I absolutely love it when I get to talk to filmmakers who are really excited and proud of the films they make. That is the case with Chris W. Freeman (Evil Takes Root) and Spain Willingham (First World Problems) who are thrilled about their new horror-comedy Beast Mode.
The 80s throwback horror tells the story of a has-been Hollywood producer (C. Thomas Howell), who after accidentally killing his lead star (James Duval), turns to an ancient herbal elixir, in the hope that it will save his career. He makes a dark deal that unleashes a band of bloodthirsty, shape-shifting, ferocious beasts on LA.
C Thomas Howell (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Hitcher), Leslie Easterbrook (The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween), Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, RoboCop), James Hong (Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China), and James Duval (Gone in 60 Seconds, Donnie Darko) star in this insane, fun flick.
Chris Freeman has worked behind-the-scenes on a ton of blockbusters such as Troy, Battle Los Angeles, and Collateral. Not only is he a director, writer, and producer, he’s also an actor and composer.
Spain Willingham began his acting career at just 5 years old and has become a writer-director-producer who is also a comedian. He also stars in Beast Mode as Hampton. Spain is a busy guy. He has several upcoming TV pilots as well as other films in the works.
Horror Fuel: “If you will, tell me how Beast Mode came to be.”
Spain Willingham: “We just decided that it would be so fun to make fun of the industry we work in. Chris has worked a lot in studios and the big-budget movies you see in theaters. I came up in the theater, comedy, sketch comedy, and some indie movies that I have made in San Fransisco before I headed to Los angeles. It was just on my mind, making fun, total parody, satirizing Hollywood to the twentieth degree. Chris was on board because he had lived it.
Chris W. Freeman: “Spain had been in San Francisco and I had been grinding away in Los Angeles, toiling away not knowing what will happen next. I witnessed a lot of really insane things so when Spain and I first started hanging out we really had the same sense of humor about the irony behind what some people in the industry did. And the difference between below and above the line. And how it’s so insulting and separating people into two classes in the film industry. There is literally a magazine called Below the Line, you would never see a producer reading it. So we had a lot of laughs about that. Spain had a really good idea, wanting to do a monster movie where people wore masks. It just kind of formed. We found another writer and the three of us eventually, after grinding day to day writing the script and eventually came into a territory that was fun and thought it was worth telling the story.”
Horror Fuel: “And we are glad you did. When it came to casting, how did that work? Did you have anyone in mind when you wrote Beast Mode or did you go through a casting process?”
Chris W. Freeman: “The lead, C. Thomas Howell, I had previously worked with him on a couple of other projects. The one thing that I love so much about him is his sense of humor and his comedy timing. So it really started with him. Breen went through several different versions and we were trying to figure him out. Spain and I talked together and we said we’d kill to have C. Thomas Howell as Bree, but we didn’t know if he’d be willing to do it. We weren’t really sure how it was going to work out and it was really the linchpin. Once Tommy Howell was committed to doing the project, then we just started adding our heroes, our favorite actors of all times.”
Spain Willingham: “We approached James Duval about acting in two roles in the movie. I grew up watching a lot of his movies. Drew and I, the other writer, Drew Fortune, became friends in Chicago in college. We were both big fans of his [Duval] because he had done a lot of really fun, dark, indie, and we felt like he would be great. It just so happen that we had some mutual friends that knew him. That’s how Hollywood works. He was awesome to work with. We are all now great friends. I hope to work with him again on future projects. I knew that he could pull off the Huckle/Michael duel role because having seen him do so many different roles in his movies from super nice, laid back, almost airhead characters to mean villains. He can do a lot of different things so I knew he would be perfect for that role.”
Chris W. Freeman: “Once we had C. Thomas Howell and James Duval, it made it a lot easier for me to go to some actors I had worked with, like the amazing Leslie Easterbrook, who Spain and I are big fans of. I knew her personally and I know Daz Crawford personally. And of course Ray Wise, we never imagined in a million years that he would do the film [laughter]. We really appreciated them getting involved. They liked the script and obviously wanted to have some fun satirizing the film industry. Ray Wise plays a makeup artist like the ones he’s worked with so many times. That was fun”
Horror Fuel: “I’ve met Ray, he’s a super nice guy.”
Chris W. Freeman: “So nice and down to earth.”
Horror Fuel: “When it comes to the special effects, were they mostly practical?”
Spain Willingham: “There were a few that were CGI. Sometimes, there are things like night scenes and they are a little darker than you might have in mind. The way some of your gorehounds, crazy friends would like it to be. Being a big fan of the horror movies from the ’80s, which was my life, we wanted to stick to practical effects as much as possible. Even if you’re a fan of really high-end CGI gore, you can still settle. We wanted to stay true to that 80s look. It’s not a retro where people are wearing 80s clothing, we are set in the present day. But it definitely has that 80s feel of something you rent if you grew up in the 80s. Practical is our bag and we want to do even more next time. That’s not something you go to film school to learn. When you’re on set and only have so many hours, it is tough to get what you want. You’ve got to give it that extra push in post-production and luckily, we had a great visual effects master who really just came in and did things you would never know that he did.”
Chris W. Freeman: “I would say about 80% of the movie is physical effects. Which was really challenging because it was a single camera shoot. We intentionally did a single camera shoot because wanted it to feel like it was from the 80s.
We had a really talented makeup artist. And applying those masks wasn’t easy. It one of those things that when you see it, you love it, but there was so much work that went into it. Every time I watch it I have more appreciation for the makeup department for what they bring to the table. The masks were in pieces, some of them were two pieces, some of them were in three layers. Brian Wade created the molds for the masks. Each of the masks was in different colors. It’s a really zany movie that’s out there. But there’s a lot of plot and it’s meant to be organized chaos.”
