Interview With Joseph Kahn

Joseph Kahn has directed award winning music videos for the likes of The Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Eminem and Lady Gaga to name a few, as well as direct 2004′s biker film, Torque.  He sat down with Chastity Vicencio to talk about his latest film, the genre-bending Detention.

Chastity Vicencio: This is a very unique film that crosses genres and doesn’t follow any specific formula. What did you set out to make when you started creating this film?

Joseph Kahn: I wanted to make a new high school movie for the new generation…and I literally mean what I say. I believe that today’s generation deserves better. They only get reboots, remakes, sequels, and stories that have been told a million times over. And, you know what? This generation deserves better, because they’re a better generation. They’re way better than my generation. This is the least racist, least sexist, least homophobic, most progressive group of kids ever to walk the planet and we treat them like that? It’s a shame.

 CV: This movie is very fast-paced and in touch with today’s youth. But there’s also a lot of nostalgia in it, there’s a lot of 90′s references. So what were your biggest influences for making this movie?

JK: There’s a lot of John Hughes in here. He’s kind of like our template. Which is funny because it’s being sold as a horror comedy, but ultimately the engine driving it is essentially John Hughes. But then it moves on. There’s Tim Burton, there’s David Cronenburg, There’s Wes Craven. There’s Dirty Dancing. There’s Kung Fu flicks. There are a million references. It’s basically the entire totality of the pop universe is in this movie.

CV: How did Dane Cook and Josh Hutcherson get involved?

JK: Josh Hutcherson was at my agency, and I needed a young star in it. He wasn’t quite “Peeta” (of The Hunger Games) then. But once I got a hold of him, I just knew he was going to blow up. So that was a no-brainer. Dane Cook I had worked with before, and actually put him in Torque, and he was an unknown entity then. And I asked him for a favor on this one. But he gladly did it. He relished the idea of going against his type, his archetype, and do something different.

CV: You not only directed, but also co-wrote and financed this movie. How was it to have that much creative control on your second film?

JK: Fantastic. (Laughs) There is nothing better than to be able to walk on set, and know that you don’t have to answer to anyone except your bank account.

CV: How was this experience compared to making your first film, Torque?

JK: It was radically different. Torque, uh, every time I made a decision it would get questioned. Literally, on a daily basis, almost sometimes by the hour, right? And what was useful about it was, it was film school. I learned how they made movies, and it was almost like I was a spy. I got in there, and I learned how to engineer every little section. I learned how they did production, I learned what departments did what, I learned what their function was, I learned how they did the post-production. And so when I finally did Detention, I just reverse engineered the process that the studio did, and found a way to make it more efficient. But Detention is made like a studio movie essentially, only I paid for it.

CV: What do you hope that teens will take away from watching Detention?

JK: The biggest reason I made Detention a multi-genre flick is because people say that high school is a genre. High school is not a genre, high school is a location. You know, it’s a location that’s a microcosm of life. Genre is a perspective of life with a set of rules. And in high school, genres are everywhere. Like, you could have… one person could be living in a horror film, one person could be living in a romantic comedy, another person could be living in a sexcapade.

What I did is I took every genre, mixed them together, and created the totality of high school. When you look at it, every kid is in their own genre. And during this movie, they’re all trapped essentially in their own detentions in their own genres. And the audience, by the way, sees these archetypes too. We come in it with our own perspectives, like, “a bully is like this”, you know, and “a Goth girl is like this”, and “a cheerleader should be like this”. But as you know when you watch the movie, by the end of it, everybody has a secret. Everybody has a flip.

And that’s one of the things you learn about high school. You start off in your own clique, but by the time you graduate high school, you should be able to have a bit of empathy. That by seeing that everybody else has their own story, and it’s not quite how you imagined it, they see you. And by that point, when you have the empathy with other people, that maybe are nothing like you, you have truly graduated high school. If all you did was graduate high school with good grades, but zero empathy for someone else, you have failed high school. So that’s one of the biggest lessons of this movie. That these people are fighting within their genres to seek each other out, and then they move on.

CV: What is next for you?

JK: I’ve been doing a lot of work in China for commercials. So I am booked on a LeBron James Sprite commercial. So off I go.

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