“He’s Kind of Killed All of Them at This Point:” Adam Green on Holliston and Hatchet III
Imagine that you grow up to be a successful filmmaker? Cool, huh? Now imagine that you get to wake up (or continue the previous day’s all-nighter) and go to work with some of your best friends. Even better. Throw in the fact that you are good buddies with the lead singer of one of your favorite bands — who also happens to play your boss on your acclaimed sitcom — intergalactic, Hollywood-star-slaughtering monster/Gwar frontman Oderus Urungus plays your imaginary friend, you have become peers and collaborators with childhood idols and inspirations ranging from Chris Columbus (screenwriter of The Goonies and Gremlins) and John Landis (An American Werewolf in London, The Blues Brothers) to Kane Hodder (The Friday the 13th and Hatchet series) and Robert Englund (The Nightmare on Elm Street and Hatchet series), and on an on…now it has to be pure fantasy from the flashlight illuminated forts of childhood twilight. Right?
Not for Adam Green, the multi-hyphenate founder of ArieScope Pictures and the man at the helm of FEARNet sitcom Holliston and millennial slasher franchise Hatchet. Green has come a long way from a local New England boy covertly borrowing cable access gear to become a pillar of the horror community and a notable model of making indie filmmaking work. In the midst of a whirlwind year among a continuously dynamic career (season 2 of Holliston premieres today, Hatchet III comes out in 10 days, Green and co-star/pal Joe Lynch recently started a podcast, and more) Green took time to talk with us about the long road to Holliston, handing over the reins to Hatchet III and the horror community.
Filmmaker: To get started, could you recap how you went from Coffee and Donuts to turning it into Holliston?
Green: Coffee and Donuts was the first attempt I ever made at making a feature film. I was working at a local cable advertising company in Boston when I first got out of college in ’97. And just like we depict on the show [Holliston], it was really cheesy, low, low budget commercials in the Boston area. And when I was there I met Will Barratt who has become my d.p. and business partner in ArieScope Pictures, our film production company. We started borrowing the company’s equipment behind their back, and taking stuff. We made a short film called Columbus Day Weekend, which was sort of a parody on Friday the 13th and Halloween, where Jason and Michael Myers stalk the same guy by mistake. And low and behold, it started getting bootlegged and passed around. Next thing I knew, I had a major talent agency in Hollywood who asked if we had a feature. So I had $400 and no clue, but I rounded up my friends and I wrote it, I directed it, I starred in it, I edited it, I shot it, I did everything I could and it was basically just kind of an autobiographical love story. And if you’ve seen the pilot of Holliston, that’s kind of the movie condensed into 45 minutes.
We won Best Picture at the first festival that we got accepted to, which was the ever-so-impersonated Smoky Mountain Film Festival. [laughs] To me it was like winning Sundance. I was so excited and that was when I decided to take the plunge and move to Hollywood, when I was 25. And from that point on, the idea was always to turn it into a TV series. And about three years later, it was set up through Touchstone to be a sitcom for UPN with Tom Shadyac producing it. That was really my arrival, and the first big thing that happened for me. But that was the year that UPN merged with the WB and became the CW, so all development was locked.
So, in that time, I made a name for myself making movies like Hatchet, and Spiral and Grace and some other things. I worked with a producer named Peter Block, who used to work on Lionsgate back in the day, and he had gone solo. Frozen was his first movie. A few years after that, he became the President of FEARNet, which I had thought was just a website. They were really just becoming a TV network and he said, “You know, I need to figure out what my first show is going to be, and I don’t want to do what people are going to expect, which is a Tales from the Crypt-type thing or an X-Files-type thing. I want to do something completely unique.” And I was like, “What about a sitcom?”
I had already been workshopping this for years with the cast, who are all my friends and who I wrote the parts for. And we developed it, it became Holliston, and it had a little bit more of a horror edge to it even though it’s still just a sitcom. I had no idea how people were going to react, because initially we were catering strictly to horror fans. And we didn’t know if they were going to enjoy a sitcom, because they don’t watch sitcoms. And low and behold, they not only liked it, they loved it and embraced it. And the critics embraced it. And it happened really quickly, by the morning after the second episode had aired, FEARnet had ordered a second season. It was really like a 13-year journey to get it to the point of actually being made, but it did finally get made exactly the way I wanted it to.
