Actors Mike Kopera and Bo Keister catch up with The Horror Hothouse‘s Emma Knock about being Todd and Bruce in the upcoming horror comedy The Cabining.
The Cabining focuses on hapless screenwriting duo Todd and Bruce who have been given one last shot at ‘making it big’ by Todd’s wealthy stepfather Serge who promises to fund the entire project if they can write a worthy horror script in two weeks. Fresh out of ideas and with their deadline looming, they head to the tranquil artist’s retreat Shangri-La for inspiration. Proving to be anything but serene, the resident artists start to die off one by one and Bruce attempts to convince Todd that they should be using their current circumstances as inspiration, but things soon turn sour when Todd begins to suspect that Bruce may be behind the ‘accidental’ deaths.
Hi both, thanks for chatting with us. Firstly, can you give us a little background on your careers and how you became interested in the film industry?
Bo: I’ve always loved movies. My childhood saw the advent of HBO, Cinemax, and a VCR became a household item. Every chance I got, I was watching something. My teen years were filled with horror films! With that said, I always thought being an actor was a pipe dream. I was from a small, mostly rural, town in VA, with a population of about 2,000. Hollywood was a million miles away.
Having grown up around police work, I went to college and studied criminal justice in hopes of becoming a secret service agent. My goal was to guard the President one day. When I found out that it was never going to happen because of my eyesight, I had to find a new path. The only other thing I’d dreamed of being was an actor, so I said; “Yeah. I’ll go do that!” I had no idea how to get started, but my parents were supportive and suggested I check out Wilmington, NC, which was booming with film projects at the time. I drove down, checked it out, moved there a week later, and the rest is history.
Mike: I started acting when I was a kid, growing up in metro Detroit, and doing both community and regional theatre. When I went to Northwestern University for college, it was kind of a no-brainer to study acting, as that was obviously my passion, and really the only thing I knew I wanted to do. I took some film classes, as well and spent a summer in LA – I felt the warm weather of southern California and the medium of film calling me. You can do so much more with film, in terms of telling a story. As an actor, theatre is probably a bit more fulfilling (having that interaction with a live audience is indescribable), but as a story-teller, you really can’t beat the movies.
How did you become involved in the project?
Bo: I got a phone call from Mike Kopera one day, completely out of the blue. I think he found me through IMDb. He was looking for an Executive Producer. I told him that I was much more an actor than an EP, but I’d be glad to help in any way I could, so he sent me the script and info. After I read it, I was determined to be part of it.
Mike: Steve and I conceived the idea at the DC Shorts Film Festival, along with our buddy, David Silverman. We wanted to make a horror movie on the cheap, as we waited on financing for a bigger project. I never thought The Cabining would consume so much of my life, but, after Steve wrote the initial draft, it was very clear that we had something special on our hands. So I temporarily set aside the bigger-budgeted film and dove head-on into this one.
Bo, when we interviewed Steve Kopera (director, writer) he said that you originally auditioned for the role of a cop, but when you were there you also ask to read for Bruce. What attracted you to that particular role?
Bo: Before I read the script, Mike had mentioned that there were two cop roles open and that I could work for either. I’d played cops before, and was definitely excited about doing either role. However, as I read the script, I couldn’t help but get attached to “Bruce”. I knew “Bruce”. There are some that would say I’m very similar to him in many ways. I guess I share parts of his attitude, save for the narcissism. Okay, that’s BS, I’ve got a bit of that in me as well!
Really, it was the humour of him that I was drawn to. I immediately saw where I wanted to take the character, so I fought for the role. Once we got on set, everything just fit perfectly and Steve gave me the freedom to create and discover, so I just turned my inner Bruce loose. I’d just look at Steve before certain scenes/takes and say; “I got something for your ass.”
Mike, you’ve worked with your brother Steve before, but what is it like having him as your director?
Mike: It was so nice having Steve in control of the film. For both this project and My Friend Peter (the last short we did together), I handled the scheduling, the budget, all the non-creative stuff basically and left all the artistic decisions up to Steve. That division of labour really works for us, and frees him up to focus on the big picture. I think that’s one of the things that makes him a fantastic director–he knows exactly what he wants from each scene, as well as how it will eventually all come together.
