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Heightening Reality with Comedy, Horror, Mythology and the Foo Fighters: An Interview with ‘Studio 666’ Screenwriters Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes

'Studio 666' screenwriters Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes speak with Script about how they got tapped to write this movie based on an idea by Dave Grohl, their collaborative process, and why it was important to heighten reality in the script for these rockstars turned actors.

In Studio 666, Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Foo Fighters move into an Encino mansion steeped in grisly rock history to record their much anticipated 10th album. Once in the house, Dave Grohl finds himself grappling with supernatural forces that threaten both the completion of the album and the lives of the band.

It was only a matter of time until the legendary rock and roll band Foo Fighters made a motion picture of their own, like their musical predecessors The Beatles, The Bee Gees, and The Who, to name a few, did during the height of their musical careers. And those familiar with the Foo Fighters and leader Dave Grohl, these guys can take a joke and dish it back - and with their new film Studio 666, they go above and beyond with horrific theatrics and comedy slapstick banter, all thanks to writing duo Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes.

This horror-comedy has a little bit of nostalgia for horror, comedy, and music fans alike - with unexpected (and perfectly cast cameos) and callbacks - it's worthy of tuning in for and watching on repeat.

I had the great honor of speaking with screenwriters Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes about how they got tapped to write this movie based on an idea by Dave Grohl, their collaborative process, and why it was important to heighten reality in the script for these rockstars turned actors. 

Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes at Studio 666 premiere.

Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes at Studio 666 premiere.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: How did you two get tapped to write and collaborate on this project?

Jeff Buhler: I got a call about it in October of 2019. And at the time, Rebecca and I had worked off and on together on various things, and I knew that Rebecca had a history with the band and had a sharp sense of comedy. And so, I asked her to join me and go talk to Dave. And Rebecca, I'll let you talk a little bit about your history with the band, because I also knew that Rebecca knew those guys. And it just seemed like a perfect fit with our background in the music scene. and also my horror background, and Rebecca's comedy chops; it just seemed like the right formula for what they wanted to do.

Rebecca Hughes: Yeah, that's exactly right. And it was just a huge coincidence for me, because I had gone on tour with the band like 10 years ago, as a guest of their opening band the Eagles of Death Metal. And a dear friend of mine, was their drummer at the time, Samantha Maloney, and she invited me to go on a short UK stint with the Eagles who were opening for the Foo Fighters. And it was like, super fun and crazy, on the bus, the whole works. At that point, I thought, ‘Oh, that was amazing and that's the end of my story on that.’ And that'll be that story I tell when I'm in the old ladies home when I went on tour with the Eagles of Death Metal and the Foo Fighters. [laughs]

Rebecca Hughes

Rebecca Hughes

And then Jeff gave me a call and said this would be perfect for us to do together. The big question, when we were driving over to pitch Dave was, ‘Is he going to remember me?’ Because Dave and I definitely hit it off when on tour. But, you know, he meets a lot of people, we didn't stay in touch and numbers weren't exchanged. And he did, he was like, 'Oh, you?! I didn't know you were a writer!'

Jeff: I had worked with one of David's friends who I believe did a bunch of special effects work for some of their music videos, Tony Gardner - we had a lot of mutual friends in the horror business, and in the world of practical special effects, it's a pretty small world. So, there were all these connections between all of us, and was that was really cool.

Sadie: What I love about the Foo Fighters, is they seem like they're their own comedy troupe, which I feel like definitely comes through in this movie. I just watched this really great documentary called The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks and they were saying that every comedy troupe wishes they were a rock band and every rock band wishes they are a comedy troupe. And I see that in this movie.

Rebecca: I completely agree. I've always said the same thing, 'Writers all want to be musicians, and musicians all want to be comics.' I totally agree with you.

Sadie: When you guys were in the room bouncing ideas around, was there a certain criteria of story points that the band and team wanted you to hit or maybe avoid entirely? Like, please don't make this a musical like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with the Bee Gees?

Jeff: [laughs] It's funny because Dave and his buddy, Tony, who I just mentioned, had done a lot of thinking about the way they wanted to kill everybody. And Dave had sort of a skeleton of the story, how it would work, the character of the caretaker, obviously the house - they actually recorded their 10th album in that house. So, a lot of what we put into the script was mirroring real life where they moved into this house, they recorded their 10th album, so all of that stuff was real, and they were in the midst of it. We took the pieces that Dave was in love with and spinning around and then started plugging them into what would be a workable screenplay structure.

Jeff Buhler

Jeff Buhler

Sadie: What was the collaborative process like for the two of you? Was one specifically handling comedy over horror and vice versa?

Rebecca: The way the workload laid out was I sort of laid out the first draft and I'd say I laid it out with light touches on the horror scene, knowing that Jeff was going to really sketch it in, and really dial it in and all the scares and the suspense and all that kind of stuff. Luckily, Jeff is really funny, and we have a very similar sense of humor, so he added a lot of comedy. When it came to the ending, we all knew what we had outlined and what we were going to do. But I definitely left that stuff more to Jeff to dial in and use his expertise.

