To best understand Nick DenBoer, the mind behind The Chickening, it's extremely important that you get a sense of just who he is. And the best way to do that is to examine his house.
Situated in Toronto's north end, DenBoer's home used to be a large storage unit. When he bought the building, which sits nestled behind an alley and is surrounded by more traditionally designed houses, it was barren.
But DenBoer, an artist who attended Toronto's prestigious Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) for a brief period and worked construction for many years, saw the potential for the unit to be something more.
He bought the building and started carving away - literally. What he managed to build is something you'd see in Architecture Digest; a beautiful two-story home that includes a massive video editing suite, a jam space for he and his friends to play in and a stunning wooden table that takes up most of the open concept area on the second floor.
DenBoer calls it an ongoing project, and although it may seem like his home has nothing to do with The Chickening, it actually has everything to do with it.
Because DenBoer is a master of remixing, of taking something and turning it into something entirely new.
Including his storage space turned modern chic house.
Taking in DenBoer for the first time, it seems almost impossible that he was the man behind The Chickening.
The short film, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last year during the festival's Midnight Madness programming block, became famous almost instantaneously when he and co-director Davy Force published it on YouTube during Sundance.
Like much of DenBoer's artwork, The Chickening is a reimagining or remix style video. This time around, DenBoer focused on Stanley Kubrick's iconic masterpiece, The Shining. In The Chickening, Jack Torrance and his family move into a poultry themed amusement park for the winter. What follows is one of the funniest pieces of poultry-heavy comedic debauchery to come out of a Shining remake, that's most certainly not safe for work.
Considering just how deranged The Chickening can be at times, DenBoer doesn't fit the picture of what its creator may look like. Dressed in a green cardigan and white slacks, DenBoer is the epitome of being a Canadian: extremely polite, apologetic (he was on a phone call when I first arrived at his home) and extremely considerate, offering an array of beverages before the interview got underway.
As a Canadian, DenBoer is visibly excited to talk about to talk about The Chickening and its appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.
All of which, DenBoer confessed, happened by accident.
"We didn't even submit to any festivals, but we ended up in 27 of them," DenBoer said.
DenBoer explained that after sending a rough copy of the film to a friend of his, comedian Kenny Hotz (Kenny vs Spenny), Hotz sent it out to a group of people.
"I was actually really pissed at the time," DenBoer admitted. "I was like, 'Dude, you fucking leaked this thing ahead of time and gave away all this content.' In retrospect, it was actually great that he did that because one of the people on his email list was Colin Geddes from TIFF."
Geddes is one of the most influential festival programmers in the world and is in charge of stocking TIFF's heavily attended Midnight Madness. The specific part of the festival establishes and promotes various horror, sci-fi, fantasy and other genre films from all around the world.
According to DenBoer, when he got his hands on The Chickening, he was enthralled by it and immediately decided to use the short to open and close Midnight Madness, giving it one of the most prestigious spots in the entire festival.
It was an experience DenBoer would never forget. Opening night, he was in the audience watching people watch his short film, doubled over in laughter and thoroughly enjoying what he had created. DenBoer said it was surreal, as someone who's never watched one of his videos with an actual audience, but admitted the best part of it was talking to actors like Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin who were immediately smitten with the film.
"We played before Green Room, and so after the movie premiered, there was a Q&A on stage," DenBoer recalled. "I remember someone asking Anton Yelchin a question and he just turned around to us and said, 'I want to hear more about The Chickening.' It was pretty crazy."
Once it debuted at TIFF, The Chickening started making its way around the world, being passed from festival programmer to festival programmer.
"Tim League from Fantastic Fest saw it, called us up and said, 'I just want to play The Chickening over and over! It's the only film. We're going to cancel all of the other films,'" he said. "From there, we just kept getting emails like crazy. I just didn't understand the power of TIFF."
