Viral YouTube videos, inane self-absorbed chatter, obsession with celebrity and popular culture, and endless bottles of wine – these form the backdrop of Jim Hansen and Jeffery Self’s campy, blood-splattered, hysterically titled You’re Killing Me (2016).
You’re Killing Me is a horror and romantic comedy mash-up, set squarely in the world of actors, comedians and viral video creators. This world also happens to be a gay-centered one. We first meet Joe (Matthew McKelligon), who is failing spectacularly at game night with new boyfriend Andy and Andy’s group of friends. We know that Joe has been meeting with a well-meaning but tone-deaf therapist who only cares whether or not Joe continues to kill small animals. After game night, Andy tries to move their week-long relationship to the physical level. Unable to understand why the gorgeous, monotone, slightly awkward Joe doesn’t want to sleep with him, Andy tells Joe that he’ll do anything Joe wants to do. What does Joe really want to do?
Stab Andy to death and rip out his intestines.
Thus the movie’s title card heralds in Joe’s newly realized love for killing people. After wrapping Andy up in a plastic sheet, Joe looks over at Andy’s computer and sees a notification for a new video from the YouTube sketch duo, George and Barnes. Their new video stars George as a gleeful, machete-wielding hitchhiker who slashes Barnes-in-drag after the latter helpfully picks him up from the side of the road. Not realizing that George’s humor runs tongue-in-cheek, Joe sees George as a potential soulmate and is determined to track him down. Thus we have the world’s weirdest meet-cute, wherein George thinks deadpan Joe is cruising him by making dark jokes and Joe thinks he’s found someone with whom to share his new life as a serial killer.
Director and co-writer Jim Hansen and writer Jeffery Self, who also stars as the narcissistic George, talked with ScreenPrism a few days before YKM’s iTunes release.
*Spoilers are peppered throughout the interview.
You're Killing Me (2016)
ScreenPrism: What was the inspiration for the film's premise – a serial killer set loose amongst a group of self-absorbed, narcissistic, internet celebrity wannabes?
Jim Hansen: Somebody told me, once, that you can’t betray your audience and I was, like, “Why not?” I wanted to play these genres against each other – horror and romantic comedy – where they’re not really combined so much as they are pushed up next to each other, and be a little experimental about that. You’re watching this comedy, and all of a sudden these horror parts are disturbing and not so funny. We played with that idea, so that the audience goes, “What am I watching? What’s happening?” and [is] a little uncomfortable. And Jeffery loves romantic comedies, and I love horror movies.
Jeffery Self: Jim came up with the idea of placing the characters within our lives [of] our friends making things, becoming internet people, of placing those types of people that we know so well in our own lives, in the very real situation of dealing with a serial killer, and how ridiculous that would be.
SP: As you wrote the screenplay, were the only genres you wanted to mash together horror and rom-com? Or were there other genres that you had considered?
JH: Gay, romantic comedy, horror – yeah. The gay aspect and low budget aspect are in there as well. You know, most gay movies deal with gay issues, and [this film] doesn’t deal with gay issues per se – it’s just the world that we’re in.
SP: Yes, I noticed that - You’re Killing Me is not a capital-letter-G gay, capital-letter-M movie. Was that a deliberate choice?
JS: It was definitely deliberate. I hate movies that are Gay Movies that are “gaaaaay gaygaygay” – not that that’s not great, but there’s a time and a place where it needs to happen, and not what I wanted to make. For us, You’re Killing Me was just about wanting to see gay characters in a world where they’re not Gay; they just happen to be gay.
SP: I’m a fan of all the actors that are on the film’s cast roster: Matthew Wilkas, Drew Droege, Sam Pancake, Jeffery Self of course, Carolyn Hennesy, and Mindy Cohn.
JH: Yeah, those are all of our friends. We wrote [the characters] for all these people – and this is our social group as well – so it’s fun to be able to write this movie with these actors in mind, to get to work with our friends and then put them all in a movie. Normally, none of these guys would be cast together. Usually, [in] a movie, you get the one gay guy, but, here, we put everybody in.
SP: You say you wrote this script with these specific people in mind. Can you talk more about the casting process?
