In Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, all best friends Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) want to do is spend a nice weekend fixing up Tucker’s mountain cabin and doing some fishing. As luck would have it, a group of vacationing college kids—led by the popped collar-sporting frat boy Chad (Jesse Moss)—assume the scruffy, overall-wearing Tucker and Dale are Deliverance-style psycho killers. After one of the college students is “kidnapped” by Tucker and Dale (who actually rescued her from drowning after she hit her head on a rock while swimming), the hillbilly-hating Chad convinces his preppy brethren to take revenge on the oblivious, misunderstood Tucker and Dale, who can’t figure out why these college kids keep running at them with weapons and accidentally killing themselves.
Tucker & Dale was a word-of-mouth hit on the festival circuit when it came out in 2010, earning rave reviews after it premiered at Sundance and going on to win the Midnight Feature Audience Award at SXSW. Despite the buzz surrounding the unconventional horror-comedy, it didn’t get snapped up by a studio until June of this year (“It’s about time somebody freakin’ did,” wrote Jay A. Hernandez of The Hollywood Reporter in response to the news that Tucker & Dale had been signed by Magnet Releasing).
Tucker & Dale director Eli Craig took the time to chat with MovieMaker about his genre-spanning debut film, working with actors, how the experience of making Tucker & Dale was like climbing the world’s tallest mountain and future projects he has in the works.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is now available to watch via Video on Demand and hits select theaters this Friday, September 30th. For more information, visit www.tuckeranddale.com.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): For first-time directors, the prospect of dealing with actors can be pretty intimidating. Since you started out as an actor, was that part of directing less stressful? Having done both, do you have any advice for first-time directors on how to deal with actors?
Eli Craig (EC): When I was working as an actor, I worked with directors who didn’t even want to talk to you. Sometimes they’d just sit in their chair, and when someone gave you a note or a mark it would come from either the AD or the DP. So I’ve seen how out in the cold actors can be, and it’s their performance up on the screen. It may be someone else’s writing and someone else’s directing, but the actors live or die on the screen. Sometimes directors want to think it’s “their” movie. It’s not. It’s everyone’s film, but most importantly, it’s the cast’s.
The reason I became a director in the first place was because I love working with actors, and I love it even more as a director than as an actor. There’s nothing more fun than having a front row seat to a great performance and helping to sculpt that performance by giving the actors a safe place to express themselves and [providing] little details that might encourage them to be even more specific about their choices. I love it, and I think it’s what I do best as a director. So it was more exciting than stressful to work with the cast.
As far as advice for first-time directors—I’d say to go to acting class. Get up in front of an audience and see what it feels like. Put your own thoughts into action and see how it works. See what a huge difference there is between thinking about what you’re going to do and doing it. And always realize that every moment is unique; true greatness only happens in the now.
MM: One of the things I liked most about Tucker & Dale is its balance of horror (the sawmill scene), comedy (right before the sawmill scene, when Dale suits up) and drama (like the scene right before that, when Tucker tries to convince Dale that he’s not just a dumb hillbilly). Was it hard to transition between those different moods, either while writing or shooting?
EC: I have to admit that, in some ways, the film was a statement on how many different genres you can pack into a movie and still have it work. I don’t like how genres are so limited to one emotional state. Life isn’t like that, why should a film be? As far as the emotional transitions go, it did sometimes seem a little much to go from one extreme to another and still be taken seriously. But I reminded myself that the film isn’t meant to be “serious” anyway, so to hell with it—let’s have some fun.
MM: Tucker & Dale was a word-of-mouth hit on the festival circuit. Especially after its 2010 SXSW win, there was a lot of buzz generated by people who’d been able to catch a screening and rushed to tell their friends about this awesome movie they just saw. Did you expect people to respond to Tucker & Dale in such a positive, vocal way?
EC: Well, I still feel a little distance from that. I was simply trying to make a film [that’s something] I wish I could go see. From the audience response I’ve seen with my own eyes and ears, I know people like it and sometimes love it. But we had such a hard time getting any kind of distribution deal that I feel like a lot of the decision makers didn’t “get it.” And the word-of-mouth was really from underground festival to festival; it never rose to any kind of industry level. I get a sense that it’s kind of an underground sensation, but it’s so underground that it doesn’t really rise up as high as the director. But I guess I’m doing this interview right now so…
I guess it will all depend on what happens from here.
MM: Before embarking on a career in movies, you were an Outward Bound instructor and mountaineering guide. Which is harder: Climbing Mount McKinley or shooting a movie where much of the action takes place outside and it won’t stop raining?
EC: Denali (Mt. McKinley) is the highest mountain in the world when measured from top to bottom. We wanted to experience the whole thing, so we climbed it from the north side literally from the lowest point to the highest. We hiked for three days across the tundra, forged the very dangerous McKinley River and climbed a relatively untraveled route that was only climbed by one other party that year. We hauled all our own gear and food, and the trip actually took longer than shooting my film: 23 days up and seven days down. We had a few people, including me, fall into crevasses, a storm where the temperatures reached -30°F (possibly as bad as -80°F with windchill) and plenty of frostbite. But in the end, it was a successful trip. I made it to the summit and, more importantly, back down.
When people ask about those experiences, you can describe them, but you can’t relay the experience, so it remains one of the great personal experiences of my life. For some reason I’ve never been able to follow the clearest or the simplest line; I seem to unconsciously find the most difficult route and then head for the summit. In that way it reminds me a lot of the making of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.
MM: Are there any upcoming projects you have in the works?
EC: I’m currently working on a script that subverts the “devil child” horror genre in a way that I think could be very funny. I don’t want to do exclusively horror/comedy, but right now it just seems like a good fit. It’s a lot of fun, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to get it made. Only time will tell.
MM: Anything you’d like to add?
EC: I know people hear this all the time and are probably getting tired of it, but being on the front lines of the indie film business you can see where it’s all going. The ideas are becoming more and more prepackaged, and a lot of the indie film studios have simply gone out of business because they tried to deliver more unique content. As an artist myself, I can see people becoming more and more fearful of taking creative risks in the world, and so everything becomes more generic. I just encourage people to use the tools available to them to create an audience for films they love. [I want people to] begin to see the choices them make as consumers as a creative influence in the world. In the end, that’s the only way to guarantee seeing more than just a remake of the latest remake.