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Local Film Tweets

You Can't Kill Stephen King: The Filmmakers Who Tried

If a self-aware journey through every slasher cliché sounds like a rocking good time, you’ll probably want to check out You Can’t Kill Stephen King, a Maine-made film premiering at the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival on April 14.

By Dave Walker

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You Can't Kill Stephen King, at the Lewiston Auburn Festival on April 14

You Can’t Kill Stephen King follows a group of young, thrill-hungry friends on a wakeboarding vacation in a lakeside town in Maine. When they attempt to meet Stephen King at his creepy estate in the woods, they come face to face with a host of villains, nutcases and other monstrosities straight out of King’s canon. Dave Walker spoke with producer/directors Monroe Mann and Ronnie Khalil and co-director and cinematographer Jorge Valdés-Iga about the film and their distinctive take on the horror genre.

Dave Walker: How would you describe the film? Is it a serious horror flick or more of a genre parody?

Monroe Mann: It’s a campy horror film, reminiscent of films from the ‘90s, but a lot more tongue-in-cheek. Our goal was to have audiences wondering whether we were serious filmmakers, or making fun of ourselves. To be honest, we’re still not sure.

Jorge Valdés Iga: But one thing we did try to do while filming was to make sure the actors took every situation seriously, even the sometimes ridiculous dialogue. I think the results are quite fun.

DW: What was the genesis for the idea? Can you tell me a little about the process of writing the film and what you were attempting to accomplish?

Mann: Yeah, I grew up in Maine, on that very lake where Stephen King lives, and so the town has a lot of Stephen King lore surrounding it. It was pouring rain [one] weekend and next thing [Ronnie and I] know, since we were stuck inside all day, we had written a first draft of a screenplay.

Ronnie Khalil: It was a solid 52 pages. And by solid, I mean, it was unreadable. But we had a good nucleus.

Mann: Yeah, to be honest, we didn’t actually get the script fully finished and fleshed out until we brought on our co-writer and Stephen King expert, Bob Madia, who helped us finish the first official draft. We’re really grateful to Bob for throwing in all of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) Stephen King references.

DW: Are you guys big Stephen King fanatics? Would you say his stories are a continuing source of creative inspiration for you?

Mann: I have a number of his books. The first was “The Running Man”, when he wrote as Richard Bachman. This is my favorite King book, and incidentally, for you fans of “The Hunger Games,” you should probably read “The Running Man” and notice the similarities…

Khalil: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention our co-writer, Bob Madia, who provided a lot of the in-depth King lore.

Mann: Yes, he made certain that references to King’s books and stories were accurate and that Stephen King fans wouldn’t be disappointed. If they are, Bob’s email address is…

DW: Does Stephen King know about the film? What do you think his reaction would be? Do you think he will ever see it?

Mann: We’re pretty excited that he posted the trailer on his official website a few weeks ago. So that’s a plus. Right before we started shooting, we provided Mr. King a copy of the script and asked him to be in it. He politely declined. Incidentally, he was actually in the area while we were filming, and I ran into him at the local market. I said, “Hi.”

Khalil: We’re hoping Mr. King sees this film as a tribute to his great work, and as a fun film by some young filmmakers. How will he react? We hope he likes it. In fact, I hope he likes it so much he decides to adopt me.

DW: What was production like? Making an indie film can actually be a pretty scary undertaking sometimes…

Valdés-Iga: The production was a horror film in itself. It was very fun in the beginning: we were going for a swim in the lake in the morning, and everybody was getting along, but our hectic schedule and the fact that we were all sleeping under the same roof made production feel like a pressure cooker. It slowly made us all want to kill each other. But for some reason this created a “great” energy for the film, since all the characters had to hate each other anyways.

