Monster House: Gil Kenan Interview
We caught up with fresh-faced director - and possibly one of the nicest people in Hollywood - Gil Kenan to tall about his debut film, Monster House. With its revolutionary new blending of live-action and animation, Monster House is a film for all the family - mixing comedy and horror together with frightful accuracy - and boating an impressive cast that includes: Mr Pink himself, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee and Kathleen Turner.
LOVEFiLM: So how does it feel having just directed your first feature film at such a young age, you were 23 when you started working on Monster House?
Gil Kenan: It's all a whirlwind! I just got in from Annecy (an Animation film festival), which is an amazing place; it's a magical, medieval town on this big lake.
LF: And it was the first time the film was shown to a public audience - what was the reaction like?
GK: They flipped out! It was amazing. There were three spontaneous applauses throughout the film. They did that great European thing where everyone claps in time, like being at a circus [laughs], it was ridiculous!
LF: The film mixes live-action and animation with a technique called 'rotoscoping', but what does that actually means?
GK: I'll do my best! It basically revolves around what the actor actually does; instead of just getting a vocal performance you get the works. We get our actors, stick some dots on them, put them in a box that looks like Tron - with a grey grid and infer red cameras- and they do there stuff, they don't worry about anything other then there character. Then they go home and I spend the next two and a half years culling the information from their performance!
That's the stupid long version! The very short version is the actors are puppeteers, and our characters in the film are puppets, so when the actor raises his arm, the character on screen raises his arm in the exact same way. If you take that analogy and apply it to the face you have a real good sense of how this thing is created.
LF: It must be difficult for the actors to act without any scenery and props and ultimately it must be difficult to direct as well?
GK:It takes an adjustment. Basically, you have to think of it less in terms of traditional film acting and more in terms of theatre acting. If you think of a minimalist production then it actually starts to make a lot of sense, you strip away everything but characters and story. In someway it takes away some of the artifice of acting - and makes the actors work harder.
LF:I can imagine it's more enjoyable?
GK: It is, once you get into it, it's a great exercise in pure character development.
LF: This is your first time directing, that must have been hugely daunting?
GK: Yeah it was! I think the whole thing happened so quickly that I didn't really have time to think about it. But now that I'm starting to wind down, I am kind of struck by the realisation that it is very daunting - it's horrifying actually!
LF: It must also be quite nerve-racking to suddenly be directing a group of major Hollywood stars…
GK: I know! And to realise that I had absolutely zero idea what I was doing on set. I'm very proud of all my cast because they were my first choices. When I first met with Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) and his other producing colleagues, I told them that the only person I could think of playing Nebbercracker was Steve Buscemi. I was very, very, very lucky.
LF: The children in the film all bring a tremendous amount of energy to the film.GK: It's because they're all mental! They're crazy. I think I have a match-making talent as opposed to a casting talent. I was more concerted with getting the chemistry between the three of the children right, than any other element of who their characters were.
It proved to bloom in interesting ways. DJ and Chowder, played by Mitchel Musso and Sam Lerner respectably, play best friends in this films, and wouldn't you know it, there still best friends today. Spencer Locke, who plays Jenny, is this insanely gorgeous young girl who they were both completely head-over-heels in love with on the set. They would try to show off and win her affection and she would just roll her eyes and sigh, and turn her head to the next adult sitting next to her and start up a conversation about politics or something! [laughs]
LF: There are parts of the film that are quite scary for a kids film, where there any scenes in the film that you had to tone down?
GK: I always wanted it to be a little bit too scary, because I thought if I held back I would regret it later on and I still feel that in a way. For me the horror comes to easy… almost too easy [laughs]. We tested this film a couple of times with children audiences and both tests reassured me that kids can handle it. Just because they haven't had movies like this for a while, doesn't mean that they can't handle it. In fact they really thirst for it.
LF: Could you ever have imagined being here in London talking about this big Hollywood film you made?
GK: No!! I wish we could have a little crystal ball so you can see where I was all those years ago, making the Lark [a short film] in my kitchen because I couldn't afford studio space. I blacked out all the windows in my kitchen and spent a year making it. I'm the most surprised, happiest, most grateful person you'll ever meet - at least for now! Before I start turning jaded and bitter….
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