countdown trailer

A demon is giving the group of us thumbs up. Underneath the prosthetics, the very tall man is all smiles, hamming it up for us set visitors and his fellow co-workers. It must be uncomfortable as hell underneath all that makeup, but actor Dirk Rogers isn’t displaying any hints of annoyance. He was fooling around, asking what’s up and making wildly comical gestures.

It was just another day at the office on the horror movie Countdown, a movie about an app that lets you know the time you’ll kick the bucket. Yes, it sounds reminiscent of a fictional movie in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and a more apt comparison, the fantastic Brand New Testament, but neither of those movies had a gnarly demon with horns, did they?

Setting the Scene

More scenes were shot during the set visit for Countdown than any other set I’d been on. An always hustling and bustling crew accomplished shooting a handful of scenes, and the most memorable of which involved the creature in the movie. Before we get to him, here’s the quick one-liner for Justin Dec‘s horror movie: after downloading a death app, Quinn Harris (You‘s Elizabeth Lail), learns she has three days more days to live. Behind the app? A supernatural force, of course.

The creature is only teased in the trailer, but its presence was one of the highlights of the day. Some makeup is less convincing in-person without the right lighting and lenses, but up close and in person, the demon – whose name is Ozhin (Dirk Rogers), although a name like “Greg” or “Arnold” would’ve been good backup options – looked like a real deal nightmare. His presence never went unnoticed on set. Everyone, even people who’ve worked with him through the 23-day shoot, still smiled and marveled at the design.

“Look back over your right shoulder. He’s coming, he’s coming!” first-time filmmaker Justin Dec shouted at one point, as the lead was being hunted down by the demon.

Naturally, there’s a face-off between Ozhin and the leads at one point in the movie. There were horror movie screams, pentagrams, and wirework involved. “Hey guys, the wires won’t be in the movie,” producer Sean Anders reminded us. They shot a few scenes for the ending while we were there, some of which were shot on an asylum set that looked and felt haunted. Dusty, broken down, and wires everywhere, it had the haunted look down. It was one of the many fantastic sets on a massive lot in the lovely, sorta middle-of-nowhere Chatsworth, California. The huge production stage had sets for everything: sewers, police stations, suburban homes, you name it. They all looked convincing, too.

Fun fact: it was where Teen Wolf was shot. That’s right, we walked the same halls a once furry Michael J. Fox did. It was magical.

The Legend Behind the Demon

The trailer for Countdown is light on demon action. From what we were told, his time in the spotlight comes later in the movie, but on the set, he was without question the star. With his bright blues, blood-covered mouth, and raggedy cloak, it was a good-looking, well-crafted creature. Surprisingly, it only took an hour for Dirk Rogers to get his makeup done. There’s no way he could’ve been comfortable on the prosthetics, but he didn’t show any signs of discomfort. He was all laughs, which was a hilarious sight. It never grew old for us visiting the set or the crew to watch him chatting and hanging out on the set.

One of the artists responsible for Ozhin is makeup supervisor Howard Berger, a modern legend with 37 years of experience in the industry. The Oscar-winner and co-founder of KNB EFX Group has worked on LegionDeath Proof, and a long list of other movies that don’t cease to impress. Berger, artist Aaron Sims, and all involved came with the design of the creature in about a week.

The makeup effects guru and his company often work on large productions, but Countdown had fewer resources and time than many of their projects. If a filmmaker sparks Berger’s interest, big budget or not, he’ll get involved:

It’s not a big-budget movie. At KNB we work on all different sizes of films. To us, it’s about the enthusiasm of the filmmaker and the script. I mean, we took a chance on Eli Roth for Cabin Fever. They had no money. We almost did that for free, and because we liked Eli, we did it almost for free. We did all the effects stuff and it worked out really well. We were investing in a young filmmaker, just like we invested in a young filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino, and that worked out really well [Laughs]. We did Reservoir Dogs for free, because we met Quentin before he was famous at a BBQ. All for a day’s pay. He’s been extremely loyal. This was another opportunity like that. I really liked Justin. He had a really good knowledge of horror that didn’t start at the remake of A Nightmare of Elm Street, which is true [Laughs]. I’ll ask people their favorite horror movies, and they’ll say, “I really like the Michael Bay Chainsaw movie, and this, and this.” Not to say anything bad about those movies, it’s just not where horror started.

