Mastering the Macabre: Derek Dennis Herbert Interview
Director Derek Herbert brings us horror documentaryTo Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story. Most of you will know Kane Hodder for being the one of the most bad ass men in horror Friday the 13th’s own Jason Voorhees. To Hell and Back explores the man behind the mask merging Herbert’s own two passions; horror and storytelling. We talk to him about his approach to film making, the heart of the horror scene and his own brush with death.
Where will you be talking to us from today?
I’m in my home in Los Angeles
You co-founded Masterfully Macabre Entertainment with Andrew T. Barcello, could you tell us how it all began?
I have always been very interested in horror films and the macabre and I wanted to create a company that I could make horror adjacent films with. I have a great friend (Andrew) who is also my attorney and co-producer, he’s not a huge horror fan but he loves a good horror movie. One of his favourite movies is the original Halloween so when he says he doesn’t like horror films I always laugh, I eat up most horror things as long as they are well made. I don’t want to do a self-titled production company yet because that doesn’t mean very much when you are just getting started. A name like Masterfully Macabre immediately showcases what you will get, any films I make outside of it will be from another entity that I’ll create at some other point.
You directed To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder story. What was it about Kane Hodder that made you want to tell his story?
I read his book that he co-wrote with Michael Aloisi Called Unmasked. It was such a great human-interest story of a trial of somebody who had to go through so much but still achieved pretty much the American dream story, as a stuntman he is respected in every part of the industry and as a horror icon he is successful with the adoration of his peers and fans. I thought it was a really compelling story. He has this built in audience but I knew that his story could speak to people who didn’t necessarily know who he was, people that recognise the character of Jason to realise that this guy was bullied, went through horrific burning and even worse medical care afterwards and got through it. A lot of people can see the sort of ‘over-coming adversity’ in their own lives. It’s a special story and that’s why we are drawn to it. I also saw him speak online and he spoke so well that I knew he would be a good fit for a film. The subject of the film [Interviewee] is very important to the story when you’re doing a documentary, you can have someone who is photogenic and seems great and then they get in front of the camera and they are very boring to watch. Kane was willing to delve into all of the darkest areas and lightest of his life with us and put it on film. It showed that he truly trusted us with his material and I think that shows in the final product, at least I hope it does!
Interviewing such a large number of co-stars and big names in horror, did you get star struck at any point?
Not necessarily star-stuck, you have to remain professional remember! The first time I met Kane I was a little bit intimidated for the first second because he’s a very tall and muscular guy but we met, we talked and it was great. Robert Englund obviously, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) I had met before in costume and out of costume, I was a fan but to get to work with her was something I always wanted to do. Though it all it was very quick, I didn’t have time to get excited, we had to just get it done and then they were gone. I wouldn’t say star struck but I understood the magnitude of the amount of people we had gotten, and I was very happy that they were excited to do it also. Perhaps Adam Green was the one I may have been starstruck-ish with, he has done so many great films and as a director I’ve always wanted to meet him. I had the chance to meet him before but never did because I wanted the first time we met to be on a professional level.
You have worked on a number of documentaries, what draws you to this style of film?
It’s a unique industry because when people talk about a movie it’s usually a yearlong venture from pre-production to post. It’ll be 3 years in June since we started filming this movie. We filmed all the sit-down interviews with Kane in June 2015, that’s how long documentaries can take. We were filming 2 years then post production so it took several months before the world premiere at Frightfest. It’s an interesting type of film to do because if you get opportunities to add and changes things such as last-minute interviews. In a movie once the script is filmed, on the most part you’re stuck with that story. With documentaries in general most of the time you find the story you want to tell in the editing room. It teaches you a lot about film making, I defiantly feel like it’s a great stepping stone. If you can make a great documentary I’m pretty sure you can make a great narrative film, you use all the same elements, as long as you can also direct actors!
Do you find it hard to cut it down?
We have 39 hrs of interviews of just Kane talking, plus everybody else, plus all the movies he’s been in, plus all the B-rolls, footage of him walking around and stuff. We needed to get that down to a manageable length and we did to 108 minutes (1hr48) but it feels about 90 minutes which is what we wanted. It feels nice and short but doesn’t skimp on the story. I’m currently going through all our footage so I can discuss with our distributor about all the bonus footage we could have. Our original film was around 6hrs and we went down from there. The 3hr version I thought was the finished product for a while but I wanted something that the average person flicking through Netflix or something could click it and watch it in an evening without having to be a super fan. We’ll just have a bunch of bonus footage for the fans on the DVD and Blue ray. I stand by that the finished product is the director’s cut of it (even if it was me and another editor). We did a lot of test screening to determine if it was too long etc. You have to ask yourself what would be the worst to lose? What stories say the most about Kane?
You’ve premiered the film all over but where did you first? How was the film received?
