Adamantly pursuing your biggest goals can often times be a challenging prospect, as many hindering and restricting obstacles can stand in your way of achieving those aspirations. Not only are the leaders of Heaven and Hell being forced to contend with their mortal enemy’s desire to stop their intentions and overtake their domain in the new horror comedy follow-up, ‘Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival,’ but director Darren Lynn Bousman also had to overcome the times confining nature of making the visually-driven film independently. But the former ‘Saw’ series helmer smartly reunited with writer and actor Terrance Zdunich to recapture the allure of the original ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ in their latest distinct horror musical. As a result, Bousman is relishing in the fact that audiences are passionately embracing their sequel after contending with the hurdles of making the film without the support of a major studio.
Bousman’s 2012 short, ‘The Devil’s Carnival,’ offered an overview of the Devil’s domain, which is shown to be a creepy carnival populated by sinister souls, whose roles and past sins are revealed. It’s sequel, ‘Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival,’ opens with a brief recap before revealing what has happened to Ms. Merrywood (Briana Evigan), who’s now a prisoner of Lucifer (Zdunich). The fallen angel is now inciting Heaven’s wrath by dispatching train cars full of condemned souls to crash through the pearly gates. In response to the new applicants finding their way into Heaven, God (Paul Sorvino) tasks his most devoted servant, The Agent (Adam Pascal), with seducing one of the new recruits. The leader’s top negotiator is also sent on a trip down to The Carnival to put an end to the rebellious deeds that are being driven by Lucifer, who’s plotting an impending war between Heaven and Hell.
Bousman generously took the time to talk about directing ‘Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the helmer discussed how after deciding that he wanted to make a unique and original interactive horror musical that audiences can completely engage in and embrace, he joined forces with Zdunich and Hendelman to craft distinctive songs that would best fit the story, characters and diverse cast they crafted; and how making the horror musical independently offered him the freedom to cast the actors that he felt would best fit the characters, but the process was also a bit nerve-racking, as he didn’t have the support of a major studio in case he needed help.
ShockYa (SY): You directed the upcoming horror musical, ‘Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival,’ the second installment in your fantasy-musical film franchise with writer and actor Terrance Zdunich, after collaborating on the 2012 movie, ‘The Devil’s Carnival,’ together. What was your inspiration in making another entry in the series together? Was it always your intention to create more than one movie in the franchise together?
Darren Lynn Bousman (DLB): Well, to me, ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ was much more than a film. It was an experiment that Terrance, our co-composer, Saar (Hendelman), and I wanted to try, which involved circumventing the studio system. As a filmmaker, it has become increasingly harder to get your films seen, unless you have a huge action star like Robert Downey, Jr., or a huge studio behind you.
My last few films have basically gone straight to video, and have played in maybe one theater, if I was lucky. That’s disheartening, because you work for years on a project. Then the next day, it’s on DirecTV, and didn’t have any publicity behind it.
I loved going to a movie theater when I was growing up, as I enjoyed watching films in that environment. So we were feeling as though there was something broken about the distribution system. But we thought there could be an avenue where these types of movies could be seen in, which was in movie houses with large groups of people. So we refused to accept that it had to be relegated to video.
So we all got together and said, “How do we do this?” That’s when ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ was born, and ‘The Devil’s Carnival 2’ was a continuation of that process. We were successful with the first movie, as we sold out road shows. We had massive theater turnouts, where fans would dress up as the characters and sing songs at the screen.
There was something magical about the whole experience, as that’s how I want my movies to be seen. I don’t want them to be seen in stuffy environments where everyone’s relegated to sit there very quietly and not interact. I think art should be interactive. That’s why we decided to make another film-we wanted to further the idea of active entertainment.
Regarding the collaboration process with Terrance and Saar, first and foremost, we’re friends. That’s why ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ is different from other films-everyone who works on it is part of a small community of dysfunctional carnies.
So we got together for numerous drinks, (laughs) and plotted out what the music should be like, and how the sequel should be different from, and better than, the first film. It took us awhile-it took two-and-a-half years between when ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ ended and the second movie began filming. But I couldn’t be happier with the final product.
SY: Speaking of working with Terrence and Sarr, Terrence served as the composer for ‘The Devil’s Carnival,’ while Saar composed ‘Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival.’ Since this is a horror musical franchise, what was the process of working with them both to create music that would effectively fit into the story and themes for both films?
