Chris W. Freeman and Spain Willingham took time to talk to me for Horrornews.net. Chris and Spain discuss BEAST MODE. It’s a blast of a film. They talk about everything from how they met, making practical effects work, and they have a sequel planned. Check out the interview and check out BEAST MODE.
Beast Mode was so good. There is so much going on in the world. It’s crazy, this movie was so much fun. The message I got from it though was sort of like, Beast Mode is almost a true story.
(Laughter) (Spain’s laugh is the best! It made my day to LAUGH)
HNN-How did this idea manifest?
Spain- I hear you. I can’t speak for Chris but he’s told me so many stories because we’ve known each other for a little bit. He was in the studio system which he’ll talk more about but It was based on some real-life experiences.
Chris- Some of them for sure but obviously leaving out the people turning into monsters and eating people. But as a metaphor, it was rampant. (Laughing) Some of the jokes were only funny because they were so absurd. I would say the insider jokes about the industry only worked because they were steeped in reality. More so in the past before Weinstein and that house of cards fell down when I first started, which was a long time ago. People were so horrible to assistants and to people who weren’t in their minds the elite. It was such a strange recipe. I always wondered how anything great was ever made because people were so mean and cruel.
Spain- I think people didn’t come out there like that and that’s what Beast Mode is about. They didn’t just get there being a bully, I think they saw it was okay.
Chris- Not getting ahead, but we thought about what are the worst people on the planet and we thought oh, the Hollywood elite. Then we said, no what are the worst people, the people in Washington, the politics. They’re the real evil people in the world. That’s why when we talked about the sequel and we’re like, hey if the cream gets loose in D.C., it’s really going to bring out some serious monsters in people. That’s kind of our backdrop plan for the sequel.
HNN-So, are you guys legitimately thinking about a sequel?
Spain- We’ve been thinking about the D.C. sequel for some time.
Chris- We came up with it before the release. I would say because of the lockdown, we saw one thing after another unfold that we could throw into the stew.
HNN-What can you guys tell us about the special effects and make-up?
Spain- It’s been fun to emulate those days when Chris and I were growing up in the eighties watching these practical effects bonanzas.
Chris- We were really committed to that. We said, we’re going to do the best to bring out some of these eighties devices that we haven’t seen, dust them off, and we are going to do gore so that every place we go, it’s really messy. We need lots of blood, a limb being ripped, and insides being ripped out. I guess it turned into American Werewolf in London. Without the resources that they had if they would have made that movie in our time. We were committed to that and I’m glad we were because horror fans like you and like us seem to appreciate that. I was surprised, I’ve been surprised at how many people just appreciate that we tried to do as much practical as we could.
HNN- Did you two grow up together? How did you guys meet?
Chris- No, we met in Hollywood. It was about 2012.
Spain- I’d been in San Francisco. I made many micro movies there just to see if I wanted to do it after film school in Chicago and moving to California and working in the gaming industry. I wanted to say, hey do I still want to do film? So, I made these small movies, feature length but, very small with my friends. I did a few film festivals and decided, I need to try this on a bigger scale. I went to Hollywood and some of my mutual friends from Chicago, who had been in Hollywood for a while and they knew Chris Freeman and some of the other gang. We started talking about Beast Mode.
Chris- When I went over to Spain’s place for the first time. We both lived in Hollywood. I go over to his place and I’m looking at the walls and he’s only got eighties horror alternative posters. I was looking at it and I was like; I like this guys taste. We started at that baseline and we love all of the same movies from the eighties. I would say, Aliens (1986) is one of my favorite sci-fi/horror films. The horror stuff I love is lower-budget and the thing we tried to do was those single-camera shoots in the eighties where they were shooting on film. They didn’t have a fleet of editors. They couldn’t just slap on after effects. They had to make it look right on camera. That was one of the reasons we used the single camera shoot. All of that together, Spain and I just really seemed to like the same kind of stuff. I think it helped form the style for the film.
HNN-That’s just crazy. I thought you two grew up together. I have to say to see C. Thomas Howell play this fun, funny character was awesome. The dog was amazing too. The entire cast is just great! How did you decide who was going to play these characters?
Spain- Luckily for us, Chris had worked with C. Thomas Howell a few times. He was our first pick. We wrote some stuff for him and then when he agreed, it was a sigh of relief. It was cool that C.T. and James Duval, everybody. While we’re talking about C.T., he just does so much serious stuff, whether it’s a cop…
Chris- serial killer.
Spain- That’s right! So, he was hilarious and he hasn’t done anything zany in a long time. I can’t wait for him to see the movie.
HNN-He did a great job. Leslie Easterbrook, James Hong, and James Duval playing both characters.
Chris- Jimmy was unbelievable to play both of those and bounce in and out of them in the same day. He wanted to wear the Beast make-up; he was committed. He was like, listen if there’s going to be a monster and I turn into it. I don’t care if its two or three hours in the make-up chair. I want to be the monster. We used some stunt doubles for some of the other monsters. It was cool. Back to Leslie, we’re such huge fans of Leslie Easterbrook. I was fortunate enough to work with her in 2010. I cast her in this really small indie horror that I did. She was so lovely. I hate to say it because it’s kind of corny but when a star shows onset and they actually treat everybody well. She was gracious and we wrote that role for her. We almost had Tony Todd too. We couldn’t get the schedule right. He would have been an amazing addition. We were fortunate to have James Hong and Ray Wise.
