Q: Did the idea of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID IN ENGLISH CLASS stem from your experience as a teacher? How did the idea come about?
Les: NO!! Man, I'd be in pretty bad shape if I was like the teacher in my film! It's just the opposite. The idea came from my experience WITH a teacher. In 9th grade, myself and a couple of guys gave our algebra teacher a real hard time. Not nearly as bad as the guys in my film, but I'm sure she wanted us to be very dead a few times.
My friends and I would joke around and come up with really "out there" stories about her "secret life" and how she would come back one day and kill us. We even made a few Super 8 mm films depicting her revenge upon us. (Interestingly enough, in the films I played Les, the main victim).
Even back then, in the back of my mind I thought one day, the story about her revenge would make a cool feature. Well, several years later, I had these various short story ideas that were laying around … like a used car salesman who suddenly told the truth, a guy who, whenever he spelled out a word, what he spelled became real, and a guy who whenever he would use a cliché or idiom, it would actually happen … and then, BAM. I combined the stories with the old teacher revenge concept from 9th grade and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID IN ENGLISH CLASS was born.
I didn't want to do a typical slasher film. I wanted the revenge stories to be really out there … in a comical Freddy Kruger way. My film is like Freddy Kruger meets Airplane. Kruger-esque, but more as a comedy as opposed to horror.
Q: You shot the movie during the time you moved from California to Ohio-how much of the movie was shot in CA and how much in OH?
Les: 90% of English Class was shot in LA in the last half-year I lived there. The only part shot in Ohio was the used car lot scene, both on the lot and in the office. (I had connections at a used car lot in Cleveland, which is my home town) Interestingly enough, I shot the Ohio stuff on a visit to Ohio, at a time when I had no idea I was to move back there. I shot the scene in August 2000, and a few months later, we were in the process of selling our California house!
The opening credits (the hallway and classroom footage) was also shot in Ohio at a college where I teach. It's the last thing I shot after the movie was completed, and I was already living here in Ohio. Oh, and if you really want to get technical … the shot with the brain the gutter. That, too, was shot in Ohio. That's my gutter on my house.
Everything else … LA.
It was nice shooting part of a film in my home town. My next feature will be shot here in Ohio. I've never shot an entire movie here and it will be a new experience definitely!
Q: There are many familiar faces from your other productions. Talk a bit about your actors.
Les: I have always professed to working with people I know. Even on my radio show, one of my "Movie-Making Tips" is WORK WITH ACTORS YOU KNOW!!! Not only do I try to cast people I've worked with, I sometimes write my scripts with them in mind. This applies to people I LIKE working with of course! Finding good people who are talented and RELIABLE is the way to go.
Michael Lundy, who played Wes (I guess that guy is supposed to be me??) is hilarious. You will recognize him from Not-So-Grim Reaper, which is featured in Grey Skies; The Alien Conspiracy. He is so funny and a breeze to work with. He'll give you whatever you need, the first time, and makes the shooting smooth.
Kathryn Glass (who played Katherine) is someone I have worked with on other people's films, but this is the first time I have worked with her with me being director. She is awesome … she has that girl next door sexiness about her. She didn't audition. Even while I was writing, I had her in mind. (Note her character's name!)
Russ Towne is amazingly funny. You'll recognize him as the Heart Attack Guy from The Not-So-Grim Reaper. I never worked with him before this project, but we were both teachers at the same comedy traffic school. He didn't audition for me either. Just knowing him, I knew he would nail this part so I just asked him to do it.
John Griggs, who played the cop, is the funniest of all. The guy can read a street sign and make you crack up. I have dubbed him "The guy who may actually be funnier than me!" Ask him to do Paul Lynde impression. You will laugh to the point of never being the same again. No audition for him either. He was The Cop before I finished writing the script! A DP I work with looks extra forward to the shoot if he knows John will be there that day!
Courtney Curry did a great job with the Dr. Hawthorne character. Dr. Hawthorne, being the sex addict that she is, is my I-Wish-Women-Were-Really-Like-This-In-Real-Life character.