Jeff: I'll just jump in really quick - I'm really good at writing fake religious exorcism crap. [laughs] Rebecca will write these really funny scenes, and then to be like, 'And they read the book.' And then I'd come in and add in like, 'From the power of Jesus and the van Houten protocol...' [laughs]

Rebecca: The van Houten protocol is named after Jeff's cousin, and she's the biggest Foo Fighter fan. And it just so happens that she has kind of a great last name to sound spooky. And so, we had fun with name drops in there like that. There's a lot of that kind of stuff. Like, Krug in the movie is named after a friend of mine who the producers and I discovered we had in common; she was a dear friend of mine in college, and turned out she had shared an office with one of the producers for three years when they were working in New York long ago. We all decided to name the first guy to get killed Krug because that’s a creepy name, too. We had a lot of fun with that kind of stuff.

Jeff: It's pretty awesome when you're working with someone like Dave Grohl, because you've come up with this crazy character Krug, and then he sticks Kerry King from Slayer in the role, and it's like this school teacher is being played by the guitar player from Slayer. [laughs]

Sadie Dean: There are so many fun layers coming into play here with the song that never ends and the new musical note. Where did the idea come from to basically make this house into a character?

Rebecca: Well, that was part of Dave's idea. The initial idea was that the house was haunted, and he becomes possessed - he had a shell of an idea. It informed the basis of the film. Then it came up like, well, how does possession actually manifest? You know what I mean? That's when the craft of screenwriting kind of kicks in. The initial idea was the house is haunted, Dave becomes possessed by this kind of caretaker person who was living there, and then kills the band and goes solo, that's kind of it. So, it was sort of built-in and then I think with Jeff's horror chops and his ability to weave mythology out of pretty much anything at this point. [laughs]

Foo Fighters in Studio 666. Courtesy Roswell Films.

Foo Fighters in Studio 666. Courtesy Roswell Films.

Jeff: What makes it really fun is when you're dealing with a really famous rock star, and we can come up with these totally absurd elements in the mythology, like the song that never has an end or the idea of a new musical note. [laughs] And then, of course, we had a lot of fun playing with this sort of diva element. And Dave, obviously is the nicest guy in the world, so once he got possessed, it's in the shoes of the rock star, "You can't say no to me!" and all of that stuff. [laughs] We just had fun with it.

Rebecca: I laid down that first draft - I was actually in the hospital I had complications from diverticulitis, which is a disease for sexy people, so if you've never heard it or never had it, you've gotta up your game. It's a very sexy disease. I had four days, it was on Christmas Day, I had a flare-up, and Jeff's like, ‘Oh, my God, what are we going to do? We have a script due.’ And I was like, ‘Dude, bring me my laptop.’ I ended up writing the first draft, until about page 80 in the hospital.

[Making the Cut: An Interview with 'Appendage' Editor and Producer Alex Familian]

I was thinking a lot about my son, when he was young, he used to say, ‘Why do songs have to end?’ And I would explain to him, it would get boring. And finally, I was like, ‘The musician gets tired, they can't play a song that never ends,’ until it was this ridiculous conversation I was having with my child. And so that came up for, ‘Why does the song have to end?’ And when we were thinking about how does a possession manifest in Dave Grohl? It just bloomed out of just who he is and the absurdity of it. The idea of all of this, and he's obviously this hugely prolific musician, so of course, he could make up a new note. [laughs]

Foo Fighters in Studio 666. Courtesy Roswell Films.

Foo Fighters in Studio 666. Courtesy Roswell Films.

Jeff: Also, the idea that he's written all the songs he's ever going to write. He probably has five albums written that none of us have ever heard. [laughs]

Rebecca: We had to have some sort of conflict. And it's so fun to make fun of him because he's so awesome and talented, and everybody loves him. And it's just like, well, let's rip you apart a little bit in a funny way. And then also because when I was on tour with them, we all know, no one says no to rock stars, that's this deal of being a rock star; it was just funny to toy with what if someone says no to him, what would he do? And when he's possessed, he would freak out and lose it, like on Pat.

Sadie Dean: [laughs] Especially, Pat.

Rebecca: I've read some things by people who obviously don't understand high art, the people who just can't comprehend our amazing film.

Sadie: They're not sexy enough, that's what it is.

Rebecca: And that's not you. You understand high art. They're like, ‘There's no character development, and they're all wooden.’ And I'm like, first of all, we were actually told to only give certain members of the band the majority of the lines in the film. And they were also like, ‘Don't expect the band to actually remember their lines.’ We were like, ‘Well, are they aware that it is basically a map and that certain points need to be hit in order for this thing to be comprehensible?’ So, we're kind of looking at it like, ‘Man, this is amazing,’ for what the expectations that we were given.

