Following are a few interviews that I wasn’t able to complete in time to include with my other coverage during Sundance and Slamdance.
First up is Emma Bell, who along with Shawn Ashmore and Kevin Zegers, stars in Adam Green’s chiller, FROZEN. I really liked the film – thought it was a straight-up tension and suspense-fest and aside from Adam Green’s leap forward as a writer/director on the project, he chose wisely (as they say) with the casting of that threesome.
After making the film, are you now permanently a “warm weather person”?
Emma: Absolutely. I told the producers the next film they want me to do has to be in Hawaii.
Seeing as how FROZEN was actually filmed in the mountains and not on a sound stage, how much did your snowboarding or skiing skills improve over the course of the shoot?
Emma: I went from atrocious to awful! I had never done either before and had about a two hour training session. My incompetence is pretty apparent in the film. I hope it at least makes people laugh.
Between you, Kevin Zegers, and Shawn Ashmore, who was the “iron man or woman” and who had to come down off the chairlift for more pee breaks? Or was it actually Adam Green?
Emma: Shawn had a few brutal days in a harness, so maybe him. And there were no pee breaks. We all held it, including Adam!
You’ve been a TV force to be reckoned with over the past couple of years (“Dollhouse”, “Ghost Whisperer”, “Law & Order”). Any difference in approach as an actress in doing episodic TV versus a feature film?
Emma: Wow, thank you. I don’t know about being a “force” in TV, but I have been very lucky over the years. Episodic TV is interesting because if you come on to a pre-existing show, like all of the above mentioned, there are already relationships developed between people, and a lot of times you are only coming on for one or two episodes. So it can be challenging to connect and for me, therefore, more of a challenge to create a character. When you are a lead on a film, you become part of that family from the get-go, and in my experience, have a say in the over-all creation of the film and character you are portraying. Acting in both forms are pretty amazing experiences though.
I also asked her what was scarier, wolves or sharks, but she didn’t answer that one – possibly still traumatized from the shoot more than a year later. I didn’t ask but my guess is that the publicists decided they would omit that question so we wouldn’t know the movie has wolves in it. But I do know the movie has wolves in it. So, there. If you didn’t know before you do now. And they’re scary. So go see the movie and see the scary mystery wolves already.
Next up are the two directors of the Slamdance comedy DRONES. I enjoyed the film quite a bit and was curious about the directing dynamic between Amber Benson and Adam Busch. They seemed to have distinct personality differences during the Q&A following the film and I’m always curious as how that stuff shakes out and settles in on the set and in the editing suite.
You both have been acting for quite sometime and Amber has directed solo a few times, so why team up on this particular project at this particular time?
Amber: We had been working on a couple of music videos together (for David Garland and Sufjan Stevens) and really enjoyed collaborating. When DRONES came along, we felt it would be the perfect feature to co-direct together. We felt our disparate strengths would lend well to the very specific tone that the story needed in order to be told correctly.
Adam: Amber had a very specific vision of how the thing should look and I felt very strongly about what kind of cast we would need and how the comedy should play out. Jordan Kessler had seen the mopey lil’ music videos Amber and I had done. He felt if we could apply the sadness and somber tone of our music videos to Acker & Blacker’s script the story would come alive.
During the Q&A at the Slamdance screening I saw, you described a pretty clear separation in directing responsibilities. Can you repeat that here and explain how it turned out to be that way?
Amber: I love working with the crew, drawing storyboards, framing shots and bossing our DP, David McFarland, around. Adam is an ace at directing actors. He casts really well, knows what approach best suits each individual actor and works really hard to create a safe environment so the actors feel free to experiment without judgment. I think our two styles intermesh really well together – and when you’re shooting a film in 14 days, two heads are always better than one.
Adam: We wanted to make it clear that “aliens” could be anything or anyone “different”. Anything that would keep people apart. Whether it’s religion or sexual preference or ethnicity. Saying “I love you but my parents don’t approve of you” is the same as saying, “I love you but I’m going to destroy your planet.” It feels the same when you’re on the receiving end.
There is a madcap arch tone to the film that pretty much flaunts its ridiculousness for the audience. Is it more or less difficult to do something with that kind of high style?
