“Homewrecker,” a dark comedy starring Precious Chong and Alex Essoe, had its international premiere at the 15th Fantastic Fest. The film was written by its two stars in collaboration with director Zach Gayne.
We were lucky enough to get to sit down with Gayne and Chong to discuss the making of “Homewrecker” and explore some of the film’s themes. The interview below was edited for clarity.
So you two and Alex Essoe wrote the script together, based on a story that Zach had come up with. What was it like collaborating with the three of you working on it?
Gayne: Through a long period of time — Alex even contributed to the story a little bit. This project came about when I was in film school and we were both in Vancouver. We were both working together and making shorts together, and she knew about this movie way back then. So yeah, even just bouncing it off her at that point was contributing. And then the project went away for a long time, and then once Precious and I started working together…
Chong: We wanted to find something — me and Alex wanted to work on something together with Zach, and then you came up with that idea and I was like, ‘That’s amazing. Yes!’ It’s got two really interesting characters, and so we really all collaborated, we sat down and we worked out the story beats. And then sitting down and writing the dialogue was mostly me and Zach, but we would send versions of it to Alex, so she contributed long-distance. But we [Gayne and Chong] were just physically together and we knew we had my house. We knew we were shooting in my house, and my boyfriend was going away for two weeks for us to shoot there.
Gayne: Specifically so we could be left to our own devices.
Chong: So it gave us a very firm deadline of when we had to have a script ready, which actually served us well. We couldn’t work on it a lot, endlessly. We had to like, get it done.
Gayne: I’m sure that I also wanted to do that, because I’ve written a lot of scripts, and usually when I do it, I’ll give myself one month. I’m a big proponent of ‘Just do it.’
Chong: Yeah, deadlines are good for me. So basically that’s it. And we also always wrote it with this idea of ‘This is loose; we can improvise on set.’ There’s moments that are improvised but a lot of it actually made it into the movie.
Gayne: I mean, one very important weekend was when I was in Los Angeles, just escaping Toronto winter. And then Precious came to LA to be on “Family Feud” — “Celebrity Family Feud” — which I got to watch. That was definitely the highlight of that year, or one of the highlights of that year. I mean, it was the same year we made “Homewrecker.”
Chong: That was so much fun!
Gayne: And before you had gotten there, Alex and I — she was in Van Nuys at the time — we would get together and write. And finally Precious came to town and the three of us got together, and me and Alex took what we had been doing to Precious, and then I sort of swapped Alex out for Precious a little bit when I got back to Toronto. So we were all very…
Chong: Very interwoven.
Gayne: Yeah, exactly.
So Linda’s house is Precious’s house?
Chong: Yeah. There was no scouting involved.
Gayne: If there was no house, there was no movie.
Chong: It was just very indie. You know, it was like my dance studio — his sister’s dance studio. And a coffee house in the neighborhood.
Gayne: Yeah, the opening montage is like the most locations there are in the movie.
Chong: We were scrapping together places to shoot.
What was the hardest part of making the movie for you guys?
Gayne: Yeah, Precious?
Chong: Oh god.
Chong: Yeah, the shoot was intense. We thought we were going to be much faster than it happened. But it was long days; we didn’t have enough crew really, for what we needed. I was set dec-ing and acting in it, so I would have to get a room ready, but I’d also have to get in the scene. And we were producing, so I had that producer mind that was like, ‘We can’t do any more takes. We’ve gotta stop!’
Gayne: This is a fun story. I don’t want to interrupt.
Chong: Go ahead.
Gayne: Precious and I had been making sketches for the last five years for this show she has called “Sex and the Single Parent,” which are on “Funny or Die” and stuff. But I would shoot those, and we developed a real shorthand. We could just churn those out.
Chong: Yeah, we would do like four sketches in a day.
Gayne: Exactly. So I think Precious was a little — I think we both at one point were just expecting more of a speed that was similar to that.
Chong: Yeah, loose…
Gayne: And then, pretty close to the last minute, we scored this huge camera package. Seriously, like very expensive. And then we show up at Precious’s house with a truck full of gear.
Chong: And it was so valuable. My son is coming home from school — he’s like 12 — and he’s like, ‘What’s happened to my room?’ And I’m like, ‘Don’t touch that camera! Don’t touch it!’
Gayne: Yeah, Precious was freaking me out a little bit. So, as a result, we were used to these very short ways of working but now it takes like an hour to set up a shot. So for the first four days we were taking our time, and then I think we hit day five and we were like, ‘We’re not going to finish this movie at this rate.’
