Writing or working with anything in the already rare comedy/horror genre is not an easy task to take on. It can be done very well or very badly. There really isn’t much, if any, room for anything in between.
However, once in a great while, someone will come along and put a completely different spin on things and, all of a sudden, classic tropes are combined to make things new and exciting again.
That is exactly what Viet Nguyen and Chris Dinh have done with their Kickstarter funded feature film, Crush the Skull.
The film, so far only seen at several film festivals and by Kickstarter backers themselves, is based off of earlier shorts that can be found on YouTube (or by following/watching the links provided below).
If you took the time to watch the shorts, you know that Viet and Chris have created something special. And, as someone who has seen their feature-length film (also called Crush the Skull), I can tell you that they’ve brought their unique spark and zing to this creation in a way that I am excited to behold on the big screen.
Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Viet and Chris. The following is just a taste of all they had to share.
Hi Viet. While we’re waiting for Chris to call in, I just wanted to let you know that I got to see the movie yesterday and it was fantastic!
“Oh, awesome! Thanks so much for doing this. It’s gonna be fun. So, uh, did you hear about it through Veronica Mars?”
“That is so awesome. I don’t know if you know about my connection to Veronica Mars or anything…”
I kind of know. You were one of Rob [Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars]’s students, weren’t you?
“Yeah, yeah, he was my high school journalism teacher. So then, a few years later, when he did Veronica Mars, he gave me my first foot in the door. We’re both from Texas and I started out in Texas and I went to film school in LA and everything, and he moved from Texas out to LA after he got the show on the air and I was just his production assistant. So I started off very entry-level and then, eventually, I got to become an assistant editor on the show by the time it was over, and then later on when he created Party Down, I got bumped up to editor on that show. And then, after that, now I’m with him on iZombie and I’ve been cutting for him for a year on this show and just recently I finally got to direct an episode of iZombie. So basically my whole career is because of Rob Thomas.”
Were you interested in film before he got into it and everything?
“Yeah. Well, when I took his class, he basically introduced me. Told me that people do work in entertainment. Because I didn’t even know that that existed. He got me really into movies and all that stuff. I learned how to shoot and edit in his class. So, that’s kinda how I got into it. And then I went off and started shooting stuff on my own, shot a lot of short films and stuff on my own and then he became a writer. He didn’t even know that he’d ever work in TV, actually. I was going to film school while he was writing books, young adult novels and stuff. And then he eventually became a television writer and all that stuff and when he got his own show, I had already gone to film school and I was looking for a foot in the door so it was a perfect opportunity for me to take off.”
“Yeah, so it’s all pretty crazy. Pretty crazy story.”
It’s all about connections, isn’t it?
“Yeah. Exactly. It really is, but I think this is one of those one in a million connections.”
” ‘Cause, you know, there are plenty of people who create TV shows, but none of them used to be public high school teachers.”
(Chris Dinh is added to the conversation) Hi Chris!
Viet: “So, Chris, Erica was just telling me that she [knew about] our movie because she’s a Veronica Mars fan.”
Chris: “Ohhh. Ok. I see.”
Viet: “Yeah, so, Chris and I worked on the Behind the Scenes documentary so we were basically on set the whole time while they were shooting the movie and then we were there when Rob launched it [the Kickstarter] and everything.”
And now you’re working on iZombie. Does that mean you’re kind of just bringing Chris along for the ride?
Viet: “No, no. Chris does a lot of – Chris is actually a big YouTube star. Basically, if you’re older than 21, you’re not gonna know who he is.”
Chris: “(chuckles) Yeah…if you’re in middle school. I’m pretty popular among middle-schoolers.”
Well, I have two middle-schoolers at home. Does that count?
Viet: (chuckles) “They may know – but, yeah. I hang out often with Chris. We were downtown, I was showing him around on a Friday night, saying ‘Oh, this is where I used to party and all that stuff,’ and we’d get surrounded by all these college kids who knew him from the internet and we just got mobbed. And my wife and I were like, ‘This is so cool! Chris is being recognized and stuff!’ And then after about an hour we were like, ‘Oh my god, this sucks! We can’t even go anywhere without people stalking him!’ (laughs).”
Chris: “It was, uh, bizarre.”
Viet: “But yeah, Chris and I have been writing together for many years now and filming a lot, you know, and now with our Kickstarter campaign…”
Yeah. Well, Veronica Mars might have been the reason I found out about your Kickstarter but watching your shorts was definitely the reason that I [became interested in] it. It was just like, ‘Oh wow! This is hilarious!’
