How Adult Swim Made Insane Horror Movie ‘Yule Log’ Without Warner Bros. Finding Out
“Too Many Cooks” director Casper Kelly reveals how he got away with his risky and innovative genre-altering commitment on the company’s dime.
Editor’s note: This article includes light spoilers for “Adult Swim Yule Log.”
With all due respect to James Cameron and his underwater cast in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” but you can’t beat the gamble of filmmaking in Casper Kelly’s “Adult Swim Yule Log.” Adult Swim’s first feature-length live-action endeavor dropped without notice on the Dec. 11 post-season finale of “Ricky and Morty”: The cozy two-minute Yule log video turns into a haunting home invasion horror thriller that transforms into a supernatural cabin-thriller with The Woods A young couple (Justin Miles and Andrea Ling) who may be at the mercy of a haunted fireplace.
And then things get really weird, with everything from time travel to UFOs in an epic that can’t be categorized. “My dream was to make movies,” Kelly told IndieWire over Zoom this week. “I thought now that I’ve got one, I’m going to put in everything I can.”
The director behind the satirical satire of Adult Swim’s 2014 viral sitcom “Too Many Cooks” and the network’s 2013 actual sitcom “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell” has a penchant for mixing apocalyptic satire with dreamlike concepts straight from David Lynch’s playbook. . “Yule Log” takes ambitious twists, including a bleak flashback involving bondage and sudden flashes of gore that don’t seem out of place in “Evil Dead.”
Keep in mind that the studio that produced “Yule Log” is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, which continues to make headlines for belt-tightening and reducing HBO Max. How the hell did Kelly get away with it?
“Great question,” Kelly said with a smile. “I’ve been with Adult Swim for a very long time. We’re friends. For a lot of this stuff, I can just bring up the idea.”
This department, like Kelly, was based in Atlanta. He said he knew the Adult Swim staff well enough to operate the system. Since the production of “Yule Log,” that system may have changed after WBD merged Cartoon Network’s original adult studios with Warner Bros. Television. Animation this fall. However, Adult Swim had a mindless fund that allowed its executives to greenlight some of its content without the company’s approval.
“Part of the trick is to do it cheap enough that they don’t have to hold hats in hand and ask for a lot of money,” Kelly said. Although he and Adult Swim declined to provide specifics, sources tell IndieWire that the ceiling is generally in the high six-figure range. (The 4 a.m. shorts, which ran about 11 minutes, were green-lit with budgets in the $75,000 range; “Yule Log” clocks in at 91 minutes.)
Kelly shot the movie earlier this year in a crazy 15 days to make sure the project could hit its seasonal deadline. He’s close friends with fellow innovators like Rodney Usher (“Room 237”) and Todd Rohall (“The Catechism Cataclysm”), both of whom consulted on the project, and was a co-writer of the midnight hit “Mandy” (and created the famous Cheddar Goblin), but nothing It can ease the clock challenge.
As conditions developed on Adult Swim, Kelly felt the heat behind the heater. Walter Neumann, the CEO who greenlighted the project late last year, left the company this fall. With post-production delayed in the face of shifting company priorities, Kelly had to work with six editors—all while keeping the “Yule Log” confidential. “I just had to remember that this ecosystem was always changing,” he said. “You’re just trying to take advantage of where he is now.”
Kelly initially envisioned the film starting with two hours of uninterrupted log crackling before a home invasion plot creeps in, but he changed tactics when the project gained high-profile status following the “Rick and Morty” finale. “We did a 10-minute version and it felt like three years,” Kelly said. “It turns out that two minutes does the trick.”
He filmed the Hearth Invasion sequence in two days as a one-piece with Diggett’s voice over, meaning the timing had to coordinate with the actors as they interrupted the still frame. “I was so scared because I didn’t have time to really test it out,” Kelly said. “The way I built it, I didn’t have flexibility. I couldn’t shorten it after the fact. If it didn’t work, I didn’t have much of a choice. I couldn’t cut the close-up and remove a bunch of scenes.”
That was relatively straightforward compared to the many special effects that followed, including a fiery Christmas log flying across the cabin of its own volition. Kelly achieved this with a combination of practical effects and work by Brazilian fire simulation company NoxusFX. In one shot, a character falls down a flight of stairs while grappling with a log; The actor was holding a light. “We were like, ‘There’s no way to add fire to that, it’s moving,'” Kelly said. “But this shot looks great.”
The most difficult challenge was getting an elemental component into the “Yule Log”. The white friend of Ling’s character acknowledges her blackness in an awkward moment, after which the story reveals a history of slavery and oppression on the same estate where the events take place.
Kelly is a white southerner with generations of family history in Georgia and knew the stakes. “I’m sure there’s a whole other version of this where it’s about a funny log going around and killing people and that’s the whole movie,” he said. “I just love exploring questions. This aspect just came out of that and it surprised me.”
He said that his aunt had uncovered family records that revealed that one of his ancestors had in fact owned a slave. “So yeah, it’s very real to me,” he said. “It’s scary, because it’s such a powerful subject. But I’ve decided to take a risk, because I feel like I have a point about it. I think a lot if I were alive in those times, would I be anti-slavery and progressive, or would I follow society just like all these other people ?
Again: not your average adult swim material. “It was exciting that they were willing to do something that was outside the realm of what they normally do,” Kelly said. “It’s not as comical as it is probably expected of them to be. I’m just excited that I broke the seal and finally crossed over to the filmmaker.”
He’s already planning a specific script for his next feature and plans to finish writing it next year. “I treated that first movie as a training race,” he said, laughing. “Maybe I’ll do it every time.”
“Adult Swim Yule Log” is now available to stream on HBO Max.
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