DenBoer said that although they hadn't intended the short film to play any festival, once they played TIFF and Fantastic Fest, they were invited to have their video screened at the majority of smaller festivals in Canada and the United States. The Chickening even played a small horror festival in Mexico City. According to DenBoer, trying to watch a short film while there are Mexican wrestlers fighting in a ring next to you is a memory you'll never forget. The dream, however, was always to play Sundance. While they were hopeful, they were sure they weren't going to get in for the 2016 roster.
"We were actually going to release the video online at the end of last year, but for some reason we kept our fingers crossed that we'd get into Sundance. We really didn't think we would," DenBoer admitted. "But then one night Mike Plant (Sundance's short film programmer) called me up and said, 'Dude, I've got some good news. You're in Sundance.'"
When asked if he ever thought that he'd end up at Sundance, showcasing a short film to thousands of audience members, and potentially turning that into a feature-length production, DenBoer laughed.
"I've always been the type to just go with it. Starting in art class in high school, through college and then working," he said before pausing for a second to take a sip of water. "But no, I never thought I would be showing a film at Sundance."
DenBoer's always been an artistic individual. In high school, while everyone else around him was painting and drawing, DenBoer wanted to something different. He started an entirely new project, cutting out his classmates yearbook photos and using their faces to create oddball portraits. For DenBoer, it was the start of realizing that remixing could be a legitimate art form and was something he continued for years, until it caught on and everyone started doing it.
It was an area of art that he wanted to focus on while attending college, but once he actually got into the postsecondary school system, he realized it wasn't the path for him and dropped out after only attending for a half a year.
To make a living for himself, DenBoer turned to construction and was excited to find out that it only helped with his art, giving him a new outlook on using space, design and of course, adding to what already exists to build something entirely new.
Most importantly, however, was that working construction allowed him the time to travel with a friend's band. It was during their small road trips that DenBoer first started recording, and in turn, editing film.
For the artist, it was just another outlet for him to explore. Looking back on his earlier creations that he still has on his YouTube channel, DenBoer said he has to laugh at just how raunchy and "not child friendly" they used to be.
While it started out as a hobby, DenBoer quickly garnered an attentive fanbase. On YouTube, he found a group of people with similar comedic tastes who cheered him on with each new video. One fan in particular, who had been following DenBoer's work for a while, called him up one afternoon with an offer he never thought he'd get: a staff position on Conan.
DenBoer said yes and immediately started remixing videos for Conan O'Brien. The director said he would spend his mornings getting caught up on the news, from daily American political drama to sports to entertainment, and would then talk to the Conan writers about some of the pieces the comedian wanted to tackle during his monologue that night. Once he had an idea of what Conan was looking for, he would go about remixing a video, and if Conan gave it the a-ok, DenBoer would sit at home and watch the beloved late-night comedian introduce his videos to millions of viewers.
It was a dream job that DenBoer never predicted he would ever want, let alone have, just a couple of years prior.
DenBoer worked with Conan for about six months, and during that time, was getting more videos on the air than he suspected he would. It was clear that Conan and he shared the same sense of absurdist comedy, and based on the audience reaction whenever one of his videos aired, so did the general public.
It was the boost of confidence DenBoer needed to continue pursuing his remixing style with bigger and bigger projects. Eventually, he and co-director Davy Force were talking about how much they loved The Shining and were floating around different ideas for ways they could remix Kubrick's masterpiece while still paying homage to the director that influenced them when they were younger.
It was during a brainstorming session that one of them suggested The Chickening and the seed was planted.
Timing worked out for the two, and when they realized they both had a month off without any contractual obligations for other jobs, Force flew up from his home in Los Angeles to stay with DenBoer in Toronto for a week and work on what would become The Chickening.
"We never expected this to be anything big, really. We didn't even consider it a short film until it was included in TIFF, and that's only because it has to be entered as a short film to compete. This was just something we were going to put on YouTube," DenBoer said. "There are so many different Shining parodies and remixes online, I kind of thought this would get lost in the fold.
But it didn't. Instead, The Chickening went from being movie festival folklore that gave those who managed to see it bragging rights to an online sensation, picking up views faster than any other short that played Sundance.