DLB: It was a long and arduous process. Sarr and Terrence would meet and come up with ideas for songs, which would go through countless iterations. They would come up with various ideas and make scratch tracks out of them. They would record them on their phones and send them to me. There could be anywhere from five to 20 different versions of a song before we found one that clicked.
Then we had to think about casting. So when we wrote a song for the public disc, we didn’t know that we were going to have Ted Neeley playing The Publicist, for example. He played Jesus Christ in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ (which was his first role), and he has an insane rock-n-roll voice. So when we found out that we were going to have Ted in the film, we had to go back and alter his song to fit his voice and vocal range.
That was a similiar circumstance that happened throughout the entire process. We’d come up with ideas for songs, and then when we cast the roles, we thought, we have to make changes to the music. But it was exciting and fun, as everyone was able to pretend like they’re a rock-n-roll star. The cast was able to record their songs in a studio with all of these amazing musicians.
SY: Besides Terrence, several other actors from ‘The Devil’s Carnival,’ including Paul Sorvino, Briana Evigan and Marc Senter, reprised their roles in the series’ second installment. What was the casting process like for them on the first film? What was the experience of reuniting with them on ‘Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival?’
DLB: What I love about getting to make these types of movies is that I can put whoever I want to in them. When I do movies for studios, or more genre-specific films like ‘Abattoir’ or the ‘Saw’ series, casting is a very hard process. You not only have to find someone who’s right for the role, but also means something for the film, like being able to open it domestically. So there’s a whole formula that goes into casting a movie.
But with ‘The Devil’s Carnival,’ we really just cast who we wanted to work with, and who excited us. For example, I’m a huge fan of the HBO series ‘Deadwood,’ and it was one of my favorite shows. I love the character of Charlie Utter, who was played by Dayton Callie. I’ve always been a fan of his, so I said I wanted to work with him. So I called him and said, “You don’t know me, but I’m doing this weird musical,” and he agreed. So that process was as simple as me being a fan of Dayton’s work.
It was a similar process with Tech N9ne, who’s a rapper. I’m a huge fan of music, and he’s a hard-core Midwest rapper. So when it came time to cast the role of The Librarian, I said, “Let’s change it up a bit. Let’s cast someone viewers aren’t going to expect to be in this movie.” So we just called him, too.
What makes this cool is that these actors and musicians don’t often get asked to do these types of projects. So it was a lot easier to approach actors with a movie like this than it is on a normal narrative feature film.
SY: Did you feel it was beneficial to work outside of the studio system on the movie? Did making it independently add to the overall creative process?
DLB: Yes and no. It was exciting that we didn’t have to answer to anyone, per se. But it was also a double-edge sword, because that meant I didn’t have the never-ending money pile from a big studio. Like when I directed the ‘Saw’ movies, I had the studio there to help me if I fell. Lionsgate was there to insure that we had the best movie possible to release in theaters.
But with ‘The Devil’s Carnival,’ there was a very finite budget. Once we ran out of money, that was it. We had very little money to make the movie. So in some respects, it’s harder to make a movie like this, because you don’t have the security blanket that you have when you make bigger films.
SY: Besides ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ films and ‘Repo! The Genetic Opera,’ you have also helmed several horror movies that don’t incorporate a musical component to them, such as ‘Saw II-IV,’ ’11-11-11,’ ‘Mother’s Day’ and ‘The Barrens.’ How does your directorial approach to your horror musicals compare and contrast to the way you helm your straight horror films?
DLB: Well, in my opinion, making movies like ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ films and ‘Repo!’ are infinitely harder in some respects. There are about seven or eight of us who are doing everything. We have to do such diverse things as cast the films, book the theaters, print the merch, plan the road show, book opening acts and find transportation to and from around the world.
So when I’m doing other films, like ‘The Barrens’ and ‘Mother’s Day,’ I have casting directors and people doing a lot of the other jobs that we had to do on ‘The Devil’s Carnival.’ Also, recording the album is also its own production. Months of preparation go into it, as we have to do such tasks as arrange the instrumentation, hire the session musicians and edit it together. So we’re exhausted by the time we finish working on the record, but we still have to make the movie.
So the process is more cumbersome when you’re making these musicals, but I think the pay-off is much bigger. I’ve made 11 feature films now, and the thing that separates ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ and ‘Repo!’ from the other movies is the audience. When I go to a ‘Devil’s Carnival’ screening, people come dressed up almost completely like the characters in the movie. They also have tattoos, and know every line, from the movie. You can see how the art has actually affected the viewers.
