CS Interview: Noah Segan on making directorial debut in Scare Package
Ahead of the exhilarating horror anthology’s debut on Shudder, ComingSoon.net got the chance to chat with Noah Segan (Knives Out) to discuss Scare Package, on which the 36-year-old star makes his directorial debut on the werewolf segment “M.I.S.T.,E.R.”
In looking at how Scare Package came to be Segan’s directorial debut, the frequent Rian Johnson collaborator talked about his relationship with the film’s co-creator Aaron Koontz, who he has “known for a long time” and had worked with on other films including the acclaimed indie Starry Eyes, on which Koontz was producer, and noting the two “just became friendly over the last few years.”
“When he started developing Scare Package and talking to me about it and sharing his thoughts with me as you would a friend I said, ‘Hey, what if I pitched you on a couple of ideas that I think will sort of fit into this?’” Segan recalled. “Frankly the first thing I pitched him on was what became my segment that I wrote with Frank Garcia-Hejl and we were off to the races. Aaron engaged in the number one rule that I try to engage in which is that you work with people that you like and love and appreciate and I was very grateful to be on that list.”
The concept for the story, which centers on a man joining a male support group with a dark secret, came about as the writer’s room had an idea of “working within tropes” and saw a “lot of coordination” between Koontz and fellow producer and co-creator Cameron Burns and producer Shawn Talley to figure out “Okay, who’s doing a slasher, is somebody doing a werewolf movie?”
“It wasn’t quite a checklist, but it was definitely a coordination and I wanted to do something that had a tongue-in-cheek message,” Segan explained. “I wanted to do something that felt like it was topical, because I believe that horror is at its best when it’s topical and so the idea of attacking, no pun intended, werewolf films from a perspective of toxic masculinity felt appropriate and it felt funny, so it felt like something on which we could speak and laugh. Part of what makes horror movies and horror movie villains so good, having played a few of them in my day, is when we can laugh at them, when we can sort of take the power away from them and that was a mandate for this. Once I started working with Frank, it really became about structuring it in a way that he is so good at having worked in sketch comedy, being able to approach it almost as if it were a sketch and a sort of heightened sketch. They say elevated horror, this is like elevated sketch.”
With the constant coordination from the producers with Segan and his crew, it allowed the debuting filmmaker and his colleagues to get the feeling that “they weren’t stepping on our individual toes” and that “we had an incredible amount of creative freedom” or at the least “the impression of it,” which he calls a sign of a good producer.
“We probably had very little freedom, but they gave us the feeling that we had a really long reach, which is a credit to them, so if you’re thinking about being a producer, take note that is a great Jedi mind trick you should be pulling on your talent,” Segan laughed. “Obviously the makeup and the prosthetics and the gags were a challenge up until Tate Steinsiek jumped in and Tate, is he the best guy in the world at his job? Probably, so the minute he stepped in, I had no concerns, I was like, ‘Oh, we’ve got the best guy in the world at his job’ and it was sort of the same with casting. I have this dream team idea of casting comedians in these roles and Frank utilizing his years working in sketch comedy with some of the funniest people on Earth was able to convince them to come and play for a little while. Yes there were concerns, but it was addressed immediately as they popped up, all of the normal concerns you would have like, ‘How do we do makeup? How do we get actors?’ All of the normal stuff that comes up when you’re putting something together, but thanks to Frank and Tate and Shawn, who was the producer on mine and is a producer at Paper Street, it all kind of worked out quick and efficiently and low stress.”
Being based in Los Angeles offered Segan the opportunity to explore some interesting locations for shooting his segment, including a little landmark near his home that he was able to become one of the few filmmakers to shoot at before its closure.
“It was pretty luxurious mostly as a credit to Shawn, which was finding these great locations which he helped find either through sort of traditional shoe leather or sometimes through friends,” Segan explained. “But the exterior of the pet shop where the werewolves are having their men’s rights meeting is down the street from me in my neighborhood where I live in Eagle Rock, California, a sort of neighborhood here in LA and I used to drive past that shop every day. The shop unfortunately closed about a month after we shot that bit, so we may have some of the only video of that cool old shop that has been there forever. The football field was a local high school very close Chinatown downtown here in LA that Shawn helped find and coordinate and Khalilah Robinson, who shot it, much like the rest of these people, was just the best person in the world at doing their job and she was able to attack these locations in a systematic way so that we could do it in the time we had.”
With a cast that includes the comedic talents of Allan McLeod (You’re the Worst) and Jonathan Fernandez (Lethal Weapon), amongst others, Segan felt very happy with the roster he put together and didn’t feel there was anybody he wanted but couldn’t quite sign on.
“Every single person that we asked to be a part of this was able to make it work and take the time out of their very busy schedules to make it happen,” Segan brightly recalled. “Some of them are close friends of mine and my family’s and wife’s, Allan McLeod, Don Fanelli and Jocelyn DeBoer, some of them are colleagues, Jonathan Fernandez and Jon Gabrus, to name a few. What was so incredible is that I think much like the horror community, the comedy community shows up. There’s a Venn diagram overlap of horror movie people and comedy people where they kind of understand you’re doing this because you love it and no one’s going to do it for you, you have to do it yourself, you’ve got to do it for your people and they did. It was an incredible outpouring.”
Scare Package is truly a horror film made for horror fans with its range of indie stars such as Chase Williamson (John Dies at the End) to a few surprise mainstream names, and Segan found the ensemble to be “interesting” and noting “there’s a very distinct sense” among those who work in certain genres in which “people are actually out there putting the peddle to the medal” and “their noses to the grindstone and all those adages.”
