In anticipation of Stage Frights limited theatrical run on May 9th, Shock Till You Drop spoke with director Jerome Sable about the horror-musical which is now available on VOD. Joining him in our chat was Eli Batalion, who collaborated with Sable on the film's music and lyrics.
You can read our review of the film via this link. I'll let distributor Magnet explain the tale: Scream meets Glee in this dark comedy musical about a starry-eyed teenager Camilla Swanson who aspires to follow in the footsteps of her Broadway diva mother. Instead 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 terrified by the horror of musical theater.
Shock Till You Drop: So let's talk about what it was about this project that got you excited enough to take it on as your first feature.
Jerome Sable: The allure and possible pitfalls of a first feature is you want to do so much and you want to do it all. That was the nature allure of this film. We designed this as a playground where we could do all of the things we like to do and so many of them: Comedy, horror, musical numbers, different kinds of music. There's a blend of orchestral and rock and thrash metal music, show tunes, choreography, dance numbers. It's a giant McDonald's playground with ball pit. [laughs] A bloody ball pit.
Shock: Phantom of the Paradise is a great film, it's also a snarky take on the entertainment biz. Stage Fright treads similar ground, correct?
Sable: The story is about an actress trying to enter the world of theater and is slowly being tempted to use her sexuality to get ahead in that industry. It then becomes: How far will she go? Will she sleep with the director to land that role opening night? That's one of the main themes: Will you use your sexuality to get ahead in theater? [laughs]
Eli Batalion: It's an epidemic in America. [laughs]
Sable: I think it's right up there with diabetes and smoking.
Shock: Talk about the process – where did you start? Script first? Music first?
Batalion: It started with story and screenplay far beyond music. And then lyrically, the lyrics exist to support that story and characters and the music serves to support that. This is not a Mama Mia, for example, where you're stringing together a story based on a pre-existing song. He can probably speak to the shooting…
Sable: You try to be as prepared as possible. There's so much in a film like this. It's a deceptively big film. It's not just a small horror movie in a camp. There are tons of dance choreography and complexity and score and staging and blocking. There were storyboards, but there was a lot that had to change on the day. But you can't wrangle all of the extras and camera that much. Having a plan allowed you to deviate from a plan, I've found, at least to the point where you feel comfortable and confident.
Shock: I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the correlation between horror and the structure of musicals…
?Sable: The idea of, in a musical, when emotions reach a tipping point in a scene between two people and they burst into song and in a horror film or action scene, there's nothing left to say but fight. There's that similarity. In playing out a musical number or action sequence, it's fun to use elements of the scene that were subtlely planted earlier in new ways. Chairs are used for dance numbers or they're used as violent weapons. But yeah, that's the sort of connection. You want to take an ordinary environment and make it extraordinary.
Batalion: But also, as having scored all of the horror-action that happened, I have to say it's a musical process as well. One of our goals is to musical-ize it so yeah, it lends itself to being captured and represented in music.
Shock: Which existing slasher franchise do you think would best be translated on stage?
Sable: On stage? Hmm, interesting… Didn't they do a Toxic Avenger or Evil Dead?
Batalion: They did those in a big way.
Sable: I haven't seen it yet.
Batalion: I'd be interested in seeing a horror story that is genuinely scary on stage. It's there to scare the shit out of people on stage but it's quite a challenge.
Sable: Sound design alone…
Shock: You could bring the actors out into the audience like The Lion King maybe?
Sable: Lion King was pretty scary. [laughs]
Shock: I think it's great that you pulled Minnie Driver and Meatloaf into this film. Was it difficult pulling either of these two in?
?Sable: It was different for each of them. Minnie, I think, was on board after seeing Beaver Dam. She got it right away. She had the wry sense of humor and was in the film version of Phantom of the Opera. So, she had this natural connection. After the fact, I realized this: The Meatloaf music video, I would do anything for love, has a phantom aspect. I reminded him of that and he looked at me like I didn't know what I was talking about. [laughs] For Meat, it was different…I don't think he was interested the first time he read the script. But what he ended up liking is he found more textures and complexities to his character. I'm excited for people to see it because he goes full-on. There's a lot of Meat.
Shock: Was the mask used in the film something made or designed?
Sable: We designed it. We had a mask maker who, coincidentally worked on The Lion King masks. I remember the design of it being a situation…you'll see in the movie it has an origin story that comes out of the play they put on. We were close to the final design, but it was missing something and time was closing in on the first scene in which we had to use it. It was a cheesy "late night at the office" moment where the janitor is like, "are you sticking around?" while he's doing his job. [laughs] I printed something out and what I added was the tear drops and then it was a "yeah, that's it" moment.
Batalion: You jerked a tear.
Sable: Yeah, I jerked a tear in front of the janitor. [laughs]