I was a bit worried about doing the make-out scenes with Steve sitting five feet away staring at us, but, as my older brother, he taught me most of what I know about women and relationships anyway! It’s not quite as awkward as being directed by your spouse during a sex scene (a la Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes in Revolutionary Road) but I imagine it has the potential to be. Steve and I were able to maintain a professional relationship throughout, so, when it came time for me to take off Angela’s bra (spoiler alert!) or run around in my underwear, it was business as usual.
Bo: I’ll chime in here to say that they work together in an amazing fashion. They’re such a great compliment to each other, because they know each other’s strengths and play to them.
You guys have an amazing on-screen bromance, yet you didn’t know each other beforehand. How did you develop that chemistry?
Bo: Well, Mike had a man crush on me right from the beginning, so I’ll just put that out there. Seriously though, Mike & I got along from the beginning and that bond absolutely translated to the screen. In fact, it may turn out that I am the lost Kopera brother, but the DNA tests thus far have been inconclusive. As for the on-screen bromance, it was clear from our conversations leading up to the shoot that we both had a clear vision of our respective characters and understood their dynamic. We trusted each other’s choices and just let “Todd” & “Bruce” live.
Mike: Mostly over the phone and upon meeting each other in Michigan. Unlike all the other actors, Bo came on board months in advance, so we had many phone conversations together. Also, when I picked him up from the airport a few days prior to filming, we had many hours to kill before I had to pick up the next round of actors, so we bonded over MI craft beer.
Are you both fans of horror and if so, did you take inspiration from any particular characters to aid your own performances?Bo: I’ve been a horror fan for many years, but I can’t say that any single character inspired “Bruce” for me. Many horror films over the years have had “that guy” who provides the comic relief, and that’s exactly what this role is…with a twist.
Mike: I’m a big fan of horror, albeit a relative new-comer. “Todd” is a bit Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead mixed with every woman in any horror film who runs away from someone screaming.
From what we gather there are some particularly gory death scenes. What we they like to film?
Bo: It was awesome! Our SFX team did a terrific job; all we had to do was go with it. All the death scene days were like Halloween on steroids.
Mike: Pretty amazing. The first impalement scene we shot on the second day and the SFX looked INCREDIBLE. The last day was a bit stressful; however, as we had only one chance to get our pen-through-the-eye take. So the producer in me was a bit worried, but, we nailed it, and it looks great.
As actors, how did you strike a balance between genuine horror and comedy?
Bo: It really began with a solid script and Steve’s vision for it. We were starting with a strong foundation. Of course, as I alluded to earlier, having the ability to improv and go with things in the moment was a huge factor. Steve was always open to letting us try ideas and discover moments that weren’t on the page, especially when it came to “Bruce”. If it worked, he kept it. If not, he’d give me a chance to find something new. Rarely do you get that level of freedom on a set. It was very refreshing.
Mike: I think that the balance stems from keeping everything as real as possible, as that’s what both good horror and good comedy have in common- being grounded in reality. At one point, after a particularly startling revelation, I freak out, run back to the cabin, and into a cop. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the film, as both the horror and fear are present, but, it’s also funny, as the cop is totally clueless.
Mike, how did you manage to juggle your producing responsibilities with your acting responsibilities?
Mike: It was tough! But I had a great team of assistant producers. Two friends of mine, Alice Sherman and Jackson Thompson, flew out from LA and helped to manage the set while I was acting. Alice handled a lot of the paperwork and catering, two aspects of the film that would have been incredibly overwhelming for me to handle alone. Alice, Jackson, and Ian Michaels (another producer) all took over for the LA part of the shoot as well, our final three days, so I could just focus on acting.
While in Michigan, I didn’t get very much sleep. I tried to focus solely on acting while onset, though during particularly long intervals between takes, it was difficult. And, just as Steve transitioned to editor at the end of each day (he’d stay up for a couple hours to put scenes together that we’d just shot! It helped to keep morale high, as the cast and crew could see what amazing footage we were getting), I transitioned to producer immediately, and would be up for a few hours cleaning, removing trash, doing paperwork, etc, etc. Before I went to bed each night, however, I’d go over the scenes for the following day and try to get into my actor head-space.
Bo: You know how vampires have the ability to hypnotize people? I think Mike has that ability. Now that I think of it, we always seemed to be on night shoots, so he may very well be a vampire. Any problem that arose, Mike would go talk to the person and they were suddenly cooperative. I’m convinced he “glamored” them, to steal a term from True Blood.
He never tried to bite me, and I can’t prove any wrong doing, but a couple crew people did go missing. Draw your own conclusion. I’m just saying it’s suspicious.
