A Conversation With Michael Dougherty
Michael Dougherty, writer/director of Krampus and Trick ‘r Treat, sat down with Legendary Backstory to take a look back at his holiday horror comedy one year later. He went in depth discussing the process of starting with initial sketches of his twisted winter wonderland all the way through bringing them to life on screen. See exclusive concept art from the film below and read what Dougherty had to say after the jump.
KRAMPUS STORY ART
Q: Tell us about the twisted suburban world you created – how is the world of Krampus different from real life? How is it the same?
MD: I grew up in Ohio and we had a lot of blizzards, a lot of stormy winter weather and I always thought as peaceful and serene as Christmas is supposed to be…I realized how eerie it could be too, especially with how quiet it got at night. There was just something about the contrast of these dark, cold, quiet winter nights with these sparkling, twinkling Christmas lights that I always thought set the ground for something potentially really scary. So, it’s that and then also the neighborhood in the movie was all created digitally, so we populated it with several homages to a bunch of famous 80’s movie houses. The Engels live in between the Amityville Horror house and the house from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Ferris Bueller’s in the neighborhood too. I basically paid tribute to a bunch of famous houses because I don’t think there’s any copyright on them right? I don’t know. Are we going to get in trouble now?
Q: Early in the process, how important were your sketches and concept art in helping get the outlandish and imaginative world of the film across to producers/talent/crew/etc.
MD: It helped a ton. That’s why I believe in doing visual development alongside of writing the screenplay. For genre films, in particular, some of the concepts can be so outlandish and weird, especially for a movie like this. Having some visuals helps whether you’re taking stills from other films or sketching out your own designs. Even when (co-writers) Todd and Zach and I were just brainstorming and kicking around ideas, I would be off to the side doodling and sketching. It’s just fun, and as you add more crew you hire more artists who can do a deeper dive into the designs. But the first time we sent it to (producers) Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni and Alex Garcia as a spec script, inside the package there were sketches of Krampus.
Q: What other films, if any, informed the visual style of the film and the creatures?
MD: For the film in general, I watched a lot of Christmas movies because it was important to us that it be a Christmas film first that basically gets invaded by a horror movie. So, the look of it really is based off those Christmas movies for the first half hour. It’s very warm and bright and rich and then as stuff starts to literally go to hell, that’s where horror movies started to become a reference. So I watched The Thing. Pretty much if there was a horror movie that took place in the winter time, I made sure to watch it. And then the creatures were drawn from folklore and actual Krampus myth and legends and old Krampus cards. I did research where I looked into hundreds of different Krampus postcards. There are some that showed him with sidekicks like snowmen or toys that come to life so everything in the film, whether it’s the look of it or the concepts themselves were drawn from actual Krampus folklore.
Q: What was it like watching the masters at Weta Workshop bring your creatures to life?
MD: It was a thrill; it was an honor. I’ve been a huge fan of WETA for years, going all the way back to Peter Jackson’s early films. One of my favorite Peter Jackson movies is this really f***ed up…I don’t even know what to call it…it’s like a f***ed up Muppet movie called Meet the Feebles. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but it’s like a raunchy Muppet movie. I’ve been a fan of theirs ever since then…clearly there was a mutual love of twisted puppets. It’s always nice to be able to work with people that you’re a fan of and making movies really allows you to do that. They had to drag me out of the creature shop daily kicking and screaming because I didn’t want to leave.
Q: Which of the creatures was your favorite to create and why?
MD: That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. Krampus will take the cake in the end. Those are the days I was definitely the most excited like “Oh he’s here! Here he comes!” And it was fun because he was an actual puppet, he was an actual guy in a suit so all of a sudden you would turn around and here comes this Krampus sauntering on to set like they had just dragged him out of his trailer.
Q: The film manages to walk a delicate tightrope between horror and comedy in almost every scene; how are both genres implemented in the art and design of the creatures?
MD: I worked with a whole range of different artists from the storyboard guys to my production designer, Jules Cook, and even the Director of Photography (Jules O’Loughlin). It was a lot of repeat viewings of those old classic Christmas movies to make sure that everything from the set decoration to the costumes felt like Christmas and then really, to make it creepy, you just had to kill the lights and bring the blizzard. I think there’s just something more unnerving about the contrast of seeing sweet cute things like Christmas decorations or cherubs, or Christmas candles at night, that’s eerie. When you know there’s a certain dread that’s building in this creepy supernatural storm and you’re surrounded by Christmas toys and ornaments, the contrast makes it creepy. What was cute when the lights were on suddenly becomes ominous when you turn off those lights.