[Interview] Writer/Director Dana Melanie on the Humor and Horror of ‘Boo’

The new horror comedy Boo takes place on Halloween night in 1984, when a killer in a bed sheet ghost costume targets a group of teens, and while it pays homage to some of our favorite classics, it also marks the arrival of an exciting new voice to the genre in the film’s writer, producer, director, and star Dana Melanie, who’s ready to scare you and excited to get bloody.

Boo is Melanie’s first feature-length project as both writer and director, but she is no stranger to acting, having starred as a kidnapping survivor in the 2014 thriller Treehouse, a murderous outcast in the 2016 short film Lissy Borton Had an Axe, and most recently as legendary author Emily Dickinson in this year’s Wild Nights with Emily, which had its world premiere at the prestigious South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

In each role, she is unafraid to completely commit to transforming her physicality to fit each part, convincingly embracing a southern drawl for the tough heroine of Treehouse and a tragic lisp and braces as the title character in Lissy Borton. In the short comedy Waiting to Die in Bayside, Queens, she fully embodies a native New York teenager in 1976 talking to her diary about all the ways she is likely about to die.

Having written and directed a few smaller projects before, Boo will be Melanie’s feature film directorial debut, and when we talked a few weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to find out how she landed on Halloween in 1984.

In our pleasantly candid conversation, we discussed recreating the innocence of the ’80s, finding the right balance between Mean Girls and Halloween, and the timely importance of a woman calling the shots in the #MeToo era.

Read on for our exclusive interview with filmmaker Dana Melanie, on creating a killer in the gray area between comedy and horror.

Dana Melanie
Dana Melanie

What are some of your Halloween memories from when you were growing up? Did you celebrate Halloween a lot as a kid?

Yeah, I remember in my elementary school, we had a Halloween Day parade. We’d all dress up in our costumes and just parade around our track, which was not a big track. It was elementary school sized, but in my mind it was gigantic.

I remember my mom used to make my Halloween costumes. I was a gypsy one year, and it was freezing and raining. I was probably 7, and it was a midriff, so I was like, ‘But I want to show it, because you made it’. I had to wear a jacket because I was freezing and the rain was ice cold, but I was determined. My mom had spent all the time making it. She had the pattern and everything.

The homemade costumes are the best.

Very true.

How did you get into acting? Did you grow up in Los Angeles?

Yes, I’m from Los Angeles, born and raised. My whole family is from New York, so I spend a lot of time back and forth.

I have been acting and writing for several years now, basically my whole life. My mom is also a writer and she used to act a little when she was younger, so I don’t know, I just fell into it. It was always what I wanted to do and what I’m meant to do.

I’ve been writing a lot recently, and Boo is the script that I decided to take the leap with first, because I think audiences will respond to it. I have another film that I wrote, but it’s a little more dramatic and heavier. With Boo, I thought it would be a good starting point.

This is a first step for you as far as writing and directing a feature, but you’re certainly not new to acting. I love your work in Treehouse and Lissy Borton Had an Axe. Can you talk a little bit about those projects? Treehouse seemed like a pretty demanding role.

Treehouse was amazing. That was basically my first real project as an actress, my first big role. We shot it in rural Missouri for about a month. It was a fantastic experience. I met some of my best friends on that film. Actually our first A.D. on Treehouse is the director who directed me in Lissy. I learned so much. I got a taste of the horror/thriller side of the industry. It was a very good jumping off point for me. I’m so happy that I got the opportunity.

And then Lissy, I’m just obsessed with. It kind of takes the horror and has a little bit of comedy in it also. I love those films.

Dana Melanie directing a short teaser for 'WS16', which she also wrote.
Dana Melanie directing a short teaser for ‘WS16’, which she also wrote.

Let’s talk about Boo. Where did this idea come from, and why did you decide to set the film in 1984?

I just love the ‘80s. I love films that are set in the ‘80s. That’s sort of how I came about wanting to write Boo. I just think that there’s this realness to them and a simplicity, but it’s also so entertaining, which I think is what movies are about.

I wanted explore what it would be like to have a scream queen that you kind of wanted to die, because she’s so mean. I started toying with that concept, and I was coming up with one liners and ideas. I thought, ‘Well, if you throw it back to back in the day on Halloween, costumes were kind of quirky and funny, and they weren’t necessarily like what we have today.’ So you had little kids in sheets with black eyes running around, and it was so simplistic and endearing and cute, but it could also still be terrifying if you saw that in the middle of the road in the middle of the night staring at you. It’s unsettling.