Amber: Creating the highly stylized world of DRONES was a true collaboration between Adam, me and the entire cast and crew. We used costume, acting style and a muted-color scheme in the production design to begin creating the world then our DP incorporated the same theme into the visuals via the lighting design and shot composition. We chose to do a lot of moving masters reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s rather than relying on heavy coverage, giving the film more of a timeless quality. In the edit process we focused on performance and letting the drama/comedy within the dialogue play out in its own time.
Adam: The dialogue is very clever and I think it’s important that none of the characters acknowledge that in any way. Sometimes when people work together or are in a small space for a long period of time speech patterns develop. Cadences and songs and nicknames become part of your vernacular and you can’t place how they started or when. I think you’ll find unique little sub cultures in offices and factories all over the world.
Was there a particular actor that brought something to their part that either of you hadn’t really planned on, but were thrilled to incorporate (and then take credit for after it was all said and done)?
Amber: Unlike most of the other actors, Tangi Miller had never worked with the writers, Acker & Blacker, before, so she had no idea what she was getting into. They have a very stylized way of writing dialogue that can be difficult for an actor to wrap his/her head around. I’ve seen it throw even the most accomplished of actors. But Tangi came in and just brought a real humanness to the role of ‘Miryam’, something that was a real achievement, in my mind, because that character had the propensity to become a caricature if it had not been handled correctly.
Adam: Marc Evan Jackson felt the most comfortable improvising. He knows how to make an entrance and exit. He knows how to stay memorable. He is a true comedy star in the classic sense. I remember hearing how in scripts for “The Carol Burnett Show” it would just say, “Tim Conway does something funny.” Then he would. That’s how Marc Evan Jackson operates.
Okay, look in the mirror and be honest here: Who would manage better if directed by the other on a future project? And who would be the bigger on-set diva?
Amber: Adam takes direction better than I do, so he’d probably easier to direct. As far as divas go, I think we both just love being on sets so much that we err too much on the humble side of the spectrum. We just love what we’re doing and are happy to have the opportunity to do it.
Adam: Amber’s right. I handle the process of receiving direction better than her but she can deliver what the director wants with a deliberateness that can only be described as athletic. She has a much better batting average than I do.
Suck ups. But they make a great team (going by what they pulled off with DRONES), and I would easily be coerced into the theater to watch their next one. As well as encourage anyone that enjoys the silly and won’t get hung up on budget issues to seek it out.
Next are some questions I sent to Laura Silverman, who starred in CUMMINGS FARM which also screened at Slamdance. I wasn’t the greatest fan of the film but really liked what Laura did. She gave a very nice performance of the kind of character that usually gets a few joke lines written at their expense during a sit-com – the non-ambitious, maybe not-so-bright young mom. And she actually made that person real and sympathetic.
How did you become involved with the project?
Laura: My manager called me with the offer. It was at the slowest time of the year and I was going crazy not working, so I pretty much said “yes” based on getting to go to Louisiana for a couple weeks and have some kind of new experience with new people. Then, I looked at the script and got really excited- I just don’t expect things to be great like that. Oh- and, of course, the money. I framed it, actually- it’s adorable!
Did your perception of what it would be like to participate in an orgy change due to working on CUMMINGS FARM?
Laura: No, not really. I mean, I didn’t even try to understand wanting to do that, I just have a hard time believing that that could be a good time. I mean, sex for me is about a person- someone with whom you know you have at least above average chemistry- maybe a little light spanking if you want to go nuts. But any kind of group sex- swinging parties, whatever, I just don’t get the appeal. To me it’s just a lot of spit and strange skin and unpredictable smells made by glands and things. I mean, we’re people- we’re pretty gross- so it takes having that rare thing where you just aren’t at all icky to each other for it to really be enjoyable.
What would be more frightening to you personally: Being a mother or being in an orgy?
Laura: I think being a mother would be great- but, I mean, if either were to go horribly wrong, you’d want it to be the one that was over in one night and that you could be super high for- you know, and not have people look down upon you for it. Being the orgy baby sitter would be a nice compromise, I guess.
Was there a fair amount of improvisation involved or was everything pretty much in the script?
Laura: It’s pretty much all scripted. A couple things were improvised and you can sort of tell what they are- the part where I say all the things that are wrong with me, and this little bit- kind of in the background where I’m all high and yammering about high school chorus… I liked that when I saw it, I forgot about doing it and I was glad they put it in- just kind of makes me laugh. People are so boring when they’re high!
Before filming, did you know how to make a proper mojito?
