Sitges 2017 Interview: Tyler MacIntyre on breaking the slasher mold with Tragedy Girls

The director of the newest addition to the genre talks making a funny slasher, putting two Marvel actresses on a horror film and Craig Robinson.

It makes me really happy that we got two slasher films in the same month. Even better when they experiment so much with the genre. First we got the horror/sci-fi Happy Death Day, and now the horror-comedy Tragedy Girls. While at the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia I got the chance to speak with director Tyler MacIntyre, also known for his film Patchwork, about making a horror-comedy.

How did you join this project? Because you didn’t write the script for this film, right?
Sort of. So essentially my friend Tom Morris was working for this company called The Comeback Kids, a production company owned by Kerry Rhoades, a former NFL player that just moved into producing and acting. He’s actually in the movie, he’s in the scene with Craig (Robinson) working out. So he optioned this script called Tragedy Girls, written by Justin Olson whom I actually never met, I only read the script once. So Kerry really liked the idea of doing a slasher, because he loves horror movies. But he was having a tough time putting the project together, just because at the time people weren’t really doing slasher movies. This was around 2015, so slashers were sort of out of fashion.

Then Tom (Morris) suggested they asked me and my writing partner Chris Lee Hill had a take on the story, because Tom had just seen a first cut of my previous movie Patchwork, and said that it was also a female-driven ensemble horror comedy, and suggested Chris and I look at the script and see if we had a better take. Thing is, when we talked about slasher movies and why they aren’t that popular anymore, there’s always the problem that they get repetitive, you know? You must have these deaths and the same tropes. Like the way these films basically become morality tales? It’s very much like baby-boomer type stuff, like how if you have sex or do drugs, you die. Then we started talking about working against that, and we started with the idea of a female-led slasher. You got Freddy, you got Michael Meyers, you got Jason, even Chucky. There are a couple of female slashers, but not a ton, and most of them are cheap tricks or red herrings. We thought, why not make a slasher movie in which the girls have fun, and we started pulling tropes from high school movies.

Despite the comedy, there is still a lot of gore in Tragedy Girls.

How was the original story and how much did you change it?
The first draft of the script actually had the girls kidnap the killer from the opening scene and forcing him to kill people. It was kind of too complicated and removed from the action. The original script by Justin was more of a whodunnit. It was about these kids in high-school with a movie review site, for horror movies. Then as people died in the town they would try and figure out who it was.

We made it much more about the core relationship, that the girls were friends for a long time and then the social media element became more relevant.

Speaking of the social media, I loved the visual effect of the thumbs up and hearts floating off the girls’ phones.
We looked a lot at social media stuff. I really liked the slickness of the way they do it in shows like House of Cards where you can follow the conversation, it feels more integrated. For me I did a bit of that, like text messages in my first movie, and wanted to dial it in a lot more for this. Like we could do more of the messages, because these girls are getting a lot of comments. And I thought, hey these girls don’t really care about comments, it’s all about likes for them. It’s just about how somebody saw this and liked it, I want that number to go up.

So I liked the idea that they are literally collecting this hearts and smiley faces. And then once we figured that out we thought it was fun because we hadn’t seen anyone track of the likes, it’s always about getting and reading text messages. They did something similar in that film Nerve, but it’s much more kinetic and kind of distracting, while we wanted it to feel part of the world without cluttering the screen.

Craig Robinson redefines the term “celebrity fireman” in Tragedy Girls.

How did Craig Robinson come into play? Because he’s a producer, but also has a role in the film.
As you know, Craig has been a very successful actor and comedian for many years, but he’s started to move more into producing. We presented the script to the people at his producing company, kind of early on, and they really responded. So Craig liked the project, thought it was really fun and came started flirting with it. Then once we locked in the girls, he was pretty committed to it.

We then had this character called Big Al, which we could have gone several different ways with, but we thought “why not see if Craig wants to do it?” and I even asked Craig if he wanted us to re-write the part, but he said he liked it the way it was. I’ve always thought he had such swagger to him. He’s a powerful dude, you know? I like the idea of him kind of playing that out, because he’s usually very chill. We wanted to use his physicality because he’s sort of a scary guy!

How was the casting process? Specially with Brianna and Alexandra, was this before or after their Marvel debuts?
Deadpool had definitely come out already, and I think X-Men Apocalypse was about to come out when we offered them the roles. This is Brianna’s (Hildebrand) third movie, whereas Alex (Shipp) had been in more stuff. But we knew that they also knew each other, since they had both done Marvel movies they have to go to Comic-Con together and they do press. They started to really embrace the idea and from table reading started to really work together and during production they lived in the same house and really committed to the part.

One of the first things we tried to figure out is how to cast the main roles, because there are not that many women who can play high-school girls that have international value, which is how you pre-sell territories and finance a team. So we wanted to have girls that were committed to the role, and who had that sort of presence, but we also didn’t want to be like let’s pay Kurt Russell a ton of money and have him play the dad for two days. We wanted to keep the resources to where they were most needed, so we brought on Lisa Beach and Sarah Katzman who worked on team ensembles over the years, they casted the original Scream, Walk the Line, and Wedding Crashers, which are great comedy ensembles. They already had the girls on their list. So together we started strategizing the best way to cast the right type of names that could get us more financing while balancing the available resources.

As all good slasher films, the tagline for Tragedy Girls is amazing: “Friends who slay together, stay together”.

I really liked how the girls came from loving and caring families, and it isn’t so obvious why they became serial killers.
We sort of established their reasons for killing, and we went through enough information with the actresses, so they could form an image of what their motivations are, but we purposely didn’t want to spell everything out to the audience. As for the family thing, I think the whole nature-nurture debate is pretty interesting. Specially with people with violent tendencies. I kind of fall somewhere in the middle, where it is a choice that you make.

There are definitely genetic factors, and there are definitely environmental factors. But I think the biggest factor is you as a person, in control of your action. If you have violent tendencies you can work hard to curb those, as well as bring them out. These girls I think are in control of their own destinies, they are sure of what they are doing and who they want to be. So their parents are kind of clueless, or they look the other way and are not ready to face what is happening. Same with the town, we do a bit of commentary in how that’s portrayed in other movies where there’s all sorts of evidence that everyone is ignoring.

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