Casey Tebo has been in love with films since he snuck into a theatre alone to watch James Cameron’s Aliens. Like many filmmakers, Tebo truly perfected his craft and cut his teeth on music videos and music documentaries. He even was able to work with legendary rock bands like Aerosmith as well as rap legends like Tech N9ne. After his indie thriller Happy Birthday produced by Sean McKittrick (producer of Donnie Darko, BlacKkKlansman, Us, and more), Tebo was recruited to direct Black Friday. This sci-fi monster / zombie movie set in a big-box store was written by Andy Greskoviak and features Devon Sawa, Ivana Baquero, Michael Jai White, and BRUCE CAMPBELL along with other great talent. Wanting to learn more about his career and this film, I was able to interview Tebo for ScifiPulse.
You can learn more about Tebo by following him on Twitter at @CaseyShoots.
(Black Friday will be in theaters November 19th and on Demand November 23. Learn more about the film at Screen Media Films.)
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some movies you loved? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Casey Tebo: My movie experience growing up was much different than I think most people… well maybe not people who grew up in southeastern Massachusetts. The nearest movie theater or comic book store to me was about 30 plus minutes away, so we didn’t get to the movies that often. Most of my movies came from this weird pre-cable channel called “preview”, it was a box top thing on top of the TV, a lot of Kentucky Fried Movie, Band of the Hand, Class of 1984, UHF and Hot Dog the Movie. Mostly B movie stuff.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in entertainment? Was there a moment this goal crystallized for you?
Tebo: Haha. Yeah. Ask anyone in my third-grade class who was subject to participating in me putting on a half-baked full production of RETURN OF THE JEDI, costumes and all. True story. The guy who played Vader is still one of my best friends, we put Noxema on his face to make him look old when he took his helmet AKA cheap Halloween mask off – Han Solo unfortunately died, and I’m not sure what happened to the Emperor.
Yanes: Instead of Los Angeles, you love outside of Boston. How do you think this changes how you approach storytelling? In other words, do you think your environment gives a creative perspective that differs from those in L.A.?
Tebo: It might. There are advantages to being in a place that gets very depressed for half of the year. I think the only directors who’ve fully taken advantage of “LA” storytelling is Mann and Tarantino, and PTA. Look at Robert Eggers, he’s from I think Vermont, it doesn’t change that he’s one of the most exciting filmmakers out there, and speaking of Eggers, he’s working with Chris Columbus, who moved to San Fran so he could raise a family – and look at the family films he made! Maybe it does, now that I think about it! I also love David Lowrey, and he’s from Dallas, and he’s not, you know, making movies about Cowboys. It really depends on the filmmaker.
Yanes: The majority of your shorts, specials, and documentaries focus on music. What are your favorite musicians?
Tebo: My favorites are always the right on the fringe bands or artists. The ones who can teeter on normal rock music but are just weird enough to not be super popular. Mostly, Jane’s Addiction, and The Mars Volta. The Mars Volta, to me, are one of the greatest musical acts of all time. Esoteric Jazz, like Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” and lots of Frank Zappa haha.
Yanes: Moreover, how do you think your music film projects have helped you become a better storyteller?
Tebo: That’s a great question but I think it would have more to do with dealing with cast and actors than storytelling. My brother is one of the best natural storytellers I know and he works for Linked-In as a corporate sales manager…so, storytellers are everywhere! He’s gotta entertain people so that’s how he does it.. and it’s paid off. I think working with huge stars like Katy Perry or Steven Tyler is no different than Bruce Campbell or Devon Sawa or Michael Jai White, you have to realize they’re all important, and have different personalities and needs, and you have to learn them all.
Yanes: Your latest project is Black Friday, which is a holiday monster story. What attracted you to this project?
Tebo: Sean McKittrick (Get Out, BlackkKlansman) who’s an incredible and highly respected producer… Sean is a good friend, and who’s instincts I trust, once said something that stuck with me in regards to finding original material. He said, “Have I seen this movie before?” and If the answer is no, you’ve got something. I’d never seen Black Friday. I’ll give Andy Greskvoiak credit for that. I read so many scripts, I just fell in love with his story. It was gory and fun and slightly goofy, but it also had lots of heart. When I read Andy’s script, there was something so authentic about it…it was fun and over the top, but I knew he had lived it. Turns out he worked in a Toys R’ Us for years!
Yanes: While taking Black Friday from script to final film edit, was there a character or element that took on a life of its own?
