Interview conducted by Lois Kennedy
Michael G. Kehoe has been in the field of movie-making since he was 16. He has worn many hats, including actor, producer, key craft service, and producer, but where he truly shines is as a writer/director. The first film he wrote and directed, ‘Second Dance’, was an official selection at the Sundance Film Frstival. His short film ‘Hush’ was critically acclaimed and won multiple awards. His newest movie, ‘The Hatred’, has recently been completed, and he’s dying to talk about it. I was lucky enough to be one of the people he spoke to.
LK: Could you please provide a brief synopsis of The Hatred?
MGK: Uh-huh. The story itself—well, first off, let me come back and explain to you that I wrote the screenplay a number of years back and I took a scene out of the of the script and that scene I called ‘Hush’ […] I have twin boys and when they were about four or five years old they said to me ‘Dad, check the closet’ when I turned the lights out, ‘Dad go look under the bed’, ‘Dad, look over here’, ‘Dad look over there.’ And this went on […] And I remember when I was a kid and I was in Ireland with my mom and my sister and brother we stayed in a hotel they called New Park. And it was Marshall Walker’s home, who was a general for the British in World War II. He bought the home for his mother. And when he left, he and his mother got into an argument and they never made up, and she died before he returned. So when we went there, we stayed at this hotel and we would hear people coming in and it was kind of odd and we would say to the woman who ran the place, ‘You know you have people coming around midnight or one o’clock,’ and she said ‘Oh no no no you’re the only ones here,’ and we pressed her and pressed her and finally my mother found out it was this legend that this woman walks the hallway and up the stairwell waiting for her son and so I remember hearing the noise outside the door. So I took those moments from my life, when I was a kid, and put them into some of these scenes in the movie.
I was working on a film years ago in New Zealand, it was called ‘The Last Samurai,’ and the transportation coordinator […] his name is Vic Cuccia. And his daughter, her name’s Austyn. She was 11, and we had her in this–they call them Gators, they’re like Dune Buggies–and I said to her when we were riding this, ‘What do you wanna do when you grow up?’ And she said, ‘I wanna be a special effects makeup artist.’ And never thinking anything I said ‘Well maybe we’ll work someday together.’ Cut to all those years later I hired her as a special effects make up artist on the short film and she now is the owner of this company called Blood Rugs. So when you watch CSI or you watch any of these shows where somebody’s laying in the middle of the floor with blood it’s not really blood, it’s actually a rug that she created, and then laid down. This girl’s brilliant. She’s about 24 years old now, so she won a bunch of awards on the short film; our film, the short film, went off and won about 34 awards […]
We were running around town trying to get anybody to look at this, and I had worked on a little movie called Halloween, the Rob Zombie one, and it was an old friend of mine made a phone call and said ‘You really gotta see this short film. And Malek looked at the film and made a phone call to me, said ‘Is there a script for this? I hear you have a feature.’ I said ‘Yeah, I wrote the feature first.’ And he read the script and said ‘I love this, can we get together?’ And we shopped around getting money for it and we started putting together a cast and a wish list of things.
I have been in the business for a while, so I was young when one of my first films went to Sundance. It was about suicide and I got a little feature after that, so I would meet people who in time become friends you always keep their number and their contacts, and I became friends with David Naughton and Amanda Wyss. I don’t know if you know Amanda Wyss, she was in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, and we were talking and I said, ‘Look I have this movie it’s not a really big role,’ she said ‘Yeah, I just want to work with you because I love what you’ve done.’ And she says I know that I’ll be there for you, whatever you need. And David Naughton did the same. […] It starts out with, do you know who Andrew Divoff is?
LK: Oh yeah.
MGK: Okay, so Andrew Divoff escaped Nazi Germany and came through Brazil and up to South America and into America. He wasn’t escaping because he was Jewish; he was escaping because he was a Nazi and he settled in America, bought a farm and was working the farm, had a daughter, and one day a package comes because he was part of an elite group that was working for Hitler that would steal relics. I don’t know if you know that Hitler was obsessed with the occult and so he wanted things like spirit lodges. He wanted the chalice, he wanted everything that he could get his hands on. And he fought to have power. So I won’t give you too much more information on that, but something happens in the house, that’s the 1960s, and we cut to years later and David Naughton and his wife have purchased this house that they know has been in foreclosure, nobody’s ever lived in it, and they move in there and he is going to hire one of his students to come out and work for him because he’s an archaeologist. She comes out to get her new job and she brings three of her friends with her to settle in, and he and his wife have to go on a seminar, and they have a daughter and the girl he hired knew the daughter when she was younger, and so she comes to stay with them, and the five of them have a weekend together and something happens because there’s something that happened in the past in that house and that’s when all hell breaks loose.
LK: Actually we covered my second question, where your inspiration for ‘The Hatred’ came from. Was there anything you wanted to add about that?