What are your hopes for The Cabining going forward?
Bo: WORLDWIDE DOMINATION! Well, at least we hope so. I know that we have interest from several distributors, so we’re hoping to take it the traditional route. Wait, what am I saying? To hell with traditional…WORLDWIDE DOMINATION!
Mike: Distribution! Ideally, we can make a little money on it, enough to pay back the investors, and make the next film for a little bit more. I think that’s the ultimate goal for Steve and me at this point- that each film we make will allow us to make another one for slightly more money, until we’re doing Star Wars: Episode 37 for $150 million.
Do either of you have any other projects in the pipeline?
Bo: Several actually. I’m getting ready to do a small role in Ridley Scott’s upcoming film, Killing Kennedy. Then, assuming everything gets green lighted, I’ll be doing an expansive period piece called The Puzzle Jug, followed by the web series pilot for, Live Free or Die, and then another feature titled, The Tomorrow Saga. Another one coming up that will have your readers drooling is The Manor, which should shoot this fall.
Lastly, the horror/thriller I did last fall, House of Good and Evil, just picked up distribution and I’m currently collaborating with that same team on, The Lychanthropist. Both are going to blow people away, so your readers will want to be on the lookout for them.
Mike: Quite a few, a sci-fi horror that I’m really hoping gets financed. It’s like The Blair Witch Project, but with aliens, and in 3D. A Friday Night Lights-ish film about the legendary football coach from my high school, a post-apocalyptic car-chase action movie, the story of a female Mad Max (that’s the one that Steve is currently writing), and a couple others.
I just wrapped a film called Initiation in April, my second feature as a producer. It’s an action-packed thriller about five guys who get kidnapped and forced to fight to the death. [I’m] hoping to pitch that to ABC Family.
Bo, you recently played the role of the sheriff in House of Good and Evil, which is a film we’ve followed very closely and had the pleasure of reviewing. Can you give us a bit of background on the film for anyone who might not have heard of it yet and how you became involved?
Bo: Sure. House of Good and Evil is a psychological thriller that focuses on a couple who, in an attempt to save their dying marriage after a tragedy, move from the city to an isolated home, set in a deeply rural area. Unfortunately for them, they soon discover that evil has a key. [Edit: Read our review here]
Blu de Golyer [Edit: Read our interview with him here] produced a wonderfully written script, full of twists and turns, and David Mun’s directing brought it to life flawlessly. In addition, the main cast was extraordinary. Rachel Marie Lewis’ portrayal of “Maggie” really takes your breath away. The tension in almost every scene is so thick; you’d need a chainsaw to cut through it. Audiences are going to love it.
As for my part, HGE began similarly to The Cabining. Blu de Golyer was scouting in Floyd, VA and someone there told him about me. (I live one county over) So, just like The Cabining, I get an unexpected phone call and all of a sudden I’m “Sheriff Hanituski”.
I also helped out on the side with connecting them to some local resources for props as well. The best part for me was that it filmed so close to home, and my wife, Cyndi, even got to do a small role. Funny enough, the day after I filmed HGE, I left for Michigan to start The Cabining.
Finally…what are your favourite scary movies?
Bo: Oh, wow. I guess you could say I’m a traditional old school guy by today’s standard. While I appreciate the grindhouse style movies, they’re really not my bag of chips. I grew up with Michael, Jason, Freddy, and Leatherface, so those will always have a special place for me. Going older, Night of the Living Dead is as classic as they come and Return of the Living Dead, was always a fave. More recent entries? I’d have to go with The Cabin in the Woods, and I thought Tim Burton’s take on Dark Shadows was a riot. I’m also prepping for a stint in rehab to deal with my Walking Dead addiction as well.
Mike: Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining. I’m also a big fan of Texas Chainsaw. RB is my all-time favorite, however, as I think it’s an incredibly realistic, plausible story, with great acting. I love horror films that stand up as good movies in general, as I don’t think horror film-makers should limit themselves to cheesy schlock or gore, although that’s what the general public mostly equate with the genre. But for a good horror film to stand up as a well-respected example of good film-making as well- that’s a masterpiece!
And some final words…
Bo: I hope everyone enjoys the film as much as we enjoyed making it. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a huge thanks to our entire cast and crew, who were just spectacular, especially our DP, Jeffery Schultz. Everyone did a great job bringing this film to life.
Mike: [I] just want to thank you for taking an interest in our film! We’re very proud of it and can’t wait to share it with the world!