Director Joseph Kahn Talks DETENTION, References in the Film, and Working with Josh Hutcherson and Dane Cook

     April 12, 2012

detention joseph kahn

Detention, opening in theaters on April 13th, is a wild and crazy hipster, teen horror-comedy that mixes in science fiction, body-swapping, time-travelling, 1990’s throwback, date flick and a murdering psycho, in only the way that director/co-writer Joseph Kahn (Torque) can. Cinderhella is a slasher-movie killer who has seemingly come to life and is preying on the local students of Grizzly Lake, who are just trying to survive their final year of high school. As the bodies pile up, Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) and Clapton Davis (The Hunger GamesJosh Hutcherson) are in a deadly and outrageous race against time to save the world.

At the film’s press day, filmmaker Joseph Kahn (who is known for his music videos for such artists as Eminem, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, U2, and Muse, among others) talked about wanting to make a high school movie that’s relevant for kids today, how he stays in touch with pop culture, all the films he referenced, creating the Cinderhella character, how closely they stuck to the dialogue in the script but continuously worked with the interpretation of it, and the bonus features that he’s working on for the Blu-ray release.  Check out what he had to say after the jump:

Question: Where did the original idea for this film come from?

detention joseph kahnJOSEPH KAHN:  The original idea was that we wanted to make a high school movie that’s relevant for kids today.  John Hughes made a certain type of high school movie, and then it stayed static for 30 years.  The only thing that changed was that maybe it was found footage or maybe it’s a little snarkier, but the actual language that kids live in today, like with texting, motion graphics, the internet and that whole hashtag culture doesn’t exist in movies today.  It’s left on the floor.  Even the way the kids react with media today is so completely different than what most movies have.  We just wanted to make a movie that challenged them.  When I see a kid in a movie theater texting, I think it’s a failure of the movie.  It’s not a triumph of the Apple iPhone.  It’s a failure of Warner Bros. and Sony, and all that, because they haven’t kept their attention and challenged them.  They’re smart little kids that are bored, and I wanted to challenge them.

How do you stay in touch with all of today’s pop culture?

KAHN:  I have a day job that’s very odd.  Most people, by the time they’re 25, glom onto one kind of music and that’s what they listen to for the rest of their lives.  I’m going to turn 40 this year, and yet I still have every record company sending every new, hot track to me, to do music videos, so I’m chained by the foot to pop culture.  I still know what kids dress like and speak like, and I still hang out with them.  It’s just the nature of my day job.  I am a freak of nature that has to understand them.

Were you ever worried that this would just go way too far and be too crazy for audiences?

KAHN:  I don’t think the film is going to work for everybody, period.  It wasn’t meant to be done for everybody.  I didn’t four quadrant this movie, like Hollywood did.  I knew it was a very specific audience that was there.  We’re also taking a shot in the dark.  I’m imagining there’s a particular audience out there that’s younger and older, too.  It works on two levels.  Do they exist?  I don’t know.  I had to make it to find out if it does.  When you do something this experimental, that’s part of the process and part of the risk.  I only spent my own money, so that I’m the only person that gets hurt, if it fails.

How many films did you reference with this?

dane-cook-josh-hutcherson-detentionKAHN:  Oh, gosh, every film.  It’s a mash-up.  There’s a little Donnie Darko, The Fly, Back to the Future, Scream, Freaky Friday, The Breakfast Club, Raising Arizona.  It’s a fusion of almost everything, in the way that I think society today tends to take cultural memory. Because there’s an internet, it’s on there forever.  I think that’s the way kids see the world today.  They actually speak to each other using retro concepts now because the internet culture has kept that memory alive, constantly.  On a certain level, the film retains a cultural memory.  It may be meaningless to some kids, but it doesn’t matter.  A lot of the ‘90s references will be meaningless, but do some of these kids really understand what they’re wearing when they wear a Led Zeppelin shirt?  No.  But, it looks cool and it seems to have some sort of cultural cache.  Kids today are sold so much, by corporations and media and commercials and advertising and music videos, that I do.  A lot of times, they retain that stuff and wear it, and that’s the concept of a hipster.  It’s about owning it and redefining it, on your own level.  It’s a way of retaining control and meaning, in a world where you’re being told to think in a certain way.