Horror Fuel: “What inspired the idea for the cream?”
Spain Willingham: “Yeah! I think that we were diving into social commentary about how Hollywood is a mask and just because you go so deep into the fame and fortunes and the paparazzi of it all that you forget who you really are. The subtext came alive.”
Chris W. Freeman: “That’s what I was going to say. It’s a really interesting part of the process. We were really committed to the thought that Hollywood, fame, is really a mask. Some people can’t take it off. We knew we needed a device that is universal, that we can all understand why people would want to use it. The cream can heal blemishes, scars, it makes people look younger. Of course, there’s a price for everything. In this world, the cost is that if you’re a bad person, at 11:59 you may look perfect, but at midnight you’re going to turn into what you really are in your heart. With it being Los Angeles, there are clearly a lot of bad people in Hollywood.
Spain Willingham: “The last thing I’ll say about the use of this cream we’ve created, we want to build more of it. We want to try some other avenues.”
Chris W. Freeman: “Yeah, the cream is going to get used more in other worlds, not just the Hollywood industry. That’s what we are planning with the sequel.”
Horror Fuel: “Oh, you’re planning a sequel, that’s awesome!
Horror Fuel: “I have to ask about the opening sequence. The first scene is so pretty. Where was that filmed?”
Spain Willingham: “[laughter] we took the whole cast and crew to South America on my dime. I’m kidding, I’m kidding.”
Chris W. Freeman: “So, for some of the shots in the opening, the whole world in the hut, that was actually shot in a driveway. We built that hut and shot it at night. It was really cramped in there [laughter]. Matt Ryan’s team made it look amazing. Our production designer, Jevon Dismuke, did an amazing job. We were really really happy.”
Spain Willingham: “Isabella [Cascarano] was so good in that scene. She’s amazing. She’s good in everything she does. She’s the one who plays the momma, witchy woman in the opening. She was great and so committed. It was a long shoot in that little hut. It was movie magic, we faked it.
Chris and I are big fans of Arachnophobia that’s kind of an ode to that movie.”
Horror Fuel: It came out beautifully [barking]. Sorry, I have a puppy who’s trying to drive me nuts.”
Chris W. Freeman: “Awe. You know we love dogs. You saw the dog in our movie.”
Horror Fuel: “Yeah, the dog in Beast Mode is adorable. Is he your dog?”
Chris W. Freeman: “No, he’s not our dog, but we love that dog. They say not to use dogs if you can avoid it because they are difficult, but they are so worth it. ”
Spain Willingham: “We will definitely be using him again. There will be a dog in every movie. It’s interesting because the dog is a female but plays a boy in the movie [laughter].”
Chris W. Freeman: “We almost did the POV shot Beast Mode shot with her, but we’re going it save it for the sequel. My dog doesn’t like certain things. We thought it would be fun to make her hate the gnome, horror style. It would have been fun, but unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to focus on the story.”
Horror Fuel: “I would have liked to have seen that. I’m dog-obsessed.
You both have said that you wanted to capture the worst parts of Hollywood in Beast Mode. And it reveals a lot, but what do you think is the absolute worst aspect of Hollywood?”
Chris W. Freeman: “I would say it is the pressure. We actually bring it up in the film, the pressure to conform to what other people above you on the pay grade/food chain want you to be. Some of them are not nice people, some of them are not good people. You see people slowly slipping into bad habits and not caring as much about others like they did before they moved into the industry. They’ve gotten sucked into the machine and they see the glitz and the glam, all the things you get from being in the industry and being celebrities or being close to celebrities. The wealth, the prestige, being around the events. There’s a price for it. I personally think that’s one of the worst parts of Hollywood is watching people that you know change.”
Spain Willingham: “Agreed. That’s pretty much our movie right there. I agree. A lot of people get there and think, ‘I’ve got a friend who does this and he can squeeze me into that.’ But three years later, you’re still waiting tables and it can get very frustrating. You know, there’s a lot of pressure.”
Chris W. Freeman: “I didn’t know Spain when I got here, who is a good guy. We have a lot of friends that are good people. We’ve seen the bad sides of the industry, but it’s refreshing when you surround yourself with good people. That’s why the lines in the film that Thomas Howell says are really important to me, ‘I just want to make a movie that people like.’ We definitely believe what we wrote.”
Horror Huel: “I understand. Earlier you mentioned a sequel.”
Spain Willingham: “Yeah. We definitely are excited. We really had a fun year in 2019 touring the country with film festivals. We were really lucky to get into some really good ones, and we won several. We were surprised at the reception. We had crowds laughing and coming up to us afterward wanting to chat all about Beast Mode. So I hope that the reception is the same when it hits Video On Demand. That’s going to have a lot to do with the sequel.
We have a really cool idea for the sequel. We want to go 3000 miles east and head to D.C. because what better way for the cream to get loose than “The Hill?”
Chris W. Freeman: “Spain and I were trying to think of where we could find worse people than Hollywood. The only two things we could think of were Silicon Valley and politics. Three will be about Silicon Valley, but two is going to be about D.C. And we’re planning on making it. We’re working on it now, so it’s definitely going to be a mix between Mr. Smith and American Werewolf in London. It’s going to have that kind of sensibility of people coming to D.C. wanting to make a difference and make a change and of course they go into this world where this cream is loose. You’ve got the scoop right there.”
Horror Fuel: “I love it! I think it would be a fun flick.”
Beast Mode is out today (12/1) on DVD and Digital from Devilworks Pictures in both the U.S and Canada. Check it out and be sure to follow the film on Facebook.