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Emily Lou’s debut feature THE SELLING is full of spooks and suspense—but, more than anything else, comedy. Written by and starring comedian Gabriel Diani, the film centers on Richard Scarry, a down-on-his-luck, overly nice real-estate agent. When he gets talked into taking on a house that is obviously haunted by the ghosts of a serial killer and his victims, he and his business partner have to come up with a strategy to sell it. Though no potential buyers seem interested, they attract the attention of a young waitress obsessed with ghost-hunting. Meanwhile, Richard has to help pay for his mother’s expensive surgery. Can they get the spirits out of the house in time to sell it?
One of the most striking things about the film is the way it echoes such classic horror/comedies as ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN and the Three Stooges’ “We Want Our Mummy” short—a feeling almost completely absent in any recent productions. Diani admits that these films were a big influence on THE SELLING’s screenplay. “I was always a big fan of movies like that growing up,” he says. “We had the Saturday-afternoon movie on the local UHF channel when I was a kid, and they played all those great Abbott and Costello movies. Another inspiration was Don Knotts and THE GHOST AND MRS. CHICKEN. I was always a big fan of combining horror and scares with comedy, because it’s something I really enjoyed as a kid. There’s not a lot of that stuff out there anymore.”
Diani explains that when development began, the team was focused in a different direction. “We had in mind SHAUN OF THE DEAD and GHOSTBUSTERS,” he recalls, “but as we started writing it, and when were shaping it in the editing room, it just started dawning on me that I had made something in the vein of all those great films I loved when I was a kid. And hopefully, we did it in a way that makes it accessible to modern audiences.”
Though the humor is indeed very accessible, it will be particularly appealing to horror fans. THE SELLING is rife with references to everything from POLTERGEIST to THE SHINING, films fell into the popular cultural vocabulary in the ’80s. “I’m a child of that decade,” Diani notes, “so a lot of the movies that are referenced in THE SELLING are films that, whether I saw them or not when I was a kid, I definitely knew about them. My mom wouldn’t let me watch them, but at friends’ houses I could. When we started the project, I went back and watched all those movies—THE HAUNTING, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE SHINING, POLTERGEIST and AMITYVILLE HORROR. We really did our due diligence and research to take a look at the different sorts of things that popped up in those movies, because we really wanted to find the humor and the gags in all of those situations.
“When you look at those scary movies, a lot of times the hero or the heroine will react in a very brave way, or they’ll be scared and persevere on,” Diani continues, “but I know in my personal life I’m more of a huge coward. I think a lot of people, if something jumped out at them, they wouldn’t just jump, they would scream, or pee their pants, or run away. And I think that, naturally, they’d lose all your dignity and act in a ridiculous way. And we wanted to try to capture that in a realistic, funny manner.”
Though much of the film relies on jokes and physical gags, there are some horror FX—ghosts, bleeding walls and so on. Diani says that given the film’s modest finances, many of them came about by accident or were a process of trial and error. “We wanted to do a lot of practical, in-camera effects,” he says. “But because of our budget, some of the things we were trying to get on camera didn’t actually work. We decided to ask our effects company what we could do to make it look better. That’s part of the give-and-take of a low-budget production: You’ve got to roll with the punches and adapt and try to make things work. We did do a lot more CGI than we had intended, because we didn’t think we’d be able to afford it, but we found a company that was able to do it within our budgetary restrictions, and we’re happy with the results.”
The real strength of THE SELLING lies in the performances. Diani explains that the casting process mostly occurred through his, Devine’s and Lou’s established circle of friends and fellow performers. “This being our first big production, we wanted to work with people we were comfortable with,” he says. “It was a very quick shoot; we did it in about two weeks, and we only had two, sometimes three, sometimes one take on a shot. Janet Varney, who has a pretty established television and film career, is a good friend of mine; we were in a sketch-comedy group together, and I developed her role specifically with her in mind. Etta and I work together as a comedy duo, so I wrote those roles with us in mind.” There are also some great cameos from genre notables. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER’s Harry Groener pops up briefly as a prospective buyer, and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW’s Barry Bostwick gives a hilarious performance as an easily spooked priest trying to perform an exorcism.
As far as future involvement with horror goes, Diani says, “We have a script idea we’re working on that, unfortunately, I can’t give you details on. We love horror and we want to come back to it and do more of it. I think there’s a lot of untapped potential there in terms of blending horror and comedy. We want to do something that’s a bit more horror than comedy, so we have some ideas in that direction.”
Until then, THE SELLING should receive wider exposure soon enough. It premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and will appear at other fests in the future. “We have a couple lined up that we can’t announce yet,” Diani says, “and we’ve been talking about plans for a release. We have a TV deal in the works that’s not definite yet, and we’re trying to figure out if we should self-distribute, if we should look into DVD and VOD. We want to get the film out there—we feel like it has great cult potential. We’re looking into our options…details to come.”
In the meantime, you can find up-to-date information on THE SELLING’s website, watch the trailer and see a slew of more exclusive pics below.
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