Q&A: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer, and John Hegeman talk ‘Holidays’
Anthologies are becoming all the rage in horror. It’s not without good reason. The short film is the perfect medium for horror, so it’s nice to be able to view several shorts in one feature length sitting. HOLIDAYS takes that one step further by providing a cohesive theme for all the segments; each one revolves around a particular holiday.
Before their premier at the Tribeca Film Festival, directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, along with producer John Hegeman sat down with Modern Horrors to talk about HOLIDAYS and their segment, Valentine’s Day.
John: Well the good news is that we shot it over a year and a couple of months, so we were able to work them around everyone’s schedule. We didn’t shoot them all at once; each director shot their movie when it worked within their schedule. So from a scheduling standpoint, it was an easy thing. To find the right group of directors, it really took a lot of research and relationships and just connecting with the different directors.
In the case of Valentine’s Day, with my friends here, it was really seeing Starry Eyes just came out and I thought it was one of the best horror movie in the last couple of years that I had seen. So, with myself and one of the other producers, Adam Mortimer, we’re like “we got to work with these guys, they’re brilliant.” And I think that sort of, you know, the way that it went, sometimes we had relationships going into it, others it was just that we were huge fans of the directors and we went to them and asked them to do it.
Kevin: Yeah, I mean growing up I was a big fan of Creepshow and even Creepshow 2, which I know isn’t Romero, it’s the camera man that directed that one. I actually think that some of those segments that aren’t like a wrap is great. I grew up on those and of course those are one director through the whole thing, but like, I’ve just always liked that format. I was a big fan of Tales From the Dark Side, Tales From the Dark Side the movie. Twilight Zone the movie was out when I was a child and I remember loving that, and it was just always something that I liked that format. I remember getting to the age where I’m going to film school and then you saw that all the heroes of that time period like Quentin Tarantino did Four Rooms, and it was kind of like oh those people out at the film festival crowd that year, the whole Sundance alum were sort of getting together making this anthology Four Rooms, and it was something that I always thought looked like a cool, fun thing to do.
After our movie came out at South by Southwest, we were living in a time where there were a lot of anthologies going around like V/H/S, ABC’s of Death, but Starry Eyes was in the festival kind of after they had come out. It was kind of like, we thought, well maybe we can get those, we didn’t get our chance to be in one of those. Then Holidays came around and it gave us a chance to be in an anthology, and we jumped at it. It seemed like a really fun thing to do. It’s a way to follow up your film and keep working on your chops and make another film quick after your other without going through the long process of having to develop another feature.
Dennis: I’ll add on to the last thing he said. Making a feature film takes like a year of your life. You live with that film and go to bed with it every night. There’s something very refreshing about just going in to work on a ten to twelve minute sequence. It’s almost like a palate cleanse where you’re able to go in and say “alright, let me stretch my craft a bit; get better as a writer and director,” but try something that I wouldn’t normally do. And so there is a certain flexibility and freedom to doing an anthology that is very refreshing as a filmmaker. This process was just great. All the people you work with were very easy to work with. There was a lot of autonomy. There was just really good producing that was going on here. We saw that we were in good hands and we liked the idea of a holiday horror movie, because I think everyone kind of has that idea, and we’ve seen features of that, but no one ever had the idea to do an anthology of that until now. We’re shocked by that. It seems like such a “right” idea, for sequels and more movies, there are just so many holidays. So the minute we heard the idea, it was a no-brainer. We wanted to be part of it.
Dennis: No, we write all the stuff that we direct normally and at that point we had a really good relationship with John and Adam Egypt Mortimer. We had written a few other things for them as well. Other concepts that we almost ended up going with. By the time that that came around we had already written a few different things for them and they kind of liked our voice, and we already had a good personal relationship going with Adam, so it felt natural for them to approach us to write the segment for New Year’s Eve. It was exciting to bookend, creatively, the whole anthology. We were proud to do that.
