Michael Dougherty should be basking in the glow of making a fun movie clips reel that summarizes the current pandemic state of humankind. Instead, he is mourning the death of his housekeeper of 17 years, who died from a heart condition.
“It was sudden and unexpected, and I’m quite affected by it,” Dougherty, the writer-director of Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Trick ‘r Treat, tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Dougherty, who won’t disclose where he is, admits he’s in “in a weird phase.”
Though he is dealing with this loss, one thing that has been helping him through is the mashup video he made, titled Everything I Need to Know to Survive Covid-19 I Learned by Watching Sci-Fi & Horror Movies. Dougherty’s reel brings together movies such as The Mist, I Am Legend, Alien, 28 Days Later, The Shining and others in a blend that nicely summarizes the current climate, the past — and hopefully not the future.
One of the backbones of the piece is Jaws, notably the scene where the mayor of the shark-infested seaside town says it’s OK to go back into the water. And when people are reluctant to go in, the mayor cajoles them until one by one they do.
“We in the audience damn well know that the shark is still out there. But [in real life], we are in that exact moment right now!” says Dougherty, laughing at the absurdity of the current situation.
Dougherty operates his life daily by having a genre movie playing in the background. “Some people listen to a favorite album; I throw The Thing on and go about my daily tasks.” But he noticed he was returning to a lot of favorites during quarantine. “I was marathoning Alien, Contagion, 28 Days Later. They were comfort food, but I know they offered some level of survival tips for extremely terrifying situations.”
The idea to make the video came up when he and his friends were texting each other certain words and moments that kept popping up. He reached out to an editor pal of his, Evan Gorski, with the idea of an enjoyable collaboration even as they were apart.
“It became a fun task, a fun way to distract ourselves from the headlines and a way to comment on it, too,” he said.
Via texts, calls and, of course, Zoom, they came up with the spine of a story that would reflect the major beats of the collective experience people were going through: First the alarm bells, then the quarantine, the shopping for supplies, the media debates, the masks. And then they went about finding the scenes that reflected those beats. (The one movie he wished they used but didn’t was 12 Monkeys.)
“It wasn’t hard. We were in the middle of it,” says Dougherty.
And they set it to the very appropriate ditty “I Will Survive.”
“It’s contrasting an upbeat piece of music to more nihilistic images,” he notes. “And it’s also very easy to edit.”
Dougherty will be soon turning his attention to a Hellraiser TV series he is developing along with David Gordon Green and others for HBO. Now, though, he is grateful and surprised that his project that started as a fun distraction is having deeper meaning for him.
“It ended up being a cathartic side project that helped me in a way that I never imagined it would,” he says.