Interview: Jerome Sable (Director, Writer, Composer) and Eli Batalion (Writer, Composer) – ‘Stage Fright’

Starry-eyed teenager Camilla Swanson (Allie MacDonald) 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 terrorized by a bloodthirsty masked killer who despises musical theater.

Starring musical theater veterans Meat Loaf (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Minnie Driver (The Phantom of the Opera) STAGE FRIGHT mixes Scream with Glee in this genre-bending R-rated horror-musical from Jerome Sable, award-winning director of the celebrated short film “The Legend of Beaver Dam.

STAGE FRIGHT‘ is Now Available on Video on Demand and Will Release Theatrically on Friday, May 9, 2014.

What are your backgrounds as composers?
Jerome Sable
: We’re both from Montreal, and we’ve been friends and collaborators for a long time. We’ve done theater, a lot of the time in small black box theaters, creating weird plays that always involve composing. We both play different musical instruments, and have always tried to incorporate musical comedy elements into our work. Then when I was in film school, I started getting into horror, and that’s when Eli and I said, let’s try to do a movie. We knew it was going to involve a lot of musical comedy. And we decided to mix in horror.

Eli Batalion: At that point we did a short film to kick things off, called “The Legend of Beaver Dam,” which was our initial foray into the whole concept of the rock horror musical. That gave us the confidence to push forward with a feature film that blended those genres, and we were able to find partners to be able to put “Stage Fright” together.

DAY_21-9200.CR2What made you decide that the horror and musical genres would fit well together?
Jerome: People talk as if horror and musicals are such opposites, but they aren’t really. In a musical number, the emotions are boiling over to a tipping point, where the characters can do nothing else but break into song. And in many ways horror movies are like that as well. Someone just reaches an emotional tipping point, and they explode into violence. In both cases, you have this cinematic expression of some internal fantasy.

Is there something inherently horrific about a theater camp?
Eli: With camp in general, there’s a heightened emotional environment, which is why I think a lot of the classic slasher films take place there. It represents the adolescent experience: Everything is the worst thing ever, or everything is the best thing ever. And it’s just like that at theater camp too.

What were some of your musical influences in this film?
Jerome: Musically, this was a lot of fun, because got to do many different styles. We did the more orchestral, old-school Gilbert and Sullivan and Rogers and Hammerstein-inspired stuff. We were also hugely inspired by Kander and Ebb. But then we also got to do rock stuff, where we basically did our own version of our high school experience: Mixing in AC/DC inspired chord progressions with Axl Rose-inspired vocals, with a pinch of Ozzie [Osbourne].

Did you come up with story and character first and then write the songs, or did you write everything simultaneously?
Jerome: We always start with the story and the characters and then the script. From there we do the lyrics, and then the music. But then what usually what happens is, once we’re doing the music, we’ll decide to change some of the lyrics. And then sometimes that’ll create a domino effect where we’ll realize we want to change something about the story, because of something we realized when we were changing the music.

DAY_019-08582.CR2Are there any examples in this movie of something that you changed?
Jerome: The song [that takes place during a climactic scene] in the kitchen at the end of the film was not the same song when we shot it. It was an entirely different rock song that we had composed, recorded, produced, and then shot. And we did not do any reshoots. We actually just reverse-engineered and retrofitted a completely new song onto existing footage during the post-production process. Completely new tempo, completely new lyrics, completeley new music.

Why did you feel that change was necessary?
Jerome: The song that existed before just didn’t feel brutal enough for that part of the movie once we had put it together. And we felt like, the way the film was shaping up, the song needed to be fun, but still more oppressive. The previous song we had was too celebratory. We wanted something with a little more edge.

Eli: In our process, we have something which we like to call killing our babies. We naturally grow partial to certain things that we’ve done, but regardless of how much work we’ve put into something, we sometimes have to come to that honest moment where we say, “This doesn’t work.” We had to slash many babies in the process of making this film.

What are the challenges of casting a movie like this?
Eli: The actors do all their own singing, so from the get-go there were some great actors we couldn’t even consider, because they don’t sing. In fact, just getting the very best in Broadway talent in some cases was not necessarily sufficient. For Ally MacDonald’s [lead] role, we did look at the crème de la crème of Broadway, and we saw excellent actresses. But it’s not just about being an amazing triple threat Broadway talent. The role needed subtlety–someone who was specifically good onscreen.

DAY_21-9255.CR2What did Meat Loaf bring to the movie? Are you fans of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show?’
Eli: It was very significant for us to have him in the film. And certainly “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has inspired us, though he plays a very different role in our film than he did in “Rocky Horror.” This is actually different than most roles he’s played. He’s fantastic to work with. He’s intense, and he really brings it to each and every scene. Meat isn’t necessarily a young, sprightly fellow, but there’s some deeply physical stuff in the film, and he was involved in a lot of that. He went balls to the wall.

How did you break down which types of songs would fit into which sections of the movie?
Jerome: We tried our best to musically tailor the songs to the characters and the specific moments. In “Peter and the Wolf,” there’s a different musical instrument used to represent each character. We used the “Peter and the Wolf” school of scoring. We tried to do different musical palettes and themes for different characters. And we tried to weave them in together as well. For us, the big one was the killer vs. the musical theater community, and musically that resulted in thrash metal or heavy rock vs. old school Gilbert and Sullivan orchestral.

You could have kept the film in lighter comic territory. Why did you decide to make it genuinely grisly, scary and suspenseful?
Jerome: Why not? We were taking a page from the playbooks of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Scream.” In other words, we decided to make a character comedy with satirical elements, but not to make the horror a sketch or a cheap parody. It’s just better to go all out. We decided right from the early stages to be fully committed to everything.

– Interview Conducted, Edited & Transcribed by David Teich

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