This post contains spoilers for "Adult Swim Yule Log."
A curious phenomenon that has occurred over the past few years is the proliferation of yule log videos. From The Pokemon Company to Shudder and even Michael Bublé, yule log POVs set to relaxing Christmas music have become a major way for companies and celebrities to celebrate the holidays. In 2021, Adult Swim got in on the action, uploading a "Rick and Morty"-themed yule log on YouTube featuring the titular characters sitting by a fireplace and trading jabs.
Given the popularity of this concept, it's no wonder that the network decided to revisit the yule log idea for 2022. However, this year's wouldn't be just a couple of characters sitting around with festive music playing –- in the hands of longtime Adult Swim collaborator Casper Kelly, what starts as a simple yule log video rapidly becomes a surreal horror film about racism, mental health, and blood-sucking aliens. That's quite a surprise for viewers who stumbled across this when it premiered last night and thought they were about to settle in for a simple yule log video. But at 90-minutes, this is a full-blown film — the first Adult Swim live-action horror feature.
Perhaps best known for directing 2014's viral short "Too Many Cooks," Kelly makes his feature directorial debut here with "The Fire Place," the secret film hidden behind Adult Swim's 2022 yule log. We recently spoke to the director about making his first feature film, the visually striking horror that inspires him, and even the buzzy directing duo he's come to love.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
'You Start Off On A Yule Log And Then Someone Enters This Room, And Then It Becomes A Story That You Can't See'
Let's start off with the obvious question here. How did "The Fire Place" even come up? How did Adult Swim approach you to make it?
I approached them. The idea started last year, [during the] holiday season. I was watching a yule log video and the close up shot of a fireplace, and for some reason, I got an image of legs walking across in the foreground, sort out of focus, and you hear dialogue. And then I thought, "Oh yeah, that would be interesting. You start off on a yule log and then someone enters this room, and then it becomes a story that you can't see. You only see parts of it."
So that was the genesis of it, and then I just pitched that premise to Adult Swim as a sort of a 4:00 AM thing, like "Too Many Cooks." And then they're like, "Yeah." For whatever reason, I said, "All right, this is weird because I don't know what's going to happen yet, but what do you think if we made it as a movie?" They were like, "Well, if you can make it for about the same amount of money, yeah. Okay."
'I Thought Of Broad Genres More Than Specific Movies'
You took that initial image that you had and actually implemented it. The first thing that we actually see are those legs coming in, like you had mentioned, and also the background noises.
Yes. But then the task came of, "What next?" I had to start digging in deep of, "What am I afraid of? What themes seem natural when thinking about a yule log and this living room in a cozy mountain cabin?" It just kind of started layering on ideas and growing from there.
You can definitely tell that it was a process that you started off with one thing and then you kept layering on, because there is a lot to unpack here, especially regarding modern horror tropes and conventions. Were you envisioning some of these movies as you were planning it out, adding to the story, and even shooting it?
I was thinking more broadly in genres. When the podcasters arrive, that's sort of a "Friday the 13th" type of campers. Later on, it is a little bit of a neon horror feeling, like Nicolas Winding Refn or Panos Cosmatos [who worked with Kelly on his 2018 film "Mandy"]. So I thought of broad genres more than specific movies and how those might feel morphing into each other.
I really like that Refn reference because now that I really think about it, there was a lot of that, especially when you go into the fireplace.
Oh yes, and I think there probably also is a David Lynch influence, who I'm a big fan of. I just love that stuff, so that's probably a little of my style, too.
'Here, You Need To Have Some More Meaning, Ideally'
A lot of your style definitely comes through, which is impressive considering that this is technically your first film. Congratulations on that.
Thank you! It means a lot. Thank you.
There's a big difference between shooting a sketch or short film, and then actually extending that out to feature length. What were some of the things you learned in that process?
Oh man, I learned so much. I think with the Adult Swim stuff I do, which is usually 11 minutes, it's almost like a "Three Stooges" cartoon. But here, you need to have some more meaning, ideally, and some character arcs and some character changes and be about something, like a thematic debate about something. I think that helps … I mean, you don't have to do that, but I thought it would be good to have that.
I also learned about screenplay structure, which I also purposely broke some of those rules to see if it would still work. [laughs] I don't know why I did that.
'It's Definitely A Successor'
This movie is about a lot of things, most prominently racism, our own superstitions about the world, urban mythologies, and stuff like that. There's a lot going on, but at the same time, it all makes sense in a really weird way.
Oh good, because I was hoping that, because I didn't want to over-explain anything. But at the same time, I didn't want it to be a movie where, "I have no idea what's happening." I want it to be just the right amount, because that's the most satisfying to me -– where you know most of it, but there's some to talk about with your friends after.
Back in 2018, I believe, when you released "Final Deployment 4: Queen Battle Walkthrough," you said that you considered that short the spiritual successor to "Too Many Cooks." How do you feel about "The Fire Place" in relation to "Too Many Cooks" and "Final Deployment 4?"
I think that it is also an evolution, not because I don't think that's the only way I can do it. I think I do have other styles I want to try, but I thought for my first movie, I might as well play on that strength of layering and combining things to see if it could work in a 90-minute venue. So yes, you're right. It's definitely a successor.
'I'm Like A Kid In A Candy Store'
Do you see yourself currently working in more feature-length stuff moving forward, even though you're mostly known for these shorts?
Yes. I'm working on another movie now. I have the bug. Erin, I cannot wait to do more. I'd love to do two in a year if I could. I'm excited. I'm like a kid in a candy store. I want to try to do more.
Are you bound by any secrecy on this new project?
Oh, yeah. I probably can't talk about it, but I have a couple. One is another horror movie, and in a very broad way, it's about nostalgia. And then another one is a science fiction movie, somewhat about procrastination, but it's kind of a thriller. That's all. I know that sounds weird, but yeah, hopefully they'll work.
Hey, one of the best sci-fi movies of the year is about taxes ["Everything Everywhere All At Once"].
Oh my god, you're right! Yes! That movie's great. That's probably another influence. Those guys are great, the Daniels.
"The Fire Place," also known as "Adult Swim Yule Log," is now available on HBO Max.
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The post 'Adult Swim Yule Log' Director Casper Kelly is Ready to Direct More Freaky Feature Films [Exclusive Interview] appeared first on /Film.