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Interview: In Conversation with Ryan Barton-Grimley – ‘Hawk and Rev: Vampire Slayers’ (Part 1)

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Interview: In Conversation with Ryan Barton-Grimley - 'Hawk and Rev: Vampire Slayers' (Part 1)

In advance of the upcoming release for Hawk and Rev: Vampire Slayers, I was lucky enough to speak with multi-hyphenate Ryan-Barton Grimley. RBG wrote, directed and starred in Hawk and Rev, and he was more than generous with his time while we spoke early on a Sunday morning.

BR: I gotta thank you for making a horror movie that’s such a good time. I can’t remember the last time I had as good a time watching a new release like this. It hit me at a time when I needed it; I just moved from Philly to Chicago, and I’m missin’ my boys. This movie reminds me of something I’ll love eto show them the next time I see them.

RBG: Hell yeah, man! I appreciate that. I wanted to make something feel-good, there’s just not enough of it out there.

I agree with ya.

Nothing funny or feel good.

That’s one of the downsides of this whole “elevated horror” trend that’s happened recently. There’s some merits to a lot of movies that have come out, but we’ve sacrificed having a good time with our friends.

One movie that really fulfilled this for me in the last year was the Bill and Ted sequel. That kinda gave me a bit of that vibe.

Hell yeah!

It’s a little messy, and really a giant movie, but I felt that good vibe that reminded me of being a kid and hanging out with friends and watching a movie at midnight. I dunno dude- Elevated horror is amazing. There are some amazing movies. I will definitely watch them- they’re not always fun though.

Exactly.

Some of them are kinda a slog though.

I know exactly what you mean. I’m not gonna invite all my friends over to have a few sodas and watch Hereditary, ya know?

Totally. I was just thinking that! “Hey bro, you wanna come over, and we’ll make some food, and we’ll make some drinks, we’ll open some beers and hang out and then we’ll sit down and watch Hereditary…”

Exactly. Nobody’s bringin’ a 30-rack of Pepsi to watch Hereditary. Midsommar either.

I watched that movie and was just like “Wow, this is amazingly scary and it’s bright,” and still… It was just not fun. And I think right now where the entire world has gone through this real horrific event in everybody’s life, it is so needed to laugh and just have a second to not be on high-alert and be on edge, and just to be like “Everything’s going to be fine.” Or at least have that feeling even if it’s not so you can just turn it off for a second and relax. And weirdly I felt that way as a writer and a director even before any of this happened, and that’s what made me make this movie. I felt like everybody wanted to make really serious stuff, everybody wanted to watch really serious stuff, and I would go on every streaming platform to try to just relax and laugh and have a good time, and there was just nothing. I was just like “This is ridiculous!”

And also coincidentally, a bunch of stuff I was trying to make at bigger production companies stopped working. So I was like “Screw this, I’m going to make something I’ll actually love to work on. I’ll love to write this thing. I’ll wake up in the morning to make this thing, and work late at night to make this thing. And I’ll make my way through the edit because I’ll actually enjoy this exact thing. And when it’s done, I’ll watch it, even if it’s terrible, because I love this exact genre.

Dude, that’s beautiful. Well said. And thank you for putting that net-good out into the world right now. We needed it. So thank you for that lil’ beacon of pleasure. It hit me when I needed it.

So usually I’d ask about, like, “What are your horror influences,” but those are all in the movie! The characters are constantly name-dropping different vampire movies. So, instead I wanna, if you’ll allow it, I’d love to talk to you about comedy. I understand you do stuff at Groundlings, right?

Groundlings, yes.

I just came to Chicago looking to get in, hopefully, when things open back up. I’d love to take a class at Second City or something-

You have to do that. So my journey of comedy started as a kid in Zimbabwe. So we got three hours of TV per night in the early-’80s there in Zimbabwe. That was it. So, most of that was news, or a bad American show like “Dallas”, or a great American show like “Chips” or the “A-Team”.

So this wasn’t what your parents allowed you to watch, that was all that was transmitted?

