Creating a memorable, frightening horror-comedy that at the same time satirizes the amusing humor that famously characterize low-budget, vulgar films can be a difficult task for relatively new filmmakers. But director Jordan Downey and his writing and producing partner Kevin Stewart did just that with their new movie ‘ThanksKilling 3,’ the follow-up to their 2009 feature film debut, ‘ThanksKilling.’ The two worked closely together to continue the story of their infamous villain puppet character from their first film, Turkie, to not only please fans wondering what happened to the trouble-making villain, but to also continue targeting a holiday not previously ruined by horror with cheesy one-liners and jokes.
‘ThanksKilling 3’ follows the fowl-mouth villain Turkie (voiced by Downey), who is hacking his way to find the last copy of ‘ThanksKilling 2,’ which has landed in the hands of a group of crude puppets. The death tool rises as Turkie carves his way into the likes of Flowis the rapping grandma, Rhonda the space worm (voiced by Stewart) and Yomi (also voiced by Downey), who’s searching for her mind. As they all travel through such fantastical settings as the FeatherWorld and Turkey Hell, the characters all try to fend off the murderous rampage of Turkie, while also trying to help Yomi find her mind. Flowis, Rhonda and Yomi are aided by Uncle Donny (played by Dan Usaj), the wig-wearing inventor of the PluckMaster 3000; Jefferson (portrayed by Joe Hartzler), the Head of Security at ThanksgivingLand; and a WiseTurkey (also voiced by Downey), the gatekeeper to the FeatherWorld.
Downey and Stewart generously took the time to discuss filming ‘ThanksKilling 3,’ which is now available on iTunes, VOD and DVD, over the phone. Among other things, the two spoke about why they decided to write a follow-up to ‘ThanksKilling;’ how financing the film through a Kickstarter campaign allowed them to create the movie they truly wanted to make; and how the movie differentiates itself from other horror comedies, a genre that hasn’t done particularly well with fans in recent years.
ShockYa (SY): You both made your feature film writing debuts with ‘ThanksKilling,’ and both penned the screenplay for the sequel. Why did you both decide to write the sequel, and what was the process of coming up with the idea for the story of ‘ThanksKilling 3’ like?
Kevin Stewart (KS): We started talking about this in January 2011, and wanted to make a sequel. I believe it was one of our mutual friends who came up with the idea that we should make a sequel. We kind of liked that at the time, and in 2011, we said, let’s try to do this thing.
We wrote the story where we skipped the sequel, and we got involved in having to put that into the movie. We asked how do we skip the sequel, and make that clear to everybody, that ‘ThanksKilling 2’ was burned? So we started talking in 2011, and wrote an outline together. I think it was in March or so that we launched the Kickstarter.
Jordan Downey (JD): Yeah, we started working on the Kickstarter page to raise money before there was even a script. We did the outline with my older brother Mike (Will Downey), who wrote it with us. While we were working on the Kickstarter campaign, Mike was working on the first draft.
That was pretty much the extent of his involvement-coming up with the basis of a lot of characters and some of the locations. Once Mike finished the first draft, we realized that there were a lot of things that we couldn’t afford to do. Kevin and I then pretty much wrote it from there on out.
SY: Speaking of the Kickstarter campaign, ‘ThanksKilling 3’ had a $100,000 budget, which was raised over three months from pledges made through the crowd-funding website. How did having such limited budget influence the way you made the film, and why do you think fans responded so well to the Kickstarter campaign?
JD: I think there’s something about our fan demographic. When we made the first one, we were both in college, so we were young people making a film for young people. We had supporters among our friends and family who felt like they were part of the ‘ThanksKilling’ family, so I think that was a big reason why people supported us through Kickstarter.
Other than that, I think we got lucky with becoming popular on Netflix. But it’s hard to pin-point why people supported us so much. On the website, we do try to reach out to the fans.
SY: Besides co-writing the script for ‘ThanksKilling 3’ together, you both also served as producers. Did working as producers on the movie help bring your vision for what you wanted for the story and the production to the final product?
KS: Well, the funny thing is, it was such a small crew, producers don’t mean too much in the sense that we were able to call the shots. Obviously, we did, because there were only about four or five of us. We worked closely with our friend (producer) Ricky Fosheim, in terms of writing contracts and doing paperwork and making sure everything was running smoothly on set.
