A couple of years ago, directer/writer Michael Kehoe reached out to us to review his short film “Hush,” and it turned out to be one of the best shorts of the year. Soon after, he let us know that the short was just the beginning, and a full length film was in development. After all the hard work, “The Hatred” is finally complete, and will be released soon for horror fans to enjoy. With the film set to screen at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, we got a chance to talk to Michael about his career, his films, and more…
-PH: Lets start off getting to know a little about you. Where did your career in Hollywood start?
-Michael: Well, that’s quite an adventure. It began in high school in a small town called Trumansburg, New York. I had been in a number of plays, I was in a rock band and played soccer, so I got along with students in all clicks. I decided to direct a play to raise money for the sports booster club at school. The play was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, I played McMurphy the lead character. I wasn’t aware of what a producer really did, but my naive approach educated me. Normally, a play in a small town would only run for 2 nights. I cast most of the football team to act in the roles of the patients. In that small town, everyone packed the football stands to watch the games. So, I figured if I cast the most of the players in this particular play, then the fans of the team would come. Normally, they wouldn’t show up for a thespian production as acting wasn’t exactly the “in” thing in a small town in upstate NY. But the old saying; “If you build it, they will come” turned out to be true. We sold out 2 weekends and the cast was great. The laughter rocked the theater. I knew then, that I was on the right road of the dream I’ve had since childhood.
The drama teacher approached me and said I should consider The Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Although my passion was for directing I thought this would be a way into Hollywood as an actor first and get to know the lay of the land. During my time at the Academy, I became friendly with two actors, Jimmy Hayden and Michael Kukal. I was bartending at night while going to school and one night in particular I had closed up the bar and put the chairs up. Jimmy and Michael had come to visit me. We sat for hours talking about where we came from and how we ended up in this place and where we were all headed. We made a pact that if one of us made it we’d pull the other two in. I kept that in the back of my mind. Finished my studies and moved to Hollywood.
Once in Hollywood, I was living on Bronson and Franklin in a small apartment with another AADA alum and I received a call from Jimmy Hayden, who told me that Michael Kukal had died. We were both completely saddened by this. Jimmy then told me that he had been in a movie titled “Once Upon a Time in America” with Robert DeNiro and James Woods. I was elated for him. He also said he was on Broadway with Al Pacino in “American Buffalo”. This was wonderful news. He said they were taking the play to San Fran and I immediately purchased tickets. Then, a few weeks before that show, I was informed that Jimmy had died. I was blown away by this news. How could this happen? Was I next? Depression hit and I found myself laying on the couch watching Frank Cappra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” during the holiday break. Something was burning inside of me and I knew I had to do something. So, I wrote. I wrote a short screenplay titled “Second Dance”. It was in the same vein as a Twilight Zone episode which I was a freak for. I then took my savings which was hardly anything and put together a team and made a short film. That short film went on to Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival. Which began the journey to where I am today.
-PH: You’ve been in front of and behind the camera? Which do prefer, and has that always been your preference?
-Michael: I would prefer to be behind the camera but once in a while I get the nerve up and decide to play a cameo role. I never write anything for myself. When I write I try to think of actors and their voice in the roles I create. I can’t think of my voice when writing as I don’t hear it in the same way that an actor’s voice comes across. Being behind the camera affords me more of a comfortable opportunity to tell the story I created. Acting, and directing alone, is difficult and I give credit to those that can do it all.
-PH: When did you become a fan of horror? Did you ever think you would be writing and directing a horror film?
-Michael: I’ve always been a fan of thrillers and some horror. I’m not a big fan of blood and slasher movies but I do enjoy the cinematography of some. I was inspired by the horror/thriller from a film titled “The Changeling” starring George C. Scott directed by Peter Medak who has had a very eclectic career. I loved the cinematography in that film by John Coquillon. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be directing a horror film. But I do love the edgy anticipation that genre can sometimes offer in a film. That’s what pulled me in.
-PH: It was a pleasure being one of the first to review your short film “Hush.” For those who might not know, what’s its connection to “The Hatred?”
