TCFF Indie Horror Spotlight: GAGS review + Interview with director Adam Krause

Review + Interview Questions by Laura Schaubschlager

I chose to cover Gags out of a feeling of obligation as FlixChatter’s resident horror writer, but I didn’t have high hopes. Yes, I liked It, but overall, I’ve never understood why people are scared of clowns, and a movie about a creepy clown terrorizing Wisconsin sounded uninspired. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

Gags is the name of a mysterious clown that has been spotted around Green Bay, WI for the past week. While the whole community is shaken, the movie focuses on four groups’ reactions to the eerie figure: news broadcaster Heather Duprey (Lauren Ashley Carter) and her camera man, Dale (Wyatt Kuether); two cops on duty, Chrissy Renard (Tracy Perez) and Jake Gruber (Evan Gamble); a trio of teen pranksters (Michael Gideon Sherry as Tyler, Squall Charlson as Chris, and Halley Sharp as Sara); and a conservative, militant podcaster, Charles Wright (Aaron Christensen) and his producer, Wayne (Jake Martin). As we follow the characters in their pursuit of Gags, it becomes less clear whether the clown is just a normal individual trying to cause a scene or something more nefarious.

This movie is so much fun. It’s shot in found footage style, but rather than just sticking with telling the story through home videos, it’s also a mix of news clips, police dash and body cam footage, and live webcam recordings, which is such a creative way of keeping this particular film style interesting, as well as making a lot of the exposition feel more natural. It also helps build the suspension and horror, since many shots have limited camera angles and movement, and of course there’s no background music, adding to the tension.

The costume design for Gags is simple and creepy, and he shows up sparingly, building the suspense. And while it is creepy, the movie has several moments of levity that made me laugh out loud, thanks in large part to some solid line delivery from the talented cast.

Q&A with writer/director Adam Krause

Thanks Laura Schaubschlager for the interview questions!

1. Were you worried about audiences comparing this movie to It, with Gags being released less than a year after the massive Stephen King adaptation, and what would you say to audiences worried that they’re going into “another creepy clown movie?”

Honestly, we weren’t worried. From the start we thought it could only help us. The second IT got big, it showed that people were still interested in the sub-genre of creepy clown films. And hopefully word gets out that Gags takes a different approach to clown horror. This is not a film about a psychotic clown running around chopping people up. While we do have a creepy clown who is up to no good, Gags is also a character driven, social commentary on not only the clown craze of 2016 but also our media-obsessed society.

Director Adam Krause on set

2. I saw on IMDb that there’s a short film that Adam did called Gags also. Is this feature born out of that short? If so, how’s the process of turning a short into a feature film?

Yes, the feature is born out of the short. Gags‘ intentions are the same in the feature as they are in the short. We were just able to expand on the idea more in the feature film while also using real-life events from when our pictures when viral to create new characters with new motivations.

Is the character of Charles Wright, the conservative podcaster who decides to hunt for Gags, based off any any specific real-life figure?

He was not based on one specific real-life figure but rather a collection of responses I received after my Gags marketing stunt took off. Those viral photos sparked many responses from the world but what I wasn’t expecting was how many messages I would receive that threatened violence against the clown. We actually couldn’t have our actor go out in public for months after the pictures went viral because we were receiving so many threats. People were sending me pictures of themselves in the same locations we took the viral photos holding guns. A line from one particular message was repurposed into the film: “If I saw your stupid clown, I wouldn’t grab my phone, I’d grab this (a picture of his gun).”

So the character of Charles Wright was a collection of those responses that just naturally went down the path of an extremist conservative because those strong values were the ones required to be so passionate about physically wanting to hurt a person dressed up as a clown.

4. How did you decide on the name “Gags” for the infamous clown in this movie?

That’s not as interesting of an answer as you’re probably hoping for. During preproduction on the short, I commissioned an artist to create a clown mask for me to use for the character. I ultimately passed on using her mask but she called the clown “Gags” and I loved it. We became friends during the process and I asked her if I could use it and she was all for it. The name just worked so well for the character I had envisioned in my mind. I even tried thinking of an original name in the same vein but nothing to me had the bright lights of the name “Gags.”

5. Why do you think people, many of them mostly rational adults, were so scared during the whole “people dressing up like clowns in public” craze last year when none of the sightings amounted to anything? Do you think people thought they were genuine threats, or do you think it was just news coverage and social media stirring up people’s imaginations?

Someone dressing up like a creepy clown and walking around a city at night isn’t normal. So while there wasn’t a direct threat presented, people will always be scared of situations that don’t fit the mold of societal norms. Which is why, when I first heard of these stories 4-5 years ago, I thought the idea was so ripe for a horror film. You take a clown, which a large population of the world is already scared of, and you have them show up in their neighborhood at night with nothing more than a clutch full of black balloons? People will lose their minds. And they did.

*Gags stills courtesy of Dave Burke Photography

Thank you Adam Krause for chatting w/ FlixChatter!

(special thanks to John Pata for facilitating the interview)

So great seeing the Gags cast/crew at TCFF just before the screening!
[from left] Actor Squall Charlson, writer/producer John Pata, Ruth Maramis, director Adam Krause and actor Wyatt Kuether.

TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: LEZ BOMB & Interview w/ writer/director Jenna Laurenzo

Year after year, Twin Cities Film Fest supports women filmmakers, as well as LGBTQ-friendly films. Lez Bomb is written and directed by a woman, Jenna Laurenzo, who also stars in the film, talk about a triple threat! It’s also one of the few indie films playing at TCFF that gets an encore screening. Oh and if you read the interview below, there’s a connection between Jenna and TCFF’s opening night film, Green Book!