Spain- We’ll get Tony next time. Everybody was great. Everybody was so fun. They showed up on time with lines ready. It was a blast.
HNN-Tony Todd is so talented.
Chris- Tony is amazing. We really want him for the sequel. It was probably the worst for me in my film career.
Spain, I have to ask about Hampton and what was it like preparing to play Hampton. He is one of my favorite characters. You are acting, directing, and writing. I’m sure you both wore a lot of hats. Was it crazy?
Spain- We did, absolutely we did. I’m not in the movie that much but sometimes you can just see the weird kind of edge of stress. It was so much fun to be involved. This is coincidental, I think but in my first two films, I die. I die in this. I’m like, wow what is my obsession with dying.
Chris- I killed you in this one. I got a lot of sick pleasure from killing you.
Spain- We loved Hampton and we definitely feel like there’s a lot of people like that. They are just gung-ho people that come to Hollywood, show up onset.
Chris- It’s fun to have a Hampton on the set. We believed in the Hollywood machine. I worked really hard, I started as PA in an office. Actually, I started reading scripts in a closet for Wolgang Peterson. No joke! My internship was unpaid and I was spending two days a week reading scripts. It was bizarre and the only time they would open the door would be to ask if someone had made coffee. It was so crazy. Everybody was really great. They treated me well there. We believed in the Hollywood fairytale and I think Hampton embodies that whole thing. He wanted a producer credit and that will change everything. Spain had the enthusiasm. He added the all-white wig.
Spain- That was sort of a weird accident. That was not really supposed to be white but when it came in, they’re like, we’ve got the wig. We’ll make it whatever color you want us to make it. I was like, you know what, why don’t we just go with this. [to leave the wig white.]
Chris- Spain was with hair and makeup and they sent pictures to me of him in the wig. He already decided and he was like, what do you think? I said, it has to be white. I saw it and I started laughing immediately. I’m like, people aren’t going to understand it. Everyone else is real put together and this guy got this insane wig. The funniest thing is, I knew it was going to work when my niece, who in her twenties. She watched an earlier cut of the movie and Hampton’s her favorite character. (LAUGHING) At first everyone was like, is this guy for real. It was a strange decision, just like casting our dog. We wrote the dog into the script. Spain, you should talk about the dog.
Spain- We just saw this dog that was kind of a celebrity all over L.A. Apparently very easy to message on Instagram. I said, how would you like to be C. Thomas’ buddy and the owner was thrilled. This dog really listened to the owner. Whippets are almost like cats. It’s hard to make a Whippet do something. The owner would ask the dog to do it and the dog did it.
Chris- I worked with dogs on a couple of films. I knew it was doable. Spain was a little concerned but I found that the dogs are better than people if they’re trained.
Chris-At the end of the day and I always tell Spain this. My favorite line in the whole film is when C. Thomas Howell is lying in bed with the dog and he says, “I just want to make a movie that people like. Is that too much to ask.” It’s kind of a real moment where we actually like him. This guy just wants to do good. He’s not trying to get rich; he just wants to do this.
HNN- I think you guys did an amazing job. I did love Hampton though because within all the craziness. Hampton is still on the producer credit. He never gives up.
Spain- It’s like, hey if I come and do this, you can get me an associate credit on IMDB. People are obsessed. It’s kind of a funny underlined thing.
HNN-What do the two of you want to say to the people who will be watching Beast Mode?
Chris- I would say, one thing that I hope people get from the film is that if they are going to watch it or they already watched it. It is kind of a tale of morality to a degree. The hero has a crisis of conscience in the film. That is, am I good person or am I a bad person? It’s never too late to make the right decision and go back to the side of good. I think it’s relevant in the world now. I also think that if they haven’t watched it, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Spain- It was a major eye-opening experience for me. It was my first time to set out to make a movie that we would distribute worldwide. It was a big deal for me. Chris nailed everything about the movie, but as far as the movie-making process. If there are any young filmmakers, old filmmakers, twentieth-time filmmakers. Never give up on your dreams. That’s what Beast Mode eventually became. It was a tough shoot but eventually we had a great editor, and we had a great time on the road in 2019 doing film festivals. It was a fascinating experience and such a cool crew. It was a fun experience all-around. It makes you respect the industry even more when you actually do it. Onward to the next project.
HNN- What are the two of you working on next?
Spain- We were close to getting one this year. I’m trying to get together and anthology horror movie right now. Chris will be involved in that.
Chris- That’s Spain’s brain child and he has a lot of ideas. Hank Amos is one of the most amazing stunt coordinators in the world. He does all the Marvel stuff and Disney+ television stuff so he’s going to direct a horror thriller with me, that’s going to be based in Georgia and Spain’s going to do that with us. We were excited about that. That was the one we were getting ready to shoot but then the pandemic happened. So, it was pushed to the fall. I’ve been writing a lot.
HNN- That sounds very exciting and I thank you both so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Spain- This was super fun. Thank you.
Chris- Thank you. We appreciate it. You’re our people Janel so. I would say this, we like the same movie.
(Laughing, all of us LAUGHING. It was a blast!)
HNN-Thank you, Chris, thank you, Spain, and this was a blast. I’m so happy I got to talk to you guys. Beast Mode was a blast.
Make sure to check out BEAST MODE
@BeastModeMovie on Twitter