Martha Thomases: Malevolent Ways!


It seems that every few weeks there’s a new animated feature at the movie theater. This is quite different from my youth, when only Disney made full-length cartoons (that were distributed in Ohio) and they took three to four years to produce.

It seems that every television channel has at least some animated content, a lot of it aimed at grown-ups. This is quite different from my youth, when all cartoons were for kids, and were on networks on Saturday mornings and local channels, maybe for an hour after school.

We can have an interesting conversation about why animation grew up and expanded its audience. Was it the influence of anime? The Baby Boomers loving cartoons so much we refuse to give them up, just like with comic books? The (relative) inexpensive production compared to feature films, especially as computers improved?

Who cares why? More animation means more choices for those of us who love the medium.

Recently I had a chance to cyber-meet Jim Cirile and Tanya Klein, of Coverage Ink Films. They’re making the first American animated horror film, Malevolent, starring Morena Baccarin, Ray Wise, and William Shatner, among others. Go to the link, and you can donate to the IndieGoGo campaign. There’s cool stuff there.

1) You say Malevolent is the first American 2-D animated horror film. Was there one (or more) in 3-D?

Tanya Klein (TK): Not that we’re aware of, and we’ve looked pretty hard. These are mostly done in Japan. We’re not sure why there has never been an animated horror feature film made in the US.

Jim Cirile (JC): The closest we can find is Dead Space, which was an amazing film, 2-D animation, but it was sci-fi horror. Ours is just straight-up horror.

2) Why do you think animation is a good technique for horror? What can you do with animation that you can’t do with live-action?

TK: You can do anything with live action that you can do with animation nowadays thanks to CGI. That barrier has been crossed. Just watch any Marvel movie for evidence of that. In our case, it’s more about creating a cool and unique experience. We wanted to do something that’s never been done before and do it in a really fresh way. Animation gives us the ability to have a lot more production value than we might have been able to afford otherwise as a small indie production, while also allowing us to go anywhere the psychology of the story dictates, with off-the-hook visuals. The sacrifice is losing some of the details of the actor’s faces, but great voices actors know how to put all of that into the voice.

JC: There’s something really awesome and unique about this type of experience as animation. We were wondering if people would feel the same level of engagement as with live action. So we screened a scene at a local university for a class full of film students to gauge their reactions. And it was amazing. Even though people were watching drawings, they were gripped. The drama of the scene carries through.

3) Awesome cast. How did you get them?

TK: We were very, very lucky! Our producers Cindi Rice and Paige Barnett, and Jim and I, made a list of all the people we’ve worked with in the past, and then our wish list cast. Amazingly, none of the people we’d worked with were available! That meant we had to go in cold to the rest of the cast. Morena (Baccarin) was our first choice for Gamemaster. She’s just so perfect for the role of the aloof, dispassionate manipulator with perhaps a hidden softer side. We went in cold to her agent, and Morena responded to the script. She told us she loved the darkness of it. How cool is that?

JC: Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) also has plenty of cred as the demented, sociopath patriarch Cyrus DeKalb. Again, we went in cold; same with Bill Moseley (House of 1000 Corpses.)

TK: However, we did have a personal connection to William Shatner. Jim is friends with his son-in-law.

JC: Yeah, makeup artist extraordinaire Andrew Clement, who also did the Deadpool makeup with Bill Corso. I asked Andrew if there was any chance of approaching Mr. Shatner, and he laughed because of course he gets asked this a lot. But he put in a good word for us, and then next thing we know, we get a phone call – “Jim, Tanya, it’s William Shatner. Tell me about your project.” We almost fell over.

TK: So we pitched Malevolent to William Shatner on the phone, and he said to send over the script and an offer. And the Great Bird of the Galaxy smiled upon us, because Mr. Shatner really liked the script.

JC: He’s crazy-busy, and we’re huge fans, so it was such an honor for us for him to come on board. What an incredible man. And by the way, wait till you hear him in this role. You’ve never heard William Shatner “dark.” Wow!

4) The animation (at least in the trailer) seems to me to be limited, sort of like Archer. Will it be more fluid when it’s finished? Was this a style choice or an economic one?

JC: Archer is the exact style we are shooting for. The animated is somewhat limited by budget. Fortunately, one can use the limitations in an artistic and interesting way. As well, Adobe After Effects can fill in the in-betweens that used to have to be drawn by hand. It’s the only way to get the project finished on our budget level.

