By MICHAEL GINGOLD
“I call it ‘THE BREAKFAST CLUB with carnage and mayhem.’ That’s Bruce Campbell’s very apt way of describing BLACK FRIDAY, in which he plays a toy store manager determined not to let a monster invasion impact the bottom line on the biggest shopping day of the year. RUE MORGUE spoke to Campbell and FRIDAY director Casey Tebo about their satirical, holiday-timed fright feature.
Scripted by Andy Greskoviak, and coming to select theaters November 19 and VOD November 23 from Screen Media, BLACK FRIDAY is set on the titular night as a motley group of We Love Toys workers prepare for an influx of rabid customers. Played by Devon Sawa (FINAL DESTINATION, IDLE HANDS), Ivana Baquero (PAN’S LABYRINTH), Michael Jai White (SPAWN) and others, they have no idea how crazed the patrons are going to be. A nearby meteor crash has unleashed an alien organism that infects the shoppers, turning them into flesh-hungry creatures bent on making this a very black Friday indeed for the unfortunate employees. It’s the second venture into humorous horror for Tebo, who began in music videos and documentaries (most notably for Aerosmith) before making his feature debut with 2016’s HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
Casey, what attracted you to Greskoviak’s script?
CASEY TEBO: I have three kids, two boys and a girl. My sons are 13 and 11, and when we go to the movies to see the latest Marvel blockbuster or whatever–and this is not a slight against any filmmaker out there, it’s more about the studio process–anytime there’s a trailer for the next big sequel or remake, they literally roll their eyes. They love movies like the original FRIDAY THE 13TH and the original PREDATOR, and they’re having this IP forced down their throats. When Andy sent me this script and I read it, I thought that this is a movie my sons and their friends would love, because they haven’t seen it before, and they could just sleep over and eat popcorn and enjoy it together.
Bruce, what was the appeal for you, particularly regarding the role of Jonathan?
BRUCE CAMPBELL: Pretty much the same. Once Casey understood that he was not hiring Ash to clean up everyone’s mess, you know? We did the first Zoom session a while ago, and afterward, just looking at that little BRADY BUNCH of the little boxes with all the actors, I was like, yeah, I can see all of them in these roles. And what’s cool is that on top of it, you’ve got a few other actors in there who have all been in notable genre stuff, so we have that in common. The great thing about working on a B-movie with other actors who have done B-movies is, they understand that wearing kneepads is not unusual, because you’re gonna get tossed around, and crap is gonna be thrown in your face, and you might be asked to throw a fake punch or fall on the ground or wrestle with a monster or something like that. I think B-movies are more challenging for actors, but they can also be more fun because there’s more to do. You shoot ’em quick, and we made our way through this one pretty quickly, and it was nice to be surrounded by other genre-comfortable actors.
TEBO: And it was funny: After we did the Zoom, Andy messaged me going, “Jesus Christ, you have literally assembled the Avengers of genre movies!”
CAMPBELL: Well, you know what it is, Casey? I liken it to a good 1980s video box. That video would sell! If you had that cast on your video cover, I think you’d be good.
What was the selection process for those actors? It was especially nice to see Ivana Baquero in there, all these years after PAN’S LABYRINTH.
TEBO: I don’t want to pooh-pooh the casting process, but every filmmaker has their way of doing things. We were given lists of people, and honestly, I’m not saying this because Bruce is on the line, but he was the only one where I was like, “We can get him? We can get Bruce Campbell?” And they were like, “Well, we can try!” We started with Devon; he’s great, he has an Everyman quality, and every woman in their 30s that I know is like, “Oh my God, Devon Sawa!”
CAMPBELL: Oh yeah, he has his own following!
TEBO: And then Ivana was my absolute first choice, though we had heard at first that she was living in Spain and couldn’t get to the U.S. because of COVID restrictions. I just said, “Here’s the list–can we have this person, this person and this person?” We got Devon, Ivana and Bruce, and for some of the other roles, people just weren’t available, and we ended up saying, “Well, I want to use this guy, because he’s great.”
The one amazing discovery was for the role of Brian, Jonathan’s underling; that was the only role I auditioned. Casting sent me a bunch of audition tapes, and that was a very lengthy process to find a person who could take this role and find the meat of it and make it great. We were introduced to Stephen Peck, who had never done a [major role in a] movie, just a couple of small parts and short films. I watched Stephen’s audition, and the casting director said, “Why don’t you two get on the phone and do a Zoom, see if they can take direction.” We did, and they were amazing, and I think Bruce and everyone else can attest to just how amazing Stephen was, on set and in the movie.
CAMPBELL: Yeah, Stephen was surprisingly comfortable, surprisingly at home, and that’s half of what an actor needs, to feel they’re in a comfortable environment where they can do their stuff and not be intimidated. He wasn’t intimidated at all. Stephen was a good find.
Bruce, getting back to what you were saying before, did you help guide the younger actors through dealing with the special effects and the blood and all that?
CAMPBELL: Not in this case, because a lot of them had had that experience. They were used to doing stuff where they would have to do some action, there’d be some atmosphere, there was gonna be wind and demons and stunts, so there wasn’t much to tell these guys. It just felt good to be on a set with people who had a clue.
Have you, at any point in your career, had a director or producer or boss of some sort who you could channel to help you play Jonathan?
CAMPBELL: That I could channel, no, but we’ve all had bosses, and some bosses can be idiots. I had kind of an idiot boss back when I was a security guard. He was a complete slacker, and he got very nervous around people who were not slackers, you know? He was threatened at every turn, because he had no real skills. And it was just great to play someone who…you know, that’s who you invade! You invade a crappy, low-rent toy store with an idiot manager and disgruntled employees. That’s who I want to see attacked by aliens. I don’t want to see aliens land next to a military installation; that’s not gonna solve anybody’s problems. But put them with a bunch of idiots? That’s entertainment!
How did you deal with shooting BLACK FRIDAY during the pandemic, especially the scenes involving all the extras?
CAMPBELL: Well, Casey and I went through the same process. You know, I have great respect for our industry now, because we are a bunch of…to paraphrase my line in BURN NOTICE, “Actors are a bunch of bitchy little girls.” But we are resilient types, and everyone in the film business is very resilient. We’re used to going through periods without money, working under weird conditions and strange scenarios, and I think we adapted very well, and on all the productions I’ve been on during COVID, which has been a lot, they all have done a good job. So I’m proud of our people.
TEBO: It was different for me, because my favorite thing about making movies is working with the actors, and when you have a mask on, and sometimes a face shield, you can’t get intimate, for lack of a better term, with your cast. But I believe we made it work, and somebody reviewed the film and said the scene in the warehouse was incredible for a movie like this and the acting was amazing, and hats off to me that I got those performances. Obviously that’s the actors as well, but when you want to bring something out of somebody, you want to be able to talk to them, and that was a little difficult.
And to address the extras, one of the things I always kind of felt bad about was, Andy wrote a much bigger movie than it turned out to be. There were more monsters and way more extras, and I said, “Look, we need to pare this down and be realistic about what kind of film we can make.” We still thought we would be able to have hordes of soccer moms running through the store, but because of COVID, we could only have, like, five extras at a time. We did the best we could, and I think we did a great job, but there’s definitely a part of me that wishes we had more extras on set; we were just not legally allowed to do that.
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