Courtney is a pro. I had an audition set up with her on a Wednesday at 4: 00pm. She said was coming in from Las Vegas that day and she said she could stop in at my place for the audition on her way home to LA. From Vegas!! I thought, yeah right. HOW late was she going to be? Would you believe at 4: 00 PM ... on the dot ... she showed up at my door! A lesson ... professionalism and punctuality really are possible. Non-punctual people who are flakes ... really are flakes!
Jimmy Jerman, who plays Jerry, is a guy I grew up with. I don't believe I have done ANY film without casting him. He's like Arnold Schwartzegger meets Mike Myers. A muscle guy who can play funny ... and dramatic … is a rare find, but Jimmy is it.
Ali Elk, who plays Stella, is an amazing comic actress. She played the geeky Heidi in Vampire Time Travelers, and I couldn't wait to work with her again. I saw her in a one-woman show where she played several characters … all different. Not only is she funny, but when you need a dramatic scene, she'll deliver there, too.
And then, there is Charlene Simpson, who played Mrs. DeMon. This is my first time working with Charlene. My original image of the Mrs. DeMon character was quite different. I originally imagined her as a loud, big, fat, in- your-face character.
Then, along came Charlene, who is neither fat nor loud nor in your face. But when she read for the film's creepy parts, I was really impressed by what she did. She had this sad, victim-but-at the-same-time sinister way about her. You felt sorry for her and WANTED her to get the creeps who ruined her life.
Did you see her in that hospital bed? Pathetic! She really LOOKED haggard and insane! I'm not sure if the loud, in your face character would have made those hospital and eerie classroom scenes work the way they did. But Charlene, just the way she was, made them work quite effectively.
If I ever wanted to make a movie with the loud, in your face Mrs. DeMon, she'll just be this Mrs. DeMon's sister. But thanks to Charlene, we have a very different and unique psycho killer.
I must also mention my 6-year-old daughter, Angelia, who interestingly enough played the part of the 6-year old girl. Yes, I cast her because she is my daughter. But yes, I will cast her again sometime because she is a good actress. Quite a proud dad I am! She played funny, cute and serious all well! She was also in The-Not-So-Grim Reaper and her, "Hi Daddy, where were you?" line has brought tears to many audience members. As it was supposed to! She is fantastic to work with. As a result, when it comes to being my daughter, I will keep her.
Q: You also portrayed one of the high school characters-how difficult was it producing, directing AND acting?
Les: Not very difficult because of the cinematographers I was working with. Dennis Devine, Jason Stephens and Gary Rainer are guys who I have worked with on MANY projects and I totally trust them. That's the key. Getting guys who will shoot it the way YOU would. I told them what kind of shot I needed, and I knew that I would get it. I like to be behind the camera because I know what I want, but with these guys, I totally trust them.
Russ Lindway, the cinematographer for the Ohio scenes is a guy I have worked with almost 20 years. The two of us at one time wrote and produced a Mad TV-type comedy show called, Yes, This Is Comedy. (We both won an Emmy Award for that show.) He is an old friend and we are totally on the same comic wavelength. If we were watching the same movie in 2 different rooms, we'd be thinking the same things at the same time!
Here's something else I did to make my character … at least hopefully … work. With the exception of the classroom scene, I shot all my scenes last. To me, shooting is the most stressful part of the filmmaking process because of all that could go wrong. By having the rest of the film already shot, a great relief was felt by me so that I could concentrate on my acting. It's nice not having to worry about my character AND shooting the rest of the film as well. By the time it was my turn to act, I had already shot the rest of the film! Yes!!! Let's have some fun with that character!!!
The most stressful episode of wearing both the acting and the directing hats came on the day we shot the classroom stuff. We were shooting at a real school, on a school day, but I was told that we would be in area where the classrooms weren't really being used so we could be as loud as we want while shooting. So, I planned my shooting day based on that concept.
Well, lo and behold, we shot one take, and a teacher from a nearby classroom came in and said that we could be heard in his class NEXT DOOR and it was interfering. It wasn't so much our loud volume that was distracting; it was the foul language in the dialogue. Naturally, the scene we were doing had the foulest language in the movie.
Well, as soon as that teacher made his announcement, everyone … actors, cinematographers, make-up people, etc …. all, at once, turned to me as if to say, "Okay … now what?" Well, I had replan the entire shooting day, in costume, on the spot in about 3 minutes! PLUS worry about acting.
