Shawn Dawnson Talks Smiley, available this week on DVD
Evil wears a smile in director Michael J. Gallagher's Smiley, which arrives on DVD this week. After learning of an urban legend in which a demented serial killer named Smiley can be summoned through the Internet, mentally fragile Ashley must decide whether she is losing her mind or becoming Smiley's next victim.
We recently caught up with one of the stars of the film, Shane Dawson, who has amassed a huge fanbase online for his hilarious Youtube videos. Smiley serves as the actor's first feature role, and a dramatic departure from the comedy skits he's known for. Soon to be a major force in entertainment and a household name before the end of the decade (you may not know him yet, but your kids sure do), we sat down with Shane to find out more about the movie, and his involvement in it.
Is Smiley coming for you? Here's our conversation.
The kids all know and love you. I, myself, didn't know whom you were until my 13 year old nephew turned me onto your comedy about two years ago. Now you are in your first feature film role. What has been the progression of this journey for you? Do you owe your career to these Internet suave kids who caught on early? They certainly are the tastemakers of tomorrow...
Shane Dawson: Yeah. First of all, how old is your nephew?
He must have been 14 or 15 at the time he showed me some of your stuff. I think he is 16 now...
Shane Dawson: (Laughs) Oh, god...I guess 14 isn't so bad. But if he was younger, you should have kicked in that computer, like, "What the hell are you watching?" It's always funny to hear that kids are watching our stuff. What are we doing to America? This all came out of me hating my job. I had very long lunch breaks, so I was making videos during lunchtime. I'd always been making videos, but then Youtube came around. I thought, "Oh, I'll put some videos online." It was new. I think I was the first person on the internet that really talked to his audience, and engaged in their lives, and became friends with them, and became an actual part of their community. Luckily, people were craving that. We kept going, and it's gone from there...
That's the thing, though. I'm an old guy. I had no clue who you were. But then I find out that all of these kids, all over America, in the smallest towns, know your work. You have fans in every nook and cranny of the country. Its been interesting to watch the progression of your career, from when he first showed me these homegrown videos, to where you are now.
Shane Dawson: Yeah.
A lot of you Youtubers, and online celebrities, are starting to break into mainstream entertainment. You are bringing a new, fresh face to what is funny and what is scary. We haven't seen a renaissance like this in a long time...
Shane Dawson: When I was a kid, the only thing for me to watch was Saved by the Bell, and these super scripted comedies that, while they were funny, were so fake. And none of the characters were people I knew. The internet has lit it up, where I can tell my stories. As f'ed up as some of these jokes are, the kids get them. Surprisingly, I am speaking their language. I think it's really cool. Things are changing. And I'm really glad for that.
You guys have truly reinvented the wheel in a lot of ways, but here you come with your first movie, and its kind of a traditional horror movie in the slasher genre.
Shane Dawson: The director, Michael J. Gallagher, came to me a while ago, and he said, "Hey, I have a horror movie, and I want you to be in it." I laughed, because I thought that was ridiculous. He usually does comedy. He said, "No! I am going to do this. I really want to do this. And I think I can do this." We worked on a horror comedy sketch on my channel together, and I thought, "Wow, you really can do this." So I read the script, and then I took the part. I thought it was cool. None of us had ever made a feature length movie before. This was new ground. I was excited about the movie from the beginning.
Has it been a challenge to get people to understand that this is a straight up horror movie? I know you for your comedy. When I first saw the trailer come out during the theatrical release, I convinced myself that it had to be a comedy.
Shane Dawson: All my life, I've wanted to direct horror movies. I know that sounds insane. I've seen every single horror movie ever made. I'm obsessed with them. I made horror movies when I was ten, with my Grandma. Comedy kind of happened because I stumbled into it. I knew this was going to surprise a lot of people. But I thought, you know what, I better show people that I can act without a wig. Hopefully, (laughs) the next thing I do won't be such a shock. But I love horror movies. I am actually hoping to do my own teen horror movie pretty soon. This is a cool transition.
There are comedic elements in the film. How did you find that balance of horror and comedy without it leaning too far into the realm of being a spoof of the genre?
Shane Dawson: It was not intentional in this movie to have too much comedy. That was very hard, because me and Michael J. Gallagher have made so many comedy videos together. So all of my comedy instincts were on point when he was around. I had to hold back a lot. My character is the shy, quite type, so I didn't have much room for dick jokes. (Laughs) As much as I wanted to tell them...That was different. It was a huge risk. I think it paid off, because no one was expecting that. It was scary for me, if I am going to be honest.
Tell me more about this horror movie you are working on...You're going to direct that?
Shane Dawson: Yes, I just finished co-writing it. Its called Lucky Night. It's about a bunch of kids locked in a high school overnight. It's really funny. Its like, if there was a serial killer in Superbad. It's really outrageous. The scary moments are really scary. We're so excited about that, because I learned so much about the genre working on Smiley. I learned the actual process of making a horror movie, not just watching them. I have learned some much from Michael J. Gallagher about doing comedy as well. So now I want to do my own. That's where I'm at with that.
