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Kyra Elise Gardner talks Living with Chucky (The FH Interview)

7 min read

Director Kyra Elise Gardner discusses her new documentary about her experience growing up with an unusual family member, . Growing up with her visual effects supervisor father, Kyra was familiar with the iconic Chucky from a young age, and in she explores his legacy as one of the most iconic characters ever. The documentary features fascinating interviews with cast and crew members who shine a light on bringing Chucky to life and to our screens for the last three decades.

In the directors statement it said that you made Living with Chucky straight out of college. Had you made anything feature length before this? And also, was it a really long process, especially with so many interviews?

KEG: Longest process of my life, yes. I didn't realize the big task that I was getting myself into coming out of college. I have a newfound appreciation for documentary filmmakers, especially editors, because it is a very long process. I had experience with short films, obviously, through college, and this started as a seven-minute there. So, it was a big transition into making it a three-act thing with a lot more time, which is great. But then there was so much to fit in from Chucky being a practical doll, talking about the switch and puppeteering, talking about the budgets being shifted, new characters coming in, and then also the personal aspect of it. I think what took the longest was editing and trying to make something cohesive while trying to cover so much. I totally understand why the Friday the 13th documentary is like six hours now, so much to cover. It was my big thing coming out of college, I was filming some of these interviews while still attending school and then when I got out, which was crazy. I was trying to do too many things at the same time. Then when I got out, I was collecting more interviews, and then COVID hit which stops the timer for a bit on filming. And then and then we came back when things started to open up. I don't think I got shoved into the deep end of the pool, [I think] that somebody just like dropped me straight into the ocean.

Were you able to plan ahead much, or did the film mostly take shape in the editing process, with the personal aspects especially?

KEG: I knew I wanted that personal story of the family. But when it was a short format, I just had to focus and go right into the family aspect without touching on the franchise history much at all. I knew I wanted this moment, but I didn't know where in the film it would happen, how to really pepper it in. That proved hardest in the editing room because my dad didn't come on until Seed of Chucky. So, it was like, okay, where does this personal moment come in? And I think we have to talk about the films first to talk about how we felt about the films afterwards. There was kind of a loose structure going into filming it. I asked everybody similar questions, then different geared towards their department. But yeah, it really found its voice in the editing room, which is why I have such an appreciation for documentary editors, because it's insane. You're really creating the story there.

You said that you thought of Chucky as your brother in some senses, and it seemed like the whole crew and cast was a sort of extended family that you were exploring. Did it feel full circle in that way, coming back to Chucky as well?

KEG: Yeah, it was definitely interesting.  If I was talking to 10-year-old me and said “we'll make a movie about Chucky someday” she would say “no, that's dumb, why would we do that, he's just this thing that's pretty much our little brother.” Although he's technically older. It was definitely a full circle moment, meeting these names that had been a big part of my childhood because my dad would go off to work on things and he would talk about what he's doing. They filmed in Romania and Canada, so it was never something that was here, it felt kind of separate from my experience. When I went and did the short film it opened for Cult of Chucky, playing that year in Fright Fest in Toronto after Dark. That was my first kind of initiation into the Chucky family because they were so appreciative of the documentary. Dan [Mancini] was so lovely, and just so supportive, I got to experience this with them and their premiere as well for Cult of Chucky. It really inspired me, as well as the fans, to push it into a feature length. And now I feel like it's really come full circle, because now it's coming out the same time as season two of the series, as well. It's like, wow, this is a very big circle moment from when I started out when I was around 19 with this idea, which is so fun. And I just feel so much more involved and closer to everybody.

Why do you think horror villains become so iconic compared to antagonists from other genres? Is there something about Chucky that you think makes them particularly like iconic and memorable?

KEG: Yeah, I don't know if it's horror fans in particular, or just me, but [for example] I think Ursula is way more interesting than Ariel. Sometimes the monsters are way more interesting than our protagonists because their backstory is so crazy, how did they get to be the way that they are? That's in a way what all horror villains are [about], how did you get here, why are you causing this chaos? I think they are interesting people to follow. These are characters that do things that we can't do in real life. You could imagine “what if I could go that far in my life and say, get revenge on somebody who wronged me?” We get to explore that in a setting where nobody actually died, we get to explore that side of humanity. And people or in this case, a doll. I think the fact that Chucky is a doll, everybody's afraid of clowns or dolls, or something like that when they're younger. I personally was afraid of American Girl dolls, I think those are very creepy. We get to see this reality played out of “what if this doll did come alive?” And Brad's [Dourif] performance is always iconic. I think that definitely contributes to how long it's been going on, how much he puts into that character and his voice. And the fact that it is practical as well, [it's like] this thing that could actually happen and I think all the true crime fans love the fact that it's actually a real serial killer in a doll, it is very appealing. Especially that look is so iconic, they probably had no idea when they were going out to make the red hair and the overalls and the sweater. It's so iconic, they created such a unique look compared to other iconic killers.

Did you get any great nuggets of wisdom from any of the people you're interviewing about making this film?

KEG: Oh my gosh, everybody was so positive. Brad [Dourif] had some wonderful wisdom. Obviously, his lines that are in the doc about acting and acting as a killer are just so mesmerizing. He had so many eloquent things to say during our time together about being in the industry, and especially because he flew out from New York for that . So, he was very supportive and giving back to people and giving advice on that. As well as , [who] was just the most supportive, amazing human being who had so much advice about the genre. And especially for me, as a director, acting and what it takes to go there in a scene where you're supposed to be very frightened. Because actually on a horror movie set it's really funny and the cameras practically two feet from your face, and you're looking at a tennis ball over in the corner, and that's your eyeline for the monster. So just really good nuggets from them. And my interview with was actually very brief because he's so busy, but he had some wonderful notes as well about the industry and just how you treat people. Really, everybody was so great.

Finally, what's next for you? Are you sticking with documentary, are you working on anything else?

KEG: I did shoot and direct another behind the scenes documentary, the making of the Foo Fighters Movie, Studio 666, that came out this year, and I was following them for that. Also, I was shooting that while finishing this as well, so it was a little overwhelming. But that was so lovely, and a wonderful experience. And then I definitely want to transition, and I'm writing my first narrative feature horror film. That's a period piece, which should be super fun.

 

Living with Chucky aired at Frightfest .