After working in the industry for nearly 40 years, there’s not much that director/producer Rachel Talalay hasn’t accomplished in her career. But with her latest feature, A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting, she set out to take on something that she’s never done before: directing a family-friendly feature film.
During a recent press day for the film, Daily Dead had the pleasure of speaking with Talalay about her work on A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting, and she chatted about the elements of the story that appealed the most to her, creating some of the film’s memorable monsters, collaborating with Tom Felton, who plays Babysitter’s Guide’s villain, and even confirmed that Freddy Krueger very briefly makes a cameo here as well.
A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting began streaming today, exclusively on Netflix.
It's so great to speak with you today, Rachel, and thank you for taking the time. I'm a big believer that we need good gateway genre movies for kids, and this was a lot of fun. You’ve worked within the genre space for decades now, but I was just curious if there was something in particular about this story and this world that really spoke to you as a storyteller coming on board A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting?
Rachel Talalay: I just really connected with the female empowerment side of this story, and the friendship side of it. I also liked the complexity of Liz as a character, and I liked that she felt like a complicated character that we can all identify with. And also, having the opportunity to work with Joe [Ballarini], who wrote these books, to bring it to screen was enjoyable. Plus, getting to add in STEM elements in particular, which is one of the things we added that's different from the books, that was very important to me. It was interesting to move into the YA space, because I don't normally do family stories. I walked the line a bit with Doctor Who, but this was more about creating something that was funny and family-friendly, and could be a little bit scary for kids.
In this story, your main villain is The Grand Guignol, played by Tom Felton, which has ties to Parisian horror theaters from the early 1920s. Obviously, that’s probably not going to be something most kids are aware of, so I enjoyed that even though this is very much a kids’ movie, there were elements to this that felt like they were there for the parents. So kudos on that. And in terms of Tom’s performance, how was it working with him on this project? He’s just the right amount of scary, I think.
Rachel Talalay: So, when you’re making movies like this, where kids and adults are going to be watching them together, you always want to find things that the adults can respond to, too. We could have just stuck with him being the boogeyman, but the idea that he was The Grand Guignol and that his character touches on French theater and all these very dark, theatrical elements, but if you want to keep it completely elemental, then Tom's playing the boogeyman. And actually, there are seven boogie people which are the essence of Joe Ballarini's books. And then we added the musical elements to him. I thought it was really important, in terms of just adding to the fun of that performance for kids, and just giving his character another layer.
Tom was having so much fun with the character on set, too, and the most fun part of the process of collaborating with him with this role was experimenting with it. We had some references to Bowie in Labyrinth in here, to add a little sex appeal. And when I pitched myself as the director for the project, I felt like it was really important that The Grand Guignol should be younger. In the book, he’s just this old guy, and I wanted to break down some of those molds we usually get with these kinds of characters. And, a lot of it was just letting Tom be free to do all kinds of different things with the character. We played around with different textures with the character and he would do takes where some were scarier and others were lighter, and we did some ad-libbing, too, to find those textures. In post-production, we played around with his voice a lot, only to basically discover that we were all happier with his voice how it was naturally. But that’s all part of the fun of figuring out your characters.
I know we're getting close on time, but I wanted to talk about the monsters for this movie because they are obviously an essential element, and I totally fell in love with the Toadies. I am in my 40s, and I kinda want dolls of these little Toadie creatures. They are so much fun.
Rachel Talalay: I'm so glad you said that, because the first thing I said when we were designing them was, “I want people to want to have these monsters as stuffed animals.” There is definitely some kind of merchandising you can do with these characters, and I knew we had the right design when I want to own it and my kids want to own it. When we started out designing them originally, based on what I'd read in the script, I saw them as teenage boys, where they're a little bit dirty and they are totally unpredictable and mischievous, and they are obviously here to add some comic relief. We also wanted to make sure that they were all completely different from each other, too.
One last question: at the end of the film, you leave things open with possible new stories and adventures. Are you hopeful that if this goes well that you would be able to come back and do another film and explore these characters and this world once again?
Rachel Talalay: Absolutely. I'm hopeful. I really enjoyed working on this one, so it would be delightful to get to come back and take this world to the next level.