MGK: I wrote a high adventure called ‘The Cross and Sword’ and it’s about the Knights Templar. In the opening of the movie the American soldiers in WW2 are talking about the Nazis who have a special group that’s going out to steal these relics. And then we cut to hundreds of years later and we see the Knights Templar […] and they have to secure something and they hide it in a chapel in France. Well, years later in the movie we flash back to World War II and the Nazis are getting it, and what they’re getting is what you see in the movie ‘The Hatred.’ The two are connected. […] So it’s just my little quirk of doing something creative.
LK: What would you say to critics who pass off ‘The Hatred’ as just another haunted house movie?
MGK: Well, what’s surprising to me is everyone who’s seen the trailer first off, says the shock of the trailer. They talk about that. Everyone who’s seen the short has had the same reaction where it won all these awards and they were happy about it. And then we screened the movie once for industry people here and it was received very very well. Overwhelmingly, everybody loved it. But people are making reference to the movie and giving a review of the movie and they haven’t seen the movie. So they’re picking apart a trailer. What’s in a trailer? A trailer is just bits and pieces of the movie so it’s really difficult. In fact […] some guy said ‘I can’t believe they made this movie that ripped off this great short film called ‘Hush’.’ Well, that’s my short film and my feature. I guess the problem that I have sometimes with people who are putting things on the internet is that they don’t do the research. This guy wrote something, didn’t know that, and it’s all out there if you were to say, well I wanna see who wrote and directed the movie The Hatred […]
It’s great that everybody’s talking about it, some people are saying aw, I’ve seen it before, I’ve seen it, whatever, and it’s fine. I don’t give–I think I’ve mentioned to you before, I have thick skin, so somebody’s gonna, you know, tear me apart, say things, you know, have at it, because it doesn’t really bother me. What I laugh at you know is when people say things and they haven’t seen the movie yet, and then what that does is it sours it for other people who haven’t seen the movie either, yet they’re thinking that that person who wrote the review already saw the movie. So that’s kind of, you know, a downer, you know, when that happens, and I know a lot of wonderful filmmakers on the big side and the small side and I’m a big supporter of women filmmakers. This movie is 90, 95, 98 % women. It’s all women, and I have four sisters, and my sisters told me that if I made a movie with stupid women, blood and guts, don’t come back to New York, and I actually made a movie that doesn’t have blood and guts and actually all the four girls in this are extremely intelligent. There’s no like talk about sex, and like you know tits and ass or anything like that. It’s all about them and what they did in college and just a relaxing weekend until something happens, and they do some research as well, which you wouldn’t expect, so you know, we did that.
We had a tough time shooting, I will admit that, and it was difficult, but I hired Austyn Cuccia, who I told you about who is the owner of Blood Rugs who did the original short film, and she came in and did the special effects and makeup, along with a guy named Gary Tunnicliffe, who actually just directed the new reboot of Hellraiser. And of course Malek Akkad who was the producer of Halloween was there with me through thick and thin, struggling to keep it going. A lot of times you know when you’re a producer or somebody that’s made movies that made millions of dollars you sometimes put all your bets on a small movie that no one’s gonna put their faith in. And no one really put their faith in this.
Then all of a sudden we were nominated at the Golden Trailer Awards for our trailer, against ‘Get Out’, ‘Annabelle 2’, ‘The Conjuring 2’, and ‘Stephen King’s It’. And we were the littlest movie that was there. […] Wayne Brady was the host, it’s kind of like the Academy Awards for trailers […] Wayne Brady said “Oh my God, I’ll never look under my bed, that one was really scary.’ All of a sudden everybody started turning towards the movie and said, wow this may have something. And then we entered in some film festivals, and the first film festival we had the feature, cause I wanted to take the same route as the short, we entered in Madrid, and we got nominated for five awards. […] And then all of a sudden another one and another one and another one. And I just said, this is that little film that could and we’re proud to do it.
Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect, you know, cause we didn’t have all the money in the world, you know, poverty breeds creativity, and we did what we could, and I’m extremely, extremely proud of the cast and crew, and our cast, those four girls, the unknowns, did an amazing job, actually the five girls, did an amazing job. And Andrew Divoff, who is amazing, came in and just sunk his teeth into this role and really did an incredible job of the character that he dove into. And another little star that’s come into my life […] There’s something about [Darby Walker], I want her to come in and read for this role of Alice. She came in and read, and I was taken by her, her approach to this role which is completely different than anyone else had read for and there was something just innocent and dark and just moving and I said I want her.
LK: Do you have any stories about making ‘The Hatred’ that you want to share?
MGK: Other than those stories, the making of it, I would go meet Malek for three hours before we started shooting and then our shoot day was like 15 hours and then we would talk for an hour and a half afterwards. So Malek and I were working 18, 19 hours a day. […] A lot of the times what people don’t know on the outside, and that’s what I was talking about, people doing research, is they don’t know the journey and the battle that we went through to try to make this, and you get beat up so bad during the course of it and trying to get it out there, and then as soon as you put it out the trailer or something like that, you get beat up once again, and that’s just not fair. But if I had to go out and fight everybody I’d be fighting 24 hours a day cause there’s people that either like it or don’t like it.