Laura: Neither before or after. I know there’s rum in there, and mint. I learned that at catechism.
I’ll just say here that not many things make me happier when someone turns out to be as fun and delightful or at the very least possessing a personality in person or in print as they were onscreen or via their directing. So, thank you Laura Silverman. Whew.
Because sometimes it can go horribly wrong and you ask these questions and you think to yourself, “Did your Amish Mom answer these for you? Or do you just have the latest in self-serious technology at your disposal to suck the very life out of me as I read your answers?”
At least that’s what I do.
However, in this last little interview. Not a problem. AT ALL. Clark and Cassidy Freeman are a brother and sister team that have so much personality that for years they were banished to the wide open spaces of Montana because heavily populated urban centers couldn’t handle them. At least not together. So they were Executive Producers and in the cast of a cool little F-with-your-brain-fest called YELLOWBRICKROAD, that also played at Slamdance (because apparently all the cool kids were there this year). Anyway, I tried to adopt these two years ago in a maneuver very similar to what those Idaho people tried to scam on Haiti. Same result, save for me skirting the whole incarceration thing…..
Knowing your mutual sordid pasts with The Sight Unseen Theatre Company, and knowing how YELLOWBRICKROAD easily falls within the style and themes frequently explored in the stage productions that company has been responsible for, what were your first impressions when the idea for the story was presented to each of you.
Cassidy: I’ve been acting Andy’s words since my first show at Middlebury College when I was 18. And before then, I’d gone to visit Middlebury to see Clark in shows Andy had written. I’ve always been enamored by his writing and maybe more so, by his storytelling. When he and Jesse teamed up, it was like yin and yang. I loved the influence that they gave/continue to give each other and when I first read the script, I was very impressed. It was a screenplay that didn’t really read like your normal screenplay. I didn’t immediately think about the brother/ sister team, but once it was discussed, I was really excited to be able to work with Clark. It’s not often that siblings love each other because they have to AND because they want to. All three of us are close, and I will always jump at an opportunity to work with Clark or (my brother) Crispin. The fact that everyone else connected to the project thus far were artists that I had worked with before and respected immensely was even more icing on the cake.
Clark: Well, it’s true that Andy, Jesse and I have been working together for quite some time. Andy and I actually founded The Sight Unseen Theatre Group, so needless to say, as a writer/director, I like his style. I had read a bunch of the earlier drafts of YELLOWBRICKROAD, and was just excited to give my input and thoughts as a friend. It wasn’t until a year and a half into the script process before we even started thinking about Cass and I playing ‘Daryl’ and ‘Erin.’ At that point, I had fallen so in love with the script, and Andy and Jesse’s ability to be open to every and all ideas without losing their sense of story-telling or aesthetic, that I was nothing but excited. They have an amazing talent at taking two disparate ideas (woods and 30s music), tying them together, and making a whole so much greater than it’s parts.
You mentioned during the Q&A at the Slamdance premiere that it was the first time the two of you had co-starred in a production together since a school mounting of “The Wizard of Oz”. What did you each play in that production? And how much did you draw upon that experience for this one?
Cassidy: Clark was the cat’s meow his senior year in high school, and so he was The Illustrious Wizard…though I thought he could have played the lion, too. He has a great singing voice. I was the Munchkin Lawyer. I was also in 5th grade. I bet you didn’t remember that there was a Munchkin Lawyer…I didn’t either. But I played it with gusto. I don’t think that the role of ‘Erin’ had much to do with Munchkin lawyers, but I did realize that my bro has my back, no matter what. It’s a blessing to be able to share this kind of stuff with a sibling.
Clark: It’s crazy how things come full circle, isn’t it? In that production I played the Wizard, and Cass played the Munchkin Lawyer. She was tall even when she was young, so they definitely had to put her on a stool to roll around with on stage. I was also definitely probably one of the largest Wizards that that show has ever seen. . .I kinda wanted to be the Lion, to be completely honest. I wouldn’t say I drew upon that production for the movie. I think we were just lucky enough to be so close in real life that we have a wealth of experiences to draw on together, and also professional enough that, during tougher scenes, we didn’t bring any of that animosity home. Honestly, it was a dream experience for me.
You both share executive producer credits as well as being co-stars in the film. What exactly did you do as executive producers beyond writing a check? And, had you not written those checks, do you believe the film would have been made?