Chong: Yeah, it was scary. It was the hardest and most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. Afterwards, I was buzzing. We were just… no sleep, hardly eating — we were all making food for the crew. But I also loved it. I’m a bit of a control freak I think. It was fun to be on a set and not just be the actor, like we were creating something. Anyways, blah blah blah. [laughs]
Gayne: And then, like, the most challenging thing for me is we tried to shoot it chronologically, so by the last two days… Somebody who is on no sleep is basically high as a kite. And we’re shooting the most important stuff of the movie with such limited brain capacity!
Chong: We both had our moments.
Gayne: Oh my gosh, we cracked so many times. After we would shoot, I would go home and I would make the shot list for the next day. It’s like I would go home and get to work. And then, at the beginning, I would go to the DP’s house and show him the story boards I just made. But then, toward the end, I would take pictures of my shitty story boards and talk about them on the phone. It was pretty cracked up by the end.
Chong: Yeah, we missed some important moments. There was a very important thing we messed up because of continuity, that we ended up working it out.
So with these roles, it seems like doing it in chronological order would almost fit the story.
Gayne: Yeah, exactly.
Chong: Yeah, it worked.
Gayne: Except then we started having to — when we were at that halfway point and we were like, ‘We need to make changes or else this thing isn’t going to get made.’ And that’s when we started going out of order. That’s when we started shooting by location, like ‘Everything in this hall,…’
What was the decision process like of including those ‘80s cultural touchstones in the movie, like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and the board game?
Chong: You would think it would be my touchstones, because I’m of that era, but it was actually Zach.
Gayne: It’s me basically being like a little brother to a big sister, honestly. Because Precious would’ve been like, too cool for that stuff. That board game, you would’ve been like a teenager.
Chong: Yeah, I was too old for that, like, late ‘80s stuff.
Gayne: Even the movie “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” I don’t think that was geared toward — that must have been geared to pre-teens.
Chong: Yeah, I didn’t see that movie at the time.
Gayne: Right. Even though it’s Shannen Doherty’s first role. Which is not true!
Chong: And it’s fully in Linda’s character to get something wrong about something with so much authority. So Zach was the impetus for those touchstone references, and I felt like, ‘I know that. I grew up in that.’ It very much felt like, ‘Yeah, let’s go there. Let’s really make fun of this.’
Gayne: But yeah, at holidays my sister would buy me VHSes, because that’s all I wanted. And I would buy her VHSes, cause that’s all I knew. I’m sure she would’ve loved different gifts. I bought her “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Xanadu” and “Adventures in Babysitting.” And I would watch them just as often. Ditto the board games. They were like, on the shelf, so sure. Me and a guy friend would play Dream Phone.
I knew going into the movie that it was a male director, but both main characters are women. And then in the third act fight scenes, I noticed them using dildos and curling irons, and feminine tools as weapons. Can you talk about that?
Gayne: That’s mostly Precious.
Chong: Oh my god, yeah.
Gayne: My favorite addition of yours is — hold on, it’s not the dildo. It’s the TMJ. I watched that sometimes with my female friends and they’ll laugh, and I”ll be like, ‘Do you know what that is?’ But that’s my favorite moment in the movie, because it’s both a hilarious joke and a hard-hitting emotional blow in one. And Alex just internalizes it so well.
Chong: Yeah, she really drops in that moment.
Gayne: I remember pushing pretty hard, like, ‘I need my heart to break when she says that.’ And it does, every time I watch that scene. My heart breaks.
Chong: It was pretty collaborative; that’s what I would say. Zach definitely was a director and we’ve worked together long enough to be very collaborative.
Gayne: I always want to make movies with my friends, and I always want to make movies with people who are contributing just as… like family productions.
Chong: Yeah, and I like that part. It was fun to bring a lot of stuff to it.
Was there anything you did to kind of get yourself into the role of Linda, or any influences on that?
Chong: Yeah. There are like, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Like, going into that age in my life where I can play these kind of crazy — I guess like, the ‘hag’ character.
Gayne: Did you do much preparation?
Chong: No, I did not. I went to Home Depot like four times to get the right sledgehammer. It was really about the pre-production. I was juggling so many hats.
Gayne: Yeah, she was too busy being the prop master to prepare for her character.
Chong: Alex and I did, when she came to town a couple days before it started, we did go get manicures and pedicures together. And we did go shopping together because we had to buy our costumes. So I think that helped prepare us in terms of our relationship. In terms of the character, it was an opportunity for me to be like the Jack Nicholson character, to be that villain.
Gayne: You’ve been training for this your whole life. But also I should say that, in the hallway, I specifically remember saying, ‘This is your Jack Torrance moment!’ And then like a month later Alex gets cast as Wendy Torrance [in “Doctor Sleep”]. It was right after, but we were very much framing it that way.
