The following is a virtual round table discussion between three of the filmmaking team behind the movie “Crush the Skull:” producer Jimmy Tsai, director-writer-producer Viet Nguyen, and writer-actor Chris Dinh.
Jimmy Tsai: It’s fitting in many ways that we have this unique opportunity to share the feature film version of “Crush the Skull” with the Comcast Cinema Asian America audience in October, considering that the original short film version of “Crush the Skull” premiered in October (on our friends Wong Fu Productions’ YouTube channel) FIVE years ago! How does that feel now that we’ve had a little time for perspective?
Viet Nguyen: It’s really incredible to think about how one little short film changed everything. Chris and I had this little idea, we wrote it a couple days later, and shot it three weeks after that. Little did we know it would win awards, get a million views on Wong Fu’s channel, and basically jumpstart everything we have done since then. For all you aspiring filmmakers out there: shoot as much as you can. A little short film that cost nothing can really make things happen! We have a feature film all because of a no-budget short we shot on a whim.
Also, stay in school and don’t do drugs! Sharing is caring. Pay it forward. Always tip. And whatever you do, don’t take advice from an Asian indie filmmaker!
Chris Dinh: It makes me sad. It was definitely challenging but I have so many amazing memories tied to “Crush the Skull” that I’m bummed it’s over. Let’s do a sequel, guys!
Jimmy: In consideration for the obvious link with Halloween being in October and all, let’s talk about horror movies for a minute. Now, admittedly, “Crush the Skull” is a movie that doesn’t have a lot of tonally-similar progenitors in the world of cinema. It’s not exactly a horror-comedy in the way that “Shaun of the Dead“ or “Scary Movie“ are; I usually like to point to “Scream“ as the most similar movie in the genre: it’s really a straightforward horror movie that happens to have characters and moments that people will find humorous as opposed to a combination of slapstick/over-the-top horror and comedy. Would you agree?
Viet: I always like to describe “Crush the Skull” as a comedy hidden inside a real horror movie. First and foremost, we wrote it to be a legit, scary movie. Once we locked down the tension and scares, we did a comedy pass. We’d like to think that everything that happens in the movie could actually happen in real life. There might be some spots that get kind of silly, but even then, the danger still feels real.
I would definitely say “Scream“ was an inspiration. And speaking of which, Kevin Williamson has seen “Crush the Skull” and loved it! We were very honored he took the time to watch it. (To be fair, he’s an incredibly kind person, so maybe he was just being nice.)
Chris: I think there’s definitely an expectation for horror films to contain copious amounts of gore and blood. We didn’t really have the stomach or budget for that. We were more concerned about making sure the audience had as much fun as possible. I personally love hearing from people who hate horror films tell us that they had a blast watching “Crush the Skull.”
Jimmy: In many ways, I think people were able to get the tone right off the bat because of the three short films that directly inspired the feature: “Crush the Skull,” “Crush the Skull 2,” and “Things You Don’t Joke About.” Some of the cast and crew obviously worked on both the shorts as well as the features, but did you have the other cast and crew members – the ones who weren’t involved – watch the shorts in order to get on the same page?
Viet: We definitely encouraged the new guys to watch our shorts to get an idea of what we were trying to accomplish. I think it went something like this: Chris, “Hey guys, you should see how handsome I am in all these shorts. You think I’m handsome, right? Hello? Guys?”
Chris: For the record, I absolutely did NOT say that to anyone. Viet, you know very well that I only say that to myself in the mirror every morning as part of my daily routine. My therapist recommended it to me and I told you that in PRIVATE!
Jimmy: Can you talk about some of the influences while developing the movie – what kind of movies or TV shows did you look at for inspiration, not necessarily just from a horror standpoint, but from a cinematic standpoint?
I remember there were times when we discussed certain movies that you all thought really worked from the perspective of scale: movies that were relatively contained, with only a few characters, but were also very tight or very clever or very engaging from a story standpoint. “TimeCrimes,” I remember, being one of those. Viet, maybe you can speak more to the horror inspirations since you are more of a horror fan. And Chris – maybe address the idea of these contained movies that are relatively small in scale but still pack a punch in terms of concept, characters, story–
Viet: I think that we really enjoyed the relationship and comedy from “Shaun of the Dead.” We also referenced “The Descent” as a movie that portrayed the relationships between characters as something as tense as the scary monsters.
On the flip side, we also watched a lot of really bad horror movies that reminded of what not to do. But as I write this, I’m realizing some filmmaker out there is watching our movie and thinking the same thing!
Chris: I think contained movies keep everything focused. Both in terms of production and story. A great example of a contained movie is “The Abyss” by James Cameron. Our movie is just like that movie.
Jimmy: Well…okay. If you say so. But also – anyone in the way of filmmakers you would point to as inspiration or influence for “Crush the Skull?” Wes Craven comes to mind as a filmmaker who worked in horror but who had a wicked sense of humor in a lot of his work – again, a type of humor that didn’t take you out of the movie but that audiences would laugh at nonetheless.
Viet: The Coen brothers and Tarantino are filmmakers that I really love. They are able to make a very tense scene very funny as well. It’s a hard thing to do, but they do it flawlessly.
Jimmy: If anyone reading this still hasn’t decided whether or not they want to check out “Crush the Skull,” let me just shamelessly point out the fact that, as of this writing, we are a legit 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. And that’s a qualified 100%, too, since there’s a minimum number of critics’ reviews posted before you actually get a score. What else would you say to our potential audience out there to get them to check out this gem of a movie?
Viet: I think a lot of people who enjoyed the movie realize it’s more of a date movie than they thought. It’s a horror movie with a little bit of violence, but it’s mostly a very fun, popcorn movie. There’s lots of laughs and there’s even a little romance for the non-horror fans out there.
Also, Chris takes off his shirt in the movie and his boobs are HUGE!
Chris: Again, Viet, I showed you that IN PRIVATE.
“Crush the Skull” is currently available to watch with XFINITY On Demand.