With the recent Blu-ray release of Lightning Bug from Image Entertainment, I had a chance to talk with star Ashley Laurence and director Robert Hall. You may know Robert Hall from his effects work or Laid to Rest movies, but his first directorial effort was Lightning Bug in 2004 and it’s not what most people would have expected from him. During our interview time, I talked to him about going with a drama over an effects-heavy movie, revisiting the movie after all these years, and what projects he’s planning to direct in the future.
I know that Lightning Bug is a personal story for you and based on some of your past experiences. Can you tell me a bit about your time growing up in Alabama and how the story eventually evolved into Lightning Bug?
Robert Hall: I moved there when I was nine and I felt like a fish out of water. I never really felt like I belonged there and I retreated to makeup. I would go to Walmart the day after Halloween when everything was half price and stock up. I’d buy everything I could with yard mowing money, and experiment with makeup all year long.
In the middle of April, I’d be putting slashes on friends’ throats who were going to football games. I never really participated in the usual guy stuff and was fascinated with any monster book I could get, and doing makeup all year long. When I moved to LA and started working in the industry, I realized what a strange juxtaposition that really was from the outside looking in.
After I had been here ten years, I crafted this movie and realized that I was the only person that could bring it to life. A lot of the events are true, but I did have to do quite a bit of writing, because no life is an exciting three act story.
Since you come from an effects-heavy background, did you think it was risky for Lightning Bug to be your first project? Why did you go with this project over a movie like Laid to Rest?
Robert Hall: The bottom line was that this movie really meant something to me. That isn’t saying that my Laid to Rest movies don’t mean anything to me, because they mean a lot to me, but Lightning Bug is a different type of film. It really meant something to me in the most guttural way… it was my life and represented all of the opposition I had to deal with. When I started to achieve a little bit of success, I realized that I could probably put this together with a small group of friends and make it myself.
It was a deliberate choice on my part not to do a horror film. I could have made a little zombie movie in a parking lot and go unnoticed, or I could do something that means everything to me and show that I can work with actors. Over the years, I’m glad with my choice. It’s difficult to sell small independent dramas and I suffered for making it first for a lot of years, but I think the results are self-evident.
With this being an independent production, was it difficult to find the right cast to tell this story?
Robert Hall: At that time, TV people were looking for cool little indie films to work on during their hiatus. This was very much a hiatus movie, because I was on hiatus from Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. Laura Prepon was obviously on That 70’s Show and Brett Harrison was on Grounded for Life. After the two leads, I found some of the other core characters in Atlanta. For the most part, though, I wrote the movie with specific people in mind. Ashley Laurence was one of my best friends and was living next door to me at the time. Ashley actually got to meet my real mom and recorded hours of her speaking to get down the accent. It was a lot of really great research that she put into it.
Kevin Gage I met on Firefly and he was the catalyst for getting the movie made, because I was scared to make the movie until I met him. I felt like I could pull together enough money to do it and that they’d let me shoot in Alabama without killing me. [laughs] The only thing I didn’t have was someone who I thought was convincing enough to play what I perceived as the memory of my real step dad, who was that character, but a lot worse. When I met Kevin, I said “this guy can pull off the character.” Kevin actually looks a lot like him and I was blown away. I knew this could work after I met Kevin.
For the Blu-ray release of Lightning Bug, I heard that you were able to go in and digitally enhance some of the movie. Did you enjoy getting the chance to return to your film nearly ten years later?
Robert Hall: Some of them are a surprise. There’s a particular fun little thing in the video store and you’ll have to look out for that one. I didn’t want to go and George Lucas everything, but I realized there was a way I could make the movie a little bit better. When I saw the 1080 master files, I was struck with the notion that we could absolutely go in and sweeten things. We fixed the writing on a letter and added some blood to Green when he gets cut.
One of the larger parts is where Earl jumps out the window. It always looked like a piece of black fabric behind him, so we actually did four shots where we replaced the entire background and make it look like there was moonlight and trees. It was pretty involved, but we could do little things like that to enhance the film.
My company is the only one in Southern California that has an award-winning creature effects facility and a digital facility under one roof. We’re doing hybrid effects now and really capitalizing on it. We really love to do it, and since I’m doing it for other people’s movies, I was grateful to do it to our movie as well.
Are there any projects you’re planning to direct this year? Is the previously announced Chopping Mall remake still moving forward?
Robert Hall: Chopping Mall is still on the slate. We’re working with Roger [Corman] on that and we have it in development. My writing partner, Kevin Bocarde, is doing the heavy lifting right now. He has a script that I’m supposed to start my pass on pretty soon. We have a pretty solid plan for getting it out and it might even start rolling sometime late summer.
There also a film with Johnathon Schaech that I’m directing. It’s more of a Requiem for a Dream-type film that we’re pushing to get made. I think it’s going to happen soon and it’s called Rotten Face. It’s really dark and it’s going to be a kick-ass movie.
We’ve included the Blu-ray release information and trailer for Lightning Bug below. To read our interview with Ashley Laurence, visit:
“After wowing genre and mainstream audiences and fans during its initial DVD release, Image Entertainment will release Lightning Bug for the very first time on Blu-ray January 15th in an all-new, never-before-seen Extended Cut. The screenwriting and directorial debut of award-winning special makeup effects wizard Robert Hall (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” Pineapple Express, Quarantine, Superbad), Lightning Bug launched a career that eventually spawned the creation of horror icon “ChromeSkull” in Hall’s Laid To Rest and ChromeSkull: Laid To Rest 2.
Lightning Bug is a nostalgic journey through the budding aspirations and sobering realities of youth, as told semi-autobiographically by writer/director Hall, with a stellar cast including Laura Prepon (“That 70’s Show”), Bret Harrison (“Grounded For Life,” “The O.C.”), Kevin Gage (Heat) and Ashley Laurence (Hellraiser and Hellraiser II).”