After taking viewers behind-the-scenes of Rob Zombie's 31 in the extensive documentary In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31, filmmaker Josh Hasty returns behind the camera for his own feature film Candy Corn. Featuring an all-star horror cast that includes Courtney Gains, P.J. Soles, and Tony Todd, Candy Corn is now on Blu-ray and VOD from DREAD, and we caught up with Hasty in our latest Q&A feature to discuss assembling his cast of horror icons, bottling the intoxicatingly nostalgic atmosphere of Halloween, and the insights he's learned from having Rob Zombie as a friend and mentor.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, and congratulations on Candy Corn! When and how did you come up with the idea for this film?
Josh Hasty: My pleasure, I always love talking with you guys. Well, the idea sort of manifested from my lifelong passion and obsession for the season of Halloween and the horror films I love. I grew up in the midwest during a time when kids still went trick-or-treating and Halloween felt like magic. Somewhere along the way that all became a thing of the past. Whether it's a product of just growing up, or people just don't go crazy about it like they used to, I don't know. But I do know I've spent my entire life trying to bottle that feeling and revisit it as often as possible through watching movies, building haunted houses, collecting things, etc. So, during the time I was shooting the documentary on Rob Zombie's 31, I started connecting with other people that shared that same feeling I had. Eventually the opportunity came up for me to be able to work with some of these people on a real movie, and it was only natural for me to create something original based on all of those things I love, bottled up in the shape of a film I'd want to see.
You've done other film projects before, what do you mean when you say Candy Corn is your first “real” movie?
Josh Hasty: Well, all of the projects I've done before were just me and maybe a few friends and family shooting stuff for fun—no idea what we're doing, and certainly no business calling ourselves filmmakers. I'm grateful for those projects, as they taught me a lot. But Candy Corn is the first time I worked with professional filmmakers who do what they do for a living. That is an entirely different ball game than some friends and family just wanting to make a movie for fun.
You assembled an amazing cast for Candy Corn, including genre legends P.J. Soles, Tony Todd, and Courtney Gains. Candy Corn is the first time they've all been in a film together. How did you make this happen? Did you write any of these characters with these actors in mind?
Josh Hasty: It's funny because I did actually write those particular characters with those actors in mind, but I NEVER thought I'd actually get them. We got Courtney on board first. He and Pancho had the same manager at the time. He really loved the script and jumped all over it, and even came on as my co-producer. Then with P.J. and Tony, it all started because I would say things to my producers like, “We need to find someone like P.J. Soles for Marcy. And when you're reading the script, imagine Tony Todd as Bishop Gate.” And because of that, one of my EPs, Justin Mabry suggested we actually try to get P.J. Soles, as Ben Scrivens, owner of Fright Rags knows her. It was tough to get her at first because it was known that she was being very picky about roles and turning down everything (because she's P.J. Soles and why shouldn't she?). But Ben got her the script, she absolutely loved it, and the next thing you know we're on the phone talking about the backstory of Marcy. Once we had P.J. Soles and Courtney Gains, two of the greatest horror icons of our time, we got Tony's attention. But that wasn't quick or easy, either. I had to prove myself to him first. Tony is on a level that few in this industry are on, and he's there for a reason. He knows his craft inside and out and he does his homework. So after the courting phase, he agreed to read the script and we were on the phone the next day. He absolutely loved the character of Bishop Gate, and appreciated that I wasn't just trying to use his name. Bishop Gate doesn't have a lot of screen time, but his role is incredibly instrumental to the film. He also came on as executive producer. It was amazing to work with all of them, but their support in me and in Candy Corn is beyond anything I could've ever asked from them.
Where did filming take place, and how long was your shooting schedule?
Josh Hasty: Filming took place in Ohio and California. I wanted to shoot the entire thing in Ohio, but my production designer, Shawn McKinney, hooked us up with the amazing folks at the L.A. Circus and we shot all of the carnival scenes there. They supply everything for just about any carnival/circus-themed movie and show you can think of. So I went there and spent two days picking out everything I wanted to use to make up the entire carnival set. I drew it all out on a napkin and gave it to Shawn. Then they built it all in an empty lot. Everything in Ohio are real locations that are exactly how you see them in the film, aside from my dressing. It was non-negotiable that we shoot all exteriors in Ohio during the fall time. That was one of the most important things to me from the second I started writing the script. But because we kept losing producers and funding at the last minute of every turn, we ended up shooting two days in L.A. in June of 2017, four days in Ohio that November, then another five days in Ohio and six days in L.A. exactly a year later. There's a really great two-hour-long making-of documentary that comes with the Blu-ray that covers a lot of it.