Then adding in the ‘80s itself, I mean, I thought it was a no-brainer because there’s so much to work with. The ‘80s just was an explosion of film and art and politics, so I just love it. Plus jazzercise, I mean, you can’t go wrong with jazzercise. (laughs)

 So it was honestly because I love watching films that are from or are set back in the ‘80s. And you’re seeing it more and more in TV right now too.

Between things like Stranger Things and Glow on Netflix, the ‘80s are definitely all over the pop culture landscape right now.

I think it’s because there are so many different layers to it. So much happened in that time, and there are so many avenues to explore with it.

That’s what I thought was such a great thing about the ‘80s, was just how pure and just entertaining the films were, so that’s what we hope to bring back with this.

Obviously Halloween was different in 1984 than it is now, so I imagine you’ll be playing with that quite a bit in the film. I’ve seen where you’ve described Boo as sort of Mean Girls meets Halloween with a dash of Scream and Clueless thrown in, which sounds great. How will you be using those influences?

  Again, I love stylized films, with wardrobe especially, which is how the ‘80s is really going to play a big part. That’s where like the Mean Girls and the Clueless comes in. And then you have Halloween, which is the actual gut of it.

We have our three main girls, Blair, Betty, and Becca, the three B’s. They’re the ones that you love to hate, who are the popular girls, naturally. So playing with all of that is really what we’re planning on doing, and just going with the whole concept of how back in the ‘80s you had all those Pretty in Pink, where it’s a popular girl and a not popular girl and how they’re clashing with each other. So we play a lot with that, and just getting back to those old movies and how the vibe was in high school.

It’s really about these high school kids and how they’re dealing with this psychopath who decided to show up and start killing people.

Would you say the tone is going to be more comedic or more horror, or will it walk the line?

 It’s going to walk the line. The comedy of it may read a little slapstick, but it’s not going to be that, because it will be performed very real. It’s like real life, you know, you have these tragedy moments, but then there could be something funny that happens, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m not supposed to laugh, but I’m going to laugh because it was funny.’

Nothing is black and white. Real life is all about the gray area, so we’re going to be toying around a lot with the gray area.

Scream is one of my favorites, and it’s very funny throughout the movie, but when the horror comes, it’s serious horror. Would you say that when the horror does come into play in Boo that it will be similar to that?

 Yeah, it definitely will. I think Scream makes fun of the whole concept of horror films a little bit more than we are going to, but when it gets down to the horror, I mean, it’s definitely going to be a murderer after these kids, and that’s scary.

'Boo'
‘Boo’ promo image

How did you decide on the look of your killer, using just a simple ghost sheet?

You know, I think it goes back to what I said before, being back in the day and having these simple costumes. I was thinking, ‘How could I make a monster that people wouldn’t necessarily find scary, but then make it scary?’ I think a sheet that you have on your bed, everybody’s got one, is a great way to play with that, and be like, ‘Well, you don’t think ghosts are scary, but wait until you see our film. You might change your mind.’

And it’s such an iconic old school, classic costume idea too.

Exactly, (we can) kind of bring it back.

You mentioned that a lot of what’s going to bring the ‘80s feel is in the costumes. Are you doing things like trying to find vintage Halloween décor of the time to incorporate?

It’s great because the location where we’re shooting is a school that’s actually been abandoned for a few years. We just location scouted for it the other day, and it looks like it was locked in that time. So the location itself is going to be so incredible and really add to the aesthetic of it.

And the language, some of the lines that we have are going to cater to the slang that was used back then. And yeah, of course the decorations also, and the ghost himself in the sheet.

It all sounds great. You’re running a crowd funding campaign now, but the film is definitely going into production, regardless if the Indiegogo goal is met or not, is that right?

Yes. We’re talking to investors right now, so that’s where the majority (of our budget) is coming from. But we wanted to start our Indiegogo because we wanted to start hype and we wanted to engage with our audience as soon as possible, and allow them to give us feedback of what they’re responding to, and allow them to be involved. It’s a great way to engage with an audience, and it’s not just giving us money, you’re buying a perk that’s going to give you a download of the film the day it premieres.

