Courageously battling your emotional and physical fears, particularly during a frightening and life-threatening situation, can be a daunting process for everyone. But the process is even more terrifying when you’re initially contending with building new personal and professional relationships in an unfamiliar work environment, and are suddenly forced to overcome an unexpected conflict. The main characters in the new horror comedy, ‘Stung,’ which had its World Premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, have to fight killer giant wasps to save their lives when they first begin working together. Several of the film’s key cast and crew members, who made their feature film debuts on the horror comedy, including director Benni Diez, writer Adam Aresty and actress Jessica Cook, also successfully overcame struggles, particularly when creating the stunts and visual effects for the independent movie.

‘Stung,’ which will be released in theaters and on VOD on July 3 by IFC Midnight, follows the wealthy Mrs. Perch (Eve Slatner), who has decided to once again host her annual garden party for the local elite. The party, which is held in honor of her late husband, who was a pharmaceutical magnate, is being held at her remote country villa on her rural farmlands. The event’s food is being supplied by Julia (Cook), who has just taken over her late father’s catering business. She nervously heads to Mrs. Perch’s party, which serves as her first job with her new partner and bartender, Paul (Matt O’Leary).

While Mrs. Perch’s parties have gone well in the past, this year’s event proves to be much different. When her illegally imported plant fertilizer leaks into the ground, a local species of killer wasps unexpectedly mutates into seven-foot tall predators. When when the giant wasps are unleashed on the unsuspecting party guests, Julia and Paul, who are trying to figure out their romantic feelings for each other, must band together to fight the mutant predators, in order to survive.

As their frightening ordeal carries on throughout the night, Julia and Paul are joined by a few other survivors, including Mrs. Perch’s eccentric son, Sydney (Clifton Collins Jr.), and Mayor Caruthers (Lance Henriksen). Once the survivors begin bonding together in their quest to live, they uncover the reasoning behind the mutations. At the same time, Julia and Paul begin to accept the fact that the sooner they get past their petty differences and learn to truly rely on each other, the faster the group can escape the estate and return to safety.

Diaez, Aresty, O’Leary and Cook generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview at New York City’s STK Downtown & Rooftop Restaurant on the day ‘Stung’ had its World Premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the director and actors discussed how they were all immediately interested in working on the horror comedy after they received the script and spoke about the unique creature story with the writer, who based the plot on his own experience dealing with wasps when he worked as a caterer; how the helmer and scribe wanted to create an atmosphere on the film’s set in Germany that was very open, where no one would be afraid to contribute their own ideas as they were shooting, as they both felt the actors could help enhance the characters and the story; and how they viewed premiering the movie at the Tribeca Film Festival was a blessing, especially after they spent a year perfecting the visual effects during the editing process.

ShockYa (SY): What was the process of all of you becoming involved in the making of ‘Stung?’ How did the initial development of the horror comedy begin?

Adam Aresty (AA): It started with the script that I wrote, which Benni got his hands on.

Benni Diaez (BD): Yes, I told my manager, “Get me this guy on the phone. I love this script.”

AA: It was actually over Skype, not the phone. (laughs) It was lovely that we got to see each other, and we hit it off. I wrote the script, and a lot of people told me it was too expensive and impossible to make. But Benni immediately said, “I know how to do this movie, theoretically.”

BD: When I received the script and began talking to Adam, we did immediately know that we wanted to work together. After awhile, some contacts of mine started working at good production companies. So I thought, why not send the script to them? I asked Adam if it was cool that I send it in, and he said of course, it hasn’t been sold yet. So month after month, we got more people together, and started shooting this promo teaser, which helped us finance the movie. Now we’re sitting here, which is crazy.

SY: Adam, what was the overall process of coming up with the idea, and writing the script, for the film?

AA: The idea for the story came from real life, actually. (The group laughs.) I was working as a bartender and at a catering company, and went to this wealthy family’s house. I have this terrible fear of bees, and just want to run away from them. But the bar that we set up was right near this wasp’s nest. As I was stuck there, I was letting my imagination run wild. I was hating the people I was working for, so I was thinking, what would happen if some crazy mutant wasps flew in here and made this place hell on Earth?

Matt O’Leary (MO): Needless to say, he basically scared himself. (The group laughs.)

AA: I was trying to write my fears away, but it didn’t really help.

BD: You just stood there in your uniform screaming because of your own idea. (The group laughs.)

AA: I thought, this is brilliant! But I’m afraid! I imagined myself as the hero, but then Matt decided to play the hero.

MO: Yes, definitely!

