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Audiences who know Sung Kang from the Fast and the Furious films might not expect him to pivot to a low-budget horror-comedy for his directorial debut. But in the height of COVID in 2020, the actor, who plays Han in the Fast films, spent five weeks at a closed-down Girl Scout camp shooting Shaky Shivers, a ‘90s-set monster mash that is an ode to the types of ‘80s films he grew up loving.
“I didn’t want to do something really heavy,” Kang says. “I think a lot of people expected, because of my association to these big blockbuster action movies, that I would do some action film.”
Now Kang is offering the project at AFM this week.
Shaky Shivers centers on two ice cream shop employees (played by Brooke Markham and VyVy Nguyen) stranded at an abandoned camp, where a book of magical spells puts them in contact with a number of classic movie creatures.
Kang’s Shaky Shivers journey began when he got wind that longtime creative partner Aaron Strongoni had quietly penned a script on the weekends with scribe Andrew McAllister. The duo were inspired after making a documentary on special effects maestro Gabriel Bartalos, who was supportive of Shaky Shivers and even offered to lend the screenwriters some of his monstrous creations for the project.
After Kang read the script, he put his hat in the ring to direct. Or as he humbly puts it, “I pleaded.”
It took a year to get the financing, and they were finally gearing up to film when COVID hit the U.S. in earnest in March 2020.
“The week of the lockdown, we were doing blocking rehearsals,” says Kang, when the producers pulled him aside to tell him the film was shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The movie just evaporated,” says the filmmaker.
But the team did not give up. A few months later they regrouped, and found a new location and in a few months were rolling cameras, largely with a new crew, at a camp north of Los Angeles. The filmmaker recalls a summer camp vibe on set.
Some of the signature shots had to be captured in just hours due to technical glitches that seemed to crop up when it was time to film the creatures.
“God bless Gabe Bartalos, because he should have had at least a full day for each creature effect. But we would get there and go, ‘Oh, we’ve got two hours to get this right,'” recalls Kang. “He’s rushing with his team and we’re ready to do the shot, but then there’s some equipment malfunction.”
Kang’s storied career has included audiences campaigning for his return to The Fast and the Furious franchise after his character died in 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. He returned for F9 (2021) and has completed work on Fast X and joined the Star Wars galaxy for this year’s Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The actor, 50, found comfort in filming Shaky Shivers at this stage of his life, no matter the things that might go wrong on a film set.
“Even when things are going crazy and department heads are stressed out, I would always step back and go, ‘You know what, it’s just a movie,'” says Kang, adding he took strength from “the whole ethos of us as dreamers all coming together, spending five weeks together on a summer camp.”
Jackrabbit Media and Cyfuno Ventures are co-repping domestic sales for Shaky Shivers, with Jackrabbit handling all international sales. Kang is producing via his Raison D’etre banner, along with Luci Kim via Luka Productions and Jean Shim’s company, Aerie On Elms. Nina Yang Bongiovi is executive producing via AUM.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Nov. 3 daily issue at the American Film Market.
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