In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, director Danishka Esterhazy talks about her nostalgically good-spirited slasher, The Banana Splits Movie, starring Dani Kind and Romeo Carere. Find out how the schlocky horrors were made while affectionately spoofing The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.
It’s Harley (Finlay Wotjak-Hissong)’s birthday and his family celebrates with a fun-filled visit to a taping of the young boy’s favorite TV show, The Banana Splits. But things take an unexpected turn—and the body count quickly rises. Will Harley, his family and their new pals safely escape?
Before The Banana Splits Movie premieres on SYFY this Saturday, October 12th at 9/8c, Danishka Esterhazy talks about how she became involved in the project, Dani Kind’s character arc as the motherly Beth, and her cinematic influences. Check out our review as we head into the director’s studio to discuss the craft of filmmaking.
Villain Media: Tell me how you became involved in the project.
Danishka Esterhazy: I didn’t know about the project in the beginning. I know SYFY had been talking to Warner Bros. about collaborating. They had a couple of projects in the works. Warner Bros. owns all the IP for Hanna-Barbera. Peter Girardi from Warner Bros. was talking about rebooting one of the properties and bringing it to life. Josh from SYFY said, “Why don’t we make it into a horror movie?”
So that’s how it began. They were looking for directors. I happened to be out in Los Angeles at the time. Josh had watched one of my films, Level 16, which he had really liked. He said, “We have this project and I really liked how you worked with suspense. Do you want to have a look at it?”
That’s how I got involved. The writers only had an outline at that point. It was nice to come in that early. I was able to give notes, work with the writers, and help shape the script a little bit before we got going.
VM: The script by Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas is composed of many subplots. It’s a coming-of-age tale for the kids, it’s about female empowerment, Hollywood satire, and a slasher movie. What was that like combining all these subplots into a feature?
DE: Jed and Scott are great writers. They were perfect for this project. In addition to writing their own horror movie, Scott had published two thriller novels, which are just amazing. They both worked for television. They both wrote for children television shows. They’ve been in that world. They brought in authenticity to that satire.
What I remember about the project are the characters. I love horror. I love being scared. I like stories that have a deeper message and characters that we’re invested in. I love the story of Beth and Harley. I knew we were going to use great practical effects. I thought the thing that people would remember after watching The Banana Splits Movie hopefully was the great character storytelling of Beth and Harley.
VM: I’m glad you mentioned Beth. Dani Kind is my favorite character in the movie. She starts out as this delicate wallflower and blossoms into a hardcore slayer.
DE: Yeah, Dani was a great pleasure to work with! She’s a director’s actor. She’s very collaborative. She does so much preparation. She brings ideas to the set about her character. I really loved Beth’s character because I felt here’s this woman who’s trying so hard to be the perfect mother and fit into society’s expectations of what makes a perfect mother. She has denied parts of her nature and parts of her nature are very strong. She’s brave and adventurous. She’s a natural warrior and leader. She’s in denial about that part of her personality until she has to save her family. So it was a really fun arc to develop.
Dani was so great! She really wanted to tap into her experience and bring that into Beth. And you know, Dani is also very kickass! [Laughs] She had no trouble becoming that strong character by the end of the film. She’s pretty brave as herself. She was a pretty good fit.
VM: In a memorable tribute to John Carpenter’s Christine, Mitch (Steve Lund) is being chase by one of the Banana Buggies. Did you storyboard this?
DE: [Laughs] I did storyboard these sequences. They were a lot of fun to do. The scene with the Banana Buggy was so crazy! Steve Lund, who plays Mitch, was great! Mitch had to run basically all day. We shot it from so many different angles. He had to run again and again and again! Luckily he’s in really great shape. He also had a great attitude. I apologized to him, “Sorry! I’m going to have to make you run down this road like 100 times!” He said, “No worries, no problem!” [Laughs]
VM: What were the movies that provided inspiration for the look and feel of The Banana Splits Movie?
DE: Strangely, I think I was inspired by low sci-fi. I was thinking a lot about the 1970s Westworld, Especially the Yul Brenner character. And also Logan’s Run from 1976. I was thinking of Box, that charming, clunky killer robot. Those were pretty big inspirations in terms of some of the shots and references I brought.
VM: I really liked the look of Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky. There’s a little bit more detail but it still has that nostalgic flair.
DE: Warner Bros. still had the original costumes. They sent in the original costumes and we duplicated them to make our own. We had the original design which was incredible!
The only thing that really changed was Snorky. Snorky from the original series had two different looks. There was 1968 Snorky and 1969 Snorky, which was a different design. Snorky changed in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I tried to take my favorite parts of every design to make our version of Snorky [laughs]! Harley bonds with Snorky. I really wanted to make sure Snorky was huggable in some kind of way! [Laughs]
VM: How did The Banana Splits Movie change you as a filmmaker?
DE: It was a lot of firsts for me. It was the first time I shot in South Africa. I wasn’t sure how the process was going to go. I’m traveling halfway around the world to shoot with crew I never met. I shoot with the same people in Canada. It actually turned out amazing! It was the beginning of a long-term collaboration with my cinematographer and production designer. I ended up working with them again recently on the new SYFY series, Vagrant Queen. I developed relationships with excellent filmmakers and the crew there.
VM: What are you working on now?
DE: I just finished some episodes of Vagrant Queen, which is coming in 2020. And now, I’m writing some new screenplays. I’ve got a couple of horror ideas that I’m really expected about! I just gotta sit down and finish writing those scripts. And hopefully get to shoot those early next year.
The Banana Splits Movie premieres on SYFY this Saturday, October 12th, 2019 at 9/8c.