-Michael: I have twin boys who are 15 years old, when they were 5 just before they went to bed they would ask me to look out the window, check in the closet, look under the bed. That stuck with me because I remember as a child having similar moments of anxiety, not often but enough to remember to this day. As a young boy I played soccer in Ireland, my mother took my brother, my sister and myself to Ireland to meet family. We stayed at a hotel that was a home for General Field Marshal Montgomery during World War 2. Legend has it that Montgomery and his mother had an intense quarrel just before he was headed off to the front. He headed off to war without resolving the dispute. During the evenings of our stay we would hear doors slamming and someone walking up the stairwell of the home. The next morning my mother questioned the caretaker about people checking in late at night around one o’clock in the morning. But the woman brushed it off stating that it’s nothing. However, it continued and finally when my mother questioned her a second time, the woman informed her that we were the only ones staying at the hotel and she proceeded to tell us the story of the Montgomery legend.
One particular evening I decided to go into the hall. My mother handed me a small candle holder and I went into the darkness of the hall, the only light was from the window high above the spiral stairwell with partial moonlight offering the only opportunity to see anything. I remember how it was extremely dark. Although, when I stepped into the hallway above the stairwell, the noise ended. Those images helped me later in life to create the imagery of what became our short film HUSH.
-PH: What was it about that scene that made you select it for “Hush?”
-Michael: After completing the full length script, I had been collaborating with my good friend and Director of Photography, John Connor. He read the script and we immediately began talking about imagery and style. I then connected with my long time friend Tommy Harper, who produced Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He and I took a scene that could stand alone with a beginning, a middle and an end. Tommy and I worked closely talking about the film and Tommy who has a great way of getting in your head guided me through the process of creating what we had on the page. I was somewhat of a pest as I would come up with ideas calling him at all hours to get his opinion. He really put his mark on the story.
I already had the experience of directing several short films and two features. None were horror, so I knew John and I had to create a style to engage the horror fan base. Mind you, the images printed in my brain from years before were the catalyst for the short film. What gravitated me to that particular scene was the simplicity of the content within the scene and the tension throughout. Anticipation of death is worse than death itself. That’s what sold this idea to me. I wasn’t interested in going into a film festival. I thought that I would make the short and start pushing that with the feature script to studios, production companies and producers.
-PH: “Hush” won many film festival awards. How much confidence did that give you going into the production of “The Hatred?”
-Michael: As I mentioned, the plan was not to go to film festivals. But my DP, John Connor convinced me to give it a shot and get it out there. If it wasn’t for John’s meeting with me about this we would never have put the short film out into the festival world. We started out at smaller festivals and the momentum began. We ended up winning 34 awards and the most rewarding to the cast, crew and myself was winning the WES CRAVEN MERIT AWARD at the Catalina Film Festival. We were told that Wes Craven picked our film prior to his death. I can’t begin to tell you how elated I was. For a filmmaker that never made a horror film it was quite a wake up call for me. But as I have mentioned many times, I did not do this alone. My editor Michael Trent, my DP John Connor and myself were like Siamese triplets. We all had the same vision and together we created a piece of cinema that we are all proud of.
-PH: Without giving too much away, what’s “The Hatred” about?
-Michael: Now you’re pushing it! I will give you a hint. The story is about a young woman REGAN, who has landed a job after graduating from college with one of her professors. She had been working for him during her studies and she got to know him and his wife and young daughter. Regan travels back to the outskirts of country near her old college town for her new career. Three of her friends help her settle in. The professor had purchased the house as it had been on the market for many years going in and out of foreclosure. The professor and his wife have a seminar to attend and they ask Regan to watch over their 9 year old daughter. Little do they know that there is a malevolent history to the house and all hell breaks loose!
-PH: Lots of horror fans are looking for something different in horror movies these days. Is there something different about your film?
-Michael: We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We just want to entertain and tell a story. I think this is one of those stories that you can sit and watch in the dark and when it’s over you might want to look around the house and lock the doors and windows. And you should also do some research on the house or apartment you live in! I think the best thing is not to see this movie alone.
-PH: The film features some horror veterans like Andrew Divoff (Wes Craven’s Wishmaster), David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London), and Amanda Wyss (A Nightmare on Elm Street), along with some newer faces. How did this cast come together?