Tebo: The actors make each character their own, so I can’t take anything away from any of them, that’s unfair; Stephen Peck, to me, really had a break out as Brian the assistant manager. But, well, know you what? Yes. Dour Dennis. Andy had written it as a little wind-up Robot, and I told him we needed something more for the audience – and Dennis became this thing that just snowballed into what he is now, especially since it was done by a well-known actor who made it his own – but we didn’t promote that.
Yanes: In addition to Bruce Campbell on this project, you got to work with Michael Jai White, Ivana Baquero, and several other great talents. What was it like working with them?
Tebo: Oh boy, this could be a long answer. Devon was the first one Andy and I cast, because we knew we needed a strong anchor to the movie. Andy and I crushed on him a little bit, emailing back and forth how giggling like kids, much we loved him for Ken. It was really exciting… We needed that strong male lead that was charming and handsome but could pull off just the right amount of sympathy from the audience as he was playing a single dad. Devon is such a serious actor, he’s a little hard on himself on set at times, but I truly believe it’s because he wants to bring the best performance he can. Not many people realize he took a break from acting for a while, and with his new run of indie films and Chucky, I think he’s making a huge comeback. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least bit if he ends up in a Marvel or DC or similar franchise, because he’s got the looks, and the acting talent, it’s only a matter of time, and that’s hard for someone who was a child star! Not many of those guys make it out, and he did.
Ivana, what a joy. I mean, she’s the little girl from Pan’s Labyrinth you know? This little ten-year-old girl, but now she’s an adult, kicking ass on Shannara Chronicles, and as far as acting she does this thing, where she legit can get her scenes nailed with one take. It’s weird, like if I ever need to shoot a movie in a week and need a lead actress I will call her, because I know she can do it, it’s almost FREAKY… And she’s so sweet and funny but also has a dark sense of humor. I’d work with her on anything, truly. Ivana has that giddy sense of childish enthusiasm that I think Andy and I have as well, she’s happy to be there, she’s grateful to be a part of the movie, and any director is lucky to have an actress with that kind of attitude for sure. There’s a scene in the movie, in the warehouse, where she’s feeling bad for Jonathan (Bruce’s character) and she just brings it to the next level. Her delivery is always – ALWAYS – on the money.
Michael was all business! He probably asks the most questions out of all the actors, but it’s because he’s thorough, and wants to get it right. It was funny when he showed up on set, we started chatting and it turns out that he and I went to the same University, and had the same drama teachers! Small world. Sweet guy, very humble, very friendly, and also an incredible actor.
Bruce, well, I mean, the guy is an absolute legend, and let me tell you he reminds me of Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, and here’s why. I’ve met many rock stars, working in music, and Steven never acted like that. He was just a regular guy who happened to be the lead singer of Aerosmith. He wants to go out for a burger, ride motorcycles, that sort of thing. Bruce is the same way. I feel like he’s just a guy from Michigan who happened to be this fucking horror icon. He made a movie with his buddy Sam, and now look at them both? He’s like your friend’s dad who you know you can count on, he just has that vibe you know? He’s a really smart guy too, very well-traveled and knowledgeable about movies and production. Just super sweet, super funny, and very giving in a scene. He allows the other actors to have their moment, and he will show up to do lines with people and rehearse, none of that ‘I’ll be in my trailer’ shit from Bruce. he’s a team player.
Yanes: Was there a moment in which their experience helped you out?
Tebo: Oh god yeah, I straight up told Michael I’d never done real action before and we worked out his fight scene and he was very helpful with that. Same goes for Devon and some blocking, he felt the scene didn’t have enough movement so I got a whiteboard and we started mapping out where everyone should be. Bruce is the king of indie film, so he had suggestions on things to save time and what not.
Yanes: Reflecting on the time you invested in Black Friday, how do you think this experience has made you a better director?
Tebo: Well, we shot it during peak Covid, which was just about the hardest thing to do, so it definitely taught me more patience. And while this was an indie film, we still had some money, not like my first feature where I had $400,000 for everything. This movie I had to let go of trying to do everything by myself, and for a guy like me who usually did everything, that can be tough, but you just gotta let it go, and let people be good at their jobs.
Yanes: When people finish watching Black Friday, what do you hope they take away from it?
Tebo: That’s a very simple answer for me. I don’t aim to make the next classic, I don’t aim to rewrite the books, I just want people to have a good time.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Tebo: I found a graphic novel called Poser, it’s a teen slasher I would love to do. Slasher was never really my genre, but my sons can’t get enough of it, and I can’t argue with them. I currently have a dark gritty cop script set in Boston that a few companies have made me offers on, and my favorite project is a sci-fi spec I wrote, that I’m hoping to get kicked off very soon.
Remember, you can learn more about Tebo by following him on Twitter at @CaseyShoots.