Filmmaker: The horror community seems, even more so than the film or indie community in general, to be this small, insular family. What’s it like being a part of that from a creative perspective?
Green: It’s absolutely amazing because it really is a community. You don’t see romantic comedy conventions or anything like that. You go to horror conventions and you get fans from everywhere, all coming to celebrate the things that they like. And it’s always surprising to people that aren’t into this stuff, but they’re the nicest people in the world. They’re extremely friendly, extremely normal. Whole families come to it and it’s sort of like having a mini Halloween for them. And as filmmakers, it’s very family-oriented and everyone is very, very nice and all help each other and support each other.
When I first came out here, and was trying to turn Coffee and Donuts into a sitcom, I was doing stand-up, I was mainly hanging out with comedians. That was my inner circle. And I really hated L.A. because of that. My first few years out here, I was miserable. I just wasn’t making the types of friends that I had grown up with. It was super competitive and you would think, as comedians, they’d be funny and nice. But they’re not, they’re miserable people. [laughs] Once I left that and fell in line with the horror community, that’s when I really found great people and great friends and lifelong relationships.
Filmmaker: On that perspective, your work seems to be really collaborative. How important is that process?
Green: It’s super important to have a collaborative process, especially on the independent level, where you don’t have the big budgets of these huge movies and every penny counts so much, because as a director that you’re just [steering] the ship. It’s your vision and, in the case of myself where I also create and write the stuff, it’s my idea, but it’s the crew and the cast that actually make the thing work or not. So, there are some directors who, publicly because they’re the spokesperson, sometimes forget that they didn’t actually build those sets by hand themselves or make those costumes or effects. There are other people that do that.
But, with a show like Holliston, where everybody from the composer and sound mixer up to the main cast and guest stars are all very close friends of mine, I think it shows. A sitcom lives and dies on the chemistry of the cast and characters. To have the group of people portraying these very close friends and lovers be your friends, I think it worked instantly. Everybody is very invested in the show. I think that’s what has made the quality of it kind of as good as it is that quickly.
Filmmaker: Working with Chris Columbus, and going into the second season of Holliston, you’ve had icons like John Landis and Tony Todd involved. Plus, you’ve got Dee Snider on the show, have started a new slasher series in Hatchet and on and on. It’s hard work but do you feel like a kid living dream?
Green: I haven’t lost sight of the fact that it is like being a kid. It’s living a dream. Not only because of what get to do every day, but because of the people that I’m working with. A lot of them are people that I grew up idolizing and would’ve given up everything just to meet. And then you’re accepted by them as an equal and an artist, and they become close friends of yours; it’s very surreal.
You get over being starstruck very quickly but you don’t forget how cool it is that you get to do this stuff. But the work is really hard and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days where I wish I just had one of those ridiculous budgets and all the time in the world. Especially with Holliston, because I created it, but I also write it, I direct it, I showrun it, which is a huge job, and I star in it. No joke, I do maybe 20 to 22 hours a day when the show is going. And for me, it’s not just the shoot, it’s the rehearsals, it’s writing, and it’s post. Then, simultaneously I’m still making movies.
But working that hard, as much as it runs me down and I’m sure it has taken years off my life, is worth it because I love every second of it. Think about all those people who have to go to a job every day and they have no interest in it whatsoever, and they’re just doing it to make a living. I’m very lucky and this could all be over any second. You only have a shelf life of five or 10 years it seems for the average filmmaker before your stuff curtails and there are new people taking those jobs.
I think that’s the other thing to keep in mind. I spend so much time building my own production company so I don’t have to go job to job with different studios. We have a great thing going here and we get to do so much different stuff. A lot of it, most of it, is really the horror genre — even Holliston does qualify in the horror genre even though it’s really a sitcom. But if you look at movies like Hatchet and Spiral and Grace, our first three movies out of the gate, they’re very different.
And Grace is a movie that I didn’t write and direct. That was an independent filmmaker who had made a short film that was winning festivals left and right. And I just kept running into him as I was doing festivals with Hatchet. So, as soon as we had success, and our distributor of Hatchet, Anchor Bay, said, “What else do you guys have?” I put Grace forward as the next movie we wanted to put out and helped launch Paul Solet’s career. Even with Hatchet III, I promoted my camera operator BJ McDonnell and had him direct that movie — I just wrote and produced it and helped. And that’s been equally as cool, giving other people the chance.
