The Movie Waffler Interview - HELL'S KITTY Director/Star Nicholas Tana | The Movie Waffler

Interview - HELL'S KITTY Director/Star Nicholas Tana

hell's kitty
Hell's Kitty director and leading man Nicholas Tana discusses his malevolent moggy movie.

They say never work with animals or children - filmmaker Nicholas Tana didn’t get the memo. In his new film Hell’s Kitty, Tana shares the screen with a feline - his own cat, Angel - as they tell the funny and icky yarn of an over possessive cat who basically kills any woman who gets near her owner. The movie, which Tana also wrote, is available on VOD and DVD this March.

hell's kitty poster

Why cats over dogs?

Cats are way more independent and mysterious. Dogs are great, too, but they require tons of attention, and will bombard you with love and affection ad nauseum. They’re like a desperate lover who won’t get off your back, even after you’ve placed a restraining order on them. Cats will make you work for their affection and earn it. However, it really depends on my mood. Overall, I just find cats nicer to cuddle with, too. They’re more compact, unless you’re talking about tiny dogs, who are like cats that like to bark and slobber. Cats can generally fit on your bed, too, even when you have someone else in there so they’re pretty compact, and they’re way cleaner. They come already potty trained. Unless, you’re into teaching animals when and where to shit, I’d prefer not to spend my time on that sort of stuff; there’s so much more I’d like to do with my limited life on earth, like writing, making music, and of course making movies.

And the film is actually based on the relationship you have with your cat?

Yes, the whole premise started because my cat Angel, the same one in the movie, really didn’t like when I would have people, especially women, come over to my apartment. She’d get jealous and would hiss; sometimes even scratch them. She even went so far as to hide one girl’s shoes after chewing on them for a bit. She was quite territorial. Her real life antics inspired the story and managed to attract some top talent to the project as well. Even Catster ran an article on Angel in 2014 when Hell’s Kitty was still just a web-series.

Lets backtrack. How hard it is to get an independent movie off the ground?

I think it may be about as hard as running a presidential campaign or starting a new business. Seriously, it’s so challenging that I went about it very creatively this time versus with my first film when I got angel investors. This time, I figured if I was going to take the time and money to do it, I wanted to reskin what I had (to borrow a term used in the video game world where they reuse backend platforms for other games), in a way that allows me to get more bang for the buck, so to speak.

I wrote the web-series in a manner by which I could edit it together as a feature length film. This way, I was able to market it in several ways, leveraging the popularity of the series to gather a built in audience for the movie. People warned me that no distributor was going to pick up a movie that was already available online; until they realised that we never released the ending. In this way, the bits we did release serve as one big teaser for the film. The two formats now feed each other, creating a sort of marketing synergy. Folks who like the web-series will need to see the film to find out how it all ends. Those who like the movie can go back and watch some of the web-episodes to look for the many deleted scenes. There’s even a cool one with Connie Marie Brazelton (The People Under the Stairs) that never appears in the movie.

Still, this method has its many challenges. It creates nightmares regarding continuity. It took us nearly five years to complete. Mostly, because we were limited to shooting on weekends. These days the budgets needed to make a quality film that can get distribution are too much for the potential return on investment. It’s a model that is broken and needs to be fixed, if indie film is going to survive, as we know it. Herein remains a great opportunity for real entrepreneurs. Until then, movie making will continue to be a rich man’s playground. However, as a society we’ll have a problem, if the only folks making movies are rich. It will lead to a very limited perspective on things for the majority who aren’t who are forced to watch what they create. The way we made Hell’s Kitty was hard but it allowed us to do it with very little funding.

Does it all come down to the script?

The script is essential as it’s the germ of the story, unless, you’re doing something improvisational. I come from a writing background so for me the script is key. It’s the seed of the story, everything grows from there. If you have great direction, solid performances, and rich cinematography and special effects, but you lack story, you basically got yourself a Hollywood blockbuster. No, I’m kidding (sort of). However, without a good script, you run the risk of being just another formulaic piece of white noise in a world of information overload. If you’re going to contribute something to a universe already plagued with so much media, devalued to some extent by the sheer availability of it all, you might as well strive to make something original. Originality in movie making begins with a unique story.

Do investors still insist on stars? Were your investors at all concerned that you, as a lead, mightn’t have the pull?

This was certainly not a problem with Hell’s Kitty because I was the only investor. There was no way we could have made Hell’s Kitty with Angel and another actor. My cat would have torn that poor person apart, literally. We would have had to replace Angel with a stunt cat, and that would have cost us time and money, which we didn’t have to invest. I’m glad we were able to pull it off with Angel and myself as the lead, however.

