This interview was conducted during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Just like action flicks, the horror genre has also been thriving with a range of movies that span to many different tastes. With big movies like Talk To Me, Evil Dead Rise, and many other titles taking things down their own bloody roads, fans can always count on horror to be the go-to when they need a nightly awakening. In the case of the Russo Brothers’ ABGO, they’ve produced their own horror coming-of-age film in All Fun and Games.
All Fun and Games follows a group of young siblings as they start to uncover the secrets of a demonic presence. When a group of teens find a cursed knife in the woods, they unleash a malevolent demon that will not rest until it’s claimed all of their lives and souls in a terrifying deathmatch.
I had the chance to talk with directors Eren Celeboglu and Ari Costa, who’ve experimented with horror together since 2018. In our interview, we get to discuss collaborating with Anthony and Joe Russo, some fun on-set cast moments with drawing games, inspirations from old Carpenter classics to new horror and coming-of-age trends, and more. Check out my exclusive interview down below!
THH: Talking about your careers, you both originally met on Community, which has been a tonally different experience from your work here on All Fun And Games. What inspired you both to move towards making horror focused-projects?
EREN CELEBOGLU: So, I was Joel McHale’s assistant [on Community] and Ari [Costa] was working with the Russo Brothers. I think that the simple answer is that we love genre and for us, comedy and horror are kind of sisters or brothers or siblings. They both elicit a reaction and I think, as much as Ari and I both love comedy, from everything from Back to the Future to Doctor Strangelove, we also love The Shining, Hereditary, and Jordan Peele’s movies so that’s why we love genre.
THH: On these projects, you’ve made these two shorts with different premises, but still sticking to that genre (those being The Internet Kills and The Bride). What lessons did you take away from those two films to help you out on All Fun And Games?
ARI COSTA: I mean, I think we took a lot of lessons, honestly. I think that the most interesting thing about short films is that nobody ultimately cares about them as much as you do. So, you end up doing every job, which is to say you’re producing, directing, writing, [production assisting], you’re providing food for people. I think there is that “wearing all the hats” mentality. In the feature world, you’re prepared to do that and ultimately, there are other people to do those jobs.
So, it’s about trusting the people that surround you and true collaboration. But, I think what we took from the shorts is working with actors and talking to [cinematographers] and figuring out how to line up shots and, stylistically, how you want to do something. I think it’s all those skills, the short films are like your own separate film school. I do believe that you learn something new on every single project you do. So there is a ton that we learned on this first feature that we’d obviously take into the next one.
EREN CELEBOGLU: I think also, for us, our short films, because we spent the first five years of our partnership writing [and] really learning to be writers, we wrote a pilot and a feature. We realized, “Okay, if we really want to direct as a team, we have to be on the floor together. We have to stand and do it together.” Our short films were also us figuring out our process in a way of, “Okay, this is how we’d like to work together,” which is sort of everything.
It’s really a balance of how we prepared, how we really talked to each other and talked to everyone else so that by the time we got to the feature, we had already done it. A lot of teams say they want to be teams, but they never made films together. So, for us, it was a lot of figuring out our language in our short hand, you just don’t have time to be there when you’re making a film. You have to be there.
THH: Ari, you’ve worked with Anthony and Joe before, but I believe this is Eren’s first time working with them. How did that pitching and development process work with the Russo brothers producing?
EREN CELEBOGLU: So I previously worked for a guy named Bill Lawrence. He was like my mentor who was sort of somebody who was really established and supportive, to a certain degree. So, I think that I definitely understood what was required of me, of us, to try and get the Russo Brothers’ attention to do something cool initially, which was our short films.
Then, I think to Ari, because he’s worked with them forever, they were already really in a place where they were very supportive. I think that we just really had to bring everything with our pitch. We’re not like, “Oh, we want to make the movie.” It’s like, “This is the movie we know only we can make.”
I think what you learn in these situations is you can’t come in half-way. You really need to have your ideas and everything and what you’re gonna do fully formed.
THH: You’ve got to work with a huge cast including Natalia Dyer, Asa Butterfield, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, and Laurel Marsden to help tell your story. How was it like working with them and were there any memorable moments on set with them?
ARI COSTA: Our cast was incredible. We had to work very fast because we shot the movie in twenty days and one caveat, or one thing that we had that was really nice, was that we had a week of rehearsal. We had told our producers that, “If we’re going to have to shoot our movie in twenty days, we need a week of rehearsal with the actors. We need them to come in beforehand, we need them to hang out, we need them to learn about each other so they’re not necessarily doing it on set because they’re meant to be a family.” [The cast] were truly professional, amazing, prepared. We had two, three takes and we had to move on and they just nailed it, honestly. We got really, really lucky with fantastic actors.
There were a lot of funny things that happened on set, [the cast] had very great relationships and dynamics. But, we had screenings beforehand where we’d watch movies together and then with Asa [Butterfield], who really likes board games. There was actually a café in Winnipeg, where we shot the film, that was like a board game café. So, we’d go there with the actors, we’d choose different board games, and what was the name of the game that we played with them?
EREN CELEBOGLU: Oh my god, I’m trying to remember. It wasn’t Pictionary- I’m totally forgetting, but it’s a thing where you sort of draw ideas that are suggested, but oh my god I can’t remember it!