Our reviewer Holly Peterson deems Lez Bomb an absolute must-see…The writing is tight, funny, and relatable, and her direction is impressive. Plus it’s got quite a star-studded cast, the likes of Steve Guttenberg, Bruce Dern and Kevin Pollack!

A comedy about a young woman who struggles telling her overbearing mother that the friend she brought home for Thanksgiving is actually her girlfriend.

Review by Holly Peterson

Lez Bomb is a coming out story/comedy of errors about Lauren (Jenna Laurenzo) trying to tell her family that her friend Hailey (Caitlin Mehner) is actually her girlfriend. Unfortunately, Lauren’s parents (Deidre O’Connell and Kevin Pollak) are terrible listeners; the rest of her family is walking, talking chaos; and she’s chosen Thanksgiving as the appropriate moment to drop the “lez bomb”. Lauren tries and fails to be heard through the increasingly unbelievable chaos until she finally finds her moment. Or does she?

Overall, Laurenzo (also the writer and director) put together a great film. The writing is tight, funny, and relatable, and her direction is impressive. This is especially apparent in her direction of group scenes: the audience never loses the thread of the primary conversation or any of the witty one-liners (of which there are many), but the hubbub of the large group still plays naturally in the background.

The cast is subtly star-studded, which makes for a fun group viewing experience. You will constantly be nudging your movie buddy to whisper “HEY, ISN’T THAT ___ FROM ___?!” Aside from that simple pleasure, all of the actors are just good at what they do. Every actor got a fun character to dive into (except Jordyn DiNatale, whose role as a horny teenager escalated way past where it should have and Davram Stiefler, whose unabashed, unwelcome flirtation ruined an otherwise charming character) and everyone (yes, even Jordyn DiNatale and Davram Stiefler) made their characters come to life with a sense of hilarity, whimsy, and believability.

Caitlin Mehner & Jenna Laurenzo

Visually, this is a great film. The shooting style is mostly story-forward, but there are several beautifully shot moments as well. For instance, a perfectly framed close-up of her Lauren’s face when she sprawls out on a bed with her cellphone by her head and a stunning long shot where she walks in front of an ornate building wearing bright red and blue winter clothes.

The comedy of errors element to the script eventually gets out of hand and several scenes at the end of the film are played completely straight (no pun intended) despite the rest of the film being comedically driven. These two things made the end of the movie a little bit harder to track with than the beginning, but the movie is undoubtedly worth seeing regardless.

See it to laugh. See it to star-watch. See it to be glad that your family isn’t quite as dysfunctional as Lauren’s. But whatever you do, definitely see it.

Q&A with filmmaker Jenna Laurenzo

Interview questions courtesy of Holly Peterson

1. Is this movie at all based on real life? I feel like I have to ask when the lead character is named Lauren and your last name is Laurenzo. 

I can’t believe you are the first person to ask about the Lauren – Laurenzo connection! The original character’s name was “Katie.” I used the name Katie in the character I played in Girl Night Stand and had planned to carry it over in Lez Bomb. But when Girl Night Stand went viral and there was interest in potentially developing it as a show, Girl Night Stand became separate to Lez Bomb, and I had to changed my name in the script. Since everyone has always accidentally called me Lauren, because of my last name, I thought I would continue to encourage the confusion and just go with it for Lez Bomb. All that aside, yes, there is so much based on my real life in Lez Bomb. How much so? Depends on who is asking. If my family is asking, I say “loosely based upon…” ha!

2. What was the casting process like for this film? There are so many great actors involved! 

Mia Cusumano is my casting director and guardian angel. Her and Meghan Rafferty cast the film and they did a spectacular job. Mia has been my biggest teammate and support net from the beginning and her enthusiasm has helped drive this project home! In fact, she’s who got the script into our producer’s hands. We spoke endlessly about the family feeling familiar and the importance of the family chemistry and all those dysfunctional family comedy dynamics that would pop and help heighten the comedy. When Kevin Pollak first said yes, I near fell over in my seat. I rewatched The Usual Suspects before he called to get in the Kevin Pollak zone. When he said, “I’ll see you in a month running around the motel in the freezing cold” (that’s a script reference) I was so beyond grateful.

3. What was it like to write, direct, and star in your film? 

It was a lot of work, though I had an incredible support team. From the crew to the cast, there was endless support and collaboration. We had such a tight shooting schedule we had to be precise with every shot. I worked with my acting coach before stepping on set to make sure I knew where I was emotionally each moment, and this allowed the necessary time to focus on the directing. People always ask if I’d do it all again, and I generally say no. But, ask me again in a year when I’ve slept, and it might be a totally different story. I had the opportunity to act in Peter Farrelly’s Green Book which is also out this November. That was an amazing set to be on. In future projects the dream is to act in other’s pieces, and then direct my own scripts.

4. What do you hope people leave this film thinking and feeling? 

I want people leaving the theater on a high note, feeling uplifted, and hopefully with a greater scope of compassion and empathy, but also with a sore stomach from laughing. Can I hope for all that?

5. What was the best part of this process for you?

Showing my family the finished film. Steve Guttenberg plays my uncle in the film, and my uncle sadly passed unexpectedly a few months ago. The last time I saw him was last Thanksgiving, showing him Lez Bomb. I am so happy he got to see the film.

TCFF Screening Date:

Friday October 26th, 2018 7:45 PM

Thanks so much Jenna for chatting with FlixChatter!