It was almost not a good day, but we did it! The basic plan; shoot non-swearing stuff until noon, then, when the neighboring room was empty, shoot swearing sections. AHHHHH!
Many would have slit their wrists!
Q: You also composed the musicâ€¦.do you do the music after you're done editing the entire movie or is it something you come up with during the same time you're editing?
Les: In this case, both. A lot of the music in English Class was stuff I wrote for Vampire Time Travelers. Hey, why not? I know the copyright holder!
Plus it fit! Literally. I swear, I must have this internal metronome which ticks everyday, and sets my speed. Many times, I would put a piece of Vampire Time Travelers music over a scene from English Class, and it fit frame by frame. The tone of the music even changed as the scene did, right on the various cuts! It was amazing.
My mental pacing must be on the same time line in both films.
Other musical pieces were written for English Class. The most predominate is probably the eerie music during all the dark red classroom scenes. If you listen, the School Days theme is the tune. It's just mixed in with an eerie base line arrangement.
The opening theme is a piece of music I wrote as a song a long time ago. I forgot about it. Then, one day I was going through some old master tapes and I found it. Not a bad little piece of music I thought. So I put it on as the theme.
There is also a song in film called, Say Goodbye. It's a song I wrote some years back. My wife, Mary, always liked that song, and since it had to do with school memories, she suggested I put it in the film. I would hear her sing it occasionally, so I asked her if she would sing it. And there she is, singing it in my film! I'm glad she suggested it, and she really nailed the vocal part! Say Goodbye, I feel, is a nice plus to the movie.
Q: The movie is both funny and creepy, as if Monty Python had made the movie PATRICK. Was it in the back of your mind to balance all this out or did they just go hand in hand?
Hand in hand! That is my style.
I knew I wanted a combination funny-creepy, but it didn't realize the extent of the zaniness until I was editing. For example, while I was shooting, I didn't plan to use all the goofy sound effects. But during editing, I added a few and it worked. And then, the rest of the film seemed to need it.
So, I scoured source after source, and the film became an SFX wonderland. (SFX Nightmare depending on how you look at it.) Since there are so many, it really took a lot of time to edit that. That was part of the reason it so long to finish the film. Plus, with all those sound effects, there are many different shots where many different sound effects fit. It was up to me to find the best sound for each shot needing one. Sometimes it was a hard choice.
I love the out-there kind of comedy because it has no rules. It is what it is and what happens just happens. Accept it. In this story, yes, it all turned out to be happening in someone's mind. But that's only because I wanted to have a related surprise at the ending. If I took the surprise ending out, I would not change the events in the film or how zany they played out.
Q: Anything you wish to ad that wasn't phrased as a question.
I must mention David Patrick. He was the special effects make up artist. He did the acid on the face burn, the Vampire-Zombie-Cheerleaders make-up, the Mrs. DeMon face-blown off stuff and the aging of Mrs. DeMon in the hospital bed. ALL FOR FREE!
He wanted to do a film where he could experiment with some ideas and I was pleased to let him run with it. Without him, a huge chunk of the effectiveness of the film would not have existed. He deserves praise and even more "thanks you's" than the thousands that I've given him. He is a name to watch for!
After David finished making Charlene up for the hospital bed scene … she looked at her haggard, old appearance in the mirror and actually freaked out! "Is this what I'm going to look like one day?," she thought. She saw herself dead while alive and it had an effect! (Good job David!) She also got a little freaked out when David made it look like half her face was blown off by a gun. (I think it was the protruding cheekbone that did it!).
This film was a labor of love. It took A LONG TIME to make! It never took me this long to make a film before. Part of it was because I moved back to Ohio after living in LA for 13 years. In addition, some other huge, life-altering changes took place for me in these last few years. My personal life is very different now than it was when I started shooting this movie.
I will always watch I Know What You Did In English Class and remember quite a time of my life that it surrounds.
But, in looking at it, I am happy I took the extra time it needed to get it right. Like all the other films I've ever done, one of my most basic rules is this ... I have to like it! If I like the film, the audience will probably like it, too.
But if I DON'T like it, the audience definitely won't either!