Chris: “Aww, wow.”
Viet: “Well, thank you.”
So, the comedy/horror genre. What made you guys decide to go there?
Viet: “That’s a good question. I’m a huge fan of horror, actually. Chris is actually a really big wimp with horror. So, we’ve always wanted to do…well, everything we do, we always add comedy to it. So we played around with – we did the burglar storyline but added our comedy with it. And then we did the horror thing with our comedy. So I don’t know, we just…I don’t know. It’s funny, though, because, actually, Chris is really scared to watch scary movies so if I try to get him to watch a movie for research or whatever, he gets really scared.”
Chris: “And I’d make all kinds of excuses.”
Viet: “Yeah, he’d be like, ‘Oh, um, I’m so busy. I’ve got things to do’ or whatever. So he’s actually really scared. But then, you know, now that I’m thinking about it, all the f*cked up sh*t in our movie, in Crush the Skull, is Chris’s idea. So the [redacted] at the beginning being [redacted] at the [redacted], that was Chris’s idea! That was not…”
Whoa! Yeah! That is definitely some major horror story material!
Chris: “Yeah. I was really disappointed in myself there for contributing that.”
(laughs) Shame on you.
Viet: “And then, for me, I’m a huge, huge, huge fan of horror movies. So, yeah, there’s something just really fun about the raw energy of being scared. It’s so fun. And then trying to add humor to it. Trying to make it as scary as possible but also funny, it’s just something that, I don’t know…”
Chris: “I think that I could probably trace it back to one movie that we did sit down and watch. It was an Australian slasher film. I think that was where we first came up with the kernel of an idea for Crush the Skull. Because we were watching this Australian slasher, the very traditional kind of slasher film, and it was so obvious that the serial killer was a serial killer and Viet and I were like…we were so mad at the characters for not seeing what was so clear that we started having conversations with the characters, being really silly about it. We both were so frustrated that we said, ‘This is so dumb, because if we were in that situation, we would have killed them first already.’ And it was just the fact that we thought of that, that we said that where we started to think about it. Like, ‘Yeah, we would totally kill him first.’ And we thought the idea was so funny that…”
Viet: “That we did the original [short] just based off of laughing about that. Obviously, we didn’t do that exact story, but we thought it was a very funny idea. Where the characters are in a very classic horror trope, but they’re aware of it. And then we don’t make it a joke. We actually make it a real scenario. Like, everything we try to do, we try to base it in reality. Like ‘This could actually happen, technically’ versus, you know, some of the comedy/horrors out there lean a little more on the comedy. We try to say, ‘You know, as funny as it is, it actually could probably really happen in real life.'”
Yeah. Well, it’s kind of a risky genre to work with, isn’t it? Because you can get either too much horror or too much comedy and it has to be matched well to work. And a lot of people have flopped on it, really, but you guys did an excellent job with balancing between the two. Watching it [Crush the Skull the feature], I had a grin on my face the whole time, but I was also on the edge of my seat because I knew I was going to jump out of it, too. So, Excellent job!
Viet: “Thank you! You know, we did really…I think our main goal was just to make sure that it was scary and the only way to do that is to make it real. You definitely have to play it as real as possible, although then you know we, of course, also have the goofy characters in there as well, so, there’s fun to be had with that. But we tried to at least play everything as real as possible so that we could at least have that as a foundation getting started.”
Chris: “I think we once talked about – we tried so many things on set, too, that were just way too funny. We had some great ideas that everyone laughed at but in the end when we thought about it – you know, there was some meter we were going by, I don’t even know what that meter was but we would kind of look at each and be like – well, no, I think it was mostly Viet that would be like, ‘That was really funny, but I think it’s too funny. Too out of this world.’ So we would cut it and ground it a little more.”
Viet: “Yeah. I would say that Chris and I both are, I mean, we both kind of have a Zucker brothers kind of comedy in us if we ever wanted to do it. Like we could totally do an Airplane or any one of those really terrible movies. (chuckles) The Kentucky Fried Movie or whatever. Those always fly by in anything we’re doing, but there’s always a really stupid Jim Carrey-like idea and then we always have to kind of filter ourselves. And, one day, if we ever do an Airplane, we could do that, but it’s not gonna work in this movie if we want to keep the scare factor in there.”
Keep an eye out in spring for Crush the Skull when you should be able to find it in a theater or streaming service near you!