Directing duo Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion are no strangers to creating films that combine different genre elements that make for an impactful viewing experience. In their debut film, Cooties (2014), they told the story of a terrifying virus that takes hold of an elementary school through the use of impressive horror and comedy tropes. In their follow-up film, Bushwick (2017), about a U.S. based military force invading a Brooklyn neighborhood, they combined high stake action with a thrilling storyline that was vastly different in both look and feel from their previous film. In BECKY, Milott and Murnion once again give viewers a completely different experience that combines horror elements with comedy and action, when a teenager finds herself taking on a Neo-Nazi leader who has wreaked havoc on the lives of her and her family.
Prior to the release of the film, I had the opportunity to interview both Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. During our chat, we discussed everything from subverting audience’s expectations, the importance of practical effects, and the inspiration for crafting the look and feel of the film.
Thank you both so much for speaking with me today. What I love about your films are how different each one is from the last. That said, can you discuss how BECKY came to be?
Jonathan Milott: I think it comes down to that Carey and I do have very eclectic taste. We’ve kind of struggled with that in the industry because we do commercials too and in the commercial world, we are known as comedy directors. Because our first film was Cooties, we were kind of more known as horror directors. Then we did Bushwick, which is this weird, independent action film that nobody knew how to really pigeon-hole. For us, it’s not necessarily that we have to do just one genre, it’s more about the story and the characters and how we can execute and tell that story through a specific point of view. I think that really gets us excited about directing.
Cary Murnion: And exploring new things, new ways to make films. I think each one has a unique premise and a unique vision of how this premise is displayed and told. I think we just want to not rest on our laurels. We could have done a whole string of horror comedies after Cooties, we could of even after Bushwick, we got a lot of traditional action films. With BECKY, it was like taking little bits that we learned from the first two films, and from other things we worked on and growing and experimenting. We want to keep on experimenting and finding out new ways to tell things that are challenging to make. This is a challenging story to bring to the screen. We love needing that challenge and seeing if we can do that.
In BECKY, you subvert the audience’s expectations by casting certain actors in roles that go against their type. Can you elaborate on that?
Jonathan Milott: I think that’s something that we’ve always loved to do as well. We did that with Bushwick and Dave Bautista and Brittany Snow. You take these characters that you expect to be one way and then they are another way. We really loved doing that in Bushwick so we really wanted to do that with these characters of Dominic, played by Kevin James, and Becky, played by Lulu Wilson. Dominic is a Neo-Nazi cult leader that will do anything it takes to get what he wants. We wanted someone with a lot of charisma, someone that on first glance you might think, Oh, this is just a normal guy from the area that’s looking for his dog so maybe I’ll help him out. We wanted somebody that wasn’t just an over-the-top bad guy from the start. We wanted someone that you would kind of listen to. He has this crazy dogma and crazy Nazi beliefs, but as he tells it, and as he portrays it, you think, “maybe he has a point” and then you’re like, “No, he does not have a point”, even though he’s saying it in a way that might be common and cool. It’s completely over the top but we like that contradiction of what they say and what they do with what we perceive them to be.
Cary Murnion: Kevin James is obviously cast against type. Having Joel McHale take this role where he’s not the Joel McHale you know, who is the fast-talking smart aleck who comes at you with a line. He’s a warm, caring dad who has some flaws and does things that I think are… you see him going through a lot. We like to work with people who have things that you don’t expect. Then, of course, there is Lulu Wilson. At first, you don’t know what you can expect from a 13-year-old and then you see the range of emotion and the feelings she has to go through throughout this film… each one of these actors and actresses is some of the most top-notch people we’ve ever worked with.
One of my favorite aspects of this film was the practical effects used, particularly relating to an eyeball scene. Can you talk a bit about the use of practical effects and why that was important over CGI?
Jonathan Milott: I think almost everybody can agree that a good practical effect will trump CGI at any point. I think there’s a good balance and, hopefully, we found that where you can’t really tell there’s some CG in the film. As genre lovers, we love Carpenter’s The Thing and that’s just been a big influence on us for our entire lives. We always love the idea of making practical effects and having the actors be able to really interact with them, especially with that eyeball scene. I feel like you have to have that interaction in that scene where there’s something physical there so that as it’s being manipulated, both actors can play off of that and see what’s happening. It just makes that scene all the crazier and all the more insane. That’s one of those scenes that the MPAA made us trim a little bit (laughs).
Cary Murnion: We had to get this film down from NC-17 to R and that was one of the scenes we had to work on a little bit.
This film deals with some serious themes which are offset by the energetic presentation of the film through the use of colors and music. When it came to crafting the look and feel of the film, where did you pull inspiration from?
Jonathan Milott: Across the board, from the performance to the makeup effects and the score, the tone was definitely a balancing act that we were really on top of the whole time, it was like doing this tight-rope walk. We wanted it to be fun, we wanted it to be riding that border of almost too over-the-top, but still being grounded a bit so it’s not just a complete throw-away or you don’t really care what the characters do. In terms of visually, I think we were really inspired by a lot of the old Giallo films like A Bay of Blood from 1971 or some of the newer versions of that. We love this French film called Let the Corpses Tan, we really were inspired by that and actually took some very direct inspiration from some of their sequences. I think the idea was trying to keep this point of view of Becky that is the world through her eyes. Seeing the world through 13-year-old eyes that’s a bit heightened, a bit intense, a bit over-the-top is how we led it across the board.
Lastly, what were some of the challenges you faced with this film and what do you hope people will take away from the movie after seeing it?
Jonathan Milott: We could talk for hours about the challenges of this film (laughs). I think on some broad strokes, just any independent film getting made in today’s world is a challenge. We had a great script but then we had the violence of the young kids. People would be interested in the script but then, I think, financiers would be afraid of the violence with the kid. So from that to then actually shooting with kids and shooting at night, you only have a few hours because instead of having an 8-hour day, you have 3-4 hours with the kids. Then you add dogs, you add stunts, prosthetics, etc. In thinking of the things that you don’t ever really hear about is we had this great script and there was this amazing scene at a dock. It had dogs jumping in the water, kids jumping in the water, we had boats and all this prosthetics and all this stuff. You think of how the scene will be filmed and then you find out that, you know what, you only have about a day to film that scene and to do stunts safely in the water and that’s just not going to happen. Everything you had been planning to do for that scene has to be changed on the fly. You have to figure out what the essence of that scene is and still make it awesome, visceral, and over-the-top while still doing everything you wanted to do emotionally, but completely revamp it just days before you film. Those are changes that constantly happen with all those barriers. In terms of what we want people to take from it is really, right now, with everything that’s going on in the world, we just want people to be able to tune out from the world and have a little bit of fun. If there are some deeper things they can take from it, I think, as we talked about the climax of the film, there are some really interesting moral and ethical questions that you could walk out of the film and really think about. But really, I think nowadays hopefully people can go to a Drive-In, watch this with some friends safely while social distancing and just have a good release and let out some anxiety.