The world premiere was London Frightfest back in August 2017, then we did the US premier in Kentucky at Scarefest, then we did New York then our big LA Premiere was at Screamfest. People loved it! I’m still kind of shocked by how many people have come up to me and messaged me online telling us how much the film has affected them, even seeing them hugging Kane, reading their review has been incredible and that’s why I’m so excited that’s its finally going to be out so that the majority of people can see it. We are lucky enough to be going back into theatres in the US for a bit at the end of June. July 13TH (Friday the 13th) we will be releasing it on DVD and Blu-ray which is 41 years to the day Kane was burnt. I’ll be able to hold my movie without holding a bunch of hard drives.
You started an online fundraising campaign alongside the films productions for Bothin Burn Centre, helping change the public perception from ‘burn victims’ to ‘burn survivors’. Whose idea was it? Could you tell us a little more?
Towards the end of production, we wanted to add some elements to the film, without tapping out our investors or stepping on toes. I came up with the idea because we wanted to find a way to be able to give back to people, raise awareness about the film and be able to go up to the ward Kane was saved on and film. Actually, we got to film in the empty ward and 2 days after we left it was turned into a new section of the hospital so it was very good luck to get full access. It was pretty incredible, so I talked to Kane about it and the only way he would crowd source funding was if it gives back and that it was obvious additions to the film. I don’t want people to think (and sadly some still do) that the campaign funded the movie because it didn’t. The movie was getting made regardless of the campaign success or failure. We used Indiegogo over Kickstarter because Kickstarter doesn’t allow you to donate funds!
Interviewing someone who went through such a body trauma, did you find you could relate/connect to Kane at all? We heard you’ve had medical troubles too.
It did a lot when I read the book. Him and I talked about that a lot actually. I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was 18/19 but I was lucky enough to have an amazing medical team for support. There were certainly some low periods there and to read Kane’s story, I feel like I could bring this story to life because I could relate to it in a small way. A lot of people who have burnt their hand or something in the kitchen go up to Kane and say “I know how you feel”. It’s like no…. they are very different things! A first-degree burn is very different to third-degree burn over three quarters of your body, close to dying multiple times with added horrific mal practice!
It’s funny how people get shocked by stunt men getting hurt?
Yeah, actually my favourite line in the movie is when Kane talks about how stuntmen/women boast how many broken bones they’ve had. Isn’t the whole point of a stunt to do it successfully and not get hurt? He finds it funny is like “You’ve broken 225 bones… well I guess you weren’t very good then!” Though Kane’s accident was a multitude of things, products he hadn’t used before etc. He admits it’s his fault, but it’s very different to breaking bones.
You are currently producing a number of horror films… Anything you can share?
Yes! There’s a horror/thriller home invasion movie called Their Inside that is going to be incredible! It’s a story of two sisters but can’t really reveal much about it and it’s in the final stages of post-production right now. We are also doing a sequel to a horror film that came out last year though I can’t say which one but it was a lower budget one that did quite well so Anthony and I have signed on to produce that. We are also doing a documentary with Adam Green which is like the Rocky of horror documentaries because it’s about the little guy that fought to bring his tv show to life. I’m very excited to work with them all on that one.
Do you think you will explore directing more fictional work in future or are documentaries where you excel?
I’d love to do a combination. I intend to do a short film this summer which will be a stepping stone for investors. I can present it and show the tone of this film, show a documentary I made and hopefully convince them that I can make a high-quality horror feature! I’ll always love documentaries so I think I will jump between them because you can always have one going. You could make two or even three narrative films in the time it takes to make a documentary, especially if I don’t edit. I love our editor so I could just film a few days at a time, get the thing made and then keep working on other projects too.
Figure of 8 – Quick Fire Questions
In your home you will always find…
Your best quality is…
I’m a very trustworthy person, people can but their faith in me and I won’t let them down. (I’ve proved that in this documentary, my friends, relationship etc.)
As a child, you wanted to be…
A film maker ever since I was 3 and a half!
The last thing to make you laugh was….
I saw an internet video where it said “When my friends tell me to stop taking shots and they turn their back….” And it’s a video of a monkey or a sloth walking away awkwardly, like a little sideways dance. It started suspiciously and then he ran! It was really funny. Plus, I saw the last Tremors movie the other day always cracks me up.
Your pet peeves are…
I hate lying, even if it’s a small one. We are all guilty of it, but it’s not hard to tell me the truth if somethings not okay and you say everything is. Not listening, like when a waiter at a restaurant repeats something back to you a number of times and its wrong (when they could easily write it down)
Something that may surprise us about you…
I have a 3 and a half octave vocal range as a singer which is the same range as say Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins/Sound of Music, but obviously different to hers in the lower scale sense. I was also terrified of horror movies until I was an adult.
Your favourite movies are…
JAWS. Also Hatchet, The Conjuring, ET but there are just so many fantastic films out there.
Dinner with the decreased! Who is invited?
George A Romero, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Borgnine