Exactly.

Holy shit.

So then, I came here in the mid-’80s, with my family, because things were terrible [in Zimbabwe]. And right into the middle of Southern California. Just dropped right into the apocalypse of ‘80s culture, basically where it was just [makes explosion noise]. So, my comedy influences were super-British and dark, and then suddenly “candy/popcorn”-’80s. So I kinda have a weird, schizophrenic style. I like over-the-top stuff, but I like it to be dark as well, which is a really strange combination. So I did a lot of acting and playwriting and all of this business, and tried to make movies and made lots of commercials.

I love improv. It’s one of my favorite tools to use as an actor and writer. I love the “Upright Citizens Brigade”, which is an incredible thing that Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh started with two of her friends. And I also love “The Groundlings”. And they attack it from two totally different points of view. One’s all about the comedic “game,” and repeating beats and callbacks. And then one is totally from a character place. You can see that in the people who have come out of those systems of comedy. You can see them repeating games on The Office-

Very Del Close, right?

Yeah, exactly. And then you can see Will Ferrell and McCarthy and Kristen Wiig who have all come out of The Groundlings, where it’s more of, like, a really intense character. And the interesting thing is when you blend the two of them, because then you have these repeating games and callbacks, like the Del Close thing, and then you add some intense character work into there and that’s super fun. So Ari Schneider, who plays Rev, is actually my brother-in-law in real life.

Oh no way!

Totally. Absolutely. He and I were both- I was at UCB, he was at Second City Hollywood, and he did UCB, then I did Groundlings. We had a two-man improv team called The Double Pistols, where we’d be two guys, onstage, a 30-minute improv show based on a crime. Somebody would suggest a crime-

-That’s a cool form.

-and we would play the cops. We would do interrogations, investigations, play all the characters. We would basically make fun of every cop show. And it was so fun, dude. It frees you up as a director and a writer to not be so precious with your cast. And all the people who were in Hawk and Rev are all people we’ve known from the indie-comedy/improv scene here. So these are not traditional- they do go through traditional actor training, but they’re not traditional actors in the sense that they 100% need you to be word-perfect when you shoot them. Like these people are flexible. They’re used to producing emotions and scenes onstage over and over again. There are whole improv games where you just change your emotion over and over again, it makes you so flexible. As a director, working with people like that is amazing.

Hawk and Rev Image

More fun to be around, too.

So fun, dude. No pretension. Just a good time. I highly implore anybody who wants to work in comedy- whether it’s stand-up, writing, directing, whatever- do some improv. It will just break you out of your whole “what you look like, what you think about, whether you’re funny or not…”

Totally.

I could talk about comedy all day long, it’s one of my favorite things.

That’s awesome. I could tell, first and foremost, from watching your movie. I’m just chompin’ at the bit to get out here in Chicago when things reopen.

This summer! This summer-

That’s what I’m hoping. I hope open mics and stuff-

One of my biggest regrets about releasing this film at this time has been- one of the buzzes you get from being an improviser or a standup or just anybody that performs funny stuff in front of people is that you get that feedback from the audience. Your ear starts to get attuned to what you do, personally, that works to hook people in, to get them in on the joke. It’s very similar to horror: You’re basically hooking people in, suspending their disbelief, and you’re either hitting them with a scare or a punchline. Very similar thing. And you can shoot them very similarly, too, which is an interesting thing that Edgar Wright has done and Taika Waititi even does.

The festival premiere of this thing- we were gonna premier at Fantaspoa, this massive horror/genre fest in Brazil, the largest Latin-American film festival, the fifth largest horror [festival] worldwide. Obviously this gets pushed; this was a huge thing for us to get. We made this movie with not a lotta money, all of our friends, one big shoot for two weeks, then did a bunch of pickup shoots. We kinda scraped through, fought our way through it, did test screenings, did re-edits, tried to do everything we could to make it really good. Then we finally get this great premiere, and it gets pushed. So we’re like “What the heck are we gonna do with this movie? We could just put it on the shelf, but I think people probably want to laugh! So we should really try to put it out there!”

