Stage Fright: Jerome Sable & Eli Batalion on Soundtracks and Meat Loaf

The horror musical comedy Stage Fright premiered at SXSW but now everyone can see it on VOD, before it hits theaters May 9. I met director Jerome Sable and composer Eli Batalion at Sundance in 2011 when their short The Legend of Beaver Dam played before the premiere of Hobo with a Shotgun, and they mentioned their plans for a feature film musical. Well, it’s here. By the way, get Beaver Dam on iTunes too.

Stage Fright is about a slasher at a musical theater camp. Camilla Swanson (Allie MacDonald) works as a cook but wants to follow in her late mother Kylie (Minnie Driver)’s footsteps as the star of the show The Haunting of the Opera. Kylie was murdered after performing the lead role in the play, which the camp decides to revive a decade after Kylie Swanson’s murder. Kylie’s old business associate Roger McCall (Meat Loaf) is now the camp director when he sees history repeating itself.


CraveOnline: I remember you saying you had this idea for a feature that wasn’t an expansion of The Legend of Beaver Dam but all new. At the screening your producer said Stage Fright was six years in development, so I came in midway through that?

Eli Batalion: I can’t do math this early in the morning.

Jerome Sable: No, no, Beaver Dam was 2010 we premiered at Toronto. We met you at Sundance so that’s 2011. This was finished being written around that time and now it’s 2014, but we shot this in 2012 so maybe only about a year in development.


How long do we have to wait for the soundtrack?

Jerome Sable: We actually don’t know if Magnolia has plans right now to release a soundtrack or individual tracks. I don’t know.

Eli Batalion: We’re asking the same question. I literally asked this morning, “How long until a soundtrack, Jerome? Tell me.”


Do you own the music separately from the film?

Jerome Sable: It’s complex. Different tracks are organized in different ways. There are the songs and then there’s the score, so I don’t know exactly the answer of what we’ll end up releasing but if there’s interest in the audience, we’ll figure something out.

Eli Batalion: So far the feedback is good so hopefully that will influence the powers that be.


If Meat Loaf sings something, does his label own that?

Jerome Sable: No, because the movie owns the stuff in the movie.


Are there soundtracks or recordings of your plays available?

Jerome Sable: No. Unfortunately no. For personal archives, there might be one or two things kicking around but nothing that was professionally done for public distribution. We do have one recorded musical project, since you’re asking. It is a hip-hop album that we made in 2004. It’s called G Marks the Spot. The Grafenberg All Stars is the moniker that we went by. That’s a rap album with different musical styles. That one is on iTunes.


How about the Beaver Dam soundtrack? Is that out?

Jerome Sable: No, we never made a soundtrack. It’s hard. I don’t want to assume, but are you asking because you like the music?


Yes, because I want to purchase this music.

Jerome Sable: Okay. I mean, it’s tough because I like that you like it and we obviously work hard on making it so that we hope people will like it. At the end of the day, if you look at the sum total of music minutes in Beaver Dam, it’s hard to warrant the production of an entire album.


The great thing about iTunes is it could be $4.99 instead of a full album price.

Jerome Sable: It could be a single.


If I recall, Beaver Dam was all rock music, right?

Jerome Sable: Yes, there’s the folk song that is acoustic but then it goes into rock.


Why did you want to have a mix of styles in Stage Fright?

Jerome Sable: It just seemed to come out of the story that we were trying to get across. We wanted musical theater people vs. killer. The musical theater people would have their cheery, flamboyant show tunes style. They’re themselves putting on a play so we thought it should riff on the play, The Haunting of the Opera as it’s called in the movie. Then the killer’s music should have its own vibe and style which for us was definitely metal. Death metal, thrash metal, rock metal, that kind of thing. For us, that was just an extension of how we saw the forces in the narrative.

Eli Batalion: As musicians, I think it was also an interesting challenge for us. I think in general, it’s probably harder for us to do exactly the same thing more than once. We like to explore new territory so it was interesting elements of putting together the more traditional musical stuff. We had certain elements but others we’d never experienced before so it was a good challenge for us.


Do you start writing with the music or the lyrics?

Jerome Sable: Lyrics. We really start with the screenplay and then the lyrics coming out of the screenplay and then the music is last. But of course, sometimes a good musical idea will make us go back and change the lyrics or tweak them. Generally, it’s the music serving the lyrics which is serving the story.


Meat Loaf sounds different to me in Stage Fright. Is he pitched lower than usual?

Jerome Sable: He’s not pitched lower than usual but he is singing in a lower range than his earlier work. He’s generally more of a tenor and the part of Roger McCall is written for more of a bass actually. The patriarch role in opera is generally bass, the vocal part bass. So that was one of our questions on our mind when we first met Meat Loaf. I was curious if he could actually sing in the lower range, and he could. We did change the key of a couple of songs for him, but that was the character. That was the nature of those songs. The other point on that is we weren’t trying to do Meat Loaf in Stage Fright. We were doing Roger McCall. The part was written for how would Roger McCall carry himself?


