Director Talks about ‘Detention’
by Jason Harris
Music video and film director Joseph Kahn is making the kind of movies he would want to watch and his current movie, Detention, comes out this Friday.
He describes Detention, which he co-wrote with Mark Palermo as a multi-genre movie that contains elements of horror, science fiction, time traveling, high school comedy, and kung-fu. Horror starts it out, but there are big chunks of the movie that have nothing to do with horror, he said.
Kahn says his film is “a high school movie for the kids today.” Detention can be enjoyed not only by kids, but by older people too.
“It’s not a movie about movies. It’s a movie about pop culture.”
His agenda was “to make a high school movie that felt like high school today” and how teens literally see the world.
“I don’t think being a kid is all that negative that Hollywood portrays it to be,” Kahn said. “I feel like when you are youthful there is optimism. The world is open and the older you get that kind of fades a little bit so it was a nice sort of moment to try and get in there and try to capture that.”
He knows that some negativity has to come into the picture to bring out the drama.
When he and Palermo started writing the movie, they thought about writing a slasher film, but it morphed into something else because of how he sees things, Kahn said.
Kahn made his first movie, Torque, which came out in 2004. He considers himself picky when choosing projects to do. One reason is because movie making is “a big time consuming effort.” It took him five years to create Detention, he said.
“I don’t believe I need to make 20, 30 movies in my lifetime. I feel like if I only make a handful of movies then each one counts.”
Before directing movies, Kahn was creating music videos for musicians like Britney Spears, U2, and the Backstreet Boys.
“I have always been, from a very early age, tied into music and pop culture. I’m like an old guy that still understands what everyone else has because I sell it. I’m a music video director for the most part.”
Kahn went to New York University to study film directing and “grew up watching a ton of movies.”
He thinks it’s better for a potential movie director to have been a waiter than a music video director.
“It just seems like a lot of people discount music videos as a negative towards feature film making,” Kahn said.
He considers himself to be an experienced filmmaker since he has shot 500 music videos. It’s about the process an individual person learns from the experience, he said.
“It’s really strange to me for the last 20 years all I have been doing every day is shooting and editing and learning and processing.”
Kahn paid for Detention with a combination of his personal funds and taking out loans. The best part of doing the movie was spending his own money and being able to do whatever he wanted on the movie, he said.
He enjoyed the freedom of bankrolling his own movie since he had no one looking over his shoulder like he did on Torque.
“On Torque, every time I set up something some script supervisor would say, ‘Ok Joseph Kahn is putting the camera in a weird place and we have to report this to the studio because it won’t cut together.’ I would get those types of things every day.”
There is one recognizable actor in Detention. Dane Cook portrays Principal Verge.
The director knew Cook ever since he cast him in a cameo role in Torque, which was Cook’s first movie.
“The studio fought me on it because they didn’t know who he was at the time,” Kahn said about casting Cook in Torque.
Kahn told the studio Cook was funny, would be great for the role and had a lot of fans, he said.
Cook liked the Detention script, but was resistant to doing the movie because “it was low-budget and he was in a weird place in his life,” Kahn said. He also didn’t want to play a high school principal because it would date him and it was so out of character for him.
“He plays the cool guy who has sex with a lot of girls,” Kahn said about Cook’s usual roles, but eventually he decided to portray the principal.
Cook’s character is a guy that has been crushed by life who resents and hates all the kids, Kahn said.
“It’s so against his imaging and I think its fun to see him in that role.”
He has some ideas for future projects, but since they would be expensive he would need studio backing to get them made.
“You can’t make a $100 million dollar movie without having to answer to somebody.”
Kahn doesn’t know what the future holds for him, but he does know what he wants to do.
“I just want to make movies. I just look at it one film at a time.”