SY: Speaking of playing the hero in the film, Matt and Jessica, what attracted you both to your respective characters?

MO: I received the script early on-about nine months before Jessica signed on. When I got the script, I was going on this reading frenzy with my agency. They sent me ‘Stung,’ and I remember sitting down with it and thinking, this concept’s going to be fun. It’s about a bunch of bees killing people, all right.

: They’re wasps. (laughs)

MO: Oh, yes. Well, everyone makes that mistake, especially when they first got the script-they call it the bee movie.

When I first opened the script up, I couldn’t put it down. I called my agency and said, “I know this is weird, and I know none of you have read this script. (The group laughs.) But this is really good. How do I get the role?”

What they told me was that you guys (turns to Diez and Aresty) were looking for a beefcake for the lead role, and were going to be communicating about who was going to get it. My agency also told me you guys already had someone else in mind, and I asked what he looked like. I also told them, “Get me a meeting with the director on Skype, and I’ll get the job.” So Benni and I spoke on Skype, and we were joking and having a blast.

BD: Yes, we totally hit it off.

MO: We did hit it off, so I thought, this will work out. I did get the role, and they told me to sit tight. I said, “Whenever you tell me to sit tight, the movie doesn’t get made.” But then about nine months later, I got a call from you (Diez), and you said (in the director’s accent): “We found her.” (Cook laughs.) How did they find you (turns to Cook)?

Jessica Cook (JC): My agency gave me the script, and they submitted me for it. When I read it, I thought, this is going to be awesome. (laughs) I liked that it was going to have tons of action.

BD: We were looking for an actress like crazy. They sent in a lot of people’s resumes, and then we found Jessica. We saw a YouTube video she was in, in which she did something completely different. You were announcing a friend’s party. It was something weird, but funny.

Jessica had a quality that made me realize that she could be funny, but not in an artificial way. She was always the funniest person on the set. I saw that in the videos, because she was being herself. I thought that was way more important than any resume and list of movies she’s previously been in, and I was correct.

MO: That’s definitely right. I remember our conversation about it, and this might be a little too honest. He told me that she’s a model, and hadn’t made any movies before. I said, “Okay…” (The group laughs.) But Benni said, “Just trust me-she’s hysterical.” I was like, “Alright man.” Then when we met, we just hit it off, and had nothing but jokes going on.

JC: There were tons of jokes.

MO: We were sitting there with Lance, laughing and talking about inappropriate things, which she was just on board with-often times she would start it.

JC: I have two older brothers…

AA: …so she could run with the boys. So we had no problem with that.

MO: We actually couldn’t keep up with her.

AA: It was shocking when you would say something every now and then, and I would be like, “Whoa!” (Cook laughs.)

BD: We were all trying to be appropriate, because we were like, Oh, there’s a girl! But she was the first one to crack a joke. (The group laughs.)

JC: Yes, that’s very true-I am often the first one to do that.

SY: Speaking of the film’s humor, and the fact that ‘Stung’ is a horror comedy, was it important was it for all of you to include those jokes in the film?

AA: Oh yes, from a conceptual standpoint, if you have a story about a large killer fill in the blank, it can’t be serious, as it’s not based in reality.

MO: That was something that I pushed very hard for while we were filming.

AA: Absolutely. One of the best things that happened on set was that since my script wasn’t that funny, everyone else brought the humor, and ran with it.

MO: It’s nice to say it that way, that we brought the funny.

AA: Well, you did.

MO: There is a level of improv that happens in the moment that you can’t foresee as you’re preparing. We knew it was a funny script, but we wanted it to be much funnier. It wasn’t originally meant to be that way-it was initially meant to be hard-core horror. But Benni was always up for the comedy aspect, since we initially talked on Skype.

BD: But it was never meant to just to tell a joke, or end scenes in a funny way. If we had outrageous characters who were put in this kind of situation, it gets funny by itself.

AA: The actors have to approach these types of scenes in a funny way, or else they’ll go crazy.

MO: But you can’t prepare that a year in advance. When we finally arrived in Berlin to shoot the film, Adam, as a true writer and artist, had the actors embodying the characters. Every night we would go to what we called The Bird’s Nest, which was this cool bird’s nest looking thing in Germany. (The group laughs.). We would all just sit there and talk. We’d figure out what we found funny about the scenes, and what we wanted to highlight and strengthen. So every morning, Adam would hand out a new script, whether it was printed or written on a napkin…

AA: …or on toilet paper! (The group laughs.) I’m sure that was fun for you guys-I’d show up everyday and say, “I have new sh*t for you today!” (laughs)

MO: By the third day, Benni was like, “Okay, good. I trust your sh*t!” It only took three days for him to accept that!