Jeff: The other thing that the band jumped in on, like everybody, including Dave had a lot of fun making fun of the dynamic within the band and making fun of the stress of making an album and all those things that they go through. I feel like it was a release for them to play around with that, in a safe space and joke about it. So, everybody, all the members of the band, basically jumped into what we had written them and had fun with it. It was really exciting to see that come to fruition, including cameos like Lionel Richie, which we wrote in there to just make ourselves laugh as we were writing and thinking that there's no way we're going to get Lionel Richie to show up. And Dave, of course, he's like, ‘Oh, I've got him on my speed dial.' And all of a sudden, it's like, ‘He'll be here Thursday.'

Sadie: You can't say no to Dave.

Rebecca: Exactly, you forget you're dealing with God, pretty much with Dave Grohl. I'm a huge Lionel fan. Jeff knows that. I almost got arrested doing 105 miles per hour on the five listening to the “Can’t Slow Down” album, no pun intended. And we were just thinking like, what would this hard rock and roll dude Dave Grohl, from Nirvana and Foo Fighters, rock and roll legend, like how funny would it be if he's tinkling around on the keys, trying to knock something loose creatively and then he starts playing the most tender, one could say cheesy ballad, "Hello" - that was just funny to us. And then the fact that we thought it was going to get cut out of the script, and then they didn't cut it out of the script, and we're like, ‘Wow!’

Dave Grohl in Studio 666. Courtesy Roswell Films.

Dave Grohl in Studio 666. Courtesy Roswell Films.

Sadie: In terms of your collaboration with the director BJ McDonnell, were there a lot of rewrites happening on set, or did you have time to sit in the house beforehand and write there as well?

Jeff: The timeline for this production was incredibly accelerated. We got the call to meet Dave in mid-October and by Christmas, we had an outline, Rebecca was in the hospital jamming out the first draft, and they were prepping already and shooting by early February. And everything went so fast - everybody just kind of jumped on and made everything happen. So, it wasn't your typical let's go back through the draft with the studio with the development executives and with the director and do multiple passes. It was just like, here's the thing, let’s all go - everybody threw everything into the pot. And it was this fun, wild collaboration because we didn't have time to stop and analyze it too much, which I think is why it feels raw and funny and has that sort of energy to it.

[Exploring Character Development with 'Big Gold Brick' Writer-Director Brian Petsos]

Sadie: That’s a very quick turnaround, especially with all the special effects and I assume a lot of that was also practical. I'm curious, did the guys from the band each get to choose their own deaths? Or did Dave already have that planned out ahead of time?

Rebecca: No, we wrote it and put it in descending order of interest in being on set. The band didn't want to be there forever. I think Chris was the first one that wanted to be shot out. But it all really worked great with the way the characters were developing anyway, like Chris and Dave, we created this little conflict with them.

Jeff: Well, they actually have BBQ tension.

Rebecca: Dave is an amazing BBQer.

Jeff: We would go up to the house, Dave made a bunch of homemade barbecue sauce and he talked about how he was the barbecue master, and then you could see Chris was like grumbling a little bit, and we would just take that.

Rebecca: We were told that too, yeah. And then there were other little things - we had lunch one time with the bass player, and he was telling us just a little bit of the dynamics, not that like Dave and Chris hate each other, not at all, but just a little bit of what it's like to be in the band, and asking him, ‘Do you guys text each other? Who texts who?’ and asking those kinds of questions. From that we sort of made it a heightened reality because they're not actors, obviously, but they did an amazing job, but it would be best for them to play pretty much what's real in a heightened sense of it. We figured that would be the most successful formula.

Sadie: It definitely comes off as authentic on screen. You get to see what it’s like to be in a band and deep down they do truly love each other. What’s next for you two?

Rebecca: We sold our souls to the devil. [laughs] Yeah, we are writing. We have a few projects together. One's a feature that's a really fun, comedy adventure caper, that harkens back to Home Alone or Foul Play - this would be more of a broad action-comedy. And then we have a TV show we're developing that’s a comedy horror. So, we're still working together; we definitely recognize that there's something there between us.

ws_lowbudgethorror-500_jpg_360x

Sadie: Last question, the new musical note that Dave discovers L sharp, is that a tip of the hat to Lucifer? Or is that just by coincidence?

Rebecca: [laughs] It's funny because I remember the day, we were brainstorming ways that Dave could get possessed, and I was like, ‘Well, he should make a new musical note,’ and Jeff just like rattled off L sharp.

Jeff: I just thought it was funny when he gets to the top of the musical scale, it obviously goes back to A, and L is so far removed from that. It's not like the next letter. It's just gone far beyond, and there's even a part [laughs] I can't remember maybe it’s Pat who is like, ‘Whatever happened to G-H-I-J-K? No, no? It's just L.’ [laughs]

studio-666

Rebecca: Yeah, but it didn't have anything to do with Lucifer. Although that's a funny coincidence. So yeah, let's take that [laughs] but I also saw online someone's like ‘Al Sharpton’ [laughs] it's so satisfying as a writer to see that stuff. It just makes my heart sing. 

Studio 666 is in Theaters and available On Demand.


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