Shock Interview: Director E.L. Katz On Bringing the Energy to Cheap Thrills

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Cheap Thrills Final PosterNow available on to watch on VOD and select theaters is Cheap Thrills, the indie darling that made the festival rounds before landing at Drafthouse Films. The film marks the directorial debut of E.L. Katz who worked with a killer cast that includes Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner and Sara Paxton to tell a ferocious story of desperation, greed and violence.

Healy plays a father who is recently fired and facing eviction. His life is turned upside down when he meets a wealthy couple who offer a path to financial security, but at a price.

Read on for our chat with Katz about the project and his segment for the upcoming The ABCs of Death 2.


E.L. Katz: One of the early reviews that you had to say about the film is that it reminded you of early Stephen King.

Ryan Turek: That's right, yes.

Katz: You were the only one who mentioned that and that was the biggest compliment. That was sort of my favorite sense of humor and you zero'd in on that element there.

Turek: As a writer directing his first feature, were you a bit picky in terms of what you chose to make his debut with? What made this pop?

Katz: I never thought anyone would give me a shot at directing. A lot of the stuff I've worked on myself, they were made for genre companies that had a couple of million to make a horror movie. Nobody was going to give me that kind of money to direct something and I never really had my eye out for anything. I was just trying to pay my rent and be employed as a writer. When this thing dropped into my hands, I knew it wouldn't cost much to make it. It was contained and it had the opportunity to be this pressure cooker. There was something interesting about keeping it contained and following this guy who just wants to support his family. It just felt charged. Logistically speaking, I was attracted for those reasons.

Turek: Did you turn to anyone for advice before sitting in the director's seat?

Katz: I definitely sat down with some of my director friends just to get their thoughts. I don't have a background…I didn't have any shorts, music videos and I didn't go to film school. I'm a writer. I've been writing for 10 years. Adam Wingard, who I've worked with in the past, he was helpful and just talked about aesthetics and general approaches. A lot of what the movie is going to be, he can choose beforehand, but some things are out of your control. Adam was good at that. He also hooked me up with my composer. Chris Sivertson, we hung out with and had drinks, everyone I could pull from, I did. You can't pretend to know what you're fucking doing.

Turek: On the first day, when you're surrounded by that cast, how did they help ease you in?

Katz: It finds itself, that dynamic. You're dealing with guys who are vets. But it's all on the page and that sets the boundary for it kind of needs to be. But I do like it when people are creating. It's about actors having a hand in the creative shift. The more that stuff feels alive. There needs to be a life force to it and that comes from people who are really playing and not being mechanical. For me, I'm learning as I go and I'm just trying to make sure the movie has energy and stays true to the script.

Turek: Was there a particular moment that you recall on set that's a good example of that energy?

Katz: Well, the fun ended pretty quickly. [laughs] We were having fun early on, but by the end we were just running for our lives just trying to finish the film with the crackhead schedule we had. There was a manic fun, but it's not sustainable. There was one day they were eating the dog, fighting over the finger and flinging each other around in the kitchen and your heart is racing like crazy because you know you can only get one or two take. I came home and I was just looking at my wife like, "Today was a weird, psychotic blur." I'm happy, but I don't know if I'm happy because I've lost my mind. You're so physically there and you're in the moment, and you're hoping not to leave any pages of shooting you need to get behind.

Turek: Finally, how did your ABCs of Death 2 segment turn out?

Katz: It is done and it took me six months, somehow, to do and it's probably because I'm crazy and neurotic. It was really hard for me to pick what I wanted to do. It's jarring because I haven't done that much and now here I am doing something alongside big guys. I have no place to be here. I was overthinking things and that becomes problematic. It's a five minute thing. But I give a shit, so I was killing myself coming up with it. I'm excited to hear what people think. It's not an obvious follow up to Cheap Thrills.