The makers of ‘Stage Fright’ on doing R-rated horror with kids

Director Jerome Sable and composter Eli Batalion collaborated on the horror-comedy "Stage Fright." Credit: Getty Images
Director Jerome Sable and composter Eli Batalion collaborated on the horror-comedy “Stage Fright.”
Credit: Getty Images

For “Stage Fright,” their first feature, writer-director Jerome Sable and composer Eli Batalion take a stab at sending up both musical theater and horror in a film that’s equal parts “All About Eve” and “Friday the 13th,” pitting the ambitious teen divas of a summer theater camp against a bloodthirsty killer.

You have stuff in this film that’s hilarious and stuff that’s genuinely terrifying.

ELI BATALION: It’s hilar-ifying! [Laughs]

At what point in the creative process do you determine those shifts in tone?

JEROME SABLE: There’s obviously some attempt in the initial screenplay at how it’s going to weave in and out, and then it morphs as you go and shoot it and look at the dailies. Then it finds its way through the post-production process until the day the audience receives it. So it’s an ongoing evolution all the way through. But the idea of being uncompromising in the horror elements, again that’s just what we were interested in. Because we’ve seen the sort of sillier versions, so it’s like, “OK, then why not try to amp it up and see what happens?”

Where does this unique sensibility come from?

EB: There’s nothing sensible about this movie. [Laughs]
JS: I mean, you know, it’s hard to kind of summarize and say something eloquent that sounds like it was all intentional, because really what it is was an exploration of s— we like to do.
EB: Our process is very gut-check. It’s just like, “Oh yeah, that’s awesome.”
JS: “Wouldn’t it be fun if…” That kind of thing. So we just sort of follow what I guess pleases us or excites us, interests us as we go. And we don’t know how audiences will receive it, but today’s audiences have consumed so much and are so familiar that the concept of riffing on genres and riffing on pre-existing things perhaps means that it’s digested more easily.

That backstage theater atmosphere, especially among aspiring teens, is very unique.

EB: It is based on our experiences sort of being in that world and intermingled in that world, but not really being in that world and basically having a bit of an outsider’s eye to it and an opportunity for parody, basically.

How do you handle working with such young performers, between the violence and the content of some of the lyrics?

JS: I mean, for us it’s very simple. The full script, in all of its bloody glory and detail, is available to the agents and the parents right from day one, and there are no surprises. We don’t do any parenting because that’s not our job, but everything is fully disclosed as far as what this is, what we’re going to do and what the lyrics are. I wouldn’t let my kids see this s—. [Laughs] No, I don’t have any kids. A lot of these kids are almost playing a little younger onscreen because off-screen they’re actually hard-working, precocious young adults and very serious. Who knows if they even got some of the jokes. [Laughs]
EB: They will one day…

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick


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