Chances are, Joseph Kahn directed one of your favorite music videos: He's worked with U2, Britney, Eminem and Lady Gaga. He's just finished shooting a time-traveling horror comedy called Detention, and he gave us the inside scoop and exclusive photos.
We've been excited about Detention since we first started hearing it described as "Back To The Future meets Scream, with a hefty dose of John Hughes teen movies." From what we've heard so far, it's about a 17 year old who's given detention on the night of her senior prom, and then a fictional movie serial killer starts killing her friends. And somehow, there's a time-travel element. The film stars Josh Hutcherson, Dane Cook and Shanley Caswell, and it just wrapped filming recently. (Caswell is pictured above, Cook is below, under Cinderhella. All photos by Adam Sheridan-Taylor.) So we were stoked to get more details from Kahn himself. Here's what he told us.
How long have you had the idea for Detention in your head? Where did the idea come from originally?
I wrote the movie with Mark Palermo, a Canadian film critic from Halifax. We started it about three years ago on a trip to the Coachella music festival, where I stated I wanted to make a movie about high school. It took a year to beat out the story, then another year to write it. To be fair, I was busy with with my day job doing videos and commercials so the writing was sporadic.
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But one day the Virginia Tech massacre happened, and then I finished reading a book about Columbine. I got really angry about these young psychopaths, finally knew what our movie was about. I flew Palermo down and devoted two
months. We hashed out a real draft over lots of bad diner food at 2 AM.
Here's your first look at Cinderhella, who's probably the film's fictional slasher icon. She looks like a suitably tongue-in-cheek prom-queen pastiche of Chucky and the like.
What horror films are a big influence on you? Do you think it's still possible to keep horror comedy fresh after we've seen so many of them?
I'm not really a huge horror fan to be honest. I like monster movies but slasher flicks grate on me with their blatantly misongynistic hang ups with women. I had a problem wrapping my head around some of the bad things I had to do to some of girls in this film to fit that aspect of the genre, but hopefully I think we made a focused point out of it. That said, Detention isn't really a horror comedy. It's kind of indescribable genre wise.
It sounds like your film is about the popular kids in high school,rather than the outcasts. Is that true? Do you think that changes the "horror of high school" theme a bit? Were you one of the popular kids in high school?
Detention is about both. The popular kids and the outcasts, and also how those lines can be blurred. I was an outcast in highschool, but I got a quasi-popularity because everyone liked the videos I was making then. Could never get a date or interact at a party, but I amused people. It's a fine line sometimes between ignored and liked. When you are lonely, it all feels shitty.
Without giving away too much, how do you fit time travel and a slasher into one high school comedy? Is this like Hot Tub Time Machine or more like Groundhog Day?
Maybe both, and maybe neither. Its definitely not what you expect it to be. This is not going to be an easy watch. You're going to have to think and keep track of stuff as you watch it. Definitely easier to watch on repeat viewings.
Also were you kidding when you Tweeted about it being "the Citizen Kane of Asian nerd in love with black girl movies"? Because that sounds awesome.
Not kidding. But it's not the main plot.
How did you get people like Josh Hutcherson and Dane Cook to be in a low-budget indie movie?
They liked the script.
It seems like a lot of the most interesting film directors these days came out of music videos — what do you think translates from one to the other?
I don't think music videos really mean that much in a change of filmmaking styles. There are plenty of music video directors who now direct feature films and television who have piss poor boring styles. What I do think is that videos are a great training ground in that you just get a lot of on set practice running a crew. This is the hardest part of the job: knowing how to be a leader and execute things to a schedule. It's a very technical way of looking at it, but filmmaking costs a lot of money, and producers want not only creative vision, but people who know how to pull things together on a budget. People don't just pop out knowing how to do that, and video directors who shoot new projects every two weeks are good candidates for that transition.
When someone puts out the "making of Detention" book 30 years from now, will there be tons of stories about how you almost ran out of money and everybody was having breakdowns on set, or was it a pretty easy shoot? What was the biggest logistical nightmare of doing a low-budget self-financed film?
Well aside from all the quitting, we went from a 31 to a 51 day shoot. It was a very hard shoot and it was financed week to week, including now in post. I could have cut corners but I wanted to make it great.
You were in line to direct the movie of William Gibson's Neuromancer before Vincenzo Natali was given the nod. Can you tell us anything about what your version of Neuromancer would have been like?
In a nutshell, I wanted to make Trainspotting in the Sprawl. I don't want to go into too many details because I may transfer stylistic choices to another science fiction project. It's not what anyone was thinking, but I'm off it now. You may all breathe a sigh of relief.
What are you hoping to do next after Detention?
At this rate I make movies once every eight years, and I scratched my itch with a lawn mower, so I'm going back to videos and commercials.