Cassidy: Before this, I hadn’t had much experience producing things, except as Clark’s wingman. And it was something that I was pretty excited about doing. The part I think I liked the most was being a bit of a den mother, and making sure that people were being heard and that all sides of the production communicated well. I’m still learning how to do this, and I hope I get more chances. I believe this movie would have been made with or without me, I’m just glad I get to be a part of it.
Clark: Executive Producer is one of those credits that can mean a variety of things. In this case, I’d say, our investment in the picture was probably the most mundane thing. Like I said before, Cass and I were tapped by Andy and Jesse early in the process as trusted friends to read many of the iterations of the script, and give thoughts and notes. I got to watch them work out each draft, and we even got to do a reading of it up in Vancouver, all together. Having produced a bunch of other short films and theatre with them, I’d say at the beginning I was much more another producer than an “executive”. Once we got to set, Cass really stepped it up as a producer as well. Andy and Jesse had such a strong drive and clear intent in making this movie that it would have been made with or without us. I just consider myself lucky to have been a part of it.
What was more irritating or the set, bickering between your co-directors, Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland? Or the black flies?
Cassidy: Black flies for sure. But MORE irritating was the corn syrup blood PLUS black flies. Ewwww!
Clark: This question is easy. The black flies. Andy and Jesse shared a brain for the entire process. There was no bickering.
What is your favorite horror film?
Cassidy: Probably THE SHINING. Horror films really scare me though. Clark taught me this great trick where when a scary scene comes on, you don’t close your eyes…you cover your ears. The scariest part is the sound. I’ll tell you what is NOT my favorite horror film…all those Chucky movies. Gave me nightmares for years. No dolls for this girl’s birthdays.
Clark: Ooohhh. I have to throw ALIEN in there, but that’s not your average horror movie. THE EXORCIST is fairly quintessential, but I also have to say THE SHINING. That’s three. Deal with it.
Sundance – Day #5
Sometimes films at Sundance can either completely miss the mark compared to the expectations people have built up or be so genuinely wrongheaded in their eyes that they literally inspire rage. Such as it was that while waiting with the press to go into my first screening of the morning that I was surrounded by people trying to one-up each other on how bad they believed 3 BACKYARDS to be. They were just mad at it. Mad, it was so bad.
Which, of course, in a film going perverse kind of way made me want to see it so I could get my hate on too.
Fortunately, my Sundance morning was about to start me off on a great day…
From the opening scene of a spelling bee champion completely losing it while at the mike thanks to some potent marijuana, John Stahlberg Jr.’s HIGH SCHOOL delivers everything you could possibly want in a stoner comedy and most assuredly much, much more.
The story is simple (as it should be): After the opening incident, the school’s smarmy principal institutes a zero-tolerance policy AND a school-wide screening for the very next day, which just happens to coincide with the school’s valedictorian-to-be lighting up for the first time with his estranged boyhood friend who is now the school’s most notorious pothead. The solution the two reunited by necessity friends come up with is to get the entire school stoned on brownies so that EVERYONE will fail the screening test therefore invalidating the entire thing.
Of course, you’re asked to accept A LOT (the typical stoner kids living seemingly without supervision kinda stuff) and humor is mined from the obvious sources; the fallen spelling bee champion’s last name (‘Phuc’), to Michael Chiklis’ giddy portrayal of the tight-assed principal complete with classic fright wig, and Adrien Brody’s “Psycho Ed” baked genius lawyer/drug dealer character.
But all of this soars because ‘Henry,’ the valedictorian and ‘Travis,” the pothead are both legitimately smart guys. Applied differently to be sure and not immune to making wrongheaded strategic moves, but still smart. So as they deal with dilemma upon hurdle upon impossible situation, we never have to fall back on someone being more stupid that the other guy to get out of a sticky situation. This may be a newsflash to some, but apparently just because you smoke marijuana doesn’t mean you’re dumb and just because you’re a “bad guy” in a high (ignoring that pun) concept comedy, also doesn’t mean you have to be a buffoon.
And even though it’s simple stuff at the core, the stakes keep getting ratcheted up and hurdles keep escalating so those arguably cliché deux ex machina moments that routinely sink a comedy like this for anyone that didn’t just love PAUL BLART: MALL COP, are fun and not eye-rolling.
SUNDANCE FEVER: One of the few films offered that everyone can laugh out loud at and enjoy unabashedly before they step into the next film portraying human tragedy or angst.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: I think this will happen. I also think people will wonder which character that ‘Mackey’ guy from The Shield was.
