Diego and Julio Hallivis on creating ‘American Carnage’

(L-R) Diego Hallivis, co-writer and director, and Julio Hallivis, co-writer, for American Carnage. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

The Hallivis brothers, Diego and Julio, co-wrote their new comedy horror film, American Carnage with Diego also directing. We sat down with the brothers to chat about the film, its message and working together.

Synopsis: After a governor issues an executive order to arrest the children of undocumented immigrants, the newly detained youth are offered an opportunity to have their charges dropped by volunteering to provide care to the elderly. Once inside the elder care facility, the volunteers discover the governor and the facility’s supervisor have cooked up a horrifyingly depraved conspiracy that endangers the young and the old in this twisted thriller-comedy.

The film stars Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Bumblebee, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Love, Simon), Jenna Ortega (X, Scream), Allen Maldonado (“The Wonder Years,” “Black-ish”), Bella Ortiz (“Chicago Med”) and Eric Dane (“Euphoria,” “Grey’s Anatomy”).

Check out our interview with Diego and Julio!

How did this project begin for you?

Diego: Ah, I guess it really started from the visceral reaction we had a few years back when Trump launched his presidential campaign, you know, throwing Mexicans under the bus, and then kind of like experiencing that political climate with so much hostility towards Latinos, it kind of made me like, aware of, you know, what’s going on. And then the more research you do about this, you realize it’s not a Trump thing, it’s kind of like embedded in the system, and it’s both parties, and it’s a bigger conversation. That’s when we were now like, ‘oh, you know what, there’s something here,’ because Latinos are used to kind of manipulate the masses, whether it’s one way or the other, but we’re being used either way. So like, we kind of wanted to make something that, you know, 10 years from now we look back and say, ‘when this was happening, what did you do? What did you say?’ We wanted to be able to say, ‘we’re filmmakers. We made a movie about this.”

What inspired the other aspects of the story? Because there’s a lot going on. 

Julio: I think there’s a lot of inspiration. Number one, we’re huge horror fans. And I mean, for example, like the hamburger situation, Diego is vegan, so he also wanted to have a say when it comes to that. So I mean —

Diego: It was more of like a political class eating another political class but I’m not gonna lie and say that, you know, clearly there’s some vegan propaganda there but I wanted to tell it in a way where it comes across as a horror thing and not a vegan documentary… But at the end of the day, it’s all about who’s in charge and how is one class consuming the other class. I just made the over the top statement of actually, you know, eating them.

Diego Hallivis, co-writer and director for American Carnage. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
This movie is a comedy horror, so what’s it like balancing those two very opposite genres?

Diego: Well, it’s very fun because on set, you’re able to push the boundaries both ways, in terms of horror and blood in that kind of aspect of filmmaking, but also in the comedic sense with improvisation and jokes. I think the most important thing here is that we have a movie that has a message, but unless you enjoy it, you’re not gonna listen to the message. So it needs to be an enjoyable experience. And, you know, horror and comedy, they’re very much related, you know, people think they’re very separate, but at the end of the day, they both invoke an involuntary response whether you’re screaming because you’re scared or you’re laughing. You’re not planning to do that. It’s just a reaction. It’s a visceral reaction. And so, when you’re able to marry the two, then you’re able to have an experience that feels very intense, but it’s also fun and enjoyable. So I think they go hand in hand.

Julio: And it was also a balance because I gravitate more towards horror and Diego was pushing a little bit more of the comedy sometimes. So it was finding the balance of, you know, how comedic this scene should be or how much horror there should be in the scene. So that was the balance that we were trying to find and I think, working together, it was very easy.

Diego: And you never know, like, the truth is you’ll never know what the right answer is. So the best thing to do is to kind of follow your gut instinct. Then in the editing room, you’re able to, you know, put more in or subtract a little bit, but on the day, it’s more of a gut feeling.

One of the things that I really liked about this was the elderly versus orderly fight scene. What went into that?

Diego: There was definitely a lot of planning and rehearsals, mostly for the safety of the elderly, because, you know, they can get hurt and the last thing we want is someone getting hurt. But at the same time, that became such an enjoyable process, and when we were done doing all the action stunt pieces, they were so happy and thankful and they came up to us and they were like, ‘you guys just gave us like a second wind in our lives, like we’ve been stuck in this place for years and it’s just so boring. Coming to make a movie with you guys has become like the highlight of the last 20 years of our lives.’ And we were very thankful, too, and we kind of created friendships with people that otherwise we would never interact with. 

Julio: We hired a lot of the elderly, actually, from a retirement home, they weren’t professional actors. And they were having a lot of fun. They were having a blast because again, they were happy to be there and happy to be part of this movie, and they were having a blast. 

That was probably the highlight of the movie for me just because it was so unexpected.

Diego: You should see the outtakes. We have a lot of outtakes where we had to keep telling them to not laugh because they’re laughing and so they were giving it away that they’re having too much fun. We were like, ‘no you are in a fight scene. You guys are supposed to be acting like you’re angry!’

Are you gonna release those?

Julio:Yeah, we’re gonna have some deleted scenes when the movie comes out. There’s a couple of special features that are pretty cool.

Julio Hallivis, co-writer, for American Carnage. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
How did you settle on the title American Carnage?