So Dances With Films- this L.A.-based indie-film festival- which is one of the last, big, actually independent film festivals. Like they only play independent films, which is a weird thing that nobody does anymore. So we got to premiere- they started a midnight section for the first time ever. We got to be their midnight movie opening night and closing night. We did it through Eventive, they were one of the first digital portals to help the festivals screen. It was just so weird. I knew based on what the festival organizers had said, a ton of people were watching the premiere night. So I’m sitting, watching the movie in my office here, where I also do YouTube tutorials and write and I do all my editing right here. I’m sitting here watching the movie and I can’t hear anybody laugh, I can’t see anybody react. So then we’re doing the Q&A after, and there’s tons of questions, it’s awesome, but it’s just really bizarre for a comedy, it’s really weird.

I feel like this is a movie that begs for a group watch. We’re all lucky that it’ll be waiting here for us when that can happen.

Hopefully some midnight screenings. In my fantasy, pre-COVID, I thought “Maybe we can do like a 25-city, 1-week run where we only do midnight. So at least people will come kinda primed to have a good time, maybe we could get beer sponsors or something.” I just wanted people to be in the space where they’re not judging it or themselves, so they’ll have a good time.

Absolutely. Everybody laughs harder when there’s other people laughin’ right next to them. Everybody screams louder when there’s other people screamin’ right next to them.

Yeah, you need that kind of permission to go through the experience.

But! It’s so important that we didn’t just give up on that kind of content during all this while we’re sitting at home. We still needed that kind of experience, now it’s just with a little more solitude. That didn’t make it any less funny or any less scary. It’s still needed. It’s really opened my eyes to how much people need to laugh, and need to scream, and need to feel things together. We can all tweet about Hawk and Rev and share it that way.

Please do. It’s so hard to break through the wall of content. Thankfully the political situation, domestically, has kinda chilled out a bit.

Yes, you’re not competing with President Ratings.

It’s just hard with social media, one of the things I’m trying to do to connect with people and connect them with the film is giving people a high-res, digital copy of the poster-

I signed up for that!

It’s an awesome poster! The Dude Designs. This is the guy that made the art for awesome Canadian horror comedies the Wolf Cop series. So funny. So I’ve been promoting those posts a lot just trying to connect people to the movie. Because I think once they see the trailer, they’re gonna be like “Oh my god this looks so dumb and so hilarious.” Like somebody called it Van Helsing meets Dumb and Dumber. Which-

Yeah, that’s an apt description!

All these people are like “Oh my god this looks so STUPID!” I was just responding to the posts like “Hell yeah it is, you’re gonna love it!”

Right? One of the worst things Van Helsing was that it took itself too seriously. I feel like in the improv world, it’s oftentimes a compliment to say “That was really stupid,” and you should be proud of how stupid that was.

Absolutely! I feel like it could be [a compliment] in the horror world, too. It’s just not right now in the horror world. I mean, look at all the Troma stuff, man. I love that stuff! That stuff’s hilarious, so funny, and so dumb.

I’m so glad that they’re still going, it’s not just The Toxic Avenger. They have their own- I think they just rolled out their own streaming service.

I think they did, too. That’s awesome.

Lloyd’s killin’ it.

So back on this festival thing; we did this thing with Dances with Films, right? Then like a month later did the NOLA Horror Film Festival, which is just an awesome, mega genre film fest. Like they don’t play anything other than horror, and barely any horror-comedies. The guy who runs it, JT Seaton, has amazing taste. But it’s mostly a southern audience. They have 200 seats that they usually try to fill.

Alright.

We could tell thousands of people were watching the movie, digitally. They enabled the chat function, on the side. So you could see people trashing each other, trashing the movie, quoting jokes, making fun of Hawk, which is kinda the point of the movie- Hawk is this Law & Order numbskull dude who needs to learn lessons.