Adam Green’s FROZEN is about as straightforward as it gets in horror-land: A snowboarding/skiing threesome (Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell and Kevin Zegers) find themselves left and abandoned on a chairlift with the prospect of no one discovering their predicament for a week. And yes, the obvious comparison is to OPEN WATER.
On the surface, the one-note nature of the threat (they’ll freeze to death up there if they don’t get down) would give one good reason to be dubious about the prospects of spending an hour and a half watching young people on ice. Or to be more precise – getting iced.
But Green does more than a few things right here. He parses out back story and conflicts between the threesome (a couple and the guy’s best friend) which spares us a ponderous exposition heavy opening and he gives us something else to worry about that’s worse than freezing. In a word: wolves.
So just figuring out a way down before frostbite, etc. claims them isn’t the only challenge for the trio since the wolves have taken the baton from OPEN WATER’s sharks. And again, I’ll stress here that what you think this is going in is likely what you’ll get. And that is more than fine since the tension is built solidly, the inter-relationship crises aren’t overdone, the moments of horror pay off quite well, and above all – no one overreaches. And what a relief that is. I also had great appreciation for the way the ending was handled (which I can’t state here due to spoiler concerns).
SUNDANCE FEVER: I think it is likely satisfying without sending people through the roof.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: It should have a shot – maybe brief – but a shot at it for people wanting some simple chills (couldn’t help that one).
Apparently I have a nemesis. Because, you know, because sometimes the film festival community’s set and subsets rub each other the wrong way and sometimes a film rep might really get worked up over you to the point that they’re solidly NOT in your camp. But to be clear, as MSN’s James Rocchi was nice enough to school me: This person is clearly not an “arch-enemy” otherwise he’d be trying to destroy me. No, he must be a nemesis because he needs me around to fuel his dark hatred of all things…me. Because that’s fun? I’m definitely getting the full film festival experience this go-round.
Rocchi also offered this about the polarizing buzz over HESHER, saying, You either Joseph Gordon Love-it or Hate it.” That’s James Rocchi, ladies and gentlemen; He’s here all week.
12TH & DELAWARE
Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, 12TH & DELAWARE takes a heads on view of the abortion debate by focusing its cameras on the title location, a street corner located in Fort Pierce, Florida which is the home to an abortion clinic as well as a Pro-Life pregnancy clinic right across the street.
It’s a simple exercise, but beyond riveting as Ewing and Grady simply let the people (literally on both sides of the street) speak for themselves via their words and actions. We begin by seeing Pro-Life activists up before dawn trying to talk to people at the abortion clinic through he windows, blocking the driveway as much as they are allowed to and carrying signs and posters with graphic depictions of aborted fetuses.
Across the street, teenage girls are “counseled” by being told that having by having an abortion they are likely to get breast cancer, bleed to death, etc. And if that doesn’t change their mind, then maybe typing “Hi, Mommy!” onto a print out of their ultrasound will do the trick.
It’s a remarkable process to watch as a mother of two contemplating having an abortion because her boyfriend is abusive is told, “For all you know, the baby will change him.” Meanwhile, across the street the women entering the clinic are bombarded with please not to abort, and promises of financial support, etc., if they change their minds. Inside, the husband and wife that own and operate the clinic patiently go about their business, counseling the women and literally “minding the store.” And that takes a moment-to-moment diligence, as they have to go to extraordinary lengths to protect the women and the doctors (who are driven in to the facility covered by a sheet to protect their identity).
We follow a particularly threatening Pro-lifer as he does some investigating work, locating the drop off point and discovering who the doctor is. He then follows by all but admitting that they’ll do anything they can to stop that doctor from continuing to perform abortions. And you know that we are talking about the potential of another Dr. George Tiller-type shooting. Across the street, the woman running the clinic shakes her head at the protesters explaining they don’t reciprocate (protesting and trespassing on the grounds of the Pregnancy Center) because they have families to get home to and lives to lead.
But 12TH & DELAWARE is careful not to get pulled into histrionics. Rather, it takes care to allow both sides to speak their piece, calmly, in their own environment. Unfortunately, for the Pro-Life side, that means seeing them misrepresent facts, outright lie to woman after woman, and harass the abortion clinic with the conviction of zealotry. As a group of Hispanic Pro-Lifers convinces a young woman with 6 children to not abort the 7th with promises of financial support, you shake your head as you overhear her being offered a stuffed toy inside their clinic.
