After working with artists like Eminem, Rihanna and Britney Spears, music video director Joseph Kahn is taking a stab at the horror genre.
Kahn, who has been recognized at the Grammys for his work, is promoting his horror-comedy about a group of high school students being stalked by a killer before their senior prom. To make matters worse, their principal, played by Dane Cook, suspects one of them is the killer and throws them all into detention.
Kahn said filmmakers need to get a high school movie out of their system, and this is his.
However, “Detention” strays far from the typical high school movie.
“If you analyze high school kids, you realize they are a lot of different genres,” Kahn said. “Some kids live drama, some romantic comedies, and some live some sort of horror.”
Each character in the movie represents a different genre, from superhuman teenagers, time travel and body switching, to teen suicide, slasher-killers and prom.
His goal was to make a movie for this “different” generation, one that’s “less homophobic, less racist, and hipper,” all qualities he attributes to easy Internet access.
In the lives of teenagers, every decision and every action seems like an end-all, a final deed. Kahn created this movie to mirror that perception of the world.
“When I see kids texting in a theater, that means they’re bored,” he said. “I wanted to make a movie that challenged them.”
Kahn was inspired by the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado and how the inability to understand others can lead to disastrous ends. The film is meant to serve as a positive statement on the transition out of high school.
“‘Detention’ is about all these people going beyond their genre, and at the same time, the joy within their lives as teenagers,” he said.
Kahn brings a different set of skills to filmmaking due to his background in music videos and television commercials.
While filming “Detention,” he had the camera connected to a computer, allowing him to edit the scenes into the movie as he went along.
“I have this process I learned from making music videos. As I shot, I edited it immediately,” Kahn said. “This allowed me to fine-tune to the camera movements. When I have everything pre-edited in my head, I shoot until I get exactly what I want.”
Filmmaking has been a dream of Kahn’s since high school, when he first started making videos.
After high school graduation, he attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, but the program was not hands-on enough for him. For Kahn, creating just five videos per year was not enough, so he left after his first year.
According to Kahn, music videos were his way in to the business. He initially worked for free before finally getting paid gigs.
“Whenever I do a job I take it personally,” Kahn said. “When someone wrote the song, it’s their life I’m working on. They gave me that job to improve their life. If you give me a bone I come back with a steak, and if you look closely at my career I create nothing but hits.”
Kahn’s first job as a feature film director came with the movie “Torque,” a sort of “Fast and Furious” of motorcycles.
Though Kahn returned to music videos and commercials, he was finally able to write and direct his own movie.
“I wanted a movie that had 100 percent of what I wanted, and ‘Detention’ came out exactly the way I wanted it to,” he said.
Kahn said his biggest challenge in making “Detention” was the monetary expense. He funded the entire film himself, using both personal capital and several loans.
The challenge doesn’t seem to faze him.
“If I do a movie, that means I have to love it, I have to be passionate about it,” he said. “I’ve never been afraid of money. I’d rather know my movie exists.”