JH: We really wrote it for everybody. We knew that Drew would play this [way]; how Bryan would do this; that Jeffrey’s the lead; that these lines are in his wheelhouse that he’ll pull it off perfectly. So it made everything a lot easier, the process. And shooting it of course went a lot easier because we knew everyone could nail everything. It’s kind of the unglamorous version of these people’s personality, their personality flaws enhanced. It’s not based on real life because they obviously don’t do these horrible things. But it has elements of that [real life]. People ask a lot if [the movie] was improvised. It’s not – it’s just we know these people really well.
JS: It was a great excuse to be with my favorite people for two weeks – and try to get things done while we were all together. It was very much a group of friends getting together and making a movie. We knew exactly the kind of voices and people we were writing for, and it made [the film] more organic and real. They all have the talent to make things [that are] written down sound like improv.
SP: There is a scene where George (Self) and Barnes (Bryan Safi) throw around ideas for their next YouTube sketch. How similar is your guys’ writing, producing and creative process to Barnes’ and George’s?
JH: It’s pretty accurate. Jeffery and Bryan actually do web videos all together all the time, and this process is very much based in reality: throwing ideas out there, trying to make each other laugh. The only difference is that we don’t have people hanging around, watching us make the video. Drew Droege and I do a web series, a Chloë Sevigny parody, and we’ve done a couple other web series together, which is basically him and I in my living room with a green screen.
JS: It is similar. We wrote sort of dumber version of ourselves in the movie [laughs]. George and Barnes are a little more earnest.
You're Killing Me (2016)
SP: Was the main character of the film supposed to be Joe or George? In the trailer, George looks like the main character. However, from the very first scene, we are introduced to Joe and his first kill heralds in the movie’s title card.
JH: I guess the main character is whoever you relate to. You start off with Joe, you follow him, and then George pops up. You don’t know if he’s the next victim or if he’s sticking around. We wanted to create a little confusion: is this person going to die in this scene or be somebody that’s going to impact Joe? He helps Joe along his process of becoming a killer, being there for him, [allowing him to] continue his murder spree. All unintentionally, but George supports him in his process. The mixture of George’s being a total narcissist and [Joe’s evolution into] a psychopath turns him into a very productive psychopath.
SP: Speaking of which, the ending of the movie was totally unexpected. We go from Joe driving off with that women to George Facetime-ing with Joe in prison.
JH: We did a reshoot in the end, and we changed the ending. We added that [scene] on. We left it open-ended at first, but actually George is so awful that he’ll actually probably stay with this guy. That won’t even be probably be a deal breaker, that he’s killed. It makes George a worse person that they still have this romance. At the end, when he sends off that poor woman to die, you realize what a villain George is as well.
SP: I love that the random woman was Mindy Cohn.
JH: Yeah! It was so exciting to get her. My favorite show growing up was Facts of Life. I was obsessed with it. When I watched it, I thought, “I want to move to Hollywood and work on TV shows” because of that show. It was really special having her. She was so gracious and so great – because we really didn’t pay her anything – her coming on was really special for all of us.
JS: Yes, it was after we shot [the film], we thought about tagging [the new ending] on – that George’s narcissism is that intense that he would continue to date a serial killer so that he could continue to be Internet famous.
SP: Let’s talk about the technical effects: what did you use for the blood?
JH: We used movie blood that comes in a package called “Real Blood.” But what was funny was that after we shot everything, and I looked at the footage, you could barely see it. I felt like there had been so much blood, but then we had to go and add more blood, digitally, to make it come up more. I did some inserts. I had a dummy that I stabbed and pushed blood through and had a digital artist come and take my reshoots and stick them on people and mix different shots together to give it a very bloody feel.
SP: I liked the contrast of the blood and the bright images that flashed through Joe’s head whenever he killed, compared to the rest of the film, which is very dreamy and white and pastel.
JH: We wanted a washed-out look for LA, where everything’s hazy and, like you said, pastel-y. We took a different color scheme [than] a horror movie. Like, we don’t have many night scenes. The killer doesn’t wait ‘til night. No, he’s doing [his killings] right out in the open in broad daylight, looking at [his victims] right in their faces, which was a bit of a twist on the convention.
You're Killing Me (2016)
SP: Yes, particularly when Joe killed Louis, he explained that he didn’t think Louis wanted to be killed right in front of the window.