But it was interesting to see that enabled so that people from all over the south could watch it and connect with it. And those are, like, die-hard people who love this specific niche. Maybe the takeaway after all of this- and Troma is totally ahead of this with making their own app- really catering specifically to people who like this thing, so they know where to find it instead of searching through all of this other business to find it.

Finding that niche and serving those people. It’s crazy that more people got to see it that night with the NOLA Fest than would have had the event taken place normally-

-and been sold out! So if you go to the website HawkAndRev.com, you can sign up for a free poster. There’s also another tab where you can sign up for a Watch Party. But I think I’m gonna do a Watch Party maybe a month or two into the release, where we get the cast, we get the crew, it’ll be digital. But then people can watch it from anywhere. So it’ll be a premiere, but it’ll be a premiere that real fans can actually watch, and then maybe they can even interact with us. They can act questions about all the ridiculous gore.

They can pitch you T-Shirts!

Yeah. Dude it’s crazy. I put the damn logo, or the title- that chrome/blood title-

Which… Slam dunk logo.

[Makes explosion nosie] So this guy who made this is Jarred Hageman, he’s Chrome and Lightning, if you look him up. He’s pretty big in the kinda ‘80s graphic kind of stuff. I put that graphic up on TeePublic and all kinds of rando people are buying mugs and t-shirts with the Hawk and Rev logo. I hope they actually like the movie.

-yeah, and they don’t just like his work. Did you show him the movie before he made that logo?

Parts of it, yeah.

Because it does a very good job of creating an image that really encapsulates the feel of the movie. It’s easy to see “Oh it’s very ‘80s-inspired,” but even beyond the era- I spend a lotta time thinking about the iconography of horror. If I close my eyes and think about a certain movie, what do I see? That artist did such a good job of creating a font and a color palette that really represents Hawk and Rev: Vampire Slayers.

I totally agree. And to get into the nitty-gritty of it, even that blood- so those are all, like- he basically does his own custom, airbrushing thing to make his own fonts. And it could be similar to other fonts, but it’s always a slightly different thing. So, like, the blood font from Vampire Slayers. Even that, it could be darker, or more evil-looking. But he didn’t do that, he kept it kind of pop-y and slightly metallic, which kind of softens it and lets you know it’s not a dark movie, it’s gonna be a little fun, and it’s probably going to make fun of itself, which is literally what the movie does. We’re like ripping limbs of, and spraying ourselves in the face, cause we’re bad at it. We’re not good at the craft of vampire slaying or how to deal with it at all. Which nobody would be.

Nobody should be! I’d feel bad for somebody if they were good at vampire slaying. That’s Blade. Yeah, you wanna be Blade beating the bad guys up. But you don’t wanna live Blade’s life.

You don’t wanna hang out with Blade. You want Blade for protection.

Exactly. But you don’t want to swap lives with Blade. Or Hawk, for that matter! I don’t wanna live Hawk’s life.

Hawk’s life is pretty messed up.

I love my apartment, I don’t wanna live in my parent’s backyard.

Hawk’s parents won’t even let him sleep in the house anymore!

Poor bastard.

Probably rightly so. He’s kind of a pain-in-the-ass, and he’s kinda rough. He’s very paranoid, it just so happens that he’s right. Most of the time you’d imagine people who are this paranoid and this suspicious to be totally out of their mind! The fun gag of crying wolf over and over again, and nobody believes him, that’s what makes him feel like he’s John McClane in Die Hard.

It’s perfect. It’s such a solid setup for a very delusional man.

Everything that you’ve just pointed out about Hawk- none of that was able to stop the 12-year-old part of me from being like “That’s me and he’s my hero! I identify!”

He’s still loveable! You get where he’s coming from. You’re like “This guy means well, he’s just stunted.” He’s like Kurt Russell’s character in Big Trouble in Little China, but kinda the low-rent version.

Definitely. He’s not drivin’ trucks.

He’s not drivin’ trucks. No one would give him that job.

He’s lucky to have the gig he’s holding down.

For the rest of this conversation, please make sure to tune into the Fright Train Podcast below!

Hawk and Rev Poster Art

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