How did you create Cinderhella?  Was that character inspired by something?

detention-movie-image KAHN:  The movie was actually constructed with a new media perspective.  If you really like a movie these days, you don’t watch it once, especially if you’re a kid, because you have a different relationship with media.  You expect that to be on your hard drive, and it will look just as good, any time you watch it.  It’s not like VHS, where you watched it a certain amount of times and it started fading away.  You know that that thing is going to be as crisp and as clean, as many times as you want to watch it.  So, I knew that the film was going to be watched multiple times, a lot like with music videos.  Music videos aren’t designed to be watched once.  They’re designed to be watched hundreds of times.  On a certain level, the film was dream logic-ed, like a music video.  If you look at Cinderhella, from a production design aspect, I tried to find an interesting, iconic character, having her face wrapped up in bandages.  That was funny.  On the dream logic level, you’ll see the parallels of that interesting connection that I made.  There’s a reason why she’s called Cinderhella.  Riley, herself, has one shoe through the whole thing.  At the end, she loses her shoe and gets her Prince Charming to put it back on.  Riley is a Cinderella story.  Cinderhella is both the thing that’s attacking her and the metaphor for her life.  I don’t want to go too much into this stuff, but it’s layered throughout the whole movie.  The film is loaded full of things like that.  That’s why it took us three years and we were very careful not to change lines.  It is really layered and built on a million different little ideas like that, all throughout the thing.  The more you watch it, the more wonderful little discoveries you’re going to find.

Since he did this before all of his huge success with The Hunger Games, what was it about Josh Hutcherson that made you want to cast him in this?

josh-hutcherson-detention-imageKAHN: I will say that I’m going to take full credit for this.  I knew Josh was going to be a star.  One of the things you do, as a music video director, is spot talent.  Th at’s one of my things.  I don’t just do random people.  I don’t turn Britney Spears into a star.  I have to spot that these people are going to be stars, in the future, and say, “Okay, these guys have cultural validity and they’re going to pop.”  I knew Josh was going to pop before the studios knew it.  It was just a matter of time before Josh found his thing.  When we were casting, at that point, he wasn’t what he is now, but I made that call and said, “This kid is definitely going to pop.  It’s just a matter of time.”

How closely did you stick to the dialogue in the script?

KAHN:  Almost completely.  Dane [Cook] improvised a couple of nice lines.  We treated it like a play, for the most part.  We worked for three years on the script and we finessed every single line.  What I did want was levels of interpretation.  Dane is an amazing vocalized.  He has the best pitch of anybody, in terms of being able to modulate his voice.  He can say nothing and it’s funny.  Some people complain about that, but that’s a fucking gift.  He doesn’t even have to tell a joke, and it’s funny.  The beautiful thing about shooting it digitally is that I could let Dane riff on a line, 30 or 40 times.  I would pitch him something and say, “Okay, do it as a CAA agent,” and he would do it.  I would just challenge him.  I would say, “Do it as a dolphin,” and he would interpret it.  Suddenly, I had this amazing weapon, and I wanted to fire it in all directions and see what happened.

joseph-kahn-detentionDid you have to cut any scenes to get an R rating?

KAHN:  No, we didn’t cut anything.  It was almost like the rough cut that I made, the minute I walked off set.

Are you planning a lot of bonus features for the DVD?

KAHN:  We are.  We are putting together a narration.  The version that I have for the Blu-ray that I’m working on is more like pop-up video.  I’m not interested in the director’s commentary stuff.  I think that stuff is really boring.  And, if the director explains too much, it takes a certain mystery away from the interpretation that is very important for the audience to have.  The audience should have their own interpretation.  The filmmaker should make it, and then the critic should interpret it, period.  If the director goes in there and starts telling you exactly what to think, you have just completely slapped the audience in the face and not given them the opportunity to interest it, and that’s terrible.

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