Take one part hair metal, one part giant ant, and mix in a music festival that nobody is clamoring to attend (NOchella) and you have yourself the new comedy/horror hybrid “Dead Ant,” which is set to hold its World Premiere tonight as part of Screamfest at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California.
We recently sat down with the film’s writer/director Ron Carlson to discuss the year-long journey of bringing the monstrous insects to the big screen, why you should go see “Star Wars” if you want the bugs to look more realistic, and how “Dead Ant” is less about bringing a B-movie to life and more about a band having to navigate the rules of that particular world.
TrunkSpace: What has the “Dead Ant” journey been like for you in terms of seeing your vision become a reality? Has it been a long journey?
Carlson: It has. The script I wrote relatively quick. I really knocked out the first draft of this in five weeks. My first draft was just a band, a little more nondescript band, and then I decided I know and I understand hair metal, and those are great guys to be underdogs. Their music is pretty “out” today. They’re playing some state fairs, and they’re not getting invited to Coachella. They’re not in the Sundance Film Festival. So these guys were perfect for that – meaning the characters.
The laborious journey for me was I had the CG done – 700 CG shots in the movie, roughly – in Russia. That took a year, and during that year, you’re lost in the 700 shots. That was really painful, to be truthful.
TrunkSpace: How do you manage that when you’re working with a team who is physically so far removed from where you are?
Carlson: It’s through Skype and it’s me making videos of myself, pretending to be the ant, and what I want it to do and sending a storyboard shot and getting it back. It was really complicated, but in our budget range, it was the best work that I had seen. I don’t think the effects looked Syfy channel, but they’re not Pixar. They’re not Harry Potter. I made the movie for 99 million dollars less than a Harry Potter. I don’t have access to all that. Ultimately, if you’re going to see this movie because you want the best special effects, go fucking see “Star Wars.” Go see something else. I’m not giving you that. If you want to say, “Oh, I just want to go and have a good time,” that’s what I’m delivering. I feel like I can sufficiently do that.
TrunkSpace: And therein lies the other great connection to the hair metal genre, which was an era where everyone wanted to (and was) just having fun. It is a genre of music known for having a good time.
Carlson: That’s it. That’s the thing. There’s not a person out there that can’t turn on Hair Nation on Sirius Radio and sing along with a couple of the songs. Everybody knows a few. Two beers in a bar, a hair metal song comes on, and you’re alright. “I’m going to sing out with the crowd right now.” And that was my goal with this movie. I really wanted to make a good comedy that was within the rules of a B-horror movie.
TrunkSpace: Casting Jake Busey as Merrick was a great move because he seems all-in and really built for the role.
Carlson: Yes, Jake was built for this role, but no one would see Jake as this, you know what I mean? You wouldn’t initially say, “Okay yeah, Jake Busey is this guy!” I loved Jake.
I had a job at one point where I interviewed different bands. I interviewed a couple of these hair metal bands, and it’s funny because they all kind of become famous and big bands when they’re 18 and in high school. Then they move on and they start to burn out or whatever. But it’s funny, once you become that famous guy, at that age, and especially it seemed like with the guys that I interviewed, they kind of stay that same age. It’s still like high school for them where it’s like, “Oh yeah, you just gotta get down! It’s about playing the song and getting beers and hooking up with these chicks!”
I remember, there was this very famous band that I was in awe of and going to get to interview and then I interviewed them and I was like, “They’re these high school dudes! Holy shit!” It was that particular interview that really stuck with me, and I utilized a piece of the truth from that, that I wanted to sprinkle into this, to keep these guys real. That was the biggest thing, really keeping these guys truthful so you buy into them because then you’ve just got this cartoon movie and you have no heart. I feel like the movie has heart.
TrunkSpace: More often than not, the hair metal genre, when handled in media, is approached like a caricature.
Carlson: Yes, it is done as a caricature, and you’re not getting to see the real side. I kind of wanted to stick this band in within the rules of a B-horror movie. What I told Tom (Arnold) when I’d meet with him, I’d say, “Look, man, this is going to go great, or I’m really going to drive this thing into the ground on every level.” He looked at me and he goes, “I like that. That is an honest answer.” We hit it off. It was a good working relationship – and with all the guys. I’ve become good friends with everybody in this movie. It’s really one that I love the cast and they love the movie. They don’t just go, “Eh.” They like it. Even Jake, he’s like, “I’ve done a hundred movies and this one’s in my top three.” And truthfully, I actually think he likes himself in this role so much. I’ve become friends with him, and he wears his fucking Sonic Grave T-shirt all the time. Everybody’s got a Sonic Grave T-shirt, but I haven’t seen anybody wear it as much as he did. He loves it.
TrunkSpace: Tonally it felt like the film had the same vibe as some of the great “Tales from the Crypt” episodes of the 80s and early 90s, and in doing research, we discovered that you were actually IN an episode of that show way back when.
Carlson: It’s so funny, yeah, I did. I did an episode with Kimberly Williams from “Father of the Bride,” and I was so taken by her, like, “Oh my God!” I think it was one of the first things I ever did.
It (“Dead Ant”) didn’t really come from that specifically. I’m friends with a good circle of horror friends, and I would say I’m more of a comedic director within that group. But I love horror. I love the whole vibe. There’s a piece of me that really wants to kind of sink my teeth into a real, in-depth horror film – straight horror, but not any time soon. I think I’ve got a sequel for “Dead Ant” and I’d really like to do that one.
TrunkSpace: Life is a little bit of everything. Even a single day is never just one genre of living. As an audiences, experiencing a genre mashup always makes sense. Did you worry about combining comedy and horror on this particular film?
Carlson: I wondered how it would resonate with the horror audience, because again, it follows the rule of a horror movie, but it’s not like at the end we’re starting to pick people off and then we’ve got our survivor and they live. The third act does something a little different than the normal horror movie. I wonder how people would react to that. Ultimately I feel like it’s kind of a crossover movie.
I hope it appeals a lot to the horror audience and they love and respect it for what it is, but I also think it’s really hard to make a broad comedy. Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, whoever… whatever their formula is, their main character and the journey that they go through, it’s hard to get laughs. Especially in this day and age, in a film, and to keep them going, because we have YouTube and we have all these things. So that’s why in some of these broad comedies that studios do, shit gets really cartooned. They try to go too big, and they lose the truth.
If you’re in the Hollywood area, you can purchase tickets for tonight’s World Premiere of “Dead Ant” here.