TK: We will be using a few CG effects in the movie, but it will be 99% hand-drawn.

5) It seems to me (again, my perspective could be wrong) that there are a lot of women working on this film, more than just acting talent. Is this unusual?

TK: So glad you noticed! You know, of course, there’s a fair amount of sexism in Hollywood even to this day. Just look at the DGA and WGA statistics for the amount of women hired in any given year. It’s generally a pretty low percentage. It’s insane, of course. We are fortunate to be working with two kick-ass producers – Cindi Rice and Paige Barnett. About half our art and color team are women as well.

JC: Our director is a dude, and so am I, of course. But the movie focus is on a very complex female character, Miriam, and her relationship with two other complex women – her messed-up sister Kelsey (Florence Hartigan) and Gamemaster. Both represent different aspects of Miriam’s personality in a way – the one that just wants to fall apart and vanish into a haze of drugs, and the one who wants to be powerful and stoic and invulnerable. I think these are all not just things women can relate to, but all of us.

TK: But it’s especially cool I think, in this sort of creative endeavor, to have such a cool team with the unique perspectives all of us bring, and if that in some way comes across as female empowerment and kick-ass, then hell yes, bring it!

6) How will Malevolent be distributed?

TK: It’s a little too early soon to talk distribution. We’ve met with several companies already and will be meeting with more I’m sure. We’ll see where it goes.

JC: This probably won’t be a wide theatrical release, but certainly a festival and limited release run could be in the offing. Certainly comic-cons. We’ll see what makes the most sense when we’re done with the movie this fall.

  1. What is your background? How did you come to animation?

JC: I have a degree in animation and fine art and am a huge animation fan, but soon after college I realized I didn’t have the patience for it, and that my skills were better suited for writing and producing.

TK: It was actually our producers Cindi Rice and Paige Barnett who suggested doing Malevolent as an animated movie. They had done animation for Epic Level Entertainment, such as Xombie and the motion comic sequence from the hit FearNet/Machinima web series Bite Me. Paige thought that going animated would help us stand out. And we all looked at each other and the clouds parted, and it was like, wow, that’s brilliant. As near as we can tell, no one had ever done an animated horror movie in the US before.

JC: Developing scripts is actually our day job – through

TK: We develop scripts with writers, producer, and managers and help hone that material and those voices until they’re nice and shiny. The number one issue we’ve seen is, as Jim said, writers not learning the rudiments. There are so many resources out there – online classes, blogs, books, YouTube, etc. It’s easier than ever to learn what you need to learn to be a writer/filmmaker. I took online producing classes recently through one website. Don’t be afraid to rewrite! That’s where the magic happens. Malevolent literally took I think 23 drafts.

JC: Yep, literally submitting it to our Coverage Ink readers for analysis draft after draft until it finally was racking up those ‘considers.’ So don’t be afraid to go for it, and understand that it’s always a learning process. Filmmaking and writing are crafts. They can be learned.

8) Favorite horror movies?

TK: I have to give it up for Army of Darkness. A great combination of genres. Brilliantly anarchic. I’m more of a literary horror fan – King, Koontz and so forth. Sean of the Dead was another great one.

JC: Evil Dead II, The Fly (remake), Alien and Aliens, American Werewolf in London, Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw I and II, Serpent and the Rainbow, Jacob’s Ladder, The Thing (Carpenter)… it’s a pretty big list, but I tend to like horror films that bring something unexpected or out of the box to the genre. Zombies, vampires, etc., all bore me.

9) Anything else to add?

TK: This has been our geeky passion project for two years now, and we’ve put everything on the line to make this film happen. We had to literally build a team from scratch and figure out how to coordinate everyone, located in 13 different countries and time zones. All to make Malevolent happen. So we’re excited, nervous, scared – you know, all that good stuff. But the amazing thing is that the reaction so far has been amazing, and people seem to really dig what we’re doing. Hopefully we’ll knock it out of the park and show everyone what you can do.

JC: We’re all about DIY and writer empowerment. For years screenwriters have given away their power — nothing happens with your material unless someone else buys it. Thanks to the Internet, crowdfunding, low-cost HD cameras and so forth, now anyone can make movies. It’s a beautiful thing. So get out there and make it happen!