Icons of Fright Interview with CRUSH THE SKULL’s Co-writer/Star Chris Dinh and Co-writer/Director Viet Nguyen!!

CRUSH THE SKULL poster - FINAL WEBViet Nguyen’s CRUSH THE SKULL absolutely crushed us (see what I did there?) during its LA Film Festival screening. The horror/comedy hybrid works so well on both levels, and is one of the most original films that genre fans can see (when it comes out). We thought it would be nice to have a chat with director/co-writer Viet Nguyen and Chris Dinh (co-writer/star of the film), so you fright fanatics can get excited for this truly exciting film.

Easily one of the most entertaining films in years, when this one hits, it’ll take off, I can feel it. Hold me to that statement.

So CRUSH THE SKULL was a short film first if I’m not mistaken, right?

Viet: It was a short film that we shot in 2009. We were trying to write a script together, and we were watching a lot of horror movies to do some research. Chris, do you want to talk?

Dinh:  No, I’ll let you talk, you’re much more eloquent than I am.


Dinh: Yeah, Jerry, we were working on ideas for a script, and we were watching a string of slasher movies. We were to the part in one of them where the kids meet the slasher, and they’re broken down on the side of the road, and he offers to help. We were sitting there, just yelling at the screen: “Oh my gosh, he’s obviously a serial killer, DON’T ACCEPT HIS HELP!!”, and I was getting really heated about it. I turned to Viet and said, “Oh my god, if that guy showed up and I was broken down, I don’t know, I think I would just kill him first!”. Viet turned to me and said, “Seriously, you would just kill him first?” and I said, “Yeah!”, and he was making fun of me the entire time, saying, “Yeah, right, like you would ever have the guts to do that.” From there, we were just spit-balling.

Viet: We literally wrote the short probably within a week of that, just messing around, and we shot the short around three weeks after that. After that we kind of submitted it to a few festivals and to tell you the truth, I kind of just forgot about it after that. We had submitted it to this one festival, and we got in, and before you know it, we won grand prize at the festival. We got a script development deal with them, it happened really fast. We had shot another short but had never released it by then, because we had gotten so bogged down with this short, CRUSH THE SKULL. Eventually, when things started to settle down, we released our second short, which was called, THINGS YOU DON’T JOKE ABOUT, which was our take on the classic trope of “just one more job!” before shit hits the fan, ya know?

Yeah, definitely, I love those types of films. 

Viet: In our very uncreative way of trying to get a feature going, we basically just put our two shorts together.

Dinh: We wrote a feature and it was only 60 pages, so we were like “Oh shit, we need another 30 pages!”, so we thought what if we just opened with the scenario of THINGS YOU DON’T JOKE ABOUT?

Viet: If you ever seen that short, you’ll notice the same exact beats that happen in our movie, and it’s pretty fucking shameless if you ask me. (Laughs).

Dinh: The behind the scenes story was that I was kind of semi-homeless at the time, and I was crashing on Viet’s couch, just being in between places. It was then, when we started watching movies together and writing together, and got that kind of creative spark. At the time it was so much fun and so unique for me, because I was just into straight dramas at the time and Viet and I kind of got into this funny and creative area and we kept writing and worked our way up to the feature.

Viet: I think the thing that really made us want to just write together is that both of us are just not really good at being “cool”, so we decided to embrace the awkward. We’ve always wanted our characters to not be the George Clooney-like characters. It’s definitely more of a horror guy next door situation, every man-type of feeling.

That’s the first thing that stood out to me about the film, the fact that these characters weren’t the typical badass, tough guy-like characters. As soon as I watched the film, I called a close friend of mine and told him, “It feels like we were put inside of a film, it’s great”. It’s easy to get on board with it.

Dinh: Yeah, definitely, that’s what we were hoping for.

The cast is phenomenal, when writing the film, did you have any of the actors that you ended up with in mind, or did you just audition a bunch of people? The chemistry is awesome.

Viet: There’s an actress that I’ve worked with for over ten years now, and she was in everything I had ever done really. She booked a job on a Nickelodeon show and she had a morality clause from them, so I was just completely shocked. SHE was even shocked, she totally cried because she couldn’t do the movie. We had written the role for her, so we were nervous having to go with someone else. Chris and I always have two rules when making anything, two very important rules. We probably have a hundred new rules now, but those two rules were based on all of the trial and errors that we had dealt with while making our shorts throughout the years. We said that because we have so little room for error, we can’t hook up with anybody more than two degrees outside of our circle. That’s kind of a ballsy thing to do, but we really do have a very strong circle of friends, who are really really talented actors. We knew that if we could go for somebody we could vouch for who could vouch for somebody else, that we could find someone to fill that role, and that’s how we found Katie. She was good friends with good friends of ours, and everybody said, “she can act, she can act!” so that was something we needed too. She was just down for the cause. So we got her, and the role was actually then based a little more on her own role.

Dinh: I think that the chemistry that you mentioned Jerry, comes form the fact that we work with people that we like to hang out with outside of work. It can be a tricky thing, to have good chemistry, but I’d like to think we all have that in real life.

Viet: I have this ongoing joke where, and Chris is an actor, but it’s that I hate actors. Actors are always so narcissistic, but these were all people I invited to my baby shower. They’re people I actually like hanging out with. They’re the first group of actors where I’m not thinking, “Oh god, they’re driving me nuts about themselves”.

Dinh: I think my number one rule is that if I am broken down on the side of the road, I want these people to be people who I could count on to help, and I think that’s important, not just in the actors we worked with but also the crew. Our crew went through heatstroke, food poisoning, and never once treated this like it was just another job.

Viet: Just for clarification though, I wouldn’t help Chris if he was on the side of the road.

(Laughs). I love that there’s a whole circle of friends element to the way that you two work.

Viet: Well through Katie (Savoy), we met Lauren (Reeder) who is a writer herself and has her own webseries, and Chris Riedell, who is not only a great actor but is also a director himself, is good friends with Chris (Dinh). We found all of these writers/actors/filmmakers, who all brought so much more to the project than we initially thought. Then there’s Tim (Chiou), who plays Riley, who is basically the fan favorite. He’s a good friend of ours who we’ve known for years and had always wanted to do something with him, but what’s funny is that we hadn’t cast Riley yet, and Chris I kept saying, “This isn’t fair because Riley is written so funny, that whoever gets to play him is going to have more fun!”. We auditioned a whole bunch of our friends, and when Tim auditioned, he brought this whole different thing to it, this hip-hop thing, and we were all like “HOLY SHIT”, because it wasn’t like that in the script, but that whole hip-hop thing he brought, it was like a Justin Bieber hip-hop. So the casting was kind of a perfect storm of community that got together for the film.

I can see why the character of Riley could be a fan favorite, I was laughing my ass off in almost every scene Tim was in. How much of that was improvised and how much was on the page. It felt very natural. 

Viet: I think the first time you hear him kind of go off the rails a bit, is when he starts talking about Mars. We definitely had the part about Mars in the script, but it was one of those things where it was like “Ok, last take, do whatever the fuck you want this time”. He started that whole thing about maybe not being good enough to get picked for it, and it was great. One thing about Tim that he probably doesn’t want anybody to know, is that yeah he’s like this handsome GNC model guy, but Tim is a super nerd. He’s a big dork that can on and on about like THE LORD OF THE RINGS or Final Fantasy and stuff.

You can tell that you were heavily inspired by the horror genre with those elements in the film, and the comedy elements, but I’m curious about if any films in particular inspired the heist elements of CRUSH THE SKULL?

Viet: Ooh, that’s a really good question. The truth is, I’m a REALLY big horror fan. Chris actually doesn’t like horror movies, and it’s not that he doesn’t like the films themselves, he’s just a big chicken-shit.

Dinh: Yeah, I’ve turned movies off because I was too scared before.

That’s hilarious.  

Viet: I don’t know if we ever had a particular reference for the heist stuff though. We love movies like SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I mean that’s just one of our favorite movies ever. We both consider that movie to be one the holy grails of movies, but even that one could get a little too silly for what we wanted to do. I think that’s what we really tried to do, to figure out if there was anyway to come up with a comedy situation, but played real. We wanted to step back and say, “Everything that happens in this movie, there’s a slight possibility that it all could happen in real life”.

Dinh: I was still thinking about your question about what inspired us, and I think we really drew from real life, and those moments that truly truly frightened us, just different situations that we’ve really been in that could have gone bad.

Well guy, I just wanted to thank you so much for chatting with us today, like I said, I adored the hell out of CRUSH THE SKULL and I really think you two made something special. 

Viet: Thank YOU for all of the support, it means a lot.

Dinh: Yeah, thank you so much Jerry.


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