Chong: It was crazy. And, you know, as an actress you don’t get to play a lot of those parts. You don’t get to play the protagonist that way. You’re usually getting killed.
The movie features an original score done by Doug Martsch. It really stood out to me. So how did that come together?
Gayne: This could be a really long story, so I’ll try to make it not that way. But I was talking about how I was a writer for Screen Anarchy. The year before I started writing for Screen Anarchy I was just writing for my friend’s blog or whatever, and Built to Spill are like my favorite band. Doug Martsch is the first person I ever interviewed, and he was my hero at the time. It was like starting at 10. I don’t know who your hero is, but imagine your first interview is that person. And Doug is just the kindest, best guy ever.
We kind of stayed in touch a little bit, and then I showed him my first movie, “States.” I always like to say I was like Owen Wilson in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” like sending the parents his homework. I just wanted Doug to be proud of me. So I sent him my first movie and he loved it, which was like the biggest compliment of my life. And I’ve seen Built to Spill a million times.
So when it came time to show him this movie, it wasn’t like, ‘Please score my movie.’ He knew I was making it and I just couldn’t wait to show him the movie, just like any of my other friends. I had a list of people that we were about to ask to do the score. And then Doug just happened to email me back just at the right time saying, ‘That was amazing.’ And he said he’d liked the music, but I’ll come back to that. And I was like, ‘Wow Doug, I’m so glad you liked it. I’m about to email all these people, but do you want to give it a crack?’ And he was like, ‘Well I love the music that’s already in there, but if you’re going to replace it anyway, sure I’ll give it a shot.’ Like are you fucking kidding me?
So that’s how that started, and then it became a journey from there. The original score, which was almost meant to be temp, was like… I lived in a basement with an editing room, a guitar room and a laundry room, just to paint the picture. And I was trying to decide ‘What’s the feel for this music?’ It could be horror — a lot of people are pushing for it to be horror, and we’re pushing for it to be horror. It could double down on the ‘80s and be really gimmicky ‘80s [music]. But I was like, ‘What if we took the first scene of “Adventures in Babysitting,” which is like Chris’s “And then he kissed me,” and made it like 20 years later, like “And then he left me.”’ So I just started to riff and it was really washed out and sad and hungover. But I’m not as good at the guitar. Doug asked, ‘Was that you playing guitar?’ and he didn’t even know I played music, but he was like, ‘I really like it.’ And that’s the best compliment I’ve ever heard in my life. And then that sort of informed what we were doing.
He did one crack at it and it wasn’t quite right, so there’s even an alternate score. And then after Sundance this year — I went as a film critic — it’s not that far from Boise, so I hopped on a bus to Boise, Idaho, and for a couple of days we were in his studio, and it was the best.
I’m glad you responded to it, because the score is a little polarizing maybe. The through line to me is to say, ‘Yeah, this is a comedy. Yeah, this is a horror movie. But above all, this is a film about heartbreak.’ And that’s what I wanted the music to feel like: melodrama and real emotion. To remind people that this is a film about real emotions.
So you guys got to watch the film last night, here at the festival. What was that like, having everyone react to it in real time?
Chong: It was really fun. It was exciting — the response, the laughs. You know, it’s a little bit nerve wracking. It’s a lot nerve wracking. But it’s also like, I tried to keep in mind there’s not a lot of opportunities now to watch movies in theaters with audiences, because everything is [watched] privately.
Gayne: They were like, ‘Are you going to watch your movie?’ Fuck yeah, we’re going to watch our movie! Are you kidding me?
Chong: And I was like, ‘Maybe we should just wait at the bar because I can’t handle it.’ But it is really fun to hear, especially the comedic moments. You want to hear where the laughs land. It’s very gratifying.
Gayne: And I like to say — have you ever been to TIFF?
Gayne: Okay, so we both live in Toronto. I’ve been going to TIFF since I was a little kid, and Midnight Madness is the best. I don’t know if you’re aware of it. But it’s the Fantastic Fest program, and it only happens once a night at midnight, and I just grew up at that moviehouse. And it was always the best when a moment would happen in a movie that would just get the entire audience applauding, and after “Stay,” the audience applauded last night. I didn’t expect that, but I was reminded of it, and I was like, ‘Oh my god.’
Chong: It was fun, that they were on our side.
Thank you to both Zach Gayne and Precious Chong for talking (and laughing) with us. We can’t wait to see what you work on next!
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Featured image credit: Jackie Ruth
Originally hailing from Pennsylvania, Jackie has called Austin home since choosing to attend the University of Texas, where she graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism. She loves spending time with her dogs, writing about pop culture in all its forms and spending time with friends – eating, drinking and doing trivia.