Were you influenced or inspired by any films, TV series, or books while making Candy Corn?
Josh Hasty: Not necessarily while we were shooting or editing. I had an incredibly clear vision on what I wanted it to look like. I think that's just inherent, based on the things I've seen and been impressed by. Although, when it comes to the foundation of the story, my three biggest influences were John Carpenter's Halloween, Happy Birthday to Me, and Dark Night of the Scarecrow. My goal with the script was to take everything I love about those three films and put them into one original story that meant something personal to me. Then, from there I can't even count the Easter eggs and nods I gave to all of the shows, films, books, and music that has inspired me. It actually amazes me that more people don't pick up on them, which is a good thing, I guess. I never wanted it to be a ripoff, and you really ride that line when you're paying homage to something so culturally saturated. But those who pay close enough attention will see nods and inspiration from Rosemary's Baby, The Crow, Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Rocky Horror, Phantasm, The Fog, and even non-horror things that I love such as The Beatles, Mad Men and The Blacklist.
You mention John Carpenter's Halloween, which Candy Corn is being compared a lot to in reviews. What's that like for you, given how much of an influence it was to you and how iconic that film is?
Josh Hasty: John Carpenter's Halloween is the first horror film I remember seeing as a kid, and it's one that has stuck with me for all these years. I know what that film means to everyone, and to hear people say they get a similar feeling when they watch Candy Corn is incredible. I can only hope Candy Corn lasts as long as Halloween has lasted in the eyes of the fans.
Before directing Candy Corn, you helmed the extensive documentary In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31. What did you learn from Rob Zombie after spending countless hours on the set of 31, and did you apply any of those lessons to Candy Corn?
When I was shooting the documentary, I had never been on a film set before in my life. So I was learning all of the terminology, hierarchies, and seeing what really goes into actually getting a movie done on a schedule with a million moving parts. But I was there to document, so I was never looking at it through the lens of a director myself. It wasn't until after it came out and I continued a relationship with Rob that I really started to learn the valuable lessons. And I still learn from him to this day. He's pretty much the king of do-it-yourself horror, and I'm incredibly fortunate to have him as a friend and mentor. You just can't prepare for the things that go wrong while you're making a movie. Being a director is like being on an island with a ton of people, and you're all building a house. Then one day you wake up, everyone's gone, and you realize only the foundation was set. So you still have to build the house while the rest of the team is off building more foundations on other islands. It's lonely and it's very challenging. The one thing I learned from talking to Rob a lot during those months was that you just have to truly believe in what you're doing and do it for yourself, no one else. I took that advice so seriously that I didn't let anyone see the movie until I was 100% done. The only two people aside from me who got to see a cut were my co-composer, Michael Brooker, and my fiancée and colorist, Lindsey. But they had to see it in order to do their jobs. Every actor, crew member, and producer saw it for the first time with an audience. I made the film I wanted to make, and that was the cut that Epic Pictures bought.
Looking back at your time on the set of Candy Corn, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Josh Hasty: It's really a blur now, but I honestly can't name too many times that weren't amazing for me. I mean, I created a world with people, locations, stories, motivations, causes and effects, and I got to actually live in that world with some of my heroes and friends. I can't think of anything better than that.
Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from Candy Corn?
Josh Hasty: Entertainment. That's what I believe movies are supposed to be. That's what they've been for me, and if I can give that to other people, I've succeeded. Candy Corn isn't a film you're supposed to stress out about or have to Google the meaning of after you watch it. I just want people to spend 85 minutes detached from their phones, away from the worries of life, and be transported to this little world that I created.
With Candy Corn coming to VOD and Blu-ray on September 17th from DREAD, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
Josh Hasty: I have three big projects I'm working on now, but I don't like to talk about them until they're alive and breathing on their own. I'm just excited that Candy Corn is getting out to the entire world, and it's being received as well as it is. I'm going to enjoy this for now and then I'll get back to burying my head in the next thing.