With movies like ‘Saw,’ ‘The Barrens’ and ‘Mother’s Day,’ I don’t get to see that. People come in, watch the movie and leave. But with ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ and ‘Repo!,’ there’s a community that has embraced it. As an artist, there’s nothing cooler than that.
SY: ‘Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival’ (had) its premiere in Hollywood at The Egyptian on August 11, before you embarked on your (current) cross-country tour throughout the US and Canada, like you did with ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ and ‘Repo! The Genetic Opera.’ Why do enjoy interacting with horror fans as you’re set to release your films, such as this one?
DLB: Well, the roadshow experience is extremely tiresome. We drive between the cities, which can be anywhere between nine and 12 hours apart. So we pack up our van and leave our hotel for the next city at 6am. We arrive in the next town 45 minutes to an hour before the next event, jump out of the van and set up our merch tables and PA systems, and test the film. We sit through the screening and do a Q&A after the movie ends. By that time it’s midnight, and we’ll go to sleep by 1am. Then we do it all over again at 6am the next morning. That process goes on for months.
I think there’s an idea that living that rock star lifestyle is awesome and cool. But now for someone like me, who now has a kid and a wife, it’s hard being on the road. But with that being said, the minute we show up in these cities and see fans lined up for blocks, nothing beats that. The pain and struggles go away, as you realize that you’re doing it for something, and you’re making a difference.
So it’s an indescribable experience, and you become addicted to it. The more you see it, the longer you want to stay on the road. There’s something undefinable about seeing your art affecting the masses.
: With ‘Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival’ also driven by the characters’ looks, what was the process of collaborating with the film’s costume designer, Mildred Von Hildegard, as well as the hair and make-up department, to create the way you wanted them to appear?
DLB: I’m very involved in the process. Part of what makes ‘The Devil’s Carnival’ cool is how over-the-top and flamboyant the look of the costumes, hair and make-up are. One of my favorite movies when I was growing up was ‘Dick Tracy’ with Warren Beatty. The characters played by the actors in the film, from Al Pacino to William Forsythe and Dustin Hoffman, were insane. But the characters are based in a real, dysfunctional reality. That’s what I have always loved about filmmaking-you can create these bigger-than-life characters, but still make them human.
So we went all out when we were designing the characters for this film. We thought about how insane we can create the characters, yet still give them humanistic qualities. We had a great prosthetics team, which included Vincent Guastini, who created the looks for the devil and the other characters.
Part of our mantra is to create worlds we want to live in. I make these huge environments because I want to live in them, and interact with those types of people.
SY: With the horror musical being set in both Heaven and Hell, what was the process of working with the film’s production designer, Derrick Hinman, to create the overall look of the film’s settings? Was the process similiar to the way you approached creating the prosthetics?
DLB: Yes, as we view the film as an adult fairy tale. So we try to be as grandiose and colorful as possible. The thing about these types of movies is that there aren’t any kind of rules. If I’m making serious films like ‘Abattoir’ or the ‘Saw’ sequels, there are rules. I can’t have huge, four-foot tall wigs, flamboyant capes or four-inch platform shoes on all the characters.
But when we’re making up a fictitious world, and making up what heaven and hell look like, we have the freedom to be wacky. I’m not beholden to any sort of reality, which makes these films fun.
SY: Are you interested in making more horror musicals like ‘The Devil’s Carnival,’ or are you interested in pursuing other genres once you finish your current tour with the film?
DLB: Well, we originally wanted to make this story as a television show when we first came up with the idea. We wanted it to be an ongoing, ‘American Horror Story’-esque series. The question was whether I want to continue making these stories, and I do until I either become comfortable or bored with them. For example, I left the ‘Saw’ series after the fourth film because I became too comfortable making them. There wasn’t any challenge to me anymore.
‘The Devil’s Carnival’ has kept me on my toes, and I never feel comfortable or safe. It’s an awesome feeling. There’s so much I’m learning when I’m making these movies, which I think makes filmmaking fun and exciting. I’ll continue making them, as long as I continue finding a creative outlet in them. They’ll stop being fun for me, and when I can no longer be creative with them, that’s the day I’ll put the baton down and stop making these films.
Written by: Karen Benardello