It really just came down to just sitting down with him and his wife, Amanda Mortimer, and just going through ideas. By then, Adam being a producer on the entire anthology, and the last one being filmed, he was able to look at all the segments that they had and kind of fill, tonally, things that we still wanted to put in the film. It was kind of refreshing to look at all the things that had happened already and say “what are we missing still? What does this anthology still need?” So I think a lot of it was orchestrating something tonally that could make the whole thing feel like one cohesive piece.
John: I would say that if we’re successful, and the audience likes what we did over the next couple of weeks, we will definitely be doing a Holidays II. To follow up on what you said, the good news is that we have a really strong segment if we feel like doing Halloween again.
But all kidding aside, when we were making the movie we actually identified 32 holidays. Then we polled that 32 down to 12 and worked with the directors to pick out of that 12. So we certainly have the opportunity for additional sequels. I would be unbelievably thrilled if the guys would do another one.
Kevin: Sign us up! We didn’t get to do our Halloween one, so sign us up.
John: Whatever that is, it would happen organically. We’re going to let the audience sort of embrace each story, and just look into that. One of the things that can obviously be exciting is that any one of these stories really has a chance of turning into a feature. We don’t want to force anything. We’ll just let the audience really figure that out.
Dennis: Another thing that Kevin and I really responded to was the segments and how they came together. Unlike a lot of other anthologies, where it sort of feels like a one-and-done concept, or a big gross-out scare, every writer and director really approached their segment as almost a miniature movie.
They really have a three act structure and they are very mature, and that was kind of refreshing. I mean, a lot of other anthologies are fun, but it’s like an extended gag. So, kind of what you’re getting here is almost like a group of eight miniature films that can really stand on their own. I think that’s what sets it apart.
Kevin: Well it’s funny, we were just talking before about how day one we shot the scene out in the woods. I don’t know if I should say more. But in the first day, we have teenage girls there, we have the production team digging holes in the dirt and filling it up with water, and we’re like “oh yeah, that’s going to be a hole for you to go put your face in there” and that’s what we’re doing day one. Go get in that puddle of mud!
These are like, teen girls that just got a role in a film, and they’re coming and they got to trust that their directors will take care of them. It’s kind of challenging, yeah, when you’re doing a difficult scene on day one, but me and Dennis try and be personable guys and get a good rapport going with everybody. Make the whole set fun. It was like that. That’s how it was. I don’t think that they were ever like “oh, you want me to do that”, everyone was up for the challenge. We just made the environment where we were all on the same page, we’re all going to do this movie. That’s an important thing. It was that way with Starry Eyes too. There is a lot of challenging material in that. It’s just making sure that you find people that understand what you’re doing and they’re on board. If you’re just hiring some random teenager and they don’t get what you’re doing, it could be a very difficult situation. Especially if you don’t have guardians on board. It’s something that when we go about it, we make sure that everyone is on the same page. And everybody was.
Dennis: You wouldn’t think this, but finding the pool configuration was the most difficult and expensive thing we dealt with. There were three details. We needed an Olympic sized swimming pool. We needed a high diving board; a very high diving board, and we needed an adjacent locker room with metal lockers. So now you would think in Los Angeles, a major city, that would be easy. We ended up calling probably over fifty pools, and that was the only pool in Los Angeles with that configuration. One, because most pools don’t have high diving boards anymore because of lawsuits. Kids get hurt playing with them. Two, because most of the Olympic sized swimming pools are at colleges and are for the training of the Olympics. And then three, because most modern locker rooms nowadays don’t have metal lockers. They have hamper bins that you put your clothes in. I had never even seen this until we started scouting. So we were actually ready to give up, and then finally in the last hour we find that pool. I think they knew they were the only one that had that configuration, so they charged us for it!
We were able to shoot like eighty percent of the film in that location, so it was actually very good for the cast and crew to have that one little headquarters where we had everything in one spot. But I would say that ended up being the most difficult thing about the production.
We would like to thank Kevin, Dennis, and John for taking time out of their busy schedule before the premiere of HOLIDAYS to talk with us.
HOLIDAYS premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on April 14th. It hit VOD on April 15th, and will be coming to select theaters April 22nd.