If you haven’t watched The ABCs of Death 2 on VOD this month, you’ll have a chance to see it on the big screen. The film opens in theaters on Halloween, October 31. And if you have seen it, don’t tell anyone what each letter was. Part of the fun is figuring out what word each film is going to reveal.
So I interviewed director Jerome Sable and producer Nicholas Musurca about their short, and I’m not going to tell you where it falls in the alphabet. Only that it involves a Skype session where a man’s travel buddy reveals some dastardly things to his girlfriend. I saw Sable’s previous short, the musical The Legend of Beaver Dam, at Sundance in 2011 and his feature Stage Fright earlier this year, so it good to catch up about a new short.
Nuke the Fridge: It seemed across the board that the ABCs of Death 2 filmmakers seemed to take it more seriously. Was there ever a group effort among the filmmakers doing shorts to raise the bar?
Nicholas Musurca: When they first talked to us about it, they did say they were more interested in going in a darker direction.
Nuke: So darker was the mandate.
Jerome Sable: That was said, and also just it was a different group of people and the first one existed already so then you could watch it and feel like oh, wow, this is a really cool thing to be a part of. It sort of naturally feeds on itself because you want to step it up I think. If you already see that this is a professionally released, Magnolia distributed picture and then you’re approached to be in a sequel, there’s already some momentum to this thing as a franchise. That might contribute to the overall. It’s hard to know why.
Nuke: Did the filmmakers ever get together, or were you all off on your own?
Jerome Sable: No, there wasn’t. Not that we know of anyway. Maybe there was, but no one talks to us.
Nuke: Did you get your choice of letter?
Jerome Sable: No. You submit your first, second and third choice so were like, “Oh yeah, we’re totally going to get D.” We wrote our whole script and then they’re like, “Okay, so you have your third choice.” But we were glad it turned out the way it did because we’re happy with the project so it was all good.
Nuke: Did you make your choices based on the three letters that would work for your script? Or did you have three different ideas?
Jerome Sable: We had different ideas. Other people might do it differently. For us, we really wanted to take seriously the word at the end as a punchline. So we had other ideas that wouldn’t have swapped with different words.
Nicholas Musurca: That was the one thing that we took when we watched the first ABCs. The cool thing about this is that you’re trying to guess. The experience of watching the movie is you’re trying to guess, okay, I know what letter we’re on. How are they going to die? And sometimes they were playing a game with you, like they were trying to trick you. So we thought that was going to be fun.
Jerome Sable: A is a perfect example of that game.
Nuke: S had me guessing the most. I think I got yours but I won’t tell the readers.
Jerome Sable: At one point people will find out and we will be able to talk about it. It’s in the credits.
Nuke: Did you develop in preproduction where you would use the phone glitches to reveal the kills most effectively?
Nicholas Musurca: There’s a combination of things. We did design where some of the things would occur and then we did some tests, but of course then in the editing process, we found some creative ways to add more to it. Sometimes we added some just for effect to give you more of a sense.
Jerome Sable: That was an interesting process. All of those glitches were manually surgically done and very intentionally done. Not just which frames were going to stutter but also where the artifacting would occur in the frame visually. And then also the soundtrack, where we recorded actual feedback from Skype and did that all very surgically so we could control it like a piece of music.
Nuke: Were you thinking of found footage as a style and technique?
Jerome Sable: Not necessarily. It wasn’t like a preemptive thing where we really wanted to do found footage or where our parents were really forcing us to do found footage.
Nuke: That’s the best reason ever for found footage. My parents made me do it.
Jerome Sable: Stranger things have happened. “We really want you to consider low budget anthology horror, young man. If medical school doesn’t work out.” No, we didn’t preemptively choose that, but when we saw the budget that we would be working with, we were like okay, well, let’s embrace this limitation and let’s, instead of trying to do something super slick that falls short, because we don’t have the means to totally pull it off, let’s think of something that we could completely achieve within these boundaries. That already narrowed the list of options. We needed to think of something that we could pull off with these resources. So then we started thinking, and initially it was a more found footage thing, meaning that it was found tapes. Then in the development process we realized no, let’s make it a live Skype or Facetime and it’ll hopefully have more tension that way.
Nuke: Was the initial idea then a foreign trip that could inspire horror?
Jerome Sable: Yeah, we were basically trying to play around with what is scary about your own behavior or your friend’s or someone that you’re hanging with who is really out of control in a place where, because you feel like you’re traveling, you’re anonymous, no one knows you here, maybe you don’t understand the language so you don’t understand the rules, so you feel like there are no consequences. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been in a situation, on a bachelor party in Vegas even, where someone is out of control and someone is now pushing things too far? Try to really look into the gross side of things when that really can go too far and things happen and trying to capture that and put it in the audience’s face, or in this case the audience being the girlfriend on the Skype call and suddenly getting a chance to see what’s really just mostly talked about and glossed over.
Nuke: Did anyone at Magnolia or Drafthouse suggest you do a musical short?
Jerome Sable: No, I don’t think so.
Nicholas Musurca: I don’t think they like our music anymore.
Jerome Sable: No, they were very open. The producers, Ant [Timpson] and Tim [League] were very open right from the start for us to do whatever we wanted. I think though no one asked us to do one thing or another, I think some people were surprised at the end when they saw it.
Nuke: I’m not surprised because I know you don’t only want to do one thing. Just since you’d done musical before, people are bound to ask.
Jerome Sable: Yeah, we tried a little song in the hotel room there and they couldn’t rhyme. Nothing rhymed with prostitute.
Nicholas Musurca: So we cut that.
Nuke: Prostitute” is the new “orange.”
Jerome Sable: Oh, I get it. What about destitute?
Nicholas Musurca: Can we redo? Get a go over.
Jerome Sable: In Austin, everyone has these cute names for like “togoey,” so a redoey.
Nuke: What’s next feature-wise?
Jerome Sable: We’re working on a couple new projects. The most immediate next thing is actually a TV project that we’re doing. It’s a one hour detective story. We can’t say too much about that yet but we’re very excited about that. It’s, I guess, a psychedelic noir you could say. And then we’re also working on a new feature that is in the early stages of script, so there’s not much to talk about now but we hope to share it with you soon.
Nuke: Is the TV show on network or cable?
Jerome Sable: Not at the moment. We’re in the stage before that.
Nuke: Stage Fright was on your mind for many years. When it finally came out, was it a success? Did it go over the way you dreamed?
Jerome Sable: It was an interesting response, a mixed response I would say. There were some people who really seemed into it and others who really seemed against it. I guess it’s to be expected to some extent because it is a bizarre film. It did find people who were very enthusiastic about it but it also was, even to say divisive, I don’t know if it was divisive, just mixed in its response. But we understand that because it is a bizarre film. We are happy that it at least found some people who were really enthusiastic about it. It is an uncompromised out there project.
Nicholas Musurca: A lot of people who went to theater camp have actually come up to me. It’s therapeutic for them to have seen it.