HOLLYWOOD PROFILE: Barry Wernick & Matthew Spradlin

Six kids sentenced to a gloomy Saturday in detention…sound familiar? Well, trust me, it’s like no other movie you’ve ever seen. Bad Kids Go to Hell is set at Crestview Academy where six students serving out detention meet their untimely and gruesome fates. The question is: Are their fellow students behind their demise or something more sinister? The film stars a host of Texas actors including Ali Faulkner (Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1), Cameron Deane Stewart (Pitch Perfect), Roger (Stop-Loss and The Guardian) and Amanda Alch along with Judd Nelson and Ben Browder. I sat down with filmmakers Matthew Spradlin and Barry Wernick, both of whom are Dallas natives, to discuss the film and how they turned their wildly popular comic book series of the same name into one of the most talked about indie features of the year.

How did you guys meet and come to be filmmaking partners?

BW: Matthew and I met in LA actually. Even though we’re both from Dallas, Matthew went to Highland Park and I went to St. Marks. We never really crossed paths until we were in LA. A mutual friend of ours introduced us and thought we should get to know each other being that we were in the same industry doing pretty similar things. I had just come off writing, directing and producing an independent film and doing some feature film work, and Matthew had just sold a TV show. When we first met, he and I talked about working together on a feature film which is now Bad Kids Go to Hell.

And where did you guys come up with the idea for the film?

MS: The script idea came from not only our kind of mutual experiences in high school, but also from experiences since high school. Living in LA, we had listened to a group of kids from Beverly Hills high school and it kind of freaked us out a little bit how fast they lived. Based off that and our mutual experiences, we formulated this idea of what if a bunch of kids were locked in detention, and they weren’t kids you necessarily liked. So, the question was posed what if Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton had to serve detention in high school and they got bumped off. That was kind of the gestation of the idea for Bad Kids Go to Hell.

But you guys wound up taking a pretty untraditional route getting the story from script to screen.

MS: We had written a script for the film, and before we could move forward with it, the writer’s strike happened, and we couldn’t do anything with it. At that point, a friend of ours suggested we turn it into a comic book; so, we did. We took the script and found an artist, an inker and everyone we needed to develop it into a comic book and pitched it to Antarctic Press, and they bit on the story; so, we went ahead and did a four issue mini series of the comic. The first issue got a really good push by Previews Magazine, which is somewhat the bible of the comic book industry.  Each issue sold out quicker than the one before.

The success of the comic book series had to have made turning it into a feature film a little easier.

BW: We went from pitching our original screenplay idea before the writer’s strike to having six studios contact us with production offers in the wake of the success of the comic books. But the comic book series was really our heart and soul, and we put a lot of blood, sweat and credit cards into it, and we weren’t going to just give up the rights to it. We had also been able to really build up a dialogue with our fans because we were attending Comic Con and the other major comic book convention and doing signings and major comic book outlets. That really allowed us the opportunity to get to know the fans of the series.

So, you had a huge fan base with a vested interest in your film even before you began production. How big a part of the actual production were they?

BW:  They were very engaged in the process. We put together a section on our website badkidsgotohell.com during preproduction of the movie called “You Cast the Movie,” and our fans would give us suggestions and ideas as to who they would like to see die in our movie, or what actor they would like to see in certain roles. The best example is in casting Judd Nelson as one of the leads. In an ironic twist of fate, they (the fans) suggested that it would be really cool to see Judd Nelson, the original bad kid from The Breakfast Club, play the head master. We sent out the script to his manager and that same day, we got a call back. That kind of quick response is simply unheard of in Hollywood.  Judd normally shies away from anything that seems remotely related to The Breakfast Club because he wants original stuff. The response back from his manager was this was extremely original. This is not The Breakfast Club although its set in detention in a library, it doesn’t make it The Breakfast Club. And he got that and loved the concept. But the film really does pay homage to those movies in the 80s because Matthew and I are from the 80’s and grew up watching those movies.

When you were ready to shoot, what made you two decide to shoot in Texas?

BW: We are both from here, and we knew we were going to shoot in Texas, but we were looking for the right space. We knew we were going to have to build a library because in the course of the movie the library just gets destroyed, and we needed a place large enough to build a functional library that could handle pumping in water and everything else we needed to do. Brad (Dallas based filmmaker Brad Keller) had told us about Thunderwood Studio in Austin; so, we went to Austin to look at it, and it was fantastic! From there, we went to Elizabeth Rodriquez’ production company, and she gave us a lot of the materials we were able to use to build the set.

This has been quite a journey for you two.  With this being your first feature film, was the experience what you thought it would be?

MS: We were expecting it to be pretty brutal, and it was just because of the amount of work that goes into shooting the film, the amount of days and time and the amount of money we had to work with. It was a grind, but everyone exceeded expectations, which was great. It was really phenomenal. It was a hard shoot, but everyone did a great job.

What can audiences look forward to when they go see Bad Kids Go to Hell?

BW: I think when people leave the movie theatre they are gonna enjoy the ride they went on because it is a great ride. There are ups and downs and twists and turns, and it’s funny. You also have incredible music. Everyone is really blown away by the music featured in the film.  We have some terrific music by some great artists out of Dallas and Austin like Open Hand, AWOLNATION, The M Machine, Semi Precious Weapons, Rebecca & Fiona and more. It’s a really fun ride.

Bad Kids Go to Hell opens in limited theatrical release this weekend around the country. Check your local listings for show times at a theatre near you. The film is rated R.

 

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