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October 2007
An Interview with Director H.M. Coakley

An Interview with Director H.M. Coakley
By Wilson Morales

October 31, 2007

When it come to horror films, we’ve seen lots of them. From ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ to ‘Halloween’ to ‘Friday the 13th’ to ‘Scream’, the evolution of horror hasn’t change much in over 30 years. Yet H.M. Coakley wanted to do something different. Within the films just mentioned and many more, there hasn’t been a film produced and starring African Americans. There have been films with Blacks involved but most of the time, the running joke is that there are usually the first ones killed off. So Coakley wanted to be in control on how the scenario would play out if given the controls and that’s what he and his wife Camille set out to do with ‘Holla’, an urban horror film, which is now out on DVD.

Monica St John, star of the popular sit-com "Baby Gurl" and six of her closest friends stuff into her SUV and head for a weekend escape at Camp Diamond Creek, a remote cabin in the mountains. Along the way, the gang spots Monica's boyfriend Dwayne's ex-con cousin Troy hitch-hiking and reluctantly picks him up. As the gang arrives at the cabin, Monica's agent alsoarrives uninvited with his date hoping to convince Monica to renew her contract. Soon after the gang settles in, Dwayne proposes to Monica and the gang plans a small celebration. Troy is sent for a bottle of champagne from the kitchen. While away, a news story implicates Troy in connection with a brutal murder. Dwayne tries to reassure the gang that Troy isn't capable of murder. Just as Dwayne professes Troy's innocence, the lights go out and folks start dying. Is it Troy the convict, Greg the agent, Dwayne the boyfriend, or one of the "hater" friends? Who knows. . . who's next?

In speaking with blackfilm.com, Coakley talks about putting ‘Holla’ together and the struggles he went through to get it made.

Can you talk to me about this film and where the idea came about for it?

H.M. Coakley: I put this together with my wife Camille and the fact that we haven’t seen a black horror film and we wanted to have something we could see and enjoy.

What did you want to create that was different from other horror films?

H.M. Coakley: We wanted to do it in a way where black people wouldn’t say, ‘Ah, come on!”, and they can actually believe that what’s happening on the screen is possible and we wanted to play up on that in the film. We wanted to have some fun with it.

How far have you taken this film so far? Has it been in festivals?

H.M. Coakley: Yes. We did the festival circuit last year. We did all the major black film festivals. We made this film for black people.

What has been some of your favorite horror films that you grew up watching?

H.M. Coakley: Some of my favorite films came from the 80s like ‘Halloween’, and ‘Friday the 13th’. I tried to add some of those elements in my movie, or at least I tried to.

Was there a challenge in getting this film in theaters or at least seen?

H.M. Coakley: Yeah. Once we had a rough cut to show people, we had a few distributors who were interested. They thought it was a well produced black horror film and that was attractive to them. It wasn’t so bad once it was completed. The hard part was getting the film made. It took us 5 years to get the film off the ground.

Is that because of financing or putting the film together?

H.M. Coakley: Pretty much financing. We’ve had financing fall through a couple of times. We were supposed to make the movie with a well known actor for almost 3 million dollars back in 2001-2002, but so much has happened that we decided to make the film with whomever we could find and started to shoot the film without even having all the money in. Luckily some investors came to the set, saw what we had and put up the rest of the money. We made it for a really small budget.

Where did you find the cast for the film?

H.M. Coakley: We put ads in backstage and other magazines and newspapers. We had about 3000 submissions and we interviewed about 400 actors from LA. We spent a long time casting this movie. It took us about three months. Since we didn’t have a lot of money, our goal was to find very attractive young up and coming African American actors that have acting ability as well.

What’s on the DVD that we should look out for?

H.M. Coakley: Yes, there are interviews with me and Camille and the producers, as well as a featurette and documentary of horror stories and the making of ‘Holla’. There’s segment on how we put this film together for people who want to enter this business with limited funds.

What are you working on next?

H.M. Coakley: I’m working on a ghost story, a suspenseful thriller. We’re in the process of getting financing now while I finish the script. We’re also working on a sequel to ‘Holla’.

Really, a sequel?

H.M. Coakley: It’s being called ‘Holla Back”. I can’t say much about it but it’s going to be different. It may seem like a new movie but it’s the sequel.

Why should folks go out and buy or rent ‘Holla’?

H.M. Coakley: I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s funny and scary. We’re also the first film that was independently produced by African Americans and acquired by a major distributor, Lionsgate. It if does well, we have the opportunity to continue to work with them and produce more films. I think people will enjoy it.



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