Living With Chucky Director, Kyra Elise Gardner Interview
Living with ChuckyAs the daughter of a special effects professional who worked on such films as Darkman, Army of Darkness and Hocus Pocus among many others, first time filmmaker, Kyra Elise Gardner was inspired to use her Dad’s work on the Child’s Play films as the subject of her documentary, Living With Chucky. What follows is an interview with the director, who provides insight into how she exposed the heart of this horror franchise, without the bloody organ being ripped out of someone’s chest by a killer doll.
Adam Pope: First off, I have to say that I loved Living With Chucky. It really surprised me with its heart and the production values were wonderful. I’m a huge documentary fan, so I was especially fascinated by the background design for the interview segments. That’s something I always pay attention to, such as the Abigail Breslin set for Living With Chucky. How much thought did you give to the spaces in which you conducted the interviews, as far as including a piece of Chucky paraphernalia somewhere in the background?
Kyra Elise Gardner: Yeah, it was important for me. I feel like with horror documentaries especially, people tend to light it very harshly with moody lighting because that reflects the films, but I wanted to focus on a more natural and light setting, because it’s just candid conversations with this family that I’m getting to know. So that was that was definitely a thought going into lighting the spaces. Then I think as time went on, I was more so like, “Okay, where can I put Chucky?” It’s so lovely, because actually for a lot of people, the doll that’s in their interview is their doll. So for Fiona Dourif’s background, it’s a Curse of Chucky doll that my dad gave her, that was just at her house. And then John Waters had Glen there. So I was like, of course we have to have Glen. And Alex Benson, I had just given him a Good Guy doll from Cults3d, as a gift from my dad. So that was important to kind of see where I could play with putting him in.
Then I tried to do it with the celebrity guest interviews, to make them a little bit more moody. So that visually they were a bit different. But then Marlon Wayans came in and…I don’t know if I can say this, but his house was being renovated at the time. So he was like, “We have to do my interview outside.” And I was like, “!%&#”, we just ruined like that whole frickin’ aesthetic that I was going for. Gosh, darn it. So then I did Dan Povenmire’s interview outside as well. So at least it wasn’t the only one that was outside. But that’s when you got to live with and documentary filmmaking, you run with what you get.
Adam Pope: Did you always have the building of a Chucky doll interstitial segment in mind or that come later in the post production process?
Kyra Elise Gardner: That definitely came after I had a really rough cut of the film. I knew I needed some transitions that weren’t talking heads to give us a breather and be visually interesting. And for me, I liked that idea. I couldn’t do it in the short film of this documentary. So it’s something in the back of my mind, I forgot until coming to the feature and seeing the first rough cut. And I was like, oh, yeah, I remember that. That was something interesting I wanted to do, but didn’t have the time back then. And I thought it was important to showcase what goes into making Chucky, before he even goes on to step where the animatronics come in. Like, how many people know his sweater is literally knitted by hand on a loom line by line, that’s intense. So it was important for me to showcase everybody behind the scenes that work on this.
Adam Pope: You certainly include all the behind the scenes making of the movie details, but then halfway through it kind of surprises the audience with where it’s going. Was Living with Chucky always designed to focus more on the personal relationships of the cast and crew?
Kyra Elise Gardner: Yes, I always had the familial aspect in mind. That was the whole reason I wanted to do, because it was a bit more personal. And I feel like as an audience member, that makes something more interesting. But as far as like a reveal, when it was gonna happen in the documentary, that was very much a process of playing with it in the editing room. Obviously, if you’re following the movie, you already know I’m the one making it by the time we get there. So it’s not much of a surprise in hindsight now, but it was a little bit tricky, because if I brought myself in from the very beginning, my dad didn’t work on four of the movies. When I decided it needed to be a retrospect and go through the movies, it was like an hour until I came back in anyways and it just felt a little disconnected. Whereas it was the most impactful to come in when we start talking about family, rather than me like, “Hi, I’m this filmmaker and here’s this shit that I wasn’t a part of for a bunch of years.”
Adam Pope: It was super impactful. Very surprising, but in the best way. What was the biggest hurdle that you had to overcome in trying to get the documentary into production. Was there a surprise along the way that stood out to you as things got rolling?
Kyra Elise Gardner: It’s funny, but the easiest part of it was getting the interviews. That was the easiest part. It was just asking who could connect me to who and then seeing who my dad knew. As far as guests celebrities, I’m friends with Abigail. So that was easy. Which I know for other documentary filmmakers is the hard part. But then for me, one of the biggest challenges was the legal battle of having the IP of Chucky in my documentary because this was an independent film. I was also like, 20 When I started this, so I had no idea what I know now of attorneys and lawyers and things like that. So it was really a trial and error process.
I went to James Janisse’s wedding, who’s in my documentary and I was complaining about the legal battles I was fighting. Unbeknownst to me, I was complaining to Heather Langenkamp from the A Nightmare On Elm Street movies. I wasn’t processing who I was talking to. She connected me to her lawyer who cleared I Am Nancy, her documentary. So she has a special Thank You in the credits, because honestly, she helped me get this documentary through the final hurdles of all the legal battles I was facing.
Adam Pope: That’s awesome, because you always hear how small the horror film community is, so it’s nice that she was helping you out. Speaking of which, how much personal interaction have you had with the horror fan community prior to Living with Chucky? Do you feel ready now as you’re taking it to conventions and festivals, presenting this world of Chucky?
Kyra Elise Gardner: Yeah, I love horror conventions. I had been to several. I didn’t really go when I was in high school because it was too far to drive, but then I started going more so when I was in college. Going with my dad to Monsterpalooza, and it was really fun. I would get to experience the horror community as just being a part of it. And then of course, people would come up to my dad, if they knew who he was and his work, which was really cool to see him get appreciation and love for what he does. Then with this festival circuit now, being on the receiving end is really weird for me, I can’t fathom. So many Chucky fans came up to the L.A. screening of this and it blew my mind. I was talking to people for like an hour and a half after my movie ended and my mom was very annoyed. Somebody gave me a Chucky keychain that I still have and I’m just like, wow, this is what it’s like to receive the love. I’m such a fan of horror movies, so I’m the giver of love, but to receive it is a totally different experience. That’s so wonderful.
Adam Pope: Having grown up with Chucky, as we see in the film, and living with the visuals of the character all this time while making the Living with Chucky documentary, do you have a preference for the baby face Chucky versus the stitched together look?
Kyra Elise Gardner: I like the stitched look. I want to bring him back. I obviously have no say, but I tell my dad that all the time. It makes him more menacing and fits the personality a lot more. I do love the Howdy Doody Good Guy doll from Cults3d, but more because that’s the doll that’s been traveling with me on my film festival circuit. So he’s kind of become a stuffed animal for me at this point. And I love that. But “scar Chucky” is where it’s at.
I want to thank Kyra Elise Gardner for her time and sharing the stories of making Living With Chucky. You can watch a video version of the interview at this link and read my review of the film here.
LIVING WITH CHUCKY opens on VOD on Screambox and all major platforms on April 4.
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