“You look to the person next to you and you really want them to succeed because they’re your friend and you work with them and you want to work with them and in a selfish way you want to be apart of it, but you also want your community to thrive,” Segan expressed. “I think that making an anthology film, specifically Scare Package, was an example of that on a microcosm, because it was your project, it was your team and you’re watching these teams within a team assemble and all the parts coming together and you’re able to do it in a really detailed way. It made me really happy, you know some of these people are really close friends of mine, Baron Vaughn and the Andjuars, and I was there reading their first drafts and I’m sure, much like they were doing with mine, going, ‘Alright, how are we going to do this? What do you need? How is this going to grow, how is this going to change?’ So watching them being able to accomplish their visions was inspiring.”
Given the film’s tongue-in-cheek tone and genre-heavy inclinations, Segan revealed he had a number of key influences for how he shot his segment, including a seven-time Oscar winner and the cult horror icon behind Maniac, among others.
“The stuff that we were trying to kind of feel from was obviously Fight Club, there was definitely a lot of Lustig inspiration in there in terms of how we were shooting it, because I think that Lustig is one of these guys who was able to, even on a shoestring, manage to kind of spin it into being very visceral,” Segan described. “So there’s a lot of Lustig, there was a lot of Fincher and Fight Club, in terms of tonality, and really trying to not be overpowered by the urtext of American Werewolf. Every time I thought of American Werewolf I would like go out of breath because it’s like you can’t even touch it, you have to go a different way. If there was a werewolf movie that I looked at a few times, I definitely looked at Wolf a few times, I think it’s a really interesting take on werewolves and a really interesting take on some of the stuff we touched on in this.”
In looking at his time directing himself as well as the rest of his cast, he credits a lot of that coming together to “having great people around” him such as co-writer Garcia-Hejl and cinematographer Robinson, who he would “feel confident in checking with them” to ensure sequences were working.
“I’m lucky I’ve been doing this for 15 years now professionally, so I feel like I have a little bit of an instinctual edge but really it was being able to lean on my colleagues and make sure they knew what I was going for and knew how to get me there and they did very graciously,” Segan noted. “As far as directing everybody else, I’m a firm believer that directing is about casting and once you get an incredible person to agree to be a part of your production and to act in it, you’re kind of giving them the material and every single person who was on screen was giving me a lot by just being there. I knew they had what it took and so a lot of it was just about making sure they got what they needed, they got whatever. Sometimes there are definitely experiences where you direct someone where you say, ‘Could we adjust the speed or the cadence or could we think about something differently?’ But it’s also just about you gotta make sure people have water or a soda or a snack or take a deep breath, your job is to make sure the people that you’re working with are comfortable.”
Even prior to the film’s acquisition by AMC’s horror-focused streaming service, Segan described having known a number of people that work at Shudder and is proud to call a few “some of my best friends,” namely director of programming Sam Zimmerman, who if Segan had “to bury a body” would call and semi-jokingly could expect to “show up with a shovel.”
“Truly some of the best people I know, so it was an honor to be included in the Shudder family because I love those people and they do the singular thing perfectly,” Segan warmly described. “It goes back to what I was saying about the people I worked with on my segment and on the film in general, Shudder is the place that does that thing perfectly and they have made it their business to do horror perfectly, so it’s an anxiety-riddled vote of confidence because I hope people like it when they see it. But it’s a great honor to be a part of that group.”
Having finally gotten behind the camera with his segment on the film and looking at whether he’s itching to get back in the director’s chair for feature-length projects, Segan laughs as he says, “You know I am!” and hinting at what he has working.
“I have a couple of things in development, I have something that I wrote to also act in and direct that I’m really excited about that is also, much like “M.I.S.T.,E.R.”, a bit of a comedic take on a trope,” Segan teased. “I don’t want to say too much but it’s definitely my version of a monster that we all know and love and I’m really hoping to have a chance once things safely open up to bring it to you guys.”
In Scare Package, Chad, the owner of Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, recounts a series of bone-chilling, blood-splattered tales to illustrate the rules of the horror genre to his newest employee. Each story takes aim at different tropes, paying homage to and subverting the timeless clichés of the beloved genre with a cast that includes Segan, Vaughn, Chase Williamson (Beyond the Gates), Jocelyn DeBoer (Greener Grass), Jeremy King (Camera Obscura), wrestling legend Dustin Rhodes, Toni Trucks (SEAL Team), Hawn Tran (Watchmen) and more.
Led by a diverse group of up-and-coming genre filmmakers, Scare Package features the directorial debuts of actors Segan and Vaughn. Emily Hagins (Netflix’s Coin Heist), Anthony Cousins (The Bloody Ballad of Squirt Reynolds), Chris McInroy (Bad Guy #2, Death Metal), Courtney and Hillary Andujar (Bloodline) and Koontz round out the collection of filmmakers.
The film was produced by Austin-based genre production company Paper Street Pictures and developed by Koontz and Burns, who are currently in post-production on the witchy-western The Pale Door and previously collaborated on the horror-thriller Camera Obscura for NBCUniversal. Additional producers included Alex Euting, Shawn Talley, and Ashleigh Snead (The Ranger) for Paper Street as well as Kris Phipps, with Graham Northcote as executive producer.
The anthology film, which delighted audiences at numerous festivals including the Sitges Film Festival in Spain, features seven gleefully ghoulish tales from a range of horror subgenres and will premiere on Shudder in the U.S., Canada and the UK on June 18.