Tell me a little bit about the creation of Smiley himself. Did you have a hand in the look of this guy? It's pretty spooky, and I'm sure it's going to become one of those iconic killers down the road...
Shane Dawson: When I read the script, I thought the idea was really stupid. I told him it was going to look retarded. I mean, the way it was supposed to be this big yellow smiley Wal-Mart face? I didn't quite get it. Then he pulled up an image on his phone that he had photoshopped, and I went, "Oh, my god! That sells the movie right there." You don't even need actors. You just put that guy on the poster, and you are good. I don't know how he thought of it. I don't know if anyone helped him on that. But kudos to however did.
Is there a subliminal Wal-Mart message in that image? I think this is available at Wal-Mart...
Shane Dawson: (Laughs) I think it's on DVD at Wal-Mart, so who knows. Maybe this is the Wal-Mart man. He is slashing prices...And teenagers!
That's a good tagline. You should run with that.
Shane Dawson: Perfect. Write me a check, Wal-Mart!
What are your favorite types of horror movies? What do you gravitate to in the genre?
Shane Dawson: Even though I don't really consider it a horror movie, I'm going to go with Scream. I feel like that is...Well, I guess that is a horror movie. To me, it's more of a psychological thriller, teen thing...I have seen that movie at least one hundred times. I love the story, I love the dialogue, I love the characters, and I love the twist ending. I love that Drew Barrymore got killed in the first few minutes. Everything about that movie was so new and different at the time. I loved that. And I love those crazy outrageous Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacres. I love the one with Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey. That one is a keeper! I love horror movies that aren't afraid to not take themselves seriously. They go all out there. Those are my favorites.
You couldn't have been very old when Scream came out. Were you aware of the horror movies that it was referencing at the time? Did you get that it was the first in a long line of Meta horror movies that was deconstructing what came before it?
Shane Dawson: I was maybe ten. I was very young. But my first horror movies? I started watching them when I was way too young. I was maybe five. I was obsessed with Freddy Krueger and the Jason movies. I probably didn't know what was going on. I just liked that these guys were killing people. Which, maybe I should look into that...Oddly enough, though, Scream came out, I did understand all of the references. Except for the Tom Cruise penis line. Which I still don't understand.
I don't even remember what that line is...
Shane Dawson: One of the characters brings it up, and the whole audience laughed. I was like, "What? I don't...Hmm, I don't understand that..."
I have no reference for that. It's been so long since I watched the first Scream movie. At least ten years. I mean, I remember what it was about...But I don't remember Tom Cruise...
Shane Dawson: It was definitely one of my favorites.
You're a comedian who loves horror movies, so I have to ask, what is your take on the horror spoof? I personally can't stand them, especially if they are done bad. And there are so many of them right now. Especially ones that are spoofing found footage...
Shane Dawson: There is nothing I hate more than a found footage movie. Ugh! I don't want to burn bridges, but...Ugh! Those are the worst movies ever made. Literally, the worst pieces of crap. But for some reason, people keep going to see them, so people are going to keep making them. Good for them!
A buddy of mine took one of those Paranormal Activity movies, and he clocked about 40 minutes of just straight up, nothing is going on, surveillance footage that made up the 80 minute runtime. That is horrible. People are paying to watch that.
Shane Dawson: Oh, yeah. Half the movie is a Youtube video. Its, look at my family. Look at my kitchen. It's just some crappy home movie. And then once in a while, something pops out of nowhere. It's the time for those movies, and that time is going to be up pretty soon. Thank god.
You can only take it so far. The other thing is, those movies look so bad. Yet, they are selling me the best TV image ever made in the history of the medium to watch them on.
Shane Dawson: Yes, exactly.
Are you solely working towards a career in horror right now? Is the comedy done?
Shane Dawson: No. everything else I'm working on is comedy. I am pitching a TV show and doing more web series. Everything around me is comedies. The horror movie is something that will let me stray a little bit. Its something I'm working on so I don't get bored. Hopefully that movie does well, and then I can make a comedy afterwards. I have a lot of ideas, and a lot of scripts. So I just have to wait and see what happens.
Is the TV series a sketch based show?
Shane Dawson: No. Well...Kind of. I pitched a show a few years ago, and that didn't work out. Then I pitched a sitcom, and that got pretty close, but it didn't work out. This time I am going more with a talk show. A variety show. Its almost as though Dave Chappelle was sitting at a desk. It's that whole thing. There will be sketches. There will be music video spoofs. There will be guests. And an audience. That is what I'm going for. I hope it works out. It would be a lot of fun.
We are experiencing a boom in sketch shows right now. Are you paying attention to comedies like StevieTV and Key & Peele, and Kroll Show?
Shane Dawson: Yeah. It's really cool to see sketch shows doing so well. When I was pitching mine, it was unheard of. And now, it's the new thing. Thank god, because its what I love. I don't think there is a young perspective that speaks to teenagers. I don't think that's out there yet. I think some people are trying, but I think there is a lack of that. I am aiming for that demographic. So I can be the younger voice of sketch. Who knows?