We had done a lot of the prep in pre-production and before Ricky came on board. But absolutely, since it’s such a small crew, we could do anything we wanted. Since we raided the money through Kickstarter, there was no one to tell us what to do. That allowed us to do stuff that we would have never been able to do, like skip the sequel.
SY: Jordan, do you find that writing the script helps in your directorial duties once you begin filming the film?
JD: Definitely, just in the sense that we were all on the same page. There weren’t any real egos involved; we were all collaborating towards the same goal. But like Kevin was saying about the producing side of it, and having a small crew, as a director, I’m not really directing on the set sometimes. I was doing all different things to make sure it all looks good. Writing it together definitely helped, because we were all on the same page.
SY: You both voiced several characters in the film-Jordan, you reprised the voice of the villain Turkie, as well as Yomi, WiseTurkey and Muff, and Kevin, you voiced Rhonda Worm, PluckMaste and Meowmir. Why did you both decide to voice the characters, and what was your overall experience like recording the different roles?
JD: Well, in the first movie, the only character that needed to be voiced was Turkie, and we always wanted to get some known actor to do it. We didn’t record Turkie’s voice on set, and we couldn’t get the other actors to go out to California to re-record their lines. So we decided to use my voice, and then I decided to voice some of the other puppets for this film.
You can kind of tell that some of the characters have the same voices behind them. But we used our personalities, and we later sat down to figure out how to make them better.
KS: Another reason for having to do that was that we were on a very tight deadline. A funny thing was that we had to do all of the ADR (Animated Dialogue Replacement) out of our closet. We put a microphone on our credit card and brought it home, and did it ourselves. We saved a lot of time by just doing it ourselves until 4 in the morning. We also saved a lot of money, instead of hiring someone. It wouldn’t be as doable in that tight deadline.
JD: It actually was a lot of fun.
SY: ‘ThanksKilling 3’ climbed to the #6 spot on the Top Horror films list on iTunes less than 24 hours after its release. What was your reaction when you found out that audiences have been embracing the film so quickly?
JD: We kind of knew going into this that by skipping a sequel, we would have to make something completely different with this one. We talked for weeks about whether that was the right thing to do or not, and whether people would respond to that. So we’ve seen a lot of mixed responses, which is to be expected, like with the first movie.
With this type of movie, you’re either going to love it or hate it. There’s not much in between. But it’s pretty exciting to see it climb so quickly on iTunes-we really didn’t expect that. There have been so many oddball movies over the past couple of years, it’s hard for people to be shocked anymore.
But it felt really good, having grown up watching these kinds of movies. Seeing a movie that you made right up there is a great feeling, but it doesn’t sink in. We’re really excited about it.
SY: ‘ThanksKilling 3’ is a comedy-horror film, and the genre hasn’t seen much success in recent years, from ‘Slither’ to ‘Jennifer’s Body’ to 2011’s ‘Fright Night’ remake. Why do you think audiences haven’t embraced the genre, and why should people see it if they haven’t already?
JD: Well, it’s a very unique film, because we do a lot of things that come out of nowhere. We were able to do that stuff without having anyone tell us that we couldn’t. So there are a lot of things that come out of left field.
There’s a lot of genres are intermixed, as well. There’s a cartoon segment and references to old-school horror films. It’s also a puppet movie, and takes a lot of Jim Henson as well. Hopefully it’s as funny as something you would see on ‘South Park,’ as well. There aren’t too many movies out there that could say that.
KS: Comedy horrors is one of the toughest genres. It wasn’t really our goal from the start to go into that genre. But there’s an ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Three Stooges‘ feeling, and the humor that we grew up with.
But to be honest, we never once took it as a horror film. We never sat down and thought, this moment should be scary or violent or suspenseful. It was all comedy to us.
SY: Jordan, your first directorial and writing efforts were with the 2007 short horror ‘Craw Lake.’ What did you learn as a filmmaker from the short, and did you bring anything you learned from ‘Craw Lake’ to the ‘ThanksKilling’ series?
JD: Well, I would say, the one thing that you can’t really quantify is being terrified on set. It was the first movie that Kevin had ever shot on film, so for a DP (Director of Photography), that’s a big deal. It was also the first thing that I had ever directed.
We had, I think, a $15,000 budget, which was five times ‘ThanksKilling’s budget. So we had a huge crew, and we went all out. It turned into a much bigger thing than we ever thought it would become. I remember the day before our first day of shooting, I was ready to pull the plug, because I was terrified. Now looking back, I laugh at it.
Written by: Karen Benardello