Filmmaker: How difficult was it for you to let go of the directorial reins for Hatchet III?
Green: It wasn’t difficult to let go, but it was difficult the way things went. I wound up having to be a lot more involved than I expected. One of the main reasons I let go, was I had this movie Killer Pizza that I was writing with Chris Columbus, and I had the second season of Holliston to do. So, while we were in New Orleans filming Hatchet III I had to write 620 pages while I was there. I thought I would just go to set at the beginning of the night to check in, maybe go again at the end, but basically stay in the hotel room to write. But it was a very hard movie to make and the conditions were horrible and we had a lot of difficult personalities on the crew, with the local people that we had hired. There was actually only one and a half nights where I actually got to go back to the hotel room and write. And then when everybody was asleep, I would just go back to my room or my trailer and write.
But the movie’s coming out unrated, and of course DVD and Blu-ray and on-demand will be unrated, but for certain outlets you have to have an R-rating; like cable television, they won’t play it if it’s NC-17 or unrated. So I have been the one going back and forth and doing the edits and making the cuts. In some ways, nothing really changed. I wasn’t always the one saying “Action” and “Cut” and blocking all the shots necessarily, but I was still calling the shots. So, it’s not to undermine BJ and the fantastic job that he did. I mean, I promised the fans…with Hatchet, it’s different because that was my first movie and the whole reason I have the career that I have is that film. A lot of the fans were very concerned when I said I wouldn’t be directing it and I assured them that I would see this thing through.
Filmmaker: Being a fan of the genre and slasher films like the Friday movies, how does it feel to craft a new slasher icon?
Green: That part is still very surreal and debatable. When Hatchet came out, that was a word that a lot of critics were quick to throw around. That was really unexpected because even Jason and Michael Myers and Freddie, it wasn’t until a good 15, 20 years later that they became part of the lexicon of horror. If in another 10 years or so, if people are still talking about Victor Crowley, then I’d say, yeah, he’s worthy of that description, but it definitely feels like he’s on his way.
But it’s also a different time period, where back in the ‘80s, everyone was trying to make these villains. And horror in, what do we call it, the 2000s? I feel like it was a really bad time for horror, for a lot of reasons. I, personally, was never into the torture-porn thing because it’s not why I got into this. I don’t like that. I like to have fun and I like the fantasy and I like the iconic killer and the monster. So Victor Crowley was really on his own island at that point. There weren’t many other people going down that path.
So, we’ll see what happens. But the fact that he’s now killed the actors who’ve played all the icons — I mean, he’s killed Robert Englund who was Freddie, Tony Todd who was Candyman, Kane Hodder who was Jason before he was Victor Crowley, R.A. Mihailoff who was Leatherface, Tom Holland who created Chucky in Child’s Play, and in this movie he faces off with Derek Mears who is the new Jason Vorhees in the Friday the 13th remake; he even killed one of the kids in Blair Witch. So he’s kind of killed all of them at this point. [laughs]
And that wasn’t intentional at first. But the fans of that franchise love the fact that these horror icons and stars of that generation get to come back again and not just be a cameo, but actually have legitimate leading roles in movies again. And it’s really given them new life. Now I go to a horror convention and the first thing that happens is all these horror celebrities come over and ask me how they get in on the next one. Now we have Caroline Williams, and her last starring role was really Texas Chainsaw Massacre II in the early ‘80s and now she’s back in a leading role. Now, Zach Galligan from Gremlins…nobody has seen him in a while, so it’s gonna be fun.
Filmmaker: It’s not a bad problem to have all these guys approach you either.
Green: No, it’s amazing and I wish I had parts for every single one of them because, going back to what we were talking about before, they really are the nicest people you will ever meet and they’re so grateful for all of it. That’s why those conventions work, they truly do love meeting their fans. They’re excited to be there, they want to talk to everybody and shake their hands and tell them stories. It’s a unique experience. If you even remotely like horror, it’s definitely worth at least once, going to a convention. They seem to be everywhere now, every state has one. But it’s amazing.