Struggling to move on from a painful breakup can be a challenging task that people often have difficulty with, as they naturally and uncontrollably sentimentalize the seemingly better parts of their relationship. Even when they eventually accept the fact they have to move on and form more positive and meaningful connections, burying the past can still prove to be a challenge. That internal struggle is enthrallingly presented in director Joe Dante’s horror comedy, ‘Burying the Ex,’ in which the relatable protagonist, Max, tries move on from his recently ended romantic relationship.
The independent movie, which was released in theaters and on VOD and iTunes last month, and will be released on Blu-ray on Tuesday exclusively at Best Buy, before it’s distributed on DVD on August 4, is based on writer Alan Trezza’s 2008 short film of the same name. Dante creatively captured the protagonist’s emotional turmoil of trying to end his relationship with his domineering girlfriend, even after she becomes a zombie, in order to use the undead as a smart metaphor for the universal issue of how some toxic connections won’t remain dead.
‘Burying the Ex’ follows the good-intentioned and naturally nice Max (Anton Yelchin) as he strives to make his relationship with his controlling girlfriend, Evelyn (Ashley Greene), more serious. Max, who works as a novelty store clerk, decides to let Evelyn, an environmental activist and blogger, move into his apartment. While he asserts to his slacker half-brother, Travis (Oliver Cooper), that she’s the ideal girlfriend, as she’s beautiful, successful and smart, her manipulative ways soon prove to be his worst nightmare.
Travis insists that his brother end his romantic relationship with Evelyn, as she’s not only ruling and changing his life, but he has also met his dream girl, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario). Since she’s a fellow horror fan, including being the owner of a genre-themed ice cream parlor, Max accepts the fact that sh’s a bitter match for him than Evelyn. The only problem is that Max is afraid to end his current relationship, as he fears how Evelyn will react. But when she soon becomes the victim of a fatal freak accident, Max begins to feel guilty over her death, and his decision to end their relationship.
When Max is finally ready to move on with Olivia, who may be his true soul mate, Evelyn unexpectedly comes back to life as a zombie. She’s resolute on rekindling her relationship with Max, even if that means he also has to transform him into one of the undead. But Max is more determined than ever to finally stand up for himself and go after what he wants, including ending his relationship with Evelyn once and for all, so that he can finally be with Olivia.
Dante generously took the time to talk about directing ‘Burying the Ex’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the helmer discussed how he was drawn to direct the horror comedy, as he not only liked the characters and their humor, but also the fact that it’s a small movie that’s mainly about those characters’ emotions and struggles; that since the film was made independently, the actors were quickly cast in a week, but he immediately knew they were the best people to play the parts, and how once they began shooting, they all got along well on the set; and that since the horror comedy is such a L.A.-centric movie, he made sure they shot in the city, even though it’s one of the few films in the past few years that was actually shot in Downtown Los Angeles.
ShockYa (SY): You directed the new horror comedy, ‘Burying the Ex,’ which is based on the short film that was written and helmed by the feature’s scribe, Alan Trezza. What was it about Alan’s script that convinced you to direct the feature? What was your collaboration process with him like as you were helming the movie?
Joe Dante (JD): Well, I didn’t know Alan, but he based the script for the feature on the short film he had made. But I liked the characters and the humor, as well as the fact that it’s a small movie that’s mainly about those characters. We spent a lot of time trying to get it made over the past seven years, and we finally got enough money together to shoot it in 20 days. I think it’s a funny movie, and audiences will have a fun time watching it.
SY: Speaking of the characters, the film features Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene and Alexandra Daddario in the lead roles. What was the casting process like for the main characters-why did you decide to hire Anton, Ashley and Alexandra, in particular?
JD: It all came together in a whirlwind fashion. The money was contingent on shooting the picture in a certain amount of time, so the cast was literally put together in a week. Some of it was pure luck. But these are the best people to play these parts, and they all got along well. I had a terrific time directing them. I think the movie is the cast; the fun of watching the movie is watching these actors.
SY: Once Anton, Ashley and Alexandra were cast as Max, Evelyn and Olivia, respectfully, what was the collaboration process with them like, as you developed their characters’ backstories and relationships, as well as the overall story?