Mann: How crazy was it? I would rather spend another year in Iraq with the Army than relive the three weeks we spent shooting. Honestly, we could have had a hit reality show just based on the antics surrounding the shooting of the film. We had about 30 people sleeping and living in a lake house designed for 5 people, and that lake house was one of our primary shooting locations too. So there were lights standing on sleeping bags standing on people’s underwear. So yeah, it was tough. But as Jorge noted, I don’t think the finished product would be what it is today--something we are all so proud of--had it not been for the grueling conditions.

Valdés-Ida: And if directing wasn’t enough of a pressure, try having 3 directors! Ronnie and Monroe were acting, directing and producing, and I was directing and shooting. So we were all wearing multiple caps and trying to combine all of our ideas into one singular vision. As the pressure of the production grew, time wouldn’t allow for much of a creative discussion, so we implemented a voting system where one director would compromise if the other two directors were in agreement. Three egos actually ended up making decisions way faster than two egos would have!

Mann: And ironically, I think the film is ten times better than it would have been had only one of us directed. Having three directors caused tension on set, and slowed things down, but it also caused us to make passionate choices. From a directorial standpoint, the finished product really is a unique product of me, Ronnie, and Jorge, and when you watch it, I think people will see that it is a seamless work of direction: it won’t be easy to determine who decided what, when, and where.

DW: How was the production funded? I’ve gotten the impression that Stephen King himself didn’t exactly come to the rescue.

Khalil: Monroe and I spent years working as street performers, doing interpretive mime, raising the funding for this film one “help-me-I’m-stuck-in-a-box” routine at a time.

Mann: In all seriousness, we both would of course like to publicly thank the four individuals who helped finance the film: our two executive producers John Mancini and Carolina Vensius, our co-executive producer Yasser Hosni, and our associate producer Debbie Bordelon. And... our mime coach.

DW: You guys are clearly well-versed in the horror genre. What do you guys love about slasher films and what elements of the genre are you trying to parody in the film?

Mann: We watched so many horror films in preparation for this shoot, pausing, rewinding, going in slow motion, to see exactly how we could make fun of horror movies. I myself like the horror films that have a mystery ‘whodunnit’ element to them, and so we tried to incorporate that into our film.

Valdés-Iga: We loved to parody the cheap surprises that are always recurring in horror/slasher films. Those tense moments when you think the character is going to get killed or see a monster and then…no… uh... it was just a bird.

Khalil: I’m always a fan of “hot girl lost in the woods” moments. These are the type of girls who won’t go the bathroom without taking a friend, yet, feel the need to go out into the dark woods by their lonesome.

DW: Do you have a distribution strategy in place? What aspirations do you have for the film?

Mann: We’re very happy to say we’ve gotten a number of offers, so it looks like you’ll definitely get a chance to see this film, either on the big or small screen. I’d love to have it play theatrically and become a cult classic, and if I have to choose, I choose ‘cult classic.’

Khalil: Definitely. I want this to be the type of film that people invite all their friends over to watch, then quote randomly at school.

DW: Do you have any plans for future films?

Valdés-Iga: I’m now on pre-production for my third feature film, an action film set in Mexico, and in development of two other screenplays: a thriller and another horror film.

Mann: Before I got deployed to Iraq with the Army in 2004/2005, I was in the midst of producing a wakeboarding romantic comedy I co-wrote with Andrew Hyatt called, “In the Wake.” The war disrupted those plans, but resulted in 100 hours of war footage that I’m editing into a feature-length comedy documentary about modern combat called, “Fobbits”. I also have a “based on a true story” comedy about my time in Iraq called, “Operation: Jessica Simpson” which I hope will result in meeting Jessica Simpson and other hot girls.

Khalil: In development of a new horror film and working to get funding for a kick-butt action comedy, which is totally brilliant if I may say so, called, “Urban and Turban: Good Cop, Brown Cop.”

You Can’t Kill Stephen King is nominated for Best Film, Best Director and the People’s Choice Award at the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival. For more information on the film and to stay tuned for updates, visit the film’s official blog at cantkillking.blogspot.com or the film’s Facebook page where you can watch it’s deliciously outlandish trailer.