JH: Yeah, Jack Plotnick was very nervous in that scene. He was afraid Matthew McKelligon was actually going to chop his head off. He kept wincing and I was, like, "Oh, wait, you’re not supposed to see this coming."
SP: Why did you choose a machete for the weapon of choice in this scene (Joe exclusively uses knives before this)?
JH: For that murder, we wanted to get a little sillier. He’s done all these horrible murders. The murder of Gretchen is the most disturbing one – Gretchen and Teddy – it’s not a funny moment. The Louis murder is the last gory on-camera murder, and we wanted to make a visual gag with Louis making a goofy expression while being killed. The movie becomes a little comedic after [that]. Even when the four friends are running around at the end, it’s funny.
SP: Let’s talk briefly about the movie’s pop culture references. Other interviews have discussed You’re Killing Me’s references to Real Housewives, but what I’m interested in is the spiel that George does on Bunheads.
JH: I’ve never actually seen Bunheads (2012), but Jeffery has seen it. I liked the idea that this guy just broke up his boyfriend, and all this other guy can talk about is the entire plot of a TV show. It’s such a nonsense moment, that he would tell his friend that. But in the end you realize that they get each other, and this is a moment that helps distract [Barnes] from his sadness.
JS: I have only seen only one episode of Bunheads, but I was fascinated with the idea that there was a TV show called Bunheads on TV with Sutton Foster in it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
SP: At the end of the movie, when Barnes, Geore, Emma, and Cameron freak about how to dispose of a body, all of their strategies and theories come straight from horror movies.
JS: Yes. These are the type of people who only understand life through the lens of pop culture and referencing what they’ve seen before.
SP: My favorite sketch in the movie was the wine tasting one. Did you have a favorite?
JS: Those sketches were the only parts of the movie that were improvised. The wine one is my favorite, too, because it’s one of the last ones we did, and we were more in the groove of it at that point. We were just deliriously having fun.
SP: What was your favorite scene to shoot and to watch?
JS: All the scenes where I worked with Bryan were really fun because he’s one of my favorite people. It was really fun to hang out with him.
JH: My favorite scene is the dinner scene with the parents. I just love Carolyn Hennesy and her expressions. I found that scene so entertaining and uncomfortable. It was a very simple scene to shoot, very easy to shoot, and I love the performance that she brought out of the other actors. That’s my favorite scene in the movie. My favorite scene to shoot was the car scene, in the garage, where the four characters are talking about what to do with the body, and everyone’s screaming and yelling at each other. When we were shooting it, everyone was laughing so hard because they were making up songs while waiting us to light. I could hear everyone on my headphones, and they didn’t realize that they were miked and we could hear everything they were saying. That was a fun day.
SP: Ever since I saw Carolyn Hennesy in Cougar Town (2009), I’ve been a fan.
JH: She is such a character. She’s such a good actress. She came up with so much interesting ideas about her character’s back story. It’s not in the movie, but you feel like all the stuff she did – like with the housekeeper, Elsa. They created the relationship between the two of them, and you don’t know what’s happening, but it’s something weird. Her delivery is so deliberate. She seems like such an old Hollywood person as well, so classic.
SP: Before we finish, was there anything else you wanted to mention?
JH: There was one thing: last night a bunch of us were hanging out and talking about the upcoming election and Donald Trump and how weird it is that he’s still actually a candidate. Not that we need to get political on this, but it just occurred to me that our movie’s about this awful thing that is right there in the room and nobody sees it. Even though the monster is saying, “I’m a monster, I kill people,” nobody’s seeing it or hearing it. It just occurred to me last night that no one’s really listening to this person who’s saying all these horrible things, who’s admitting he’s a racist and all these other things. Nobody seems to care. There’s a weird analogy in there – I don’t know where it is. The weird, fatal flaw in our movie is that, “Why wouldn’t they hear this guy?” That’s the point. He’s saying everything, he’s telling the truth, but no one’s listening. I realized that this happens all the time. No one pays attention until it’s too late. Donald Trump’s not hiding. He’s saying exactly who he is. And people are saying, “Yeah, I like that about him.” But that’s not good. I don’t know if I’ve said this eloquently, but it’s something that I thought about: the monster that you’re looking at, right in the eye. In the movie, people are looking Joe right in the eye as he’s stabbing them, but they aren’t comprehending it. They’re not understanding what’s happening.