THH: Wait a minute, was it Skribbl.io?
ARI COSTA: It’s-it’s something like that, but it basically involved one person writing down the suggested prompt and then the other people had to guess what they’d drawn. So, it just led to a lot of different comedy [laughs] because we all had very differing artistic skills whereas Laurel [Marsden], who went to art school, she could draw really elaborative and amazing things. I’m over here drawing stick figures, you know, so that was pretty fun. Eren, I don’t know if there was anything from set that you could think of in particular.
EREN CELEBOGLU: Well, I just remember when we were meeting with each of the actors beforehand individually, we said to them, “We know every actor needs something different. We want to be the director you need us for.” We said to Natalia [Dyer], “What do you need from us? How do you want to be directed?” She said, “You guys can do anything you want, it can be anything from ‘do it faster’ to ‘don’t make that face!'” [laughs] And we were like, “Okay, awesome!”
I think when your actors trust you and you trust them, you don’t need to be pressured. You don’t need to be talking around the note or that kind of thing. It was just really refreshing to [know] they were not only our characters, they were our collaborators. That was just a gift.
THH: On All Fun And Games itself, it definitely feels like there were certain aspects that were inspired by movies like the Fear Street and Evil Dead franchises. Were there specific inspirations that helped you conceptualize and develop this film?
EREN CELEBOGLU: Oh yeah, tons.
ARI COSTA: Absolutely, yeah. We’re true cinephiles, absolutely, so Eren and I will speak in references to movies to get our ideas across. Our initial “north star” was Amblin meets John Carpenter, which is to say the authentic, realistic portrayal of a single mother and siblings who have been through trauma together and-
EREN CELEBOGLU: E.T. was our Amblin inspiration.
ARI COSTA: Yeah, E.T. was one of ours. Then, John Carpenter, specifically Halloween, which is like the relentless nature of Michael Myers coming after you and everyone you love. So, there were definitely “north stars” in that and for the authentic portrayal that we tried to strive for, for the sibling dynamic and relationship of teens, we looked at movies like Mid90s, Eighth Grade, and Lady Bird.
EREN CELEBOGLU: There are so many references throughout the movie that seize that tension that we can talk with our department heads and then it starts to fall away and you find it in the movie so it tells you what it is. I think it was always this balance of heart and visceral, scary terror, but then tiny little easter eggs are like the barn sequence, the hide-and-seek sequence. It’s very much like [Quentin] Tarantino and [Brian] De Palma, the idea of this very designed sequence that we were able to pull off.
That’s the things we’re thinking of, or even something as small as when Natalia catches her boyfriend. She’s in real time, but her gaze is in slow-motion and that’s all from Raging Bull. The idea that the gaze in slow-motion, it should be used for perspective, not just slowing down the action. So, we just tried to slip all these things in and then gradually, it becomes our own thing because the [cinematographer] and the production designers and the actors, they make it their own and that’s when it goes up. It goes beyond.
THH: In the beginning of the film, there’s this expository sequence that’s a lot unnerving and gorier than most people would expect, especially given All Fun And Games’ premises. Were there any specific worries that you had about showcasing those types of scenes?
EREN CELEBOGLU: We would’ve shown more, but I think we were trying to balance out this idea of a coming-of-age story and a story about a family with a thrill-ride. I think some people were nervous about plunging the kids into violent situations, but I think our biggest point was “games are a metaphor for life and there’s trauma in life.” Most of the time, as parents, you can’t be there for your kids or your parents aren’t there when we want them there like in school when there’s a bully. That was a big part of what we were trying to get across: these kids are alone.
ARI COSTA: I think that we were certainly sensitive to those types of things like I, myself, am a new father and once you do have kids, it changes your threshold of seeing certain things. But also, once you’re inside a movie, you sort of lose that perspective. So, it is helpful to see how an audience reacts to things, but we also truly believe that sometimes, there’s nothing better or more emotional or more terrifying than a close-up on an actor’s face. You don’t always need to see everything, but you can see it through your character’s eyes.
THH: With everything you’ve both done for this movie, are you both looking to experiment with other sub-genres within horror? Are there any other genres that interest you?
EREN CELEBOGLU: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we have a passion project called “The Bad With The Good” that we’d love to do which is essentially a screwball comedy meets Let The Right One In. We love the idea of blending horror and comedy and it’s very difficult to do and that’s sort of like a technicolor, screwball comedy fever dream of a film that we’d love to do. We have another script called “Seven Devils” that’s very loosely based on Seven Samurai, but it’s essentially Near Dark meets Ocean’s Eleven and it’s like a vampire heist movie.
We love the idea of playing, of mashing up genre. We love the Parasite director’s [Bong Joon-ho] quote, which is “The movie is the genre.” [laughs] That, to us, is like we just really have a lot of, and no shade to other filmmakers who are adapting stuff and we’d love to adapt stuff, but we just think it’s so cool when original ideas can get through in this day and age.
ARI COSTA: We’re hoping that this movie affords us a chance to go at it again and once the [SAG-AFTRA and WGA] strikes are over, we’re ready to rock.
releases in theaters and digital on September 1.