Yeah, she should be able to feed that to one of her kids.
SUNDANCE FEVER: Oh boy, this one will inspire a lot of talking. Not debating, mind you. More like “Where can I contribute to Planned Parenthood?” kind of stuff.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: No, this one is going to have a nice run on HBO.
I arrived at the Library Theatre for a photo shoot for a project I’m working on and found Tiffany Shepis outside ready for the premiere of her film THE VIOLENT KIND, smoking. As she explained, she decided to go ahead and smoke for the day so she could relax and actually enjoy it all on her terms without the pressure of “being good.”
And if that keeps her from being the title of her film, then I believe that was some good thinking there…
Finishing the night was a midnight screening of SPLICE. Another theatre manager friend escorts me in early. Having the right friends is KEY here. The music guy from FROZEN is sitting in my row complaining about fan boys knocking the film for its implausibility. His friend’s (a producer) response, “And AVATAR is plausible?!” The producer follows, “I just had the most expensive calzone in my life at Main St. Pizza & Noodle. It was like, 25 bucks for that and a drink!”
Directed by Vincenzo Natali, SPLICE is a gonzo horror treatment of the “Frankenstein” story. Starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as two young, brilliant and ambitious genetic engineers, the film follows the results of their decision to include some human DNA into a new life form they’re creating.
The inspiration has some typical genre movie standards: The nameless, ominous and cash rich corporate company that they created another kitchen sink life form for (let’s just say it has both fish and fowl in it) so they could harvest all kinds of organic and bio-wondrous material from is ready to make them rich and famous. And the desire of Polley’s ‘Elsa’ character to produce a child new jack style (not so much on the whole birthing thing) so she can deal with her parent/child abuse issues adds to the predictably combustible nature of what will transpire.
And what transpires is ‘Dren,’ a Heinz 57 of animal/human hybrid with a lethal stinger of a tail that gives them much more than they can handle. But, of course they do. They begin to raise Dren in secret, torn between treating her like their child or like the freak result of their experimenting gone off the reservation.
Naturally, I want to steer clear of spoilers. However, if my stating that things go horribly, horribly wrong is a stunner for you then…you’re adorable. But I will say that they go horribly, horribly wrong in wild, freaky town ways that would warm the heart of David Cronenberg. And again, without giving details I will say that (by design) Dren is an exotically beautiful (if really fascinatingly bizarre) creature-woman. And if a horror sci-fi film introduces a character like that, then the immediate question is “Will someone have sex with it/her?” Hmmmm…
So – does the movie work. Ultimately, for me – no. But I also think that depends on your expectations. People want (and I know this because I’m one of them) a really, really cool and very, very scary monster movie. And this one has got ambition to spare, but for me it also took things to a point where scares ceased to be the priority versus the craziness of the vision. A lot of people in my audience laughed at a key point in the film that wasn’t meant to be comic relief. And that laughter said, we’ve now turned off the road from scared-shitless-land and now we’re racing toward “I-can’t-believe-they-just-did-that-ville.
SUNDANCE FEVER: Those that want to be really scared – not liking it. Those that want to see the trippy and crazy – all over it.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: With Brody and Polley – possible. But no sure thing – at all. However, the Syfy channel could chop it up and make a series out of it. It’s the kind of thing they dream about.
There are horror films that take your breath away with scares and surprises that come at you from out of the dark and then there are the films within the genre that can make you gasp with shocking images and displays of gore. Paul Solet’s GRACE is the rare and artful film within the horror arena that works on the viewer’s sense of foreboding and impossible dread. Horror works best when it can tap into the primal – and there is nothing more primal than the urge to reproduce. And it is that desire to have a child that drives the horror of this film. Yes, there are scares and yes, there will be blood – but that’s so much window dressing to what really drives this thing: a woman that wants a baby. A woman that wants to have that baby so badly that, after a tragic accident and against all physical and natural laws, when it arrives stillborn, she wills her infant girl to life. And we all know deep inside that when you reject the natural order of things, there more than likely will be hell to pay – literally. And that is genuinely frightening.
