Exclusive! Sundance Q&A with SUMMER OF '84 Creatives
After Summer of '84 was over and a raucous, growing applause finally came to an end, Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell, and François Simard took the stage. The three filmmakers, collectively known as the Roadkill Superstars (Turbo Kid, 2015), were beaming with excitement at the positive reception at the world premiere of their latest film, Summer of ‘84. Yoann-Karl Whissell started by thanking the audience; “Thank you, thank you so much! You guys are awesome! Oh wow. I was so nervous all day. You guys are the best audience in the fucking world, thank you so much! Yeah, let’s invite the cast up here!” He welcomed the cast and the rest of the crew who were in attendance to the front of the auditorium and after they were all in place, Whissell promised us to keep a few secrets about the film, and the Q&A session began:
The first question was for actor Rich Sommer, who plays the role of Wayne Mackey in the film.
Q: “I’ve seen you in some more comedic roles before, just talk a little bit about what it meant for you to play this character in a horror movie.”
Rich Sommer: “Well, I grew up in the 80s and I snuck out to see every horror movie that I could at my friend’s sleepovers who had HBO and as I said to my wife when I got this script, what was most exciting to me was that it felt like I was getting to live a dream that is simply unattainable. One of the other guys who was on Mad Men, Aaron Staton, who played Ken Cosgrove on the show, he and I really fan out about 80s horror movies and I called him and I said, ‘I get to go in a time machine and be in an 80s movie,’ and he’s just like, (jokingly) ‘fuck you, man!’ So, it truly was a dream.”
Q: “So, the whole time I was thinking this is a really fun, sort of Spielberg-esque 80s movie, but what made you decide to take it in a dark direction?”
Yoann-Karl Whissell: “To go absolutely for it? To make you feel something. To shock you and terrify you. For us, we always saw the script as the pain of growing up, it’s hard to become an adult, it sucks. It’s hard. So that’s why we’re kids at heart.”
Q: “Can you tell us a little about the process and the dynamic of having three directors on a project like that?”
Yoann-Karl Whissell: “Yeah, we’ve been doing it for so long, working the three of us together. (To Anouk) Do you want to talk? I am talking too much! One of my partners can talk.”
Anouk Whissell: “Yeah, so we have a dynamic and a way of working that’s very structured so when we’re in prep, we’re super prepared and - we storyboard everything as well - so we all know which way to go and we are really in sync and once we’re on set then we can split and become super efficient; so Yoann will be with the actors, François will be with the storyboard and then the camera with our DP. I’ll be dealing more with the head of departments and also overseeing the whole process and making sure that our vision is--
Yoann-Karl Whissell: “--she’s the brain of the operation. We’re two idiots and we’re very lucky to have her.”
Q: “For the young actors, watching the film as an audience member, what surprised you the most?”
Davey Verchere: “I don’t know, leading up to this, I was really excited to see how you guys would react to the jump scares and also to the ending, obviously, it was fun!”
Tiera Skovbye: “I think I was surprised at how scared I still got. Like, gasp, oh! I knew that was happening! It was also fun to notice little moments that we all were like, ‘oh, yeah, that’s funny!’ and you guys laughed, and we were like, ‘oh, that’s awesome! It worked!’.
Q: “For the writer, I just want to say that it’s so cool to see that you subverted expectations at almost every juncture...how did you avoid any temptations to throw a red herring there?”
Matt Leslie: “Yeah, to us it was very Hitchcockian, it was sort of like the bomb under the table that you all know is coming, right? We were never trying to hide it.To us it wasn’t about ‘whodunit’ so much as we kind of know where this is going and that’s what’s so dreadful about it - the anticipation and the suspense - so that for us was really what we were going for. It was funny though because there were a lot of people who watched it and were like, ‘I think it’s Nikki!’
Tiera Skovbye: “What?!”
Matt Leslie: (to Tiera) “You’re so diabolical! But um, so there’s side effects of that kind of thing, people kind of guessing, but yeah, it was never really a ‘whodunit’ to us, but thank you, I’m glad it subverted expectation!”
Q: “What the hell. Thank you so much for this great film. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of films, and this is by far my favorite film. (applause) ...I just want to ask, what’s next?”
Yoann-Karl Whissell: “We have multiple projects coming along, but you know, every movie is a miracle when you get financed, so the first one that gets financed is the next one we’ll do! But we have multiple projects. It’s important - if there’s young directors in the crowd - this is important to have more than one project, don’t put all your eggs in the same basket, and the first one that gets picked up, that’s the one you’re doing. And be passionate about what you’re putting in your basket, don’t just put anything in there.”
Q: “So, obviously we’re kind of living in an age of like an 80s nostalgia renaissance with everything in the media lately, so for the writers, I was just wondering, what were your goals in setting Summer of ‘84 apart from a lot of the other stuff lately, like in terms of, I don’t know, theme or all that other good stuff?”
Matt Leslie: “Yeah, I mean so, my writing partner Steve and I always talk about - we’re both from like, suburbia - and for me, I remember, I was born in 1980 and in 1984, there was a string of robberies in my neighborhood, in a sleepy little town called Ipswich, Massachusetts and it was literally when people went from not locking their doors to locking their doors. And so when Steve and I kind of went back and looked at the 80s and sort of there was this transition in that regard, 1984 really felt like the pivotal year to us in a lot of ways, like Reaganomics and all of the things that were happening in society, so it just felt like the right year to set this. Like, if we didn’t want it to be a device so much as like - ‘cause I guess when I look at it on the microcosm, Davey is going through these changes, he’s losing his innocence, and on the macrocosm society sort of felt like it was losing its innocence. And that’s kind of where we were at with that. But actually, in regard to setting it apart from like Stranger Things or IT, because those are a couple of the comps, honestly, those came out kind of long after we wrote this and it feels like it’s just so zeitgeist, I think it just felt like it was the write time for this story.”
After the audience applauded their faces off once more, the cast and crew stuck around for a few minutes and I was lucky enough to snag a couple of photo ops.
Summer of ‘84 is one film you’ll definitely want to keep on your radar.