AA: From my perspective, I could see the story and script improving by the process, and it was a blessing. If I was always like, “This is the way it must be,” it wouldn’t have turned out as good as it did. Some writers are precious with their words, but I was like, “These guys are improving it.”

BD: I was eager to create an atmosphere that was very open, where no one would be afraid to contribute and bring ideas in. Everyone should contribute, because it would be stupid for me as a director, especially since this is my first feature, to come up with all the ideas. From early on, I was open to everyone’s ideas, so that I could rely on them.

Having Adam on the set was great, because of course you have to react to different situations-like scenes may not be finished, or you may have to get rid of certain scenes that you can’t afford. Since you have a hole in the script, you have to fill in the blanks. In that type of situation, what better thing is there than to have the writer on board? The film really benefited from the collaborations, especially on it small budget and very limited shooting time.

MO: I’ve worked with a lot of first-time directors. Some were really good, but there were also some bad directors. The one lesson they all learned, from good to bad, was what Benni applied-in filmmaking, you want to create an open experience, so that everyone can bring in their own ideas, and help create the scene on the day.

In my entire experience with first-time directors, they all make the mistake of only wanting what’s in their head. But Benni avoided that mistake entirely. He allowed us to sit and create a scene together. So when Lance, Clifton, Jessica and I were in a scene, we could really riff and create the organic feeling that these people should be having. Benni would say “Action,” and we’d immediately and organically be in the scene.

BD: You do have to be meticulous, but you also have to be creative, too. We story-boarded all of the scenes, even the simple dialogue scenes. That way everyone would discover what they should do, when they initially didn’t know what to do. Once you have that security, then you can start riffing. If you trust the people around you, you can let them get creative with the material. Then it starts growing to be more natural and fun.

SY: Matt, you mentioned earlier that you signed onto the film about nine months before Jessica signed on. During that time, were you able to collaborate with the other actors, as well as with Jessica once she was cast, about your characters and the story?

MO: Well, during that time, the script went through a lot of changes. Adam was rewriting the script, and I hadn’t met him yet. When I booked the job, my job hadn’t started yet. I had to wait until they had the final script until I looked at it. It sounds like we came in and changed everything, but we didn’t really change much. I don’t want to take a script and change it.

BD: It’s really just about fine-tuning the story.

MO: You can’t really fine-tune something until you have that final product. When Jess signed on, that’s when I got the final script. The preparations really all started in that moment.

BD: We had one meeting a few weeks before we began shooting. We flew to L.A. for two days, and talked about the roles and went through a few scenes, but that was about it. Most of the rehearsals happened once we got to the set.

SY: Benni, also speaking of how you made your feature film directorial debut on ‘Stung,’ what were some of the most important lessons that you learned while you were making the horror comedy?

BD: I know it sounds cheesy, but I couldn’t have asked for a better first movie. Everything that happened just clicked, in some way or another. Being invited to Tribeca proves that we didn’t f*ck it up that much. (The group laughs).

It was great to have these people around. Early on, I knew I had to get the best people in every profession, so that I could learn how to be a director. I’ve previously made short films and commercials, but I wanted to be a feature director. Now that the movie’s finished, and people seem to like it here, it seems like I can start calling myself a director.

JC: You are a director.

MO: You were already a director before we started, otherwise I wouldn’t have done the film. (The group laughs.)

SY: Speaking of bringing the movie here to the Tribeca Film Festival, where (it had) its World Premiere, what has the experience been like for all of you?

BD: It’s very surreal, because just a few months ago, we were still editing the film. We had one year of post-production, because it’s obviously very effects-heavy, and a lot of CG work had to be done. The editing took longer than we expected, because there’s so much material. You have to be so detailed-oriented with all of the action and creature shots.

Like on the show ‘Silicon Valley,’ we had a bunch of nerds sitting for months in an office, with a bunch of candy wrappers everywhere. We were crunching numbers and working with pixels, and just nerding out. Now we’re suddenly in Manhattan in a fancy restaurant, and I have a hotel room in Times Square, and we’re being driven around by a car service. So it’s really weird, but I like it-it’s been awesome.

AA: I’m originally from New Jersey, so New York was always like my backyard. So I view this opportunity as a blessing. My whole family (came to the screenings); my mom invited half of New Jersey to see the movie. So it has been an amazing experience.

SY: Also speaking of the action sequences, like you just mentioned, Benni, what was the overall process of creating the visual effects for the film, especially since you have experience as a visual effects supervisor?

