[Interview] Ari Costa & Eren Celeboglu for ALL FUN AND GAMES

This piece was posted during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, ALL FUN AND GAMES being covered here wouldn’t exist.

In Ari Costa and Eren Celeboglu‘s latest project, ALL FUN AND GAMES, the film explores the elements of cruelty inherent in children’s games – Flashlight Tag, Hangman, Hide & Seek – and what happens when the games go too far. When a group of teens finds a cursed knife in the woods, they unleash a malevolent demon that will not rest until it’s claimed all of their lives and souls in a terrifying deathmatch.

Leading up to the release of ALL FUN AND GAMES, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with co-directors Ari Costa and Eren Celeboglu. During their chat, they discussed everything from what drew them to the script to the natural connection between all the actors, and how Asa Butterfield took on a dual role.

Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I had a lot of fun with this film. What kicked off the premise for this story? 

Ari Costa: The film came to AGBO as a spec about three years ago and this writer, J.J. Braider, did a fantastic job with it. I’ve worked with the Russos since 2010 and I met Eren on the set of “Community,” and we’ve been working together as a team for seven years or so. The Russos had seen shorts of ours and encouraged us to lay claim to something at AGBO. We saw ALL FUN AND GAMES and were like, this is a great initial hook to a horror movie. We really loved this idea of a demon that plays twisted and sadistic versions of children’s games. I want to see that.

What Eren and I did was we really tried to focus on the family’s dynamics. We looked to things like E.T. for a bit of a broken family, children fighting the traumatic loss of their father or being abandoned by their father, and moving through that together. We were inspired by that and we really tried to focus on our own lives and just really grounding the characters in reality. We looked to films like Lady Bird, Mid-90s, and Eighth Grade to really give a realism to the teenagers and the way they’re represented.

[Interview] Eren Celeboglu & Ari Costa for ALL FUN AND GAMES

It’s funny you say that because one of my favorite aspects of this film is the natural connection that these actors seem to have with one another. Can you talk about getting this cast together for the film?

Eren Celeboglu: We were really lucky. Our casting director, Jessica Sherman, did an incredible job of finding a lot of the new faces such as Laurel Marsden (“Sophie”), and Kolton Stewart (“Pete”). She helped us get Annabeth Gish and Ben Ainsworth (“Jo”). Basically, we didn’t have enough money to fly people from other countries and Ben’s English so Jessica kind of snuck him into the process and was like, we can’t get him but just watch. Then of course, we watch it and we’re like, wow, we got to try and get this guy. We sent it to the powers that be and they agreed. We also didn’t want someone playing 18 for 13. We needed him to be his age.

Natalia Dyer (“Billie”) and Asa Butterfield (“Marcus”), we were just lucky enough that they loved the script and they were down to both do something totally different. You’ve never seen Asa like this before and Natalia.. that’s her hair! She changed her hair and her reps were like, you can’t do that, you have to replace it. And she was like, no, no, no, I’m doing it. It’s like Uma Thurman meets Lydia Dietz from Beetlejuice. She was so down to not be Nancy from “Strangers Things.” We were like, guys, she can’t look like Nancy, you know?

When we found out we only had 20 days [to film] we were like, we got to have rehearsals. We got everybody there a week in advance and we really did the Coppola thing where we went to lunch and dinner and had everybody around the table and slowly but surely people got into their mode and then we rehearsed with them. They’re already wonderful actors, but by the time we hit the floor, they were definitely the characters. On a movie this small, if we hadn’t had those actors there’s no way.

Speaking of Asa, his performance was fantastic especially since he had to play dueling roles within himself. What direction, if any, did you give him for when it came time to pivot himself into the demonic entity?

Ari Costa: I think that’s initially one of the things that attracted Asa to the role. Even when he’s Marcus, when he is not possessed, it’s a role he hasn’t necessarily done before. He hasn’t played the troubled teen who solves his problems with fists and is conflicted by his father abandoning them. I think that was interesting for him. And then, of course, to play possessed is the total opposite of anything he’s done before as well.

I think Asa came at it from a place of wanting to understand the mindset of this little boy who is this demon so he worked really hard at figuring out, well, is there a mischievous side to him? Does he like to play games? Obviously, he’s enacting revenge to a certain extent but does he smile sometimes? Is there this little boy still inside of this demon and how can I represent that? He really tried to sort of embody that demon and I think we really found it together with this middle ground of chaos but also trying to empathize with the demon.

Lastly, what would you like to say to all the writers and actors who are currently on strike due to improper compensation from the studios as well as how their jobs will be impacted due to the rise of AI?

Eren Celeboglu: You guys deserve the best deal. It’s pretty ridiculous at this point that we’re in this sort of day and age and we can’t do anything. We’re not in the Writer’s Guild, but we stand with the writers as directors. We literally cannot do anything without scripts or actors. We just hope for a resolution. The studios need to look inside themselves.

Ari Costa: It’s truly unfortunate right now. There is no content being made, except for some people who have gotten through with contracts that allow them to. But truly, there’s going to be nothing to watch and it’s just terrible for our industry.

Eren Celeboglu: I saw what Adam Driver said today at Venice about Ferrari. He’s like, why is it that Neon and STX can accept the agreement and make this movie that’s an amazing movie and we’re [able to be] here right now? He’s like, why can’t Amazon and Netflix do that? It’s a pretty simple question, you know what I mean?

ALL FUN AND GAMES is now in theaters and on VOD.

Shannon McGrew
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