Some people like vanilla and some people like chocolate, and you can’t convince the people who like chocolate to go like vanilla, and why should they? So I’m not gonna try to convince anybody to fall in love with my movie, there’s just so many movies to fall in love with and the wonderful thing about the horror genre is that it’s kinda like 31 flavors, where you have zombies, you have vampires, you have monsters, you have ghosts, you have aliens […] one of the things that I love about the horror fans is that they’re extremely loyal but they’re very intelligent. If you screw up on something, they’re gonna come out, they’re gonna tell you that a vampire doesn’t do this or a zombie doesn’t suck your blood and you turn into a vampire. People just do these stories, and they don’t work for that crowd. The crowd’s a lot smarter, and people do a lot of research. My next movie is a sci-fi horror thriller that takes place in Iceland and once again I’ve been doing the research on that since 2014 and trying to get it so it’s not like we all of a sudden come up with ideas, throw it up on the screen, and try to put it up for the masses. […]
LK: What would you say qualifies a movie as well-made?
MGK: Well, you have to have a great story, no matter what. That’s first and foremost. Then you have to have a lot of prep time. You have to have enough time to shoot the movie—time is money. And you have to have an incredible cast. And when you have a movie when you can afford to go do that then you’ll get those results. But it’s a lot of passion too, 90% is passion of the filmmakers. You go out and make it, and as I said before, sometimes poverty breeds creativity when you can’t get around something. We shot in one location–the whole movie was in one location, and people have said the movie looks like it might be made with 3 or 4 million dollars. I say thank you and I hug them.
It depends upon the type of movie you’re going to make and obviously the budget and as I’ve always said the prep time. The more prep time you have ahead of time the faster it’ll go to shoot, the more you’ll get. When I talk to young filmmakers who are coming up or even older filmmakers making their first movie, I say don’t make a movie just to make a movie cause you wouldn’t have a baby just to have a baby, cause then you’re stuck with this baby that you didn’t really want but you have to take care of it, it’s the same thing with a movie that you really didn’t wanna make. Make a movie that you’re passionate about, take your time on it, don’t rush it, and don’t make yourself to look like a fool on that.
LK: Are there any horror movies that you consider really scary?
MGK: My favorite movie in that genre, actually there’s two in that genre, and one is John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’. I love the thrill of that, and I love the quiet moments that build the tension, that’s what makes it for me, and I think that’s what filmmakers try to utilize and sometimes copy. […] And then of course I love ‘The Shining’, and a number of others. I think another of the movies that I’ve loved over the years is ‘The Changeling’ with George C. Scott.
LK: Would you say that ‘The Hatred’ is scary?
MGK: I think it has its moments. Yeah, I saw it in the theater, people jumped when they were supposed to jump, and they loved it, they cheered at the end of it. There are gonna be some people that don’t like it, and I expect that when it comes out, but I think that for the tiny little movie that we made, I want it to be a big movie for those people, and especially for the cast and crew. I really wanna see the actors shine for this movie, if anything, and that’s why with me doing all the promotion and putting everything out there, I’ll try to put them on the map with the movie. So I think Lionsgate is looking at it in a different way now than before.
LK: What do you enjoy most about making movies?
MGK: I love the little family that I’ve created and the loyalty—some of these people I’ve worked with for over 20 years. I love that—it’s like high school with money, and you’re getting together with all your friends, and you’re getting together on the weekend to do something that you love, and I love film-making, so that inspires me. And of course when I’m writing it’s like a fever of the mind. I start listening to music and I start creating these stories and those two things go hand in hand.
LK: Where do you stand on practical effects vs. CGI?
MGK: We try to use as many practical effects as we can. The thing that happens sometimes with people and the audience doesn’t realize that you go in and use practical effects and you shoot on a day and when you’re editing you’re putting it together and you realize, aw shit that doesn’t work, it’s not working, and you have a choice. You either cut it out of the movie or you try to put some visual effects in there, CGI. So those things I don’t mind, it’s just when—you know, I’m not the kind of guy that likes electricity all around, you see somebody sparking these lightning bolts from their fingertips and their ass and to me it’s just a little bit too much, and I think you could be a little more creative than doing that. […] The great moments are when you don’t see that it’s CGI—that’s when it works out. And if you have to use it, I would say if it keeps the story, you could continue the story, and use CGI, then do it. If you sacrifice an entire scene because of it, I would not do that.
LK: And my last question, if you could say one thing to promote ‘The Hatred’, what would it be?
MGK: I would wanna say just go and enjoy yourself, go and be entertained, don’t go to any movie expecting to see, having high expectations. When I went to see Alien in the theater when I was younger, I didn’t expect it, I didn’t know what to expect, it scared the shit out of me. I think just go to be entertained and look at it from that standpoint. I think the cast and the crew and all the blood sweat and tears that we’ve put into this even from the guy who makes the coffee all the way up to the person that cleans up, and it’s all the way to the producers, everybody put their heart and soul in this movie, and I think that’s who I want to enjoy it, so they can turn around and say, I was part of that. […] The movie comes out in September, and we’ll see how people react. I want people to give it a shot instead of saying things that they don’t know because they haven’t seen the movie yet.