SDCC11 Exclusive: Interview with ‘Tucker & Dale vs Evil’ Director Eli Craig

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a comedy horror film about two hillbillies on their dream vacation to a cabin in the woods who get mistaken for kidnappers when they try to help out a girl that fell into the lake.  Completed in 2010, this film has had a tough time finding a distributor after it premiered at Sundance.

I sat down with the director, Eli Craig, to talk about his experience with this film.  The conversation started off light, with him telling me about the new trailer that was premiering that weekend at their panel in Hall H.

The Flickast: So are you having a good weekend?  Have you gotten to experience Comic Con at all?

EC: I haven’t.  I’ve just been doing these interviews.  But I do want to go check it out.  My 5 year-old son is in there somewhere running around with a chainsaw and a hillbilly costume.

TFC: I would definitely like to talk about the film, but I’m really interested in this distribution process that has been taking over a year.

EC: Yeah, even in post, right after finishing the film, we went to Sundance with it in 2010.  That’s when it really blew up for us with great reviews.  All of these so-called offers where suppose to come in, but none of them did, so we went to South by Southwest and the studios where just slow and meticulous, even though we won the the audience award there.

One studio after another would say, “Let’s distribute the film.  We’ll take it and test it, and do all this work on it.”  First it was Paramount, then it was Film District, Summit, and Lion’s Gate, and they all had their own process of testing it, and then testing the trailer, and they would all test really well.  And then finally at the end of all that testing they would send it to their exhibitor at Regal and AMC.  So they would send it to one dude, and that guy passes!  So like one guy after thousands!

In the end, that process took about 18 months.  Then Magnet finally stepped in and was like, “Guys, we’ll distribute this.”  So Magnet is really the saviour of all indie films at this point.

TFC: While the film hasn’t gotten a wide release yet, you already have this incredible online reception.  The critical reception, and the fact that’s it’s 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.  How did you react to that?

EC: That was just awesome.  It think that’s what has powered us to be here.  I mean, we’re at Comic Con!

It’s funny, people are asking me about the negative about making the film.  But we’re sitting here at Comic Con, going to Hall H!  So something good is happening, and I think it’s really because of the fans, everybody that has gone to the festivals and seen it, and everyone that has gone on Facebook or blogged about it.  That momentum has kept going for us, and it’s really what brought us here.

TFC: My favorite quote I found about your film is, “It celebrates genre conventions while turning traditional views of horror heroes and villains upside down.”  How does this movie do that?

EC: I have watched so many horror film in my life.  I was a fan to the point that it seeped into my sub-conscience.  So I wasn’t necessarily referencing films in particular (though sometimes I was), but I was referencing the genre a lot and poking fun of it a little bit (or a lot).  I was making the hillbillies the good guys!

What if Leatherface was really just misunderstood, and was a guy that couldn’t control his chainsaw and we took it from his perspective?  We just tried to dismantle and poke fun at all of these stereotypes in these movies.

TFC: Your film has an interesting balance of the horror genre and comedy.  How were you able to achieve this?

EC: Well mainly by hiring really funny actors.  In this script we really focused a lot on the comedy.  I would almost call this a comedy/horror film.  But not in the way that Scary Movie is a parody.  A parody specifically makes fun of other movies , whereas you can’t really point to this and say, “That’s from that movie.”  But it is a satire.

TFC:  So there’s obviously a lot of gore, which is used to enhance the comedy in the film.  How to find the middle ground between coming across disgusting and scary or ridiculous and funny?

EC: I just went with the feeling on set.  If it made me laugh, I thought it would make people laugh in the film.  We were howling with laughter during some of the goriest moments!  I just hope it’s as funny as it was for us on set.  It turns out those moments we were appreciating the most on set are indeed the funniest moments.

TFC: Do you think there’s anything that turned out to be funny that was intended to be more serious?

EC: Actually the whole thing!  I’m just going with this whole horror/comedy thing.

He laughs sarcastically.

The thing is, because we’re going for so many jokes, there really is nothing that I didn’t intend to be funny.  Part of the fun is that there are moments I didn’t expect to be as funny as they turned out to be.

TFC: I’m actually curious about the fact that you started out in this business as an actor.  How do you think that background helped you direct this film?

EC: I think it helps a lot to have that background with acting as a director.  You are able to talk to your actors and coach them in a way that’s helpful.  I’ve worked with directors that are terrified of their actors, they don’t want to get near them!  “Like do I have to talk to them?”

Part of it is also creating a set where they feel at their creative best, and allowing them to explore their characters in way that they didn’t even think of at the time and just let them be spontaneous.

TFC: So you think it’s all about trust and having that “acting language”?

EC: Yeah, but also for them to be able to trust you.  To be able to come in and not shut down their creative process is a big part of directing.  A lot of time you are just trying to balance getting in there when you need to and staying away when you need to.  Sometimes you can just talk too much.  So just keep you mouth shut and watch the magic happen.

TFC: One last question, where there any crazy production stories or memorable moments that really stands out in your mind?

EC: Oh my god, there’s so many.  What kind of blog do you write for?  Can I go into the “nudie story”?

TFC: Down.

EC:  Well one crazy thing was the scene where all the college girls go skinny dipping.  Right before shooting it the producers were like, “Go tell one of the girls that she’s going to take her top off.”

So I was like, “You tell her!  She’s already on board, she’s read the script.”  But apparently I had to go tell her because they didn’t have her sign a contract.  So I had to try to get her to do it.

I asked her if she minded and she was like, “Well I don’t really mind, but that’s a much higher fee.”  So I tell the producers, but of course they say no and that we can’t afford it.  So they go and hire a stripper to be a double.  But the girl that shows up willing to bare her boobs looks nothing like the girl.  And 20 years older.

So if you’re upset about there not being enough boobs in the movie, we have a very wide-angle with this girl running into the lake topless because she looks nothing like the lead actress.

Next film, maybe I’ll have enough to money to get girls to show their boobs.

TFC: Awesome.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil comes out on demand August 26 and in theaters September 30.

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