1. GRACE began as a short before it became a feature film. But what was originally the genesis of the idea?
When I was about nineteen my mom told me I had had a twin that died before birth. That was the personal genesis of the story. The subject matter just became intensely compelling to me on a very intimate level. The idea itself, though, came during a conversation where someone told me it’s real medical science that if you lose your unborn child, sometimes, if labor isn’t induced, you’ll actually carry that child to term. To me, even as a man, the idea of carrying your own dead child to term was such a potent kernel of horror, the script came quite naturally.
2. Describe how Adam Green (HATCHET) was instrumental in getting GRACE (the feature version) made?
Producer Adam Green has been a selfless champion of this project since he read the script. He saw the short at a Fangoria convention in 2006. He’s a very busy guy but he liked it enough that when some mutual friends from the website Icons of Fright told him he should read the feature length version of it, he agreed. He loved it, and reached out to. I met with him and his partners at Ariescope, Will and Cory, and we all hit it off extremely well. Adam and his Ariescope posse began a year long mission to find the right home for the film. In the end, Anchor Bay proved to be the perfect place for the film. Adam had had such a great experience with them with HATCHET and SPIRAL that they were already family. Adam has been a guardian angel to me and this film since our first meetings, all through production, and post and now into GRACE’s birth at festivals from Sundance to SXSW and now to AFI DALLAS.
3. What is the best thing about having your film at AFI DALLAS?
AFI DALLAS has an outstanding reputation as both a film lovers’ festival and a place where the spirit of independent filmmaking is treasured and celebrated. That’s the kind of environment that feels like home to me, and to a film like GRACE. It was precisely that kind of independent spirit that enabled us to thrive even under the constraints we had, and to be able to
participate in a festival that gets that is an absolute joy.
4. Eli Roth (CABIN FEVER, HOSTEL) was your camp counselor when you were younger. How old were you at the time and did you hear the best campfire stories ever?
I was about eleven when I met Eli. He did better than campfire stories, he actually directed all the campers in a short movie called SUSHI where we take over the camp and murder all the counselors. The kids fed the staff poison ivy and shot them with those plastic bows, and then finally, he had one of the weirder kids, who was always telling these bizarre jokes that didn’t make any sense, kill everyone by a barrage of bad humor that caused us all to seizure and hemorrhage blood out of our ears. He used the RE-ANIMATOR soundtrack, too, another stroke of genius. He was an awesome counselor, as were his two brothers, and has been a really generous mentor and friend to me.
5. You actually had some meetings with people regarding GRACE early on in the process and described that experience as similar to the film THE PLAYER. What was the worst idea someone suggested to you as they gave you their notes?
When I first got to LA about four years ago, I had just written the GRACE feature. People started reading it and liked it. I got some offers to purchase the script, but no one was prepared to take a risk on letting me direct because I hadn’t done a feature before. One of the guys I met with brought in the director he wanted to attach and the guy started pitching me some pretty asinine ideas. I knew I was walking when he pitched me “The car drives off the road, right? And right through the middle of a devil worshipping ceremony! Naked girls everywhere…” He was also a winker, which creeped me out. Just so classically sketchy.
6. A genre-friendly website named you Mr. Febru-scary at some point. Did you have to do a photo spread or do a calendar or something because of that?
Yes, it’s true. I didn’t have to do any shirtless pictures or anything. But Adam Green had been the Mr. Scary a previous month that year, and I think he actually did some beefcake pics for them. And my other friend, Chris Garetano, a filmmaker from NY, won for another month. I’m tempted to start a rumor that he did full frontal nudity, but he might like that too much. So at the end of the year, we were all in competition for Scary Stud of the Year. I don’t think any of us won, though. There would have been copious ballbreaking had only one of us been a Scary Stud, but as it is, we’ve got nothing on each other. It’s actually a cool little site called Pretty Scary, run by women genre geeks. Some genuinely good reporting. Not just shirtless (Adam) Green pics.
7. Seriously, kids in your future?
Absolutely. I love kids.
8. If you couldn’t make films, what would be your second career choice?
The only things I feel even close to as passionate about as I do film, are animals and bicycles. I used to train dogs, and that really is a pretty amazing job, so I could do that. I also used to love working as a bike messenger back east. I’m still riding around on track bikes in traffic every chance I get, so it wouldn’t take much convincing to get me to start letting someone pay me for it again. But the reality is, even if I couldn’t have a career making movies, I’d still be making them every chance I got.
9. What was the last film that genuinely scared the