Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Digging Up the Dirt with KillDozer and Chris Peckover, Writer and Director of Better Watch Out

Conventions are a good place to broaden your scope in terms of what's out there in the horror community. As much as people like to live in the "nostalgia tunnel" we should also be open to the future genre legends and future monster kid classics. I never turn down a chance to sit in on a panel for a new film and such is the case for my discovery of what might become a new horror holiday classic, Better Watch Out. I was lucky enough to speak with Director Chris Peckover after his panel at Monsterpalooza and follow up with him later to dig deeper into how he made his dream a reality. 

KillDozer: Let's start at the beginning. What inspired you to create Better Watch Out? Was it always set during Christmas time in your mind?

Chris: It all started with our deep love for John Hughes, our love for how honest he was about the awkwardness of teenage life, and our desire to find out how this generation of teens compares. How HOME ALONE might look today. Sprinkle in pendulum swings between fun character developments and shocking brutality a la Craven and Tarantino, and mwah - that’s a spicy meatball.

KillDozer: I remember during your Q&A about the film you said that your original title was "Safe Neighborhood" (which I really like by the way). Who or what made you change it?

Chris: We teamed up with Josh Olson at The Refinery, who is just a brilliant guy. He also dug "Safe Neighborhood" as a title but felt like we were insane not to be playing up the fact that we had on our hands a great Christmas horror movie -- those are few and far between and much easier to market.

KillDozer: Does being both writer and director of a film allow you to bring your vision to the screen without compromise?

Chris: Unless you're self-financing your own movie and shooting and editing and starring in it yourself, film is inherently a collaborative medium. I made plenty of compromises. The trick is to surround yourself with such quality people that their views elevate what you're bringing to the table. That said, I do think being both writer and director makes doubly sure that I bring an extra clear vision to the table that's easier to communicate so we're all making suggestions in the right direction.

KillDozer: When writing the film did you think of it as a horror comedy, a comedy horror, or is it not that easy to put a label on? 

Chris: This is a truly horrific situation that I thought audiences would enjoy more willingly if it was subverted through humor. So definitely horror first.

KillDozer: I've been hearing a lot of buzz about this film. Do you think the holiday aspect is a strong selling point? If so why do you think that is?

Chris: Ask Josh Olson and The Refiner haha.

KillDozer: Did you want your inspiration to be obvious to the viewer or is the plot made up of things you think only film buffs will pick up on?

Chris: Being clandestine or inaccessible about your inspirations can get snobbish, if you ask me. But you also don't want to be so overt about your inspirations that it takes people out of the reality you've woven your story around. It's a balance.

KillDozer: They say in film making "never work with kids". How was it working with a young cast? Any on set pranks or were they behaved?

Chris: Whoever said that never worked with Levi, Liv, and Ed. They were a dream.

KillDozer: Have you been able to see your film with an audience? What is that experience like? Did everything affect the audience the way you thought it would?

Chris: I've seen the film with about 30 audiences at this point. To me it's the most important experience a director can have, because you learn to read a crowd and see what works and what doesn't. Every screening has also been different -- depending on the city or country, people react to different things. Montreal film-goers are emotionally generous and vocal. Los Angeles film-goers are the quietest I've seen. I wish someone would do a study on different cities and how their reactions as a crowd reflect their psychology and social openness.

KillDozer: Was there ever a point in writing or shooting where you thought "I've gone too far" or "I haven't gone far enough"? Did you reshoot or edit anything that you regret or is what we see on screen exactly what you wanted?

Chris: The only thing I regret I discovered way after we finished the movie. It's a moment that thrills 99% of viewers in its danger and edge, but I've seen two people walk out at that moment, and there's an easy thing I could've done to get the effect I wanted without pushing that 1% too far. But I'm a better filmmaker for it now, and it was an important lesson in restraint.

KillDozer: What experience did you have looking for a distributor? Were you pleased with the release? At any point did you try to make a December release happen?

Chris: Our distributors found us. Universal International hopped on board after seeing some footage, and everything fell into place after that. I was totally expecting a December release, so when Well Go USA announced an October theatrical release at first I was so confused. But now I think what they did is genius. Theaters require a minimum 60 day window between theatrical and streaming. So by coming out in October, which is already a wonderful month for horror, that means we can release on Blu-ray and streaming in December in time for the holidays. And because this movie plays best with people who know nothing about it, it kinda makes the perfect holiday gift.

KillDozer: What was it like to film in Australia? Do they have the same union laws? Was this a financial choice?

Chris: We went there for financial reasons (I'm an Aussie citizen, tax incentives) but my heart stayed there the people. I want to move to Sydney eventually. It became my favorite city in the world. Just a lovely culture of generosity.

KillDozer: Where can we follow you and your work? Twitter ,Facebook, etc.

Chris: I'm always posting fun behind the scenes stuff or just movie geekery on Twitter and Instagram. Facebook is more personal for me, pics of me and my boyfriend, the boring stuff that I like to keep friends only.

KillDozer: What might we hope to see in terms of extras for the home release of Better Watch Out?

Chris: We shot an hour long documentary about the behind the scenes stuff. I can't wait for people to see it.

KillDozer: If your film could some how mash up with any other Christmas film, characters and all, which film would it be and why?

Chris: Instant reply: HOME ALONE. I want to know how Luke Lerner and Kevin McAllister would get along.

KillDozer: What's the worst movie anyone could give you as a Christmas gift?

Chris: One that I already own? Also, anything with Hugh Grant.

KillDozer: Give me 2 ideas for VHS style tag lines to your film. For example- "The only Christmas miracle this year will be if you survive the night"

Chris: Heavenly pieces.
Satan's little helper.
Spread the holiday fear.
Snow guts, snow glory.
Silent night, holy s**t

KillDozer: If you had to make another holiday horror what holiday would you pick and why?

Chris: I'm shocked nobody's done a horror movie about the dangers of trick or treating. Like -- it's maybe the most joyous and stupidest thing adults let their kids do all year. The best horror to me is about shining a terrifying light on the things we love.

KillDozer: What is your favorite piece of movie memorabilia that you own?

Chris: A buddy bought me an original poster of my favorite movie of all time - LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. It's my prized treasure.

Keep up with updates about Better Watch Out on the movie's official FacebookInstagram, and Twitter!
And keep your eyes peeled for Better Watch Out coming to retail shelves near you in December.

Let's spread some holiday fear!


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