Now first things first, I love horror movies, so when a guy who’s a true fan gets a chance to make one, there is nothing better. And that’s the beauty of Kenny Yakkel’s DEAD AIR. Inspired by early Romero films and the tragedy on 9/11, he shifts gears on the old idea behind WAR OF THE WORLDS and creates what looks to be a cool thriller about zombies and an on-air personality hearing the cries from outside the safety of the radio station.
When I sat down with Kenny on the set of DEAD AIR, I found a man who truly loves horror and keeps himself busy with all things dark and spooky, including producing credits for the animated short series, XOMBIE. And if we are really good, Mr. Yakkel and director Corbin Bernson (THE DENTIST) will be collaborating again on THE CLOWN, which if all goes well, will be shooting before the end of the year. Thanks for the heads up Kenny!
Where did the script for “Dead Air” come from?
Last year, it was about this time I’d written a script for Stephen Polk. He had commissioned me; he’s one of the producers. And it wasn’t something I really enjoyed because it was somebody else’s idea. So I had to hammer their idea out and when it was done, he said, ‘let’s do another one’ and I was like, ‘only if it’s one of my ideas’. I pitched him this one, for “Dead Air” and he said, ‘alright, that’s the one to go with’. I wrote it for him and it shifted hands, gave it to these guys at Antibody Films, Jesse and Chris; they’re the producing team so their making it actually happen so… Steven’s got his producer credit on the side so I’m now dealing straight with these guys so… basically it was my 9/11 and bring George Romero into the mix, you know. It’s basically the story of… my intention was to reverse “War of the Worlds”, what Orson Welles did over the radio broadcast that scared the shit out of everybody nationwide on Halloween of whatever year that was.
And instead I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we had something happening and these guys are stuck in a radio station and everyone’s calling in on their cell phones, ‘Oh, they’re pulling people out of their cars!” and all that shit. That way we’re saving expense. We don’t have to go and do what Spielberg did with that movie “War of the Worlds” and show all that stuff. Seventy-two pages takes place on that set right there so it’s almost like a play. It’s sort of a play on people’s fears and it’s not your traditional zombie movie where the guy’s are walking around eating flesh. It’s more of a, terrorist gas blows up at a sporting event and now everyone’s infected and they freak out and turn into your like, “28 Days Later” maniac.
And they’re like they are on PCP and they just have to scratch at whatever they get, and if you’re one of the unfortunate ones that gets scratched, now you’re one of them so it spreads expediential. And ultimately the guy that set it up, the main bad terrorist guy that sets it off ends up at the radio station. And his whole thing is holding the gun on Bill Moseley’s character who is kind of the Howard Stern guy and says, get on the air and tell everyone there is a nuclear bomb about to go off and that they need to get out of their houses. So the whole point is that they want more people to flood into the streets…
To infect them?
Yeah. It’s kind of a double plan thing you know; let’s scare the hell out of them. And Bill’s playing it, you know, I don’t wanna do that and have all these people die. One of the story plot points is that he has a wife that lives across town and he’s doing sort of a Howard Stern, just bashing out on Middle Eastern people and everything, but as it turns out it’s his “act”. And he’s doing like a Stern act and across town his wife is a Middle Eastern woman.
It’s kind of an interesting twist and he wants to go save her, but he’s on the air and his sidekick who is played by David Moscow who played young Tom Hanks in “Big”; he’s the sidekick; he’s sort of the Artie Lange to Howard Stern. And he says, well, I have a Japanese motorcycle, I can get to your wife, weaving in and out of all these people, so I’m gonna take the chance to go save your family. So now this kind of asshole-y Howard Stern type guy says wow, this guy I’ve been beating up all these years as my partner, he’s a really special guy and it kind of changes their relationship. It’s an interesting little, weird twist; I tried to throw a little political aspect into it like Romero used to do it all the time.
Yeah, he still does. And I just thought, well, I like horror movies that have a little something other than a cat jumping out at you in the dark or something like that.
Well you look back at the Seventies and all those horror movies that are influential today were almost all political.
Those were my favorite movies.
They rocked dude.
I loved the slasher Eighties movies and all the “Saw’s” were okay. But the Seventies… the TV movies were better back then than the theatrical releases. I loved seeing stuff like “Gargoyles” and “Duel” and all those cool things…
“Let’s Scare Jessica to Death”… did you see that?
That’s good too. I hear they’re remaking it. [We both
cringe] So that’s the craze in Hollywood because when they go to producers. The
producers say to the investors it’s a proven market, that’s why everything’s
being remade. “Day of the Dead” is about to be remade. I’m trying to avoid as
many remakes as I can.
Well this must be a dream come true for you…
It is. It’s great. I’ve been out here in LA since 1990. I’ve been working on… I came out here specifically to write horror films, and comedies. I like writing comedies as well. And for fifteen years it was really tough. I got work as a dolly grip and I worked for fifteen years on some big stuff. I worked three years on “Babylon 5”; that’s how I met Patty Tallman. I did stuff on “The West Wing” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. I did movies; I was the dolly grip on “Killing Zoe”, the Roger Avary movie. So I did a lot of stuff, so I’d take a job and take some time off and write a script, take another job. And I did that for fifteen years. And finally, I said God; I just can’t get my foot in the door. That’s when I just started concentrating on all the websites like ARROW IN THE HEAD and Bloody Disgusting and I was seeing what was being sold. And I’d see “Saw” is being sold so I’d write a movie like “Saw”… that genre. Sure enough, about a month after I wrote it, I landed my first agent and about two weeks after he had it… he had set up a deal with Element Films International as an output deal with Lionsgate.
So this is going back about a year. I thought, dude, this is it… this is my next big thing. This is the movie. It was called “The Janitor’s Zoo”. They loved it, they optioned it, they went through two-hundred directors, they finally got the guy they wanted. It was a young hot-shot guy; he’s got stuff set up at Fox. And then they wanted me to change the script a little bit. They said, make it a little more like this… and I said that’s a little too much like “Saw”, you’re going too much like “Saw”. I made the changes and they finally came back a couple of weeks later and they said, after six months, It’s too much like “Saw”, were going to drop it. I guess it just had something to do with…
I guess Lionsgate ended up releasing “Saw”, and too much similarity. That was my big, big break and it just fell away, so I was thrilled when this actually popped up. So I’m jazzed and hopefully this’ll start the ball rolling again. I’ve got a bunch of stuff out there right now that’s shopping around. My wife is a line producer and she just signed a deal with Ken Foree from “Dawn of the Dead”. And they have a contract now that they are gonna go looking for money to produce another script of mine called “Burning the Man”. And that would be a much bigger budget then this one. It’s gonna be pretty exciting if they can pull that one together. My wife just started a production company last year. She’s done a few things, if she’s not producing she’ll take a few production jobs, she did “Devil’s Den” last year.
With “Dead Air”, I am really impressed with the cast that you have.
Yeah, they had thrown a few names out but they weren’t horror actors. And like nobody’s going to want to go see a horror movie with Richard Dean Anderson. Let’s call Bill Moseley. And I knew Pat from “Babylon 5” so we pulled that in and we also have, the guy that played Dozer from “The Matrix” [Anthony Ray Parker], the big guy. He hasn’t worked yet so I haven’t met him. And Navid Negahban, who plays the “heavy”, the bad guy. He’s gonna be doing a Mike Nichols movie [“Charlie Wilson’s War”] opposite Tom Hanks with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts too. So he’s going on to some really big stuff after he finishes this. He may not be as recognizable to the horror crowd but he’s got good acting chops. It’s gonna be pretty exciting.
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