I have attended Fantastic Fest for many years now, and lemme tell ya: during that time, I have seen a thing or two. I've seen courageous feats of karaoke. I've had unexpected run-ins with weirdo celebrities. I've seen food fights, I've seen actual fights, and I've had my face melted right the fuck off by the world's greatest Satanic marching band.
I've also had my mind blown by more movies than I could possibly count (if there's one thing Fantastic Fest does better than anything else, it's that), and at Fantastic Fest 2015, the most mindblowing bit of filmmaking I encountered was a short film by the name of The Chickening.
I am honored to be able to share that short film with you now.
At Fantastic Fest, this short (directed by Toronto-based filmmakers Nick DenBoer and Davy Force) was paired with Anders Thomas Jensen's Men & Chicken, and...well, to say "it took everyone by surprise" would be a massive understatement. The crowd I saw this short with went bananas. We talked about it for months afterwards, hoping that it'd eventually make its way online, where it might be shared with the rest of the world. Today's a big day for some of us.
It's an especially big day for The Chickening's creative team. I was fortunate enough to speak with Nick DenBoer over the weekend, and he agreed to answer a few of my stupid questions about his incredible short:
First question: why?
Why chicken? I grew up on a chicken farm and then worked in my dad's poultry butcher shop until I was 17, de-boning and slingin' chicken carcasses. You can't shake that shit.
My co-director Davy Force and I have been talking about doing this mega, next-level film remix for years and we finally had some free time last March to bust it out. We're both animators/vfx artists/remixers and we have collaborated on a lot of similar projects, so this came together pretty naturally. The Chickening is a proof of concept we made to pitch around to studios, namely Warner Bros (hence The Shining) in a bid to create a series where every episode is a different remixed classic film. It's a lot of fun to do and we think it's got a lot of viral potential, but obviously there's a lot of red tape in acquiring and regurgitating Hollywood's sacred cows.
How long did it take you to put this together?
Davy flew up to my studio in Toronto and we shot the shit for about a week, writing and rough editing to force our new narrative on the original film. We then parted ways and cranked on it for about 2 1/2 months; Davy from his studio in LA and me in Toronto. We collaborated remotely and I assembled it as it came together. This was intended to be a 22-minute piece, but we did this for zero budget in our spare time, so we did as much as we could until it worked as a balls-out trailer. If we made our 22-minute version as intended, the narrative would make a lot more sense, but I think it's going to live as you see it and we are moving on to the next project.
Wait, is that Kenny Hotz of Kenny VS Spenny fame? Holy shit.
Yes, that's K-Ho. We've been pals for a long time. I worked on Kenny Vs. Spenny and we've done a lot of messed up video stuff together. He's always down for taking his pants off in front of the camera. Kenny's been a huge help in selling the idea and getting The Chickening into the film festival circuit. He's onboard to help write and produce more of this kind of stuff wherever The Chickening takes us.
Is there anything special you'd like to note about the short? Anything we might've missed the first time through, or any special behind-the-scenes goings-on that were particularly compelling?
There's lots you probably missed the first time through. Maybe the pictures of ISIS on the wall behind Jack in the office, or the box of chicken-flavored condoms, or the pile of Tommy Wiseau references. This thing is loaded with Easter eggs and designed to be watched a bunch of times, so you'll keep seeing new details. Kubrick was like that with all the details, too, and we think - although we sort of defaced his film - that we are still paying homage to a great piece of cinema. We wanted every still of this thing to have a WTF vibe.
Behind the scenes shooting was fun. I took a whole chicken and cut off its head and feet to use as a puppet in the final shot where Wendy is getting attacked. Pretty much everything was shot on green screen and comped. It was all done pretty DIY on no budget, so all the voice actors were pals, so it was a blast shooting the mouth replacements. And the shot of the girls dancing is actually me dancing: I mapped the dresses onto my body and then built the hallway in 3D and projection-mapped a still onto it so I could do some fancy virtual camera work. That's my favorite shot, I think. I made the music for that too.
We've seen stuff along these lines before - clips from famous films reborn with added effects, bits of one title edited into another - but DenBoer and Force are playing a different game here. DenBoer says the original intention was for The Chickening to be 22 minutes long, a claim backed up by the insane plot synopsis included in the press release I received:
Jack Torrance takes a new job as senior chief night manager for “Charbay’s Chicken World” —a state-of-the-art, volcano-fried, fast-food poultry production facility and resort strategically built on an active volcano. Jack travels to the remote facility with his wife, Wendy, and 42-year-old man-child son, Danny.
During orientation, Mansturd Nurlman (regional manager of Charbay’s) mentions a new experimental product that is currently under development: “The Shiny” — a brand new BBQ sauce created in the research laboratory deep within the radioactive volcano. Strange things start happening to Jack after he tries the sauce, and he slowly begins morphing into a chicken creature and becomes unstable and aggressive.
Scatmok (a hyperdimensional alien) conspires with Danny and his little friend Tony (a snarky Italian man who happens to be Danny’s index finger) to steal the recipe for “The Shiny” but their plan is compromised when they realize the horrific side effects of the experimental BBQ sauce. Danny and Scatmok decide they must destroy the BBQ sauce pipeline in order to stop the spread of this condition that has mutated Danny's father.
Meanwhile, Jack has learned some of the restaurant's darkest secrets from some of the other employees, including a potential cure for his condition. In the end, the restaurant is destroyed in a spectacular exploding BBQ sauce conflagration, with Wendy, Danny, Tony, Scatmok and a now-cured but frozen-solid Jack, who grumpily curses his former employers as they drive off in the Beak-Machine into the sunset.
Watch the short again with this plot synopsis in mind, and The Chickening actually starts to make a lunatic sort of sense. I would absolutely watch more of this.
It is my sincere hope that you all enjoyed The Chickening as much as we did at Fantastic Fest 2015. Here's hoping we see more from these guys in the future.
In the meantime: share this with every human being you have ever encountered. People need to know.