If there is ever a filmmaker to keep your eye on, it would be Emily Hagins. You don’t want to sleep on her. Building up a steady resume of projects over the past decade, her work includes the horror-comedy My Sucky Teen Romance, the Netflix Original film Coin Heist, and the six-part TV digital series “Hold To Your Best Self”. However, when you look at her resume, horror anthologies reign supreme. She’s written and directed the segment “Touch” in ChillerTV’s horror anthology Chilling Visions: The Five Senses of Fear. In 2018, she wrote and directed the short First Kiss for “V/H/S”, a horror anthology series from Snapchat. Now she is back with her segment ‘Cold Open’ for the horror-comedy anthology film, SCARE PACKAGE.
Prior to the release of the film on Shudder, I had the opportunity to chat with writer and director Emily Hagins. During the interview, we discussed everything from how she came about developing the story for her segment ‘Cold Open’, how elements from her short ended up threading through the rest of SCARE PACKAGE, and what she would like to be explored more in the horror genre.
Thank you so much for speaking with me. This film radiates so much love for the horror genre and your ‘Cold Open’ really sets the tone. To start things off, can you discuss how you came to be involved with this project?
Emily Hagins: Thank you so much! I first met Aaron Koontz when he was assembling his team of directors, and I was so excited about the possibility of returning to the horror/comedy genre. Everything Aaron said about how he wanted to cohesively assemble a horror anthology was very appealing to me — it seemed like the project was going to be a real team effort with new and interesting ideas for weaving the story together. Shortly after, it looked like one of my feature projects was going to create a scheduling conflict, so I had to back out of the film. However, as things often go in this industry, that project got postponed. And at that point, I thought I had missed my chance to participate in SCARE PACKAGE, which really bummed me out. But I distinctly remember running into Aaron in line at SXSW 2018 (I was with my team at the time, since we had another project in the fest), and he said my spot was still open, which was incredible to me. I turned to my producer, Ben Hanks, and DP, Dustin Supencheck, and we all looked at each other and said, “Let’s do this!” So, at the end of the day, I couldn’t be happier about the timing of it all.
Your short ‘Cold Open’ focuses on the trope of the one person who sets up all the events that set the basis of what’s to come in a horror film. What gave you the idea to focus on this particular trope over all others in the horror genre?
Emily Hagins: Yes! I remember trying to make some of my existing story ideas fit the mold of playing on a horror trope, but I didn’t feel like I had anything quite “meta” enough to fit the tone of what Aaron and his team were looking for. So, I started from scratch, just thinking about how a character arc could unfold through the trials and limitations of familiar horror tropes. I was trying to think of what could be holding someone back from reaching their full character potential. Then I started to think about if the movie itself was holding the character back, and what that could mean to someone emotionally as they tried to figure out their own place in the film. And that’s when it all kind of clicked with the “guy who wants to be a character, but he’s only there for that set up” idea.
Jon Michael Simpson kills it – no pun intended – as Mike. What was the casting process like for the role?
Emily Hagins: Jon Michael is amazing! I’m so glad you enjoyed his performance. I had worked with him, Luxy Banner, and Haley Erickson on a 6-part digital series called “Hold To Your Best Self” in 2017, so we all had strong rapport prior to this project. I think those bonds really helped with the collaboration both horror and comedy requires. In that series, Jon Michael’s character was very somber, but I thought he was a delight to work with. Later on, I learned he was a very strong comedic and improv performer, and I was kicking myself for not utilizing those strengths on that project. When I was brainstorming for ‘Cold Open’, I felt like there was no one better to play the role than Jon Michael, and wrote with him in mind to make up for giving him a role where he just had to like, sit in a corner and brood and smoke cigarettes, heh. I’m so glad Aaron and Cameron found ways of tying his character to more of the film, it was wonderful to see him pop up again and again!
With ‘Cold Open’ setting the stage for SCARE PACKAGE and coming back around full circle towards the end, what challenges, if any, did you come across throughout the experience?
Emily Hagins: I thought it was so clever how Aaron and Cameron brought Mike back at different points. My segment technically ends with a fade-out, so it was a really fun surprise/viewing experience to see how Mike interacted with Rad Chad and others at different points in the movie. Collaborating through sharing characters is really a special part of being part of something like an anthology! I had heard about how they planned to bring Mike back, but it was cool to actually see it all together — it really shows how much care went into the planning of a cohesive story from multiple points of view.
Lastly, SCARE PACKAGE deals with many of the tropes found in the horror genre. When it comes to the horror genre, what sort of subject matter or themes do you find yourself being drawn to? What would you like to see explored more?
Emily Hagins: I always love writing sweet and/or optimistic characters having to deal with their struggles through the metaphors and symbols horror can provide in a meaningful yet entertaining way. I think that’s one of the most appealing aspects of the genre for me — utilizing the tools (or even “tropes”) to mirror and challenge a character on their journey. I would love to see honest and kind characters utilized in horror more — while I enjoy dark and unsettling horror as a viewer and fan, I’m just also a sucker for an element of hope in a genre that is often associated with the darker parts of the human experience.
SCARE PACKAGE is now available for streaming on Shudder. Want to learn more about the film? Check out our review HERE. Interested in learning more about the work Emily has done so far? Check out her site here.