As someone who has been a big fan of their previous collaborative efforts, I was extremely excited once I learned that Chris LaMartina and Jimmy George had yet another film project for us horror fans to enjoy. Their latest is entitled What Happens Next Will Scare You, and while I won’t give much away about it (because really half the fun of the film are all the little surprises), what I can say is that if you’re someone who has enjoyed the WNUF Halloween Special and Call Girl of Cthulhu, then WHNWSY is going to be precisely your jam (as the kids say).
Currently, LaMartina and George have taken to Kickstarter to self-distribute What Happens Next Will Scare You, putting the film directly in the hands of viewers, and I thought the time was right to catch up with the duo to talk about their long journey of making WHNWSY, their working relationship, how this latest film became on of their most complex efforts yet, and more.
And if you’d like to support the release of What Happens Next Will Scare You, be sure to check out the film’s Kickstarter campaign HERE.
What was the inspiration behind the story of What Happens Next Will Scare You?
Jimmy George: We started making movies in 2006 and produced six feature films simultaneously. There was no rest period in between. For every film we made, there was a project developed for six months that we abandoned. We both work full time jobs outside of filmmaking. From 2006-2013, almost every moment of free time was spent writing and producing no-budget movies. Vacations. Nights and weekends. They were all spent working to bring our stories to life.
After we released Call Girl of Cthulhu, we took a breath and had to decide, what’s next? Do we keep making movies? If so, why? We don’t make money off these films. Bringing stories to life and sharing them with others is fulfilling. That’s the reward. But when you embark on producing a feature, they’re all-consuming for at least a year of your life. Were we willing to spend another year on a new film?
What Happens Next Will Scare You was a premise Chris came up with shortly after we finished Call Girl of Cthulhu. Thematically, it offered us a story we could use to explore the debate we were having as creators. Do we just keep producing content to stay relevant? Do we keep trying to tell as many stories as possible? Or is there more value in bringing a story to life only if we have something thematic to say with it?
The clickbait authors in this movie pay a hefty price for choosing to make garbage content over meaningful work. There’s inevitably going to be viewers who feel this movie is garbage too, but for me it’s one of our most thematically resonant movies because we tapped into something truthful we were wrestling with as creators. We also chose this concept because we only had a tiny amount of money to work with and felt it was something we could actually pull off within those means. It felt smaller and manageable. We could film the anthology segments piecemeal on nights and weekends. And do the same for the wrap around framing story after the segments were complete.
Ultimately, this ended up taking longer to complete than any of our previous films, with almost as many moving parts as our biggest projects. 36 Shooting Days. 31 Speaking Roles. 55 Costumes. 17 Locations. 110 Props. 104 Special Effects, most of which are practical. So much for approaching this like a smaller movie!
Chris LaMartina: Viral videos and Reddit horror stories are the EC Comics of today. They’re the shit that younger folks pass around to scare the crap out of each other and that got me thinking. The idea of making a found-footage anthology where each segment could be vastly different in format/approach was extremely attractive to me… especially after having so much playing in the found footage sandbox for the first time with WNUF Halloween Special.
Plus, at the time we wrote the film, I was creative director at a digital agency, and the idea of exploring the social media world within a horror film seemed like a lot of fun exercise. Really, the bonus was crafting a story that was also closely thematically aligned to intense personal feelings about making art in a time when everything is screaming for attention and pining so damn hard for perpetual relevance. More on that later though…
How different was the process writing this versus the other projects that you’ve collaborated with Chris on?
Jimmy George: The process was different in two ways. One, our anthology segments were designed to feel like YouTube videos that functioned as vignettes. Our process is always the same. Once we settle on a concept, Chris gives me an “influences box.” It’s usually a pile of books and films that will give me a clear understanding of his artistic vision. It helps me align with the tone and aesthetic he’s aiming for. With WNUF Halloween Special, it was a stack of nine hour tapes recorded on Halloween night from various local channels in the ‘80s.