Diego: Well, the title, really it’s a play on words. Trump said them and I kind of wanted to use his words against him and say, well, there’s some American Carnage happening as well, but to Latinos. So it was kind of like completely just a wink at him saying that.

Julio: Definitely, the title came after we finished writing the film. We weren’t sure of the title at first, it was just an untitled project. And then I remember the day that Diego called me and was like, ‘Hey, I think I have the title.’ And that’s how American Carnage became the title.

What was it like working with the main cast?

Julio: Oh, it was great. Yeah. The whole cast was amazing. 

Diego: Yeah, I mean, you know for example, Jenna Ortega, being the youngest out of the main group, she’s very mature for her age, and we wanted to have a set that felt fun and had lots of levity and we had music playing around when we weren’t shooting. I feel like the best way to get the most out of your actors is to help them feel safe, so they can make certain decisions that are risky in terms of performance, in terms of comedic timing, and then, you know, if it doesn’t work, we try something different. But have them feel safe enough that they can try anything they want.

Julio: And the whole cast, I mean, they were all great. They were all true players, I mean, they were giving 100% every single day and they were having a blast. They were having fun. They were going out together as a group and, you know, making that friendship, that connection and I think it shows in front of the camera when you see them.

What are you most excited for people to see when they watch the movie?

Diego: There’s a lot of twists and turns throughout the film. We wanted to make sure that you kind of have a certain expectation of what the film should be or could be when you first see the opening title with the montage. And then kind of like the first 15 minutes of the movie is like a specific type of sell, and then what we wanted to do is, around the 20 minute mark, shift gears completely and then take you in a completely different way that you thought it was gonna go down. And so that was kind of like the idea is to kind of do something that feels left of center.

Julio: And also something that, even though we’re talking about a very tough topic, you know, it’s making fun and not to be too preachy about it. And even though we’re telling a message, we wanted to make it fun, you know, to start a conversation instead of just making it too preachy.

What kind of conversations are you hoping to start with this movie?

Diego: Well, hopefully, you know, we’ll get very proud people on one side and then very angry people on the other side, and then that will hopefully fuel more interest in the film. But ultimately, what we want to do is, you know, we want to show that, as Latinos, we can make different types of films. I feel like sometimes we kind of get pigeonholed to the types of films and stories that we’re allowed to tell. And what we wanted to do is say something within what you thought is expected of us but in a very unconventional way, and show that we can make different types of films with different types of flavors. And this is just the beginning, we’ll have more in the future.

Do you have anything in the works already?

Well, I don’t know if we can make an announcement yet. 

Julio: Nah.

Deigo: We’re working. Hopefully we’re gonna have a show soon. We want to dive into the streaming world that allows you to tell a longer story. And I feel like that opens the door creatively because you know, when you have a movie, you gotta have a beginning, middle and end by the 90 minutes, whereas like a TV show, it allows you to explore bigger storylines, longer arcs, other characters, not just the protagonist, you can have like the plot flow to different people. There’s a whole universe and we’re super excited. And I wish we could say more but very soon.

Julio: We’ll be able to say more very soon.

(L-R) Diego Hallivis, co-writer and director, and Julio Hallivis, co-writer, for American Carnage. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
I was looking at your IMDb pages, and I noticed that you both work together a lot. What is it like working with your brother on projects of this scale?

Julio: I mean, I think he’s great. I mean, we’ve been working together from the beginning, you know, so we only know how to kind of work together and I think we complement each other in a lot of aspects when it comes to making decisions. We are brothers, but we’re very different, you know, we think very differently. We operate differently in all aspects of life. And we can be very honest with each other and we can fight, we argue, but at the same time, in 10 minutes, we’re like, ‘okay, let’s just do this, or that,’ then you watch the movie, and then you forget about it. It’s definitely a real benefit that we can be very honest with each other and even if we get upset, it’s just two different opinions.

Diego: Yeah, he’s the oldest one. So when I showed up, he was already there. So I didn’t have much of a choice… no, I’m just kidding. Ever since I was doing short films, you know, way back in high school, before I even understood what the concept of a producer was, I always leaned on him to help me get things done. Then that very quickly turned into a creative partnership and so it was a very natural progression and it was never like, ‘oh, let’s plan this.’ It just kind of sort of happened organically. And I feel like that’s why we’re comfortable with each other because it was a natural progression to that point.

Nice. So this is a collaboration for life pretty much, right?

Julio: Pretty much so far. You never know. But yeah, so far. We’re still stuck together (laughs).

Is there anything that we didn’t touch on that you really want to talk about?

Diego: (turning the tables on me) Was there a scene in particular that stood out to you or that you remember?

Oh, Big Mac. Just his entire character. He was amazing and so funny.

Diego: I’ll tell you a quick fun fact before we go. He’s so funny on set that sometimes I would have to leave and not be on set because I would laugh out loud and ruin takes because he is just a machine of jokes. He could just say jokes for like, forever and nonstop. So I was very pleased and blessed that he was part of this project, because he brought a levity, not just on screen, but behind the scenes as well and made everyone laugh.

Julio: He’s a pro. I mean, he’s always in a good mood. He, I think, is the only person I can say throughout the whole crew, the whole cast, everyone, that he was always in a good mood, always happy, saying hi to everyone. I mean, it’s just a joy to work with him.

Diego Hallivis, co-writer and director for American Carnage. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
American Carnage is now available in theaters and VOD & Digital.