JD: Well, Alan and I developed the characters over a long period, but there are always some adjustments that have to be made, depending on who’s playing each part. There isn’t a lot of time on low-budget movies for long discussions. But if you cast the movie correctly, then you don’t really have to do a lot of directing. Since these people are absolutely the best people for these parts, it all went very smoothly. Of course, we discussed the characters’ motivations, but we pretty much did it on the go between shots, as we were waiting for the crew to set up.
SY: ‘Burying the Ex’ is a unique zombie film in the fact that it focuses on Evelyn retaining many of her human personality traits, instead of immediately becoming a relentless killer, after she’s brought back to life. Did you feel it was important to differentiate this film from other entries in the zombie genre in that way?
JD: Yes, as I saw it more as a screwball comedy than as a zombie movie. I think it’s a situation that people can relate to-the film’s about this young guy who has this girlfriend who’s driving him so crazy that he wants to break up with her.
But he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, so he stays in the relationship longer than he should. She’s very controlling, and when she comes back after her death, she’s even more controlling. Then it becomes even more impossible to get rid of her. I think there are people who feel trapped in their relationships, so they’ll relate to some of this story.
SY: Since ‘Burying the Ex’ is a horror comedy that’s full of action and stunts, what was the process of filming it independently? Does filming independently add to the creativity of the characters and their relationships?
JD: Again, it was all done under rushed conditions, you have to have the appropriate people doing their jobs. Putting on, and taking off, the make-up alone took up a large part of the day. We had to cleverly create the schedule, so while that was happening, we could do something else. Luckily, there weren’t too many locations, and we had a small cast, so we managed to finish the film on time and on budget.
SY: Speaking of the film’s locations, what was the process of shooting the horror comedy in Los Angeles, where the story’s set, in regards to creating the story and the visuals, such as the production design?
JD: Well, it’s a very L.A.-centric movie, and was one of the few movies in the past few years that was actually shot in Downtown L.A. About half the movie was shot in the apartment, and we didn’t have the money to build our own, so we filmed on a set that I think was previously used in a TV series.
We ended up revamping it for our own use. Since the apartment initially looks one way, and then Ashley’s character repaints it, we shot some other scenes downtown while the crew painted it. We managed to get in as many locations as we could within a seven-block radius in Echo Park, so that we could literally push the camera and costumes to the next location.
SY: Like in many of your films, you featured clips from, and references to, classic horror films in ‘Burying the Ex,’ particularly as Max and Olivia were building their relationship. What is the appeal to include the classic horror clips in your movies? How did you decide which clips to feature in this movie?
JD: Well, only a few of them were designated in the script, but the majority of the films were carte blanche. I always went to a store in Hollywood that sold DVDs, and it always had the TV on, to show the quality of the films. I thought that would be a great opportunity for us to continuously put the films on in the background in this movie. Having the TV on the background is something many of us do in our real lives, so we set out to get movies that we could include cheaply.
SY: ‘Burying the Ex’ (was released) in theaters and on VOD and iTunes (on June 19, before it’s official Blu-ray and DVD distribution). Why do you think the On Demand platform is beneficial for smaller independent films like this one?
JD: I don’t know if it’s always beneficial, but it’s certainly the new normal. I think most movies in this budget level tend to be released on VOD, and if they’re lucky, they also get a small theatrical release. But wide theatrical releases now are primarily only saved for the big studio films that have large budgets, and we didn’t have either one. So distributing our film digitally at the same time as the theatrical release was a good idea. I think filmmakers are realizing that electronic media is the way that most independent films are going to be viewed from now on.
But it’s also unfortunate, because comedies like these tend to play better in theaters with a larger audience than at home on a computer screen. What may only receive a chuckle from watching the film on a computer may receive a belly laugh in a theater.
SY: What was your experience of bringing the horror comedy to last year’s Venice International Film Festival, where it had its premiere?
JD: I wish I was able to have attended, but I was directing an episode of ‘Hawaii Five-0’ at the same time, and couldn’t get away. So I was at the premiere via Skype. But the actors were at the festival, where they did roundtable (interviews), and I was behind them, like the Wizard of Oz, on a giant screen. But I’ve been to Venice before, and have served on the jury, so I know what the experience is like, and I missed being able to do it. But it was a great honor to have the film play at, and have the cast attend, the festival.
Written by: Karen Benardello