With this project, there was no box. Instead, Chris sent me a huge list of YouTube links filled with creepy videos he wanted to emulate aesthetically and tonally. We each made “idea books” where we wrote down every possible concept we could dream up for creepy faux YouTube videos we could pull off. And every awesome cinematic element we could ever want to put into the video based on the segment concept. Creatures. Character ideas. Dialogue. Setups and payoffs. Death scenes. Trailer moments. We traded off idea books and commented on what we liked/disliked about each other’s material. Then, we ended up with a master list of 17 segments we both loved, and decided on 13 to write. Some of the segments that I came up with, Chris wrote the script for. And vice versa. It’s a collaborative process we’ve honed after 15 years of writing scripts together.
Two, we wrote the wrap-around years after we completed the segments. We waited to come up with ideas for the wrap-around until we completed the segments and they were edited. This way we could get a feel for what segments were going to make the cut, and which didn’t align tonally with the rest. We bounced around a lot of potential wrap-around approaches, but since we had the office location at our disposal for free, setting the wrap-around in an office location made the most sense strategically. Once we knew the central location, we started the idea book process all over again for how we were going to tell a cohesive premise-specific story that connected the faux viral video segments in a way that felt organic. From there, we fleshed out a beat sheet together. Chris wrote the first draft of the wrap-around script. I wrote the polish draft and we traded it off a bit more until we were happy with it.
And how about for you, Chris?
Chris LaMartina: Our writing process has become pretty standard at this point. I usually pitch Jimmy the title and starting point of a logline, then I give Jimmy what I call “the influences box,” which is literally a cardboard box of movies, books, and sometimes music that is shaping the tone/vibe/atmosphere of what I’m going for with the finished film. For WHNWSY though, the box was actually just an email full of viral video links because most of the influences were only online! At this point, Jimmy and I both go our separate ways and draft our own idea books- basically 20-50 pages of character sketches, set-piece concepts, suggestions for themes, etc.
We read each other’s notes and do a diner meeting before hammering out a beat sheet and brief treatment. Then, we usually trade off pages in 10-15 page chunks, revising here and there over a few drafts, before I do a final director’s pass. WHNWSY was a little different because of the anthology format. We wrote each video segment first and produced them before writing the wrap-around. We knew what the wraparound would be generally, but because the found footage format wasn’t guaranteed to work for all the stories, so we waited til we could see the actual edits before we wrote them in the framing device.
This ended up being super important because we filmed three segments of the film that were produced, but we cut when we felt they didn’t fit the overall tone of the full anthology. Which was super important to me because as a horror fan, we can all relate to watching an anthology that’s tonally uneven- it’s a bit of a turn-off for me in that subgenre.
In this, you guys not only dig into a lot of different types of videos we see online, but also many of the storytelling tropes that we love about horror. Can you discuss the process of determining what types of videos/stories you wanted to explore, and were there others you wanted to do but ultimately decided against?
Jimmy George: Since we were working with such a limited budget, we had to be strategic about what segments we chose to make.
Each video segment had to:
- Include a different horror sub-genre threat we could pull off.
- Tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.
- Feel as plausible and authentic as possible within our story world.
- Be written to shoot in one or two long takes if possible.
- Have special effects that were achievable within those long takes.
We ended up coming up with a few segments that didn’t necessitate long takes. But we knew we still needed a handful that felt like they were recorded in real time. We also tried to craft segments that used as many different camera types, time periods, and languages as possible. To reflect the variety you’d experience while hunting for creepy videos online. Once we decided which segment concepts were the best fit, that’s where playing with tropes and genre expectations came into play.
With What Happens Next Will Scare You we knew we were combining two sets of expectations: videos the audience expects from an evening down a YouTube rabbit hole, and horror subgenre threads the audience expects in a horror comedy anthology. So we just kept playing with ways we could use our clickbait premise to combine those two into new and interesting stories, while also writing something we could actually MAKE with a small budget. We tried to include as much variety of YouTube videos and horror subgenres as we could achieve within our means. It was a ton of fun to play to combine these and play in this unique horror sandbox.
There were a few segments we filmed that didn’t make the cut, including a vampire and a werewolf segment. Both of those will be included on the DVD as bonus features.