So we thought it was just a great opportunity for everybody to learn and engage, and to see what’s working and maybe what’s not working.

The more money we raise, the more blood we can have, the bigger name actors we can have, the more extensive our stunts can be. Every bit helps, especially when it’s on an indie film like ours.

What are some of your other influences as far as filmmakers?

I’ve been heavily inspired lately by the directors that I’ve recently worked with. I’ve done a lot of independent films, and each one is a completely new experience.

You know, indie films, they’re hard. You’re working against the elements to make this art, and hope that people respond to it and see it, so all of these directors and writers that I’ve worked with really inspired me to push forward and create my own stuff, and especially now. As a woman writer, my voice I think is important in its own unique way, so I want to be heard.

I’ve just been learning by watching. I love being on set. I don’t hide away in my room or trailer, I like to be there (on set) asking questions and learning, and figuring out as much as I can. Honestly that’s where I’ve been really heavily inspired, by all the directors that I’ve been working with recently and in the past.

Dana Melanie at the premiere of 'Waiting to Die in Bayside, Queens' in 2017.
Dana Melanie at the premiere of ‘Waiting to Die in Bayside, Queens’ in 2017.

Can you talk a little bit about the significance of the fact that you are a female writer, director, producer, and star of your own feature film in the current #MeToo era?

I just got back from South by Southwest, because my film Wild Nights with Emily premiered there. Our director, Madeleine Olnek, wrote and directed it, and she did an outstanding job. It’s a really artistic piece of work. I was inspired by her. And there was another film there that had a male who wrote, directed, and starred in his film, and I thought, ‘I can do that. Why don’t I just do that?’

It’s terrifying. I’ve never done this before. I’ve written before and I’ve directed a little short before for a script I did. I think I’m starting to gain enough experience. And because I’m so terrified, I think that means that I absolutely have to do this. I think what scares you is something that is – you need to take that leap. Otherwise, what’s worth it in the end? It’s the things that scare you which have the biggest rewards.

And then being a woman. Blair, the main character, I didn’t want her to be just your typical scream queen. In my opinion, she’s deeper than that. She’s got layers. She’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s an alpha woman girl who’s figuring all this out on her own. I think as a woman writing a female lead in a horror character, I think it’s important, and I’m excited to see how audiences respond to her and to the whole film itself.

So when do you begin shooting Boo?

Filming is going to take place this October.

So you’ll be filming right during Halloween season and getting those real October vibes, which is awesome.

Exactly.

And you’re filming in Minnesota, right?

Yes, Kiester, Minnesota.

How did you pick that location?

Actually, our producer, Mike, is from Kiester, Minnesota. It’s this extremely small town. Hardly anybody’s heard of it. Their claim to fame is a Preparation H commercial was filmed there I think last year. So we’re bringing Hollywood to Kiester. (laughs)

We originally assumed it was going to be filmed here in Los Angeles, because that’s where we’re all based, and our producer, Mike, was just telling us stories one day about his childhood in this small town. And I went on Google Earth and was just going through the streets and everything, and I thought, ‘Hey, this would be a great location for Boo to be filmed.’ The script wasn’t even finished yet. It was just kind of sitting there, because I was working on other things.

When I saw the town, it sort of just put everything into full gear, and I finished it and decided we’re going to do this now.

We’re shooting for 12 days in October. Then we’ll go into post production. And hopefully we can make a deal and get this out for October 2019.

I can’t wait to show it to everybody. I’m so excited.

Dana Melanie
‘Boo’ writer/director/producer/actor Dana Melanie

What else can you tell us about Boo?

 Let’s see. I’m trying to think of how many people die. There’s a lot, actually. (laughs) I want to say that there’s going to be seven deaths.

Are you excited about shooting those scenes?

I’m so excited. I can’t wait to start killing people and get that blood gushing everywhere. Yeah, it will be really fun. And we’re playing with it. We’re going to get a little Hitchcock with it, where you don’t necessarily see things, but you will.

I assure you, there will be blood and guts. (laughs)

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Boo is currently raising a portion of its budget through an Indiegogo campaign running until July 11, which you can contribute to in exchange for some sweet perks here.

Keep watching Halloween Daily News, as we are excited to cover the development of this fun new Halloween film.

For more Halloween news, follow @HalloweenDaily.

[Interview] Writer/Director Dana Melanie on the Humor and Horror of ‘Boo’