You may be heading to Suicide Squad this weekend, but the internet has been reacting over the fan-made short The Laughing Man this past week–with good reason.
Created by brothers Julio and Diego Hallivis, the 20-minute horror follows The Joker and Harley Quinn—both characters who also appear in David Ayer's Suicide Squad—as they torture an asylum psychotherapist and ask a live-stream audience to vote on his final judgement.
Drawing inspiration from Scott Snyder’s comic book “Death of The Family,” the independent short wraps itself in creative color palettes and a sinister sound design. We caught up with the filmmakers to learn how they put it all together.
NFS: What made you two want to tell this story?
Diego: We wanted to tell a story that centered on the Joker without Batman showing up to save the day. A story that didn’t need to be PG-13 for commercial reasons—where the protagonist isn’t necessarily a hero. We wanted to tell a story about the Joker after watching Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in Nightcrawler, a raw crazy psychopath. We knew we had to push it and do something very gory, something studios won’t do.
NFS: How closely did you want to follow “Death of the Family?”
Diego: We follow the comic book a little bit, but we also added our personal input. We wanted to try and make a true fan film.
NFS: You both have defined your roles—Julio as the producer, Diego as the director. How is your writing process?
Diego: Julio and I work together very closely on every aspect of the production, we just have different specialties. He definitely knows how to make magic happen and somehow, whatever I ask for, he finds a way to make it happen. When it comes to the writing, Brian DeLeeuw is someone we collaborate with frequently. He comes from the novel-writing background, so he is a true writer that understands the craft very well.
Julio: We’ve worked with Brian before. He is an amazing writer that understands our approach when it comes to story and character development. Normally, all three of us sit down together in a room to figure out the story and develop an outline; once we have it, Brian connects the dots.
"We knew we had to push it and do something very gory, something studios won’t do."
NFS: What type of budget were you working with?
Julio: When it comes to a short film, the thing about budgets is that the short truly doesn’t reflect what it was made for. We had hundreds of hours of free labor from friends and a lot of equipment that was loaned as a favor, thanks to our DP, Eli Arenson, and the rest of the crew. There is no way we would have been able to pull this off without an amazing crew. Everyone worked long days and always had a great, positive attitude.
NFS: When did the short go into production and how long did it take to complete?
Julio: It started in November of 2015 and it took us about 4 months to finish everything, but we had to put post production on hold in March because Diego and I went to Kentucky to shoot a feature sci-fi film called Curvature.
NFS: How many of those days did you use for shooting?
Diego: Because a lot of people were giving us their free time, we shot it over the weekend, so a 3-day shoot.
NFS: Can you talk about finding your actors and how you got them on board?
Julio: We’ve worked with Zach Avery before, but we weren’t sure he was the right person for the role because of his look. But when he showed up to casting, he killed the audition and he also transformed himself. We were amazed by his performance. For Harley, Diego and I have always been a fan of Whitney since Monsters, and when she read the script and talked to Diego over the phone, we knew she was perfect for the role.
NFS: What was your pre-production process with cinematographer Eli Arenson?
Diego: Me and Eli worked very closely from start to finish. We story boarded every shot, every camera set up and lens choice was decided among the two of us. We used a lot of art house horror films, like Bronson and Goodnight Mommy. Then, whenever we had some time between set ups, we would work on a lut so whenever we were editing, it looked closer to the final result as opposed to working on something that looked really raw.
Julio: We wanted to do something that had a dark/gritty tone, but still had a polished look to it. Taking a character like the Joker and doing a fan film can be scary because people are going to compare you to huge directors like Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton, people who have done all the Batman movies. We knew we had to do something very different, gory and experimental.
"Practical effects with just a little enhancement is what truly makes something look real."
NFS: For the camera nerds out there what did you shoot on?
Julio: We shot on the ARRI ALEXA with anamorphic lenses,
Panasonic E series – Panavision E series.
NFS: Diego, as a VFX artist, how much did you want to play in camera?
Diego: Aside from some scene transitions and touch ups, most of it is practical prosthetics. I think that practical effects with just a little enhancement is what truly makes something look real.
NFS: When The Joker tells his story about his teeth, you take us it into the stop animation world. What was the thought process behind that?
Diego: Since it’s a story told from the perspective of the Joker and we never know if he is telling the truth or not, we wanted to combine styles and techniques so his answers didn’t have a distinct pattern and in a way are constantly contradicting.
NFS: Quinn was great. Did you always want to bring her into the story?
Diego: We think the relationship of Quinn and the Joker is so complex that it could be its own stand-alone story in the vein of Bonnie and Clyde, but we definitely wanted to at least touch the surface of their relationship. They are both so interesting and cool and together they make a killer combination for a story.
NFS: Because of the short shooting schedule was there any time to find the frame organically?
Diego: I’m sure it must be nice to work organically to find the frame, but this was a very ambitious project. We needed a lot of different set ups so we had to be very efficient in order to get everything we needed. So we planned and storyboarded every shot. That way I could concentrate on the acting. Having said that, I always allowed the actors to improvise within the parameters of the production.
NFS: Your props and locations were terrific. How did you look to pull them off to stay in budget?
Julio: Our Production designer, Morgan McNeal, and his team worked night and day to make this happen. I really don’t know how he stayed within budget. I think he may have used his own money and just didn’t tell me, because he did magic.
NFS: How did you shoot the sequence when The Joker pulls his face off?
Diego: It was a combination of different prosthetic masks, layered one on top of the other. We had this amazing makeup artist, Hugo Villasenor, without him we would not have been able to do it. We owe him a big ‘thank you’. He made a mold of Zach’s face on the inside of the mask, and in order for Hugo to do it properly, he and Zach would arrive 2 hours before everyone. In order to prep for that shot, it took Hugo about 4 hours to add all the layers.
"With our sound we wanted the images to feel alive, so we created a sound design that had a heightened sense of reality."
NFS: How difficult was post?
Julio: Post-production was a tough process, especially when you are working on a budget, but it took us about a month to edit everything and then we closed the financing for our feature film Curvature, so we had to put everything on hold for three months. We already had a composer and our sound design/mixer signed on, so as soon as we got back, we dove in and finished everything while we started prepping to edit our feature film. We were working 20-hour days for a while.
Diego: With our sound we wanted the images to feel alive, so we created a sound design that had a heightened sense of reality.
NFS: What is it like working as brothers?
Diego: It allows you to be brutally honest with each other and then any disagreements you might have one day, the next day you don’t hold any grudges.
Julio: I think it’s great. Diego and I have worked together on every single project for the past 10 years, from commercials to features to shorts. We see each other everyday so now it is very organic to collaborate. We understand each other and most of the time we agree on everything, but we are brothers and we are both very honest with each other, which is nice and sometimes rare to get people’s true opinions.
NFS: You got a lot of attention on the film pretty quickly. Did you have any kind of plan in place?
Julio: We didn’t have a distribution strategy. We feel that there is no trick to having people see your work. If the project is good, people will watch and tell their friends to watch, too. We emailed the short to all of our friends and all the blogs that we like to read every day, and the response has been great, we have received literally hundreds of emails asking if we will make an R-rated version of the Joker, people like visceral and gory films. I wish studios would go for it!
NFS: Anything else on the horizon?
Diego: We just finished shooting the aforementioned sci-fi thriller Curvature, starring Lyndsy Fonseca, Zach Avery and Glenn Moreshower. We are also looking for our next project. We are addicted to being on set. There is nothing better than waking up knowing that today I am shooting a scene.
Watch the full short below and tell us what you think in the comments below.