What were the challenges of shooting all these different segments that we see in the film as well as the main part of the film at the Click Clique office? I was impressed how all these segments have their own distinct look and they felt very authentic too.
Chris LaMartina: Each segment ends up being it’s own mini-movie with the quality of camera image and art direction being very different. Early on, Melissa (our co-producer, lead actress and my better half), encouraged me to use Pinterest to full reference links for image quality as well as production design aesthetics. This was instrumental in our collaboration with Kate and Angie, our costume team, as well as Nick our DP.
In fact, early on, we did a big call to any friends of ours who had old video cameras that were sitting around collecting dust. We got VHS camcorders, mini-dv camcorders, some early HD models and our DP, Nick Baldwin, tested them and we ended up using five or six different cameras throughout the film. We were really careful about the gear we used for each segment and I think that attention to detail shows.
Furthermore, I asked myself how did these tapes end up in front of folks… meaning, how much degeneration would exist between original copy to duplication? For example, Eugene’s VCR segments are a little more crappy-looking compared to the “911 call from the funeral home” or fishing show sea monster segment. And all of that is really a mix of what camera did we use, how many times did it go through the VCR, or how did we compress the final files to make them look a little MORE digital.
The fact that so many folks CRINGE when they think about compressing an image rather than go for the best quality is something that always makes me grin a little. It feels more authentic and that’s why that wins out every time.
I’ll keep this vague because I don’t want to ruin things for fans and viewers in the future but there are some really great effects here that also run the gamut of special effects and special makeup effects. Can you discuss your FX team and working with them on What Happens Next Will Scare You?
Chris LaMartina: There are a lot of practical FX in the film - everything from Bigfoot to ghosts, sea monsters to the demonically possessed, not to mention buckets of blood/gore. It truly runs the gamut from makeup appliances to miniatures, but we had a small but mighty team including our buddies, Mike Lombardo, Rich Donahue, Victor Accord, Mark Wegner, and our co-producer/lead actress Melissa who ended up doing a TON of puppet work.
Any FX day on a horror film is the “fun part,” but watching everyone light up when we did the puppet gags was especially sweet. Melissa made this adorable mangled little stuffed teddy bear for our cursed toy segment, and every time we filmed with it was a BLAST. That was also a good example of marrying practical and digital FX though because we hired our buddy Sam to go back and digitally scrub the wires/strings from a few choice shots.
One of my favorite gags in the film is puss-shooting pimple monster that was created by our pal, Mike Lombardo. Mike is an incredible director who helmed the harrowing holiday horror flick, I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday. Mike, who does incredible FX work, became a friend after we hung out a few times on the convention circuit, and we were so lucky to have him involved with creating that specific effect.
You and Chris have worked together several times now and I was wondering if you could discuss your overall collaborative process together and why it is that you two work together so well?
Jimmy George: Chris LaMartina is extraordinary. Making movies with Chris has been one of the great joys of my life. Our partnership has led to seven feature films because of trust and communication. From a writing standpoint, we’ve developed an uncanny ability to improve each other’s ideas over 15 years of brainstorming for scripts and productions. Chris is a director who always knows what he wants. Since I’ve been working with him for so long, that makes my job as a producer easier.
Since we write the scripts together, I always know what he’s trying to achieve. I know when a production element is going to be perfect, and when it’s not going to be the right fit. This saves us a ton of time over the course of productions. This trust and communication extends to the rest of our team. The reason we’ve been able to make so many movies is because we often work with the same talented friends from previous productions. We have a camaraderie formed with them in the filmmaking trenches that helps us succeed.
Over 25 cast and crew who worked on our previous films contributed their talents to making, What Happens Next Will Scare You, plus an additional 40 cast and crew who joined our team for the first time. These dedicated teammates and collaborators are the unsung heroes of our films. It takes a village!
You’ve decided to distribute WHNWSY straight to horror fans via Kickstarter - I know you’ve worked with the platform before, just in a different way, so I was wondering if it just felt natural to do a KS for What Happens Next Will Scare You as a means of getting this film in front of the fans who want to support you and your team directly?
