David Burkman is the writer and director of the 2017 film “Haze.” The film is exactly what it sounds like: a look into the world of hazing in fraternity and sorority life. The film is based on Burkman’s experiences in college, still relevant with four hazing-related deaths in 2017. The film was just released on multiple platforms including Netflix, iTunes and Amazon. Burkman spoke on the phone with The Daily Campus to talk about his movie.
Daily Campus: For those that don’t know much about the film, how would you describe it to them?
David Burkman: Oh well, that’s a great question. “Haze” is essentially in contrast to most movies about Greek Life which tend toward the “Animal House” end of the spectrum, sort of comedy. This is a serious take on Greek life but also specifically hazing and some of the other sort of darker aspects. I would sort of describe it as a dark “Animal House.” The dark, gritty, intense “Animal House.”
DC: And it’s based on your own experiences, correct?
DB: In part, yeah. A lot of it is based on my own experience and some of it is based on an amalgamation of two years of exhaustive research, of talking to people of all ages, people anywhere from currently in college all the way up to people in their eighties. We had all those people share their stories about their experiences and then we sort of amassed all of those and cross-referenced them and realized that there’s a lot of commonality of experience. It was even consistent with my own experience, so the movie is essentially based on all of that.
DC: Did you stay pretty true to all these experiences? Was anything embellished or vice versa?
DB: Yeah, there are obviously some things that are dramatized. It’s technically a fictional film. Specifically, I don’t want to say any spoilers, but nobody in my experience went into student senate offices and destroyed computers or anything like that. However, there are a lot of reports of destruction of property and theft, and all that kind of thing. So, this is an approximation or representation of other events that have been catalogued, researched and told to us as well as other events we read in the news, so I would say everything is based on fact, but it just might be a variation on those facts. For example, not to offer too many spoilers, but there is some animal cruelty in the movie. I don’t know anything specific about specific animals in this movie, but I do know there have been reports of pledge classes having to main or kill animals of various kinds, be it kittens, ducklings and rats. Those were the chief reports that we heard about. So again, like I say, things may not be literal transpositions of people’s experiences but everything is representative of something that has been taken of true fact. My co-producer has commented before that there were events and things described to us by some people that were so over the top that we didn’t know how to depict them in the movie. So, there may be some people that watch this film and there may be disbelief. On some level, there are some things that are even worse than what you see in the film. It’s granted a huge spectrum and we chose to put in a lot of things that are on the upper end of the spectrum, but it’s all true.
DC: Who would you personally hope is the audience for this film?
DB: I think that just like any movie, I want the broadest audience possible. Hopefully people of all ages will benefit from the movie, but my guess would be that it’s a younger person’s film. It’s probably people in high school and college. People in their twenties and thirties will probably be the most drawn to it and get the most out of it. My hope would be that the film transcends the subject matter, specifically of Greek life. We’ve had screenings or Q-and-As at film festivals where people have made comparisons from what they see in the film to other aspects of human nature and in other arenas. It’s also a movie that hopefully opens up questions about the nature of friendship and the nature of family and brotherhood. Those are things that are issues and questions that hopefully appeal to a lot of people. That said, of course, there is always that sub group of just college students that would be the sweet-spot target audience.
DC: Have you had any specific reactions from anyone that were particularly memorable?
DB: Oh yeah, absolutely. The movie, because it’s very in-your-face and very intense, has gotten an array of reactions, all across the spectrum. I knew when making this movie that it would be somewhat polarizing. You’ve got people who love it and put it at the top of their list and there are also people who really connect to it and relate to it. I can’t remember a screening where we didn’t have someone come up to us afterward and say, “Wow, you really captured my experience.” Although some of those people will jokingly say, “You gave me PTSD from watching this movie.” Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, you have people that find it unbelievable or it’s inconsistent with their own pledging experience, and they take offense to it or they’re angered by it because they feel that it’s a misrepresentation of their experience. I certainly understand that and I acknowledge that not every fraternity and sorority hazes and not everybody’s experience is the one depicted in the movie.