-Michael: Amanda Wyss is a very talented actress with a deep passion for her craft. She and I are friends and meet for coffee when she’s in town and we constantly talk. When we discussed this film I had told her that there wasn’t a very big role in this and I wasn’t sure she’d be interested. But we always wanted to work together and she said “I’m there for you”. What more could a director ask for? She was a champ for what she had to do. The same goes for David Naughton. He was all in when he heard Amanda was game as they had worked together as husband and wife in a prior film. The two of them consummate professionals. As for Andrew Divoff, Malek Akkad and Andrew are very good friends and Malek suggested that Andrew play the role of “Samuel”. Malek discussed Andrew’s dedication and his ability to create a character. Malek already had his finger on the pulse of what Samuel was all about and he was spot on with the casting of Andrew Divoff. Andrew came to set in character and remained in tune. He was so into his character that he would drift into thought and at one point he became angry with himself about a certain line. He and I took to the side and went over it. I could see that the wheels were turning in his head and the inner workings of the actor were flowing. He used that in his performance and I must say, I was floored by his approach to the role and his delivery of every word. I must give credit to Malek for putting that forward.
-PH: How did you go about getting the support from the likes of Lionsgate, and the producer of Halloween, Malek Akkad?
-Michael: I had known Malek from working in production on the Halloween film Rob Zombie directed. We did not know each other on the level that we know now, but Malek was very friendly. I never approached him by saying “Hey, I have a script!”. That was in 2007, I had only been making notes on developing something and had not even considered talking to anyone at that point. Years later after we shot the short film a mutual friend of ours reconnected the two of us and the journey began. Anchor Bay got involved shortly after and Lionsgate owns Anchor Bay. Once we went into production, Malek and I worked feverishly on each scene. We would meet at Starbucks near the set three hours before our call and create notes, reflect on the process of where we were headed and how each scene would connect. Malek dove into this head first and never stopped. We would shoot for 15 hours ant then meet again for an hour, putting in a 19 hour day each day of shooting. I would say: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” My collaboration with Malek was very helpful in the making of the film.
-PH: Was it easier for you being both the director and writer, or would you have preferred to only handle one of those jobs?
-Michael: It’s better for me at least, to write and direct as I had already seen the entire movie in my head. As we went through production Malek and I developed the script on a daily routine as mentioned. As a writer, I call that process “theater of the mind” the entire movie plays in my head as I listen to music that relates to the genre. Obviously through the development and writing there are many changes. You might start out with a mouse and it could end up with an elephant! Once the story is set on the page and I can then take that as my note book, I then go to work to convey the story through images I have created and compose the framing with my DP. Then it’s the editor’s job to put it together.
-PH: It looks like your film will be playing to a full house at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival. How eager are you to see the fans’ reactions to your film?
-Michael: I’m very eager!! In fact, I’m so stunned that our trailer on THE HATRED Facebook page has 18.5 Million views and growing! Never did I think that would happen. I was hoping we’d get at least 100K.
-PH: This has been a long journey for you. It’s not over yet, but have you made plans for another movie yet?
-Michael: Yes, Tommy Harper and I have set a deal for a script I wrote titled “KEFLAVIK” with the Kristinn Thordarson, producer of a company named Truenorth in Iceland. It’s a Sci Fi Thriller set in an abandoned air force base. It’s quite a nail biter! Keep your eyes out for that one and follow up on social network as I will be getting the word out.
-PH: Here’s your chance to promote anything we haven’t talked. Let us know about any of your other films, upcoming projects, or anything else you would like to mention.
-Michael: I think I would like to work with Malek Akkad again, I know he’s going to be very busy with the next “HALLOWEEN” which is going to be a fantastic rebirth of the original Malek has dedicated himself in making sure this one hits the mark that his father and John Carpenter set the path for the original. I have faith in him that this one should be something to see!! He’s also producing and directing a documentary that everyone should see. But you’ll have to follow up to find out!
Thank you for your support in our film and the love of the horror genre.
People can follow me for updates:
THE HATRED Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thehatredmovie/
We would like to thank Michael for taking the time to answer our questions. Hopefully this interview gave you a good look at his career, his films, and all the hard work that went into them. Please support him, and his films at the social media links above. For those who can’t make it to see “The Hatred” at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, the Blu-Ray will be released September 12th on Amazon.