The You’re Next guys go on the road

August 30, 2013

By Dan Lybarger
for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and blood, dirt & angels

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — “When you’re working on something in Columbia, Mo., you don’t expect it to be playing in theaters nationwide,” says key grip Bryan Adams (not the Canadian singer) who worked on the horror movie You’re Next. It was playing in 2,437, to be exact.

Gaffer Marcus Batton, co-producer Brock Williams and key grip Bryan Adams from Columbia, Mo. celebrate seeing their movie You're Next debut in front of a paying audience at the Alamo Drafthouse MainStreet in Kansas City. photo by DAN LYBARGER

Gaffer Marcus Batton, co-producer Brock Williams and key grip Bryan Adams from Columbia, Mo. celebrate seeing their movie You’re Next debut in front of a paying audience at the Alamo Drafthouse MainStreet in Kansas City. photo by DAN LYBARGER

Adams and three of his film collaborators took a two-hour road trip from their community of 110,000 to Kansas City on Aug. 23 to take part in a question and answer session in front of a paying opening night audience at the Alamo Mainstreet. (The enormous, grandly refurbished theater has the distinction of being the first indoor venue where John Carpenter’s Halloween played in 1978.)

The movie may not have unseated The Butler from the top of the box office, but making $7 million is impressive considering the fact that Adams, co-producer Brock Williams, gaffer Marcus Batton and still photographer Corey Ransberg were in town to represent a movie made for less than a million. Lionsgate, the distributor, paid $2 million for the rights to the film.

Queen of the Screen

You’re Next concerns a large, wealthy family who find themselves being attacked by masked assailants with crossbows and axes. Keeping the slaughter in check is a resourceful Australian college student named Erin (Sharni Vinson, who played the fleet-footed lead in Step Up 3D).

While most of the cast and crew had been friends with editor-director Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, Vinson was one of the few performers selected after an open casting call.

“During the first audition, she tried to do her American accent, and she kind of botched the audition, ” Williams says. “She was trying to do her American accent, and she’s good at doing that [she easily passed as a Yank in Step Up 3D]. But they wanted her to do the Australian accent, so they rewrote the role slightly, so that she could do the accent.”

“She did this for way under what her quote is because it was her chance to be an action star,” Williams said. “I remember when Simon was writing the script and he said he was excited because there was a lead female protagonist who is never victimized. For the whole movie, when she gets attacked, she’s just fighting back. And what was my favorite part of the script is that near the end, there’s a moment where [the bad guys] are scared because they don’t know where she is.”

Williams also remembers that Vinson was the one performer who could kick butt as needed, and she inadvertently helped the casting process in other ways. “Wendy Glenn who played Zee was Sharni’s roommate, and we still had to cast that. Wendy is British, but she’s doing an American accent,” Williams said.

Warm-blooded Reviews

Others seem to appreciate the chance to watch Vinson play a lethal sort of MacGyver.

You’re Next has received something most low-budget slasher films don’t get: positive reviews. It has a 78 percent approval rating on, and our own Piers Marchant said, “Adam Wingard’s peculiar horror concoction is almost exactly the kind of film Michael Haneke was scolding us for enjoying in his intentionally sadistic Funny Games. A fact which, to the right sort of viewer, doesn’t make it any less fun to watch.”

You’re Next also took the Horror Jury prizes for Best Director, Best Film, Best Actress and Best Screenplay at the 2011 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.

When the four were asked about the warm reception they received for a genre critics normally loathe, they burst into laughter, and then Williams said, “Simon and Adam were determined to make this based on what they hate about other horror films and the things that they see people do over and over again and are just kind of done to death and don’t work anymore. They come from a place where they made a movie they want to see and they would be entertained by.”

“Simon and Adam’s personality is all through the movie, ” Ransberg adds. “A lot of the stuff around the dinner table came from stuff that they’ve heard, and they just put it into the movie.”

“Simon hates most movies,” Williams says, “so the stuff he comes up with is stuff that he’s frustrated that he doesn’t see anybody else do.”

“I think it works because it’s self-aware,” Adams says. “It has a sense of humor about itself. I think that’s why a lot of those movies don’t work. They almost take themselves too seriously.”

Delayed Gratification

While You’re Next successfully wowed festival crowds and the Alamo Mainstreet audience, Lionsgate delayed the release for nearly two years because their merger with Summit forced them to release other films that had been sitting on the studios’ shelves.

If there was any bitterness on the part of the visitors from Columbia, it wasn’t evident opening night.

“When it was on the shelf, I kept going, ‘I hope we get VOD or maybe get a simultaneous release in two theaters. That’d be awesome,’” Ransberg says. “And then this happens. It was great because it was so hard to sit on those. As a photographer, anytime you have a chance to cover somebody in blood and have people with knives in their heads, you can kind of live out your morbid fantasies.” A pause. “That sounds terrible.”

Something in the Water

All four credit Columbia with making the movie possible. You’re Next was shot with borrowed equipment, and the quartet have clearly known each other for years. During the Q&A and interview, they complete each other’s sentences.

The city also provided a unique location, a three-story mansion that just happened to be available for rent when it was needed. Williams won’t reveal the exact location in order to save the current residents grief. Nonetheless, he and the rest of the crew discovered something unique about the building during preproduction.

“It’s the most amazing house I’ve ever been in, ” he says. “ It was built in the ’20s during Prohibition, so it has hidden liquor cabinets built into the walls. It’s just a beautiful, amazing house. When we finally got into the house, there was about a week’s worth of rewrites that Simon had to do to make the action in the script work in that actual house.”

Columbia is the home of the University of Missouri, Columbia College of Missouri and Stephens College. That means the students and facilities from three schools were available to help film production.

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