Just in time for the school year to begin, Hulu/Blumhouse’s “Into the Dark” series has returned with a new episode aptly titled SCHOOL SPIRIT. Centered around a group of high-schoolers attending weekend detention, they quickly find out about the legend of the Admiral and the mysterious hauntings that have been taken place at the school.
For the release of the SCHOOL SPIRIT, I had the chance to speak with director Mike Gan. During our chat, we discussed everything from 90’s horror slashers to the challenges of filming inside of a high school.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Mike! To start things off can you talk a little bit about your film, SCHOOL SPIRIT?
Mike Gan: I loved the idea of combining the ’90s slasher films that I watched growing up like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer but with character depth of movies like The Breakfast Club and other John Hughes movies. It sounded like a really good set-up, plot-wise, where it’s contained and the kids can really reveal themselves and make decisions. But there was also some absurd horror that was also happening. Being able to reveal characters and get to know a group of high school kids in that scenario was really fun.
Something I found really interesting about SCHOOL SPIRIT was that the characters were very different than their originally perceived archetypes. Can you elaborate on that?
Mike Gan: That was a big deal for me. In a movie like The Breakfast Club they really did that back in the day. I wrote all the characters as if each one was the hero of the movie and I think that really helped because they weren’t one-noted and we really got to see different sides. The whole concept is about “bad kids” and that’s such a loaded description. What does “bad” actually mean when you are in high school? There are a lot of twists along the way to where you keep misdirecting the audience and also, at the same time, revealing something more truthful.
What was your process like going from directing short films to now feature films?
Mike Gan: It’s such a learning curve but it’s great. It’s sort of the same principles but they are just very different ways of storytelling. I was comfortable on set which was the best part, it felt very natural to shoot movies and to shoot them for longer days. The biggest adjustment is trying to keep the whole scope of the story every day. That was the biggest learning curve. You are also collaborating with a lot more people and that’s always a change.
How did you got about securing a high school to film in?
Mike Gan: We shot the film in three different locations – two high schools and a sound stage. The challenge was to make it seem like it was one school. The biggest challenge was in one of the schools, classes were still going on so it was kind of crazy. It was great though because they let us turn off the lights in the hallway and while class was going on we were running around with people screaming. It was a tight squeeze but we barely made it work but it worked out well.
I absolutely loved the look of the Admiral – can you elaborate on how that design came to be?
Mike Gan: I think, honestly, there were some ideas of having it be a fun, fluffy mascot but I don’t know, when I heard of Admiral I just kept thinking about old French or Italian soldiers from the 18th Century (laughs). Lenette, our costume designer, I gave her some examples of soldiers and she really got it quickly and made this gorgeous cape. We wanted a good silhouette because we didn’t want to show the Admiral too much. I think it looks creepy (laughs). We do have some dark humor in this movie but I think if we had a funny looking mascot it would have changed the tone too much.
Was there a scene in the script that you were excited to see come to life?
Mike Gan: Definitely – not to give it away but the last 15 minutes of this movie we were like this seems crazy where we end up but I think it can work (laughs). That was actually one of our favorite days of shooting in that when we did that whole scene we had two days of shooting and it just worked magically. It all came together and we finished a few hours early on the 2nd day. We shot that in the middle of the shoot and once we had that we knew the tone of the movie and we knew that it would work. I have to say, the actors, and the whole crew, but the two actors in that scene are amazing.
Speaking of the actors, when it came to casting for the roles what was the process like?
Mike Gan: I worked with John McAlary who worked with a lot of YA casting. We talked about the characters and they were specific enough to where he immediately had people that he knew in mind. I did write Erica (played by Annie Q.) to be an Asian-American character, so we knew that from the get-go. These actors that took the script they just took it, it was theirs. I didn’t feel like I was making them say anything that they didn’t feel made sense anymore and that was what we were looking for, who could take the script and make it 100% theirs. I think everyone in that movie did that, I was so impressed with the whole cast.
Last but not least, are there any projects you are working on that we should be keeping our eyes out for?
Mike Gan: I’m working on another horror script, I can’t talk about it much yet but it’s definitely centered around Asian-American teens. It should be fun and the same tone and hopefully we get that going soon. I also have another film coming out titled Burn.
For more on SCHOOL SPIRIT, check out Sarah’s review here.