BD: Well, we initially wanted to include as many practical effects. It was all about creating as much as we possibly could on set, because it’s something that everyone always tells you to do. But for one reason or another, not everyone ends up using practical effects. But it’s beneficial, because it’s easier for the actors to react to them. It also makes the shooting process funner, because there are the puppets that everyone can interact with on the set.

But we still had to spend a year sitting in front of a computer, which is weird, because the shoot only took a month. We included over 600 effects shots in the end. The film benefited a lot from the practical effects we used, as well as the planning we did beforehand. Many films leave it to the post-production to fix problems they unexpectedly encountered on the set, because they were too lazy to plan things out first. The fact that we had such a detailed plan and outline for everything, as well as all the practical effects, made it possible to include all the effects shots.

SY: Jessica and Matt, as actors, do you enjoy taking part in the physical effects and stunts for your characters? What was that process like overall as you were filming ‘Stung?’

JC: We had stunt training before we began filming, and it was awesome. We had ropes wrapped around us, and we were flying on pads all day. It was the first I’ve done stunts, and it was awesome applying them to the movie.

MO: It was like playing. When I was younger, I would act out my favorite shows. When I was really young, it was ‘Power Rangers,’ so I would fight fake Power Rangers and have a blast. This film was very reminiscent of when I used to play as a kid. Running around, and trying to imagine these giant wasps in a frightening way, was great. Instead of sitting in a car and imagining that you see a giant wasp outside your window, in this film, you’re imagining seeing it right next to you, and you’re like, “Run! Run!” (The group laughs.)

AA: There’s also a gross-out factor, and there are a lot of scenes where you all looked really grossed out.

MO: I was also trying to think of the smell.

AA: Well, it did smell bad on set.

MO: That was The Bird’s Nest, so that was a different bad smell. (The group laughs.) I was trying to think of bile everywhere, which is where the imagination really started to get vibrant.

BD: One day, when we were filming a really gross scene, Matt took me aside and asked, “Benni, Benni, should I really puke? I can really do that! (The group laughs.) Give me some soup!”

JC: We should have given him pea soup.

MO: I would have done it! (laughs)

BD: That’s method acting.

SY: Also speaking of the short shooting schedule that you had, did that help with all of your creative processes on the set at all?

BD: Having such a short shoot forces you to make quick and creative decisions. Not only did we only have a month to shoot, we couldn’t extend the hours on the days that we did have. I think we had about 10 shooting hours per day during the week, and then had the weekends free.

Since we had such a limited shooting schedule, we pretty much had to use every frame that we shot, and couldn’t cut anything out. That process really makes you stay focused every second, because you couldn’t just let the camera keep rolling until you got what you wanted. Overall, it did work out, but I would have loved to have a few extra days or weeks for the more technical stuff, and maybe get in a couple more scenes that we had to cut out. But overall, under all the circumstances, filming on such a short schedule was the best way to do it.

MO: I think a lot of ideas come from constraints. I can see why that was tough for you, Benni, since you’re the director. But I feel like the less time we had on set, the more important our meetings and collaborations were. If we were behind schedule, and something wasn’t working, we would all get together, which helped us fire on all cylinders.

AA: Yes, we all had a collective deadline, and luckily everything worked out.

BD: Those were the most fun moments. When you’re still very clear in your head, and you’re not too tired, those moments and shots can also become the best ones.

SY: Also speaking of the way the overall shots look, what was the process of figuring out the cinematography, especially since this is such a stunt and visual effects-driven film?

BD: Our cinematographer, Stephan Burchardt, is pretty much the reason why this film looks the way it does, and has this production value. I know him from film school, and he’s always known his way around a camera. We both agreed early on to insist on really good optics for the camera. On a lower-budget, independent film, you want to cut corners and do things as cheaply as possible, including using cheaper lens. But we said, “No way.” I’d rather cut a scene out so that we could afford to use better lens, and achieve a better production value.

Stephan is a very good planner, and is very much like me, in terms of designing shots. He doesn’t have any vanity, in terms of his profession, but he would say, “I’m the DP (Director of Photography), so I’ll design how the sequences will be staged.” He’s very good with his team, and has a good authority on set, which is something I would sometimes be missing. So we would play bad cop, good cop (laughs), which made the experience great. I always knew that I could rely on him when I was at the end of my rope, because he has much more experience than I do.

2015 Tribeca Film Festival Interview: The Cast and Crew Talk Stung (Exclusive)

Written by: Karen Benardello

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *