By: Kayla Caldwell
Ahead of the June 15 release of UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE, we had the pleasure of chatting with Nick Simon, the director and co-writer of the film, as well as Luke Baines, one of the leads and a co-writer of the film. The two were as charming and delightful as their movie, which is a horror-comedy slam dunk, with a bunch of self-aware razzing of Los Angeles stereotypes to boot.
Much like the characters in the film, we chatted via Zoom, though I don't think we accidentally awakened any evil spirits. We talked about the process for undertaking a project like this, Hollywood in-jokes, and quarantine fatigue. Check out the interview below, and watch UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE, available on iTunes and Amazon beginning June 15.
How did you come up with this idea?
Nick Simon: Well, I was writing another script at the time, and Luke called me and said, "Hey, do you want to write this horror film with me?" And we kind of just said, yeah, I have some time right now. I feel like some of the best art, creatively, comes when you have restrictions. So I just said, we should do this, but we should try to figure out a way to make it now, if we can. Little did I know, at that time, six weeks later we'd be shooting it.
Nick Simon: I mean, it was really crazy. It was. We wrote the script in record time, and it was a fantastic process, him and I, and all these actors kept on saying yes. And then we just shot the movie. It was just kind of crazy.
Were there any set pieces or was everything just people in their own homes?
Luke Baines: The most set pieces that we had were the fake wine labels, which were done by a props master that we've worked with before, actually, on The Girl in the Photographs. Beer also had fake labels on it, from the same woman. But the rest of it was all... you know, parts of people's houses that they had to put certain things in certain rooms. Tim's [Timothy Granaderos] for instance, he had artwork on the walls that we couldn't use, because they were copyrighted by a famous artist. So, we had to do a little bit of moving furniture on our tech day. But most of it is everyone's house.
It's amazing, because initially I thought pandemic-type movies would be like when American Horror Story made that election season right after the election - like, too soon! But Host and UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE were two of my favorite films I've seen during this time.
Nick Simon: We were shooting at the same time they were, I think. We shot, like, last May. Ours is really a comedy, more than a horror movie. We weren't worried because theirs is a scary movie. Ours has some scares, but we're more of a comedy horror.
Luke Baines: I think one of the things that is so interesting about it, is obviously it's a screen-based film, and obviously, we shot it in the pandemic during lockdown, but we just never wanted to reference a) how we were shooting it, and b) why we were shooting it like that, because of the reason that you said. You know, it was like, it's a really sad issue, where people have lost loved ones or gotten sick, and we didn't want to make fun of that. And we really wanted the movie to be making fun of itself. Like, constantly, wherever possible - I mean, even in the name. I think Nick and I have tried to make fun of ourselves as many times in 87 minutes as humanly possible.
That was something else I loved about this, because even though I'm not in that acting world, I still recognize all of those people. We all know someone like that. I loved how meta it is.
Luke Baines: So, you know what's really funny? I was so worried that, Nick and I discussed about making sure that the comedy wasn't too insular, and that, you know, people could understand it. I was really worried that if you're not an actor or don't have any connections to actors in LA, that you wouldn't get it, and then I sent it to a couple of 17-year-olds, and they were like, that reminds me of drama class, or doing a group assignment at university, whatever it is.
It was really cool that we were able to get something that obviously, I mean, there are so many in jokes in this movie, that if you are out of the industry, it's impossible, the Lesly Kahn references and the cameo, for instance, is part of that. It's part of us also trying to get people in on the joke, introduce people to what the comedy of that joke is. But, I think that, you know, you can kind of pick a little bit, if you've ever even dabbled your foot in, in acting.
Nick Simon: I think one of the best examples of that also is when we were writing the script, we'd go back and forth and send pages every single day, and he sent me the first scene, where there's a Leslie Kahn joke in it. And I remember going, okay, this is, I think, too specific actor LA, so I cut it out. And I called you, and I said, look, I think that might be pushing it too far. And you're like, okay. And then the next day, you sent me back your pages, and you put it back in, and then you added two more. And I'm like, what are you doing? Like, no.
His reasoning was like, yeah, but if you put the joke in three times, people will want to look her up at that point, and then it'll be really funny. And then Bronwyn Cornelius, one of our producers, you know, she was like, "I know Leslie. I'll call her and see if she's cool with us making fun of her." And then Leslie was so cool. She was like, "I'll be in it, but only if you make fun of me more." It started out as this thing that I cut out, and then Luke kept putting back in.
Luke Baines: I completely agreed with you, in the way that it was like, that's a joke that is very specific to a very specific certain set of people. It meant a lot to me, because I've been on a bunch of sets or in conversations, you know, parties in Los Angeles, and someone, there's always one person who opens a conversation with, "well, like, when I was at class with Leslie," and you're like, "oh gosh, please don't do it." I was like, I want to put that in there, because, for me, that is one of the biggest observations, of like, my industry. But, I also completely understood that yes, it's very specific. So I thought, well, if I explain it three times before you get to the joke, then maybe it'll work.
I had no idea who she was, but I think it did pay off when you see her, and she's coaching Max. Between the yelling and the little dog named Khaleesi, I was gone.
Nick Simon: Oh my god. That's her real dog. That's really the dog's name.
Luke Baines: That's really the dog's name.
Was there a lot of riffing or improv or pretty close to the script?
Nick Simon: There was quite a bit of improv, for sure. We let them be those characters, and I think just to get those relationships and to watch the interaction. I always play scripts a little loose anyway, especially if they can come up with something better than what we have on the page, I'm always encouraging for the actor to absolutely do it. If what they're doing is not better, then I'll reel them back in every time.
I mean, the script that Luke and I have... We've been working on different projects now for five years, six years. This is the first time we have written together, and it was just a really, you know, harmonious experience as far as what each of us bring to that. I think that this film was so, it's a very low budget movie, and to get the cast that we have, they all signed on because of the script. So, there was a lot of improv, but most of it is in the script, wouldn't you say?
Luke Baines: Yeah, I mean, I think that what was so interesting is, you know, we tried to obviously craft characters who were a, easily identifiable, you can go, okay, that is that person, we know who that is. And then, you know, we wrote this script, and very much, Nick had always said, give me what you've got. And if you think it's better, then we'll use it.
And there was so much that mostly from the interactions, like, there were a couple of jokes that I didn't want to make, but I kind of left it on the table to see if anybody else would, because I didn't want to be the one, to my friend, to be like, "Hey, I've written this joke about you." Then, somebody will throw that in there, and it works anyway.
I thought the screens really worked when they're all doing the same scene, because you see the different ways each person prepares, and the different way each person tackled it.
Luke Baines: Yeah, well thank you. You know, we really did run a risk there, in terms of... a lot of people, specifically gatekeepers in the industry, were trying to push us away from doing that sort of stuff, because they were like, is that interesting to people outside of the industry? And I was like, I think it is? You know, I think it's funny. One of my favorite shows growing up was... about assistants, like these assistants to actors on a CW show. I might have made that up, but that was kind of the gist of what I remember it being.
I always thought it was so interesting, watching the actors kind of go from being stoic to like, running from an imaginary vampire or a ghost or whatever it is. And no matter how many times I do an audition at home or do a self tape, you go over to someone's house, an actor friend in Los Angeles, and it's like, "Hey, let's have lunch, but can you read lines to me first? Sure." So you go over, and open the door and they're crying, and they've got mascara down their chin, and you're wondering if they're okay, but they're like, "Just getting ready to do the scene." You go in, someone screams and runs around for five minutes, and then you go out and have a glass of wine. So I thought this is funny, let's try and see if other people think it's funny.
You can decide for yourself if it's funny, by checking out UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE, now available on iTunes and Amazon.