It’s a unique opportunity to hear Meat Loaf sing in a different range.

Jerome Sable: And he’s all about that. When he approaches movies and acting, he’s so serious about just transforming into this role. He’s very serious about not being Meat Loaf in a movie. He’s really committed to being Roger McCall in whatever way he call.


Rocky Horror might have been written for his actual range back then.

Jerome Sable: He was in the play of that before the movie so that was part of a thing that was going on.


Eli, were you always going to play the role of the maestro?

Eli Batalion: Not necessarily actually.

Jerome Sable: I originally wrote the role for a woman and she was named Melanie.

Eli Batalion: At a certain point, our very first film was as young teenagers, Jerome behind the camera and me acting. So it was kind of a shout out to our old style for me to just be thrown in there. At a certain point it made more sense for that particular character to be played by me. We had been quite influenced by Pendaretski as a composer during this whole process.

Jerome Sable: He wrote all the music for The Shining. I mean, he didn’t write it for The Shining but most of The Shining soundtrack is taken from Krzysztof Penderecki. All the fucked up avant-garde shit with an ungodly amount of strings playing screechy high noises high on the bridge of the violin. And he kind of looks like that.

Eli Batalion: Basically as a tribute to my Polish roots, the character is Oleg Penderecki. That’s where it comes from.


I get that joke about the orchestra interpreting any movement the composer makes. Is there any other inside theater geek humor that may be more lost on me?

Jerome Sable: One of the niche things that perhaps is most appreciated by musical theater people is the shower. We have an homage to Hitchcock’s shower scene but it’s also a wink to a musical theater trick, because steaming up the shower is a thing that musical theater people will do. I don’t know if you knew that, but that’s a thing where, backstage, singers will steam up the whole room of a bathroom with the hot water of the shower and then they’ll go in and do their warmups in that room because it’s very soothing on their voice. So we thought that’s the perfect way to shout out the Janet Leigh scene. All the things that she shows her in her kit, like Throat Coat, Performer’s Secret, honey. In fact when we shot that scene, there were three other things that we ended up cutting from the movie.


What are they?

Jerome Sable: Ginger, Emergen-C and a lozenge. The scene used to be a little more Throat Coat centric. We showed the product Throat Coat. The way the scene was originally written, he slices her across her neck and says, “Throat coat.” Then the blood splatters onto the Throat Coat box. Throat Coat was not cool with that in the end.

Eli Batalion: But I think they were in the beginning, were they not?

Jerome Sable: They seemed to be cool with it. No comment.


Did you shoot it before it got cut?

Jerome Sable: We shot it.


One of the themes of the movie is: will an actress sell herself out to the director for a part? Was that an important theme to you?

Jerome Sable: Yes, for us I guess the idea is riffing on a lot of genres at work here but I like in horror when someone does something wrong and then they get punished for it. I like the morality of horror. Good horror is often for me when someone does something wrong and then they get punished, but the punishment is disproportionately harsh to what they did. That’s the idea for me about horror is you do a little something wrong but you get a lot of bad stuff happening to you.

So we just wanted to toy with someone like that where she enters for the right reasons, to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She enters the world of theater thinking she’s going to sing and this is going to help connect her to her mother, not focusing on the apparent rumors of her mother’s lascivious behavior and how her mother got ahead in show business, being unaware or unwilling to really focus on that, and then hoping in our story to try and show you how that happened slowly over time. In for a penny, in for a pound until now it’s too late.


His punishment is a three part kill. Was that designed to be an elaborate three part structure?

Jerome Sable: Have you ever seen Alien?


Well, yeah.

Jerome Sable: I don’t know if you remember the scene, one of the early kills, where he goes in looking for the cat and there’s a general air of unease. There’s some raindrops and he’s looking up. He’s kind of thirsty, he’s tasting the rain drops, or the dew drops from the machinery. There’s just this moment of stillness, he has this enjoyment and suddenly the alien comes out. So the scene ends immediately. We thought, why not start that way but then just have this continuing beginning, middle and end of the onslaught of the kill because we’ve waited so long by this point to have a kill in the camp, there’s been so much buildup, that we thought it might be nice to do a more elaborate punishment kill scene. That was the idea behind it.


What did you get to direct in The ABCs of Death 2?

Jerome Sable: The letter V.

Eli Batalion: Vendetta?

Jerome Sable: I’m not saying.


You don’t even know? You didn’t do ABCs of Death together?

Jerome Sable: Eli does know what the letter stands for but it’s the punchline.


Is it a musical also?

Jerome Sable: It’s not. In fact, part of the reason I’m excited about it is that it is a completely different style of project from what people who might’ve seen our previous work might be expecting. It’s completely a new experiment. I’m curious what you think of it if you end up seeing it.

Eli Batalion: It doesn’t look like Stage Fright.


Are you thinking of another musical?

Jerome Sable: Yes. Nothing to describe at the moment in the media but there are plans for more and the answer is yes. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.