I was very concerned with both acting and directing in the film. I don’t like to act in something that I’m also directing, unless I’m making a small cameo appearance. The mindset for acting is completely different from that of directing. When I direct it’s more cerebral; I need a distanced perspective on things. I need to be aware of the big picture, to make sure it’s all working. When I act, it’s much more immersive and singular, as I embody a particular character. I don’t think as an actor, one should be seeing the whole puzzle, simply because real people in life are not omniscient, despite the claims by certain crazy individuals. How can one piece of a puzzle see the whole picture? It’s truly impossible to do both well I think, unless, you rehearse, and then you run the risk of losing a certain freshness to the scene.

The only reason I was able to both act in and direct Hell’s Kitty, is because it was so autobiographical. I am Nick, essentially, and Angel is Angel minus certain supernatural abilities (perhaps). This is not to say I didn’t act at all. I was still playing a certain aspect of myself and character in my role, too. In real life, I am way less passive. I didn’t totally let Angel run all over me behind the scenes either. I was her surrogate daddy, and maintained some law and order. However, I did highlight certain aspects of my “dorky” - as my producing partner, Denise Acosta, loves to say - personality, to create the Nick character. However, those were my real cloths, and it was my actual apartment and furniture and of course my cat who really was named Angel. This saved us tons on wardrobe and props.

What was it about your cast that made them right for this picture? Anyone in particular you fought to cast?

I think Michael Berryman was perfect as the misunderstood, bumbling Detective Pluto. I loved Doug Jones and Bill Oberst Jr. as priestly companions, who try to exorcise Angel, too. They worked really well together. There’s even a really fun word play in their scene, which messes with Latin words, and certain priestly stereotypes, which I won’t totally spoil. Nina Hartley showed a comic side that was fun, too. But Dale Midkiff, who I can’t talk about without giving away a vital scene, not available online, did the most amazing performance in what amounts to a real tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He really knocked it out of the park and threw himself into the role! He’s super talented.  All of the talent in the picture were talented in different ways. I fought to cast them all.

Anything they shied away from or weren’t prepared to do in the film?

Ashley C. Williams from The Human Centipede was a little reluctant to kiss Barbara Nedeljakova from Hostel, but she did it in the end. Who wouldn’t want to kiss Barbara? The scene, which I describe as a threesome gone bad, added to the overall humour and chaos of the film. I think it contributed a sort of sexy sensationalism, too. These are both very attractive women, who have made their mark on the horror world. To see Nick’s character give up an opportunity to sleep with not one but both of them at the same time, simply because he thinks that he hears his cat Angel return after having disappeared for a few days, really makes his character both comedic and endearing.

Tell us about some of the tougher stuff you had them film.

The exorcism scene was challenging because Angel was really getting pretty pissed at Doug Jones and Bill Oberst Jr. She literally tore the gloves Oberst Jr. wore in the scene off his hand. We had to pay for those gloves, too, as they were totally destroyed. Bill broke a window with his hand in that scene, too. The scene with Angel attacking the Killer Klown assassin was hard. I had to hold her up off frame. Creep Creepersin, who wore the clown costume, was sweating bullets.

The scene with Michael Berryman was probably physically the hardest. It was mid October and a record 110 degrees, or something close to it. Berryman had to wear a coat for the scene. This made it physically dangerous because Mr. Berryman has hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, a reduced ability to sweat (hypohidrosis). This is also what gives him that unique look, which without a doubt contributed to his horror icon status. I wanted to play with that real life condition, in his character, even having him call it out in the dialogue. Mostly, because his real life personality is so different from the “mutant monsters” he often portrays. Anyway, the problem is without sweat glands, and with the hellish temperatures that we were facing (not normal for October, a bit supernatural I’d say), we had to put a P.A. on Michael to fan his body, in order to keep him from literally dying. It was downright scary. 

Who played the cat in the film? Did he/she take direction well?

Angel my real cat played the cat in the film, as I mentioned earlier. She took direction well when she wanted to take it. Angel is the ultimate prima donna. I think if you can direct a cat, you can direct anyone. At other times, she could care less about what I wanted. Often, I had to bribe her with lots of cat nip and tuna. If you were on the crew and didn’t like the smell, you were like a fish out of water (excuse the pun). However, Angel did her own stunts and went so far as to scratch Lee Meriwether, who played my grandmother Kyle, in a tribute to her role as Catwoman. I suppose you can say Angel really liked to throw herself into the role. When you watch that scene, keep in mind that Lee Meriwether really bled on my collector Catwoman comic, and that look of worry on my face was very real.

The movie is pure entertainment but to coincide with its release you’re encouraging people to do right by cats. What can you tell us about the causes you’re flying the flag for?

Our distributor Wild Eye Releasing and I have agreed to donate a large portion of our profits to FixNation. This non-profit does an amazing job in Los Angeles, spaying and neutering cats. We also support and promote Actors and Others For Animals, and Much Love Animal Rescue, as well as my aunt’s own non-profit, Cat’s Call Inc., based in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  We as a society have really created a real live horror show for cats just trying to survive; especially, those living in our cities. I think that it would benefit us all societally (and perhaps karmically, too) to do what we can to help reduce their suffering in whatever ways we can.