The kind of horror movies Berger wants to hear about from filmmakers are Lord of Illusions and Legend of Hell House, titles on his mind because he was about to go work with Clive Barker. He expects if you’re going to make a horror movie, you should be as well-versed as he is in the genre, which is how he felt about director Justin Dec.

It’s Not a Killer App Movie, Per Se

For the most part, nobody tried to say Countdown is about society, man, and how all these apps are sucking away a lot of our precious time. When is the last time you looked at how much time you’ve spent on your phone? It’s almost always a horrifying number. One or two people floated the idea it’s a movie about our phone obsession, but generally, the people involved described Countdown exactly for what it is. They imagined it as a “fun horror movie,” hopefully with equal laughs and scares. They also don’t see it as a killer app movie, which is the impression the marketing gives. As Anders explained, it’s not the app killing people:

I want to make it clear, this is not a movie about your phone killing you [Laughs]. The app doesn’t kill you. When you see the film, it’ll become clear. The app is kind of a modern manifestation of an old curse. If you wanted to find out how you were going to die in the 1500s, it would’ve been a scroll or something. The idea of the beginning, we never wanted it to be a hacker in a basement who makes an app. We wanted it to be a modern manifestation of something old and cryptic. It always had a supernatural element to it, but in early iterations, we were often in crazy town of how the countdown works and comes for you. There were some really bad ideas, I’m not going to lie, and took us down some blind alleys until we found the story we all like.

Tom Segura and Demons

Tom Segura doesn’t fight the demon in Countdown, at least to my knowledge, but what a sight that’d be. Anybody who pays remotely any attention to the world of stand-up comedy knows Segura is one of the best comedians around right now, with a spectacular “less is more” style. Just the mildest of reaction shots from him scores big laughs, and on top of that, he’s more clever than brash with his more transgressive jokes. He’s a great comedian with top-shelf Netflix specials, podcasts, and even morning talk show appearances. Segura co-starred in Sean Anders’ thoroughly enjoyable Instant Family, and that’s how he got the role in Countdown.

Anyone who’s a fan of his comedy has to see the humor of Segura in a demon feature. Segura isn’t the only comedian in the movie, though, as he’s joined by his wife and Your Mom’s House co-host, comedian Christina Pazsitzky. Originally, according to Anders, Segura was considered for another role:

There’s a character we dubbed the “Comic Con priest,” Father John (P. J. Byrne), who had gotten into the priesthood because he almost sees the old testament as a graphic novel [Laughs]. We originally went to Tom for that character, but I think Tom wanted to share scenes with the demon. He wanted to be a character with a countdown and under attack. He plays Derek, a phone store manager and our tech guy. He’s great in it.

There was no auditioning for Segura, who just got a call from Anders about the job. The comedian, who’s about to go on his European tour, told us he’s interested in acting in more than comedies:

It excites me to be in all kinds of movies. I would love to do a children’s movie, a thriller, or a really physical comedy. Doing all different types of stuff is exciting to me. I feel like it’d be fun to mix it up…. the last few auditions, I did one a week ago for a pretty serious thriller. I also did an audition for a sillier comedy, so I guess I lean more towards comedy, but it’s a mix things.

Comedy and Horror Go Hand-in-Hand 

Everyone involved stressed they’re trying to make a fun horror movie with almost as many laughs as scares. The trailer doesn’t have a lot of laughs, but if the filmmakers were successful, it’ll be almost as much as comedy. To Sean Anders, the two genres aren’t entirely dissimilar. After he shared a good lesson for any PA in the world trying to make it as a filmmaker one day – always go the extra miles – the Daddy’s Home director said crafting scares and laughs aren’t wildly different:

There are so many similarities. So, Justin had been a PA on our first movie we did a long time ago, Sex Drive. Whenever you make a movie with young people working on it, there are always people who stand out who’ll take care of what you need. Justin was that guy on our first movie. We really liked him, so we said, “Whatever you’re working on, keep in touch.” He’d send us shorts and stories every now and then. One day, he sent me this horror short called Countdown. The more I thought about it, I called him and said, “Look, this isn’t what we do, but we grew up watching horror movies and would love to dig into this.” We just started watching and breaking down a lot of movies with Justin. Something that just jumped out at us, the way set pieces are handled in horror is so similar to comedy, especially physical comedy. The best ones start with a character-driven premise, tease you, create expectations, then subvert expectations. They’re built in such similar ways. There’s a lot of crossover. Whether you’re trying to get a scream or laugh, you’re trying to pull the rug and get a surprise.

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