying to get the film’s genre blend of horror, camp, and comedy just right?
Clinger’s tone was difficult to nail down, but the key to getting the blend of horror and comedy right was making sure that the focus always remained on the characters and their story of first love. No matter what horror set piece we were in the midst of, we had to make sure we never forgot the stakes of the story, and what the story would look like if you took all of the horror elements out. This allowed the right blend of horror and comedy to come organically out of the story. For example, we have a scene where our heroine loses her virginity to her ghost boyfriend. Her ghost boyfriend initially died from a beheading, and when they have sex for the first time his head accidentally falls off and blood splashes everywhere. We had the actors play the scene exactly like a sincere virginity loss scene, followed by a very painful, awkward breakup while covered in blood on the bed. The comedy came out from the absurdity of the horror situation, combined with the actors playing the scene completely straight. This also helped give the scene emotional weight as well as horror and comedy.

The film’s horror set pieces are brought to life on-screen by surprising and fun visual effects, often featuring gallons of (hopefully) fake-blood. Can you tell us a little bit about what techniques and tools you used to create these effects?
The special effects in the film were done by a practical FX team in Houston that worked on a lot of horror films from the 80’s. We wanted the movie’s FX to be a throw back to films like Evil Dead 2, Dead-Alive, and Re-Animator. The charm of the effects in many horror movies from the 80’s comes from the fact that so much was done in camera. Our gory special FX were done almost entirely with practicals – most of what you see was shot in-camera. Some of the tools involved include air pumps, hidden tubing filled with corn syrup and red food coloring, and animatronic puppets. My favorite effect in the film is the demon teddy bears. Those bears were all puppets and animatronics, which are both uncommon in horror films nowadays.

What was the casting process like for ‘Clinger,’ and how did you find your two leads?
We found Jennifer Laporte, our female lead, after a three month long casting search. Jennifer is an incredible actress from Houston, and at the time she had been in a few stage productions in town. She’s a truly sensational actress, and she stars in my next feature film as well, which is currently filming in LA – the movie is a horror-western called “The Cold Descent”, and Jennifer stars alongside Tony Todd (Candyman), Michael Eklund (Bates Motel), and Lance Henrikson.

Vincent Martella has been established in TV for years with his starring roles on Phineas and Ferb and Everybody Hates Chris. I’ve been a fan of his for a while, and he did a fantastic job at bringing out the dark and tormented soul of our film’s villain. We wanted the character to have the trappings of a nerdy nice guy, and turn that trope on its head by making that character a possessive villain who can’t comprehend why the girl he loves would dare to not love him back. Vincent’s past roles played perfectly into this. If you’ve seen him in Role Models or The Walking Dead, you would expect him to be playing a lovable sweet-heart – which makes his transformation into a murderous villain more interesting.

Why is the Slamdance Film Festival a good screening destination for ‘Clinger’?
Slamdance is the best place to premiere a film like “Clinger”. It’s a festival that embraces movies that are out-of-the-ordinary, demented, strange, and fun. We can’t wait for the premiere.

Slamdance focuses on films from first time filmmakers of a $1 million budget or less, and we were floored when we found out that little independent movie we made after graduating college was accepted. “Clinger” was made by a cast and crew that included almost exclusively high school and college students and friends who had graduated college one month before production. Slamdance embraces that kind of indie spirit.

– Interview conducted & edited by Jason Teich

Michael Steves is a 24-year-old writer-director from Houston, Texas. He directs commercials and writes for independent horror films. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2013, where he studied film and international relations. CLINGER is his directorial debut. Michael seldom sleeps and often consumes inhuman amounts of coffee to stay alive.

Facebook: /ClingertheMovie
Twitter: @ClingertheMovie


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