Chris LaMartina: This is the first time we’ve done pre-orders versus raising the cash just necessary to make a movie in the first place. We still remain friends with our previous distributor and while we didn’t have BAD experiences, we figured we’d recoup more of our original investment and always keep an open line of communication with the backers that support our project. So, yeah… it’s all about getting the film directly to the folks who support us and frankly, just cut out some unnecessary middlemen.
The fact is that everyone can distribute now. Will everyone get on Netflix or Shudder? No, but physical collecting is becoming very niche (and a little more expensive), so if we can find 100 some folks who want a physical copy of WHNWSY, we’re gonna press discs to at least break even. As a collector myself, putting this title out was important to me, and a lot of distributors are only doing digital now, which is a big thumbs down for me.
So if you want the film, back it now before you spend triple on eBay like those damn WNUF VHS copies (laughs). Seriously though, this movie is only getting released physically once - or at least for the next 30 years or so, until Severin puts out my filmography box set. I want the Adamson/Milligan treatment (laughs)!
What was the most fun aspect of working on What Happens Next Will Scare You from your perspective?
Jimmy George: I had so much fun working on this movie. SO MANY FUN HIGHLIGHTS including:
- Mike C. Walls giving the greatest audition I’ve ever seen in 15 years of doing this. His performance as Mr. Tickles lived up to that promise. Mike’s joy playing the poltergeist killer clown was infectious.
- Filming the Lake Zaca Monster segment. My cousins lent us their fishing boat and eight of us filmed the 80’s fishing show segment on the Chesapeake Bay. We warned the neighbors who lived near the shore, “You’re gonna hear someone screaming like they’re being killed. It’s for a movie. We swear!”
- Lead actress, and producer, Melissa LaMartina also created the killer teddy bear, Scraps. Any day Melissa was on set puppeteering Scraps was a blast.
- Watching Helenmary Ball and Brian St. August return to their roles as Dr. Louis and Claire Berger from WNUF Halloween Special for a new segment was surreal.
- I spent a week in the back room of our friend’s record store building two sets and an FX rig with our set construction coordinator and carpenter, Dave Spencer.
- The ’90s Birthday Party Segment. My wife, Jill George came on as a producer for this film. We created a complicated ghost special effect together. We puppeteered the effect with the help of five other cast and crew, surrounded by a dozen kids and parents dressed in ‘90s clothes while they screamed at the top of their lungs. So much fun!
Chris, what is your biggest takeaway from your experience making What Happens Next Will Scare You?
Chris LaMartina: Making WHNWSY took about six years from script to screen, which is odd since it's largely a simpler film than our previous one (Call Girl of Cthulhu). So what was the deal? Our lives had changed. My job as a video editor evolved into a career as a creative director in the agency space. Jimmy left his retail gig and started his own business consulting screenwriters. We were both now married with mortgages and folks on our crews had grown up, started families, and making movies didn’t have the “ride or die” mentality it did back when we made the earlier films.
We went through four editors on WHNWSY before I decided I would just do it myself like the previous films. The simple fact is that even though we’d gotten much better and much more organized at making films, making films is always difficult. We’d flirted with the idea of making movies “professionally,” but even with the success of WNUF, no one ever offered us more than around $100k to make a movie. And when you think about what your slice of a “salary” looks like on a $100k movie and the amount of time it takes in a year, it starts looking real silly/pointless.
Still, there was this immense pressure on us for a new project. We felt like we had to make SOMETHING. WHNWSY was that something because we didn’t have much money and it was a simple story we could achieve on a small budget (about $6K total). But thematically, WHNWSY is all about that pressure. Are you putting meaningful work into the world or are you simple doing the artistic equivalent of ‘jazz hands’ to stay relevant on social media? At its core, that’s what WHNWSY is about and that was the story I wanted to tell because it's what I was feeling as a creator.
Since then, I’ve developed strong feelings about making art. I never want to do it for a paycheck. I only want to do it because I have a story I’m excited about and want to bring it fruition. So what was the takeaway from WHNWSY? Do it because you love it. Always.
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