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Chords in Conversation: Nicholas Tana Talks Hells Kitty

For all those pussy lovers out there who can’t get enough of the cute kittens, crazy cat compilations and kitten yoga calendars, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a new comedy horror in town that features one beautiful cat called Angel! But don’t be fooled, as Angel is her name but not her nature.

Hell hath no fury like a kitty scorned and this little sweetheart is one possessed pussycat! Based on true-life events, Angel will go out of her way to ruin her owner’s love life.

Here at Cinema Chords we managed to get our claws into the writer and director of Hells Kitty, Nicholas Tana, during his European Film Festival Vacation and without catnip in sight, he opens up about his love for Angel, the icons of horror and future interests.

hellskitty2Cinema Chords: Originally Hells Kitty was a web series. Can you tell me how that started?

Nicholas Tana: Originally I was a director for ESPN and I’ve always been involved in film. I have done some shorts and I wanted to do more in terms of the web world. At the same time, I wanted to do something that involved my cat. I rented a room to the producer who was in the LA film school at the time; she was laughing at me trying to date women in Los Angeles with a cat who was very possessive.

She was like “Nick, you need to write about what you know!” So, in combination with the web stuff, I created the web show. I took my cat, camera and apartment and started shooting.

CC: So you had a lot of failed dates because of the cat?

NT: Oh absolutely! I mean, literally it was comical. In fact the girl that was in the pilot, Lisa Younger, she was someone who I actually dated and we re-enacted the scene of her meeting the cat for the first time. We just added a little bit more blood and guts. And Adam, who plays my neighbour, was my neighbour in an apartment  – not in that one, but a previous one. He really acted like that, he wasn’t an actor before then but I wrote it to fit his character. Everyone loves his acting. He’s great and everything worked out well.

CC: Do you find then if you are writing about real events it does breathe a lot more life into the script?

NT: Absolutely, it has got a life of its own. In fact, this is one of those rare times because I never usually act and direct in something. They are two different paths and I have a hard time doing both but in this case, because they were so reflexive, I was able to do it.

As this was my cat, it was my life. We did exaggerate for some poetic licence but it was based on real scenarios and some instances, so it was very personal.

CC: At what point did you decide to make it into a full-on feature?

hells-kitty-2NT: I always intended, as they say in the video game world, to reskin it as a feature. The reason being, I feel that it takes so much effort to create, produce anything of merit that I want to get the most out of it. The idea was that we could serialise it, so we could possibly do a TV series, add in some animation, so we can show that we can fully animate it, and also reskin it as a feature.

As a feature, there is a chance that we can maybe get a return on investment. Web series don’t tend to make much money unless you sell it as something bigger. The end goal is to sell it as a TV show concept.

We are hitting the festivals right now and will make a decision in the near future as to how we are distributing Hells Kitty.

CC: I read that there were over four hours of footage that had to be edited down?

NT: Yes. That was one of the biggest challenges – taking all that footage from the series and deciding what we were going to use and how to tell it in a story that makes sense in 98 minutes. So, in order to do that, we had to cut out a lot but we also had to add stuff. We actually added a whole lot through lines by a character who is played by Robert Rhine, who is actually the founder/publisher of Girls & Corpses magazine. He was also a publicist for Warner Brothers at one point and he plays a publisher in the movie.


CC: Speaking of awesome people, how did you manage to bag yourself all that cool talent that feature in this?

NT: Yeah, well basically I started with Nina Hartley. She was in my documentary Sticky: (A) Self Love Story. She is a well-known adult actress from the ’70s and crossed over into mainstream media; she played the wife in Boogie Nights.

She tweeted about our web show and suddenly there were 40,000 views in like 20 minutes. We got her on board and she wanted to do more comedy. After that, I started pitching managers of well-known horror actors that I liked. In some cases managers said no but in others they said yes!

I would write a script in a way that really gelled with their character that made them famous but in a parody of that character. It kind of went from Michael Berryman’s manager loving it to asking if we could put it on his reel, to him telling Adrienne Barbeau. I had Courtney Gains and John Franklin from Children of the Corn phoning me up and saying, ‘Hey, can we get a role in Hells Kitty?’ I said sure and I wrote a role for them.

CC: Well I think its great seeing well-known horror icons doing something so different.

NT: Nowadays, they are still cult in a certain audience but the newest generation of people are not remembering the past, so in order to stay relevant, you need to be out there in every way, shape or form. So this was a way to keep them relevant and people will watch the show and go and look up The Hills Have Eyes. The fact that we have all these icons in one movie, it has never been done and it creates a legendary status in itself.

CC: So the music is great. Who score that for you?

NT: The original music I created myself and then I worked with composer Richard Albert. He is from Germany and a fan of the web show. When we put out a request looking for sound designers and composers for the show, he sent in his reel. He was the best out of everyone, and as he was a fan, it was a no brainer.

He was able to take that original score idea, really pull it out and work on all the other songs that we had throughout the series. I think it just came out great.

CC: Your cat, Angel, was the absolute star of the film!

NT: She is the real star of the film but unfortunately she passed away last July. She ironically started going sick right after filming ended. It was almost as if she was waiting for it to finish. She was becoming a rising star; I call her the James Dean of Cats. She went too soon but this movie is going to be a tribute to her.

CC:  Was she a good kitty on set?

NT: Absolutely not! But that was her character, so she worked well. She was a Prima Donna and she did what she wanted but that was magical about her. She did her own stunts and she would scratch you! But she would take her mark at the most magical. I remember that the first times we shot her in that scene in episode 1, where she is sitting on the couch. She literally wasn’t there for the whole prep and that’s where we wanted her. Then, all of a sudden, she literally took her stance when we called action. Everyone could not believe it. We almost ruined the take because everyone was laughing. So sometimes she was brilliantly perfect and other times we had to use a lot of tuna to bait her.

CC: She seems like she would be a tough kitty to replace?

NT: We would probably find one that has the same charm and look, but she had a great look about her. She was very cute but at the same time she had this impish, villainess look to her that was perfect. I liked it that she was a white cat too because you always think of the black cats.

So this whole angelic white figure reminds me of the Monty Python rabbit in the Holy Grail. You know if you watch episode 7 of the web show, we kept this part in the movie. Lee Meriwether is holding my collectors’ edition of Cat Women the comic and literally in the scene, she got scratched by Angel. She bled on my Cat Woman comic. I saved the comic and had her sign it! She was a trooper about it and didn’t sue us.

She even signed it and I told her that I would auction it off at a comic con for non-profit to help animals some day.

CC: They always say that you should never work with animals because they are so unpredictable?

NT: You know, in that scene I saw the blood on her finger, on the comic and you can see me wince! But I go through it because she’s broken through it and it was a perfect take.

CC: Would you ever work with dogs? Or have a cat and dog combo?

NT: I would work with dogs. In fact, I thought it would be funny in a future season to have my bitch possessed or something. There was a dog in one of the episodes in the web show and it was my neighbour’s dog. I love animals of all sorts but I have a special affection for cats because of their independence. You have to earn their love and it is like pulling the sword out of the stone.

CC: You are on tour with Hells Kitty. How are finding the festival circuit and what does the future hold?

NT: There is a lot of talk and excitement on Facebook. There is a lot of enthusiasm about what is to come. We anticipate distribution next year. We have just begun submitting to festivals. We do have two distribution offers from TomCat Films and Lonely Seal Releasing. We have a few others reviewing it now as well and will make a decision to have it distributed with one of them by next year.

We’d love to thank Nicholas for chatting to Cinema Chords and we’ll leave you with a taste of the killer cat action in the film’s trailer:


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