For DenBoer and Force, it was an eye-opening experience about what they had just created.
"We hit the publish button and literally watched as the numbers skyrocketed. We watched as our email inbox flooded and phones started ringing."
Even more impressive for the two creators was watching how people they admired, like Elijah Wood, tweeted out the link to their video and followed it up with an email asking to work with them on a video.
"I was on Twitter and Howie Mandell reached out to me saying, 'Hey, I just emailed you. Let's work together,'" DenBoer said, laughing. "I thought it was a joke so I checked my inbox and there was an email from his assistant asking me to call him up so we could talk about collaborating. And then Elijah Wood. I love Elijah Wood!"
DenBoer was flabbergasted by what was happening, but didn't have much time to soak it all in before some of the biggest studios in Hollywood were asking him and Force to meet them and talk about future projects.
"I'm flying out to L.A next week and we're talking to Warner Bros. and Adult Swim about possibly developing a show with them," DenBoer said, barely able to keep the excitement out of his voice. "It's exactly what we want to do. Short remixes of different shows and movies. Having access to those kinds of archives is the dream."
DenBoer and Force's concept for their show is similar to Seth Green's popular animated series, Robot Chicken, which premiered on Adult Swim in 2005. Except unlike Green's quick clips, which can run for as little as 10-seconds to a couple of minutes, DenBoer and Force are looking to create pieces similar to The Chickening.
For DenBoer, having access to a show like the Dukes of Hazard, which ran for 147 episodes, means the possibilities for remake and reimagining potential are endless.
"One of the biggest hurdles that we face is acquiring the rights to certain work. When you take out the legal issues in acquiring rights, it allows you to just focus on creating," DenBoer said.
The legal issues surrounding DenBoer's work has been one of the biggest stresses he's faced and is one of the main reasons he's decided to not monetize any of the videos he's put on YouTube, including The Chickening.
Even though his projects would fall under the fair use act because they're completely different from the original and are essentially parodies, DenBoer never wanted to risk taking on a major studio or a company that held the rights to the original work. And, like he said himself, he never thought this would be a viable career path for him.
It's partly why even though there's a demand for it and even though he would love to do it, he doesn't think he and Force will ever turn The Chickening into a feature-length film.
"I would love to do that, but I don't think we could get the rights," DenBoer said. "I mean, we haven't reached out to anyone and it could just be a matter of reaching out and asking if we could do it. Who knows?"
Still, he admitted he wasn't hopeful. Although he would like to eventually move into making feature-length films, he was more than happy to work on the potential series at Adult Swim.
"We didn't make The Chickening to make money and we didn't go into it thinking we were going to attend all these festivals. We just wanted to make the video. Everything else that has happened since then has just been an added benefit."
As for DenBoer's ideal project? The creator laughed when he was asked and cocked his head, thinking for a second before clapping his hands together.
"The Sound of Music," he said. "I would absolutely love to do the Sound of Music. It has Julie Andrews, it has Nazis, there's music involved. Yeah, I would love to do the Sound of Music."
DenBoer isn't sure how much longer his type of art will be viable and something that people want to pay him to make. He's aware of how fast the internet moves and accepts that what's popular today isn't necessarily going to be tomorrow.
But he insists that it's his approach to every project in life that's helped him get to the point where he is today. He said that if he worried about making something for other people, he would never have started remixing videos in the first place.
"I've always made art that seemed interesting to me and that I had fun with. It just so happens that people liked my videos and wanted me to make more of them," he said. "But I've always taken what's come my way and adapted to it, embraced it."
For now, it seems like the world is adapting to DenBoer's art and embracing his vision. If the reception for The Chickening was anything to go by, it certainly seems like DenBoer has a lengthy career in front of him.
As for what's next, what the next challenge he wants to dedicate his time to, DenBoer said he only had one thing on his mind.
"I really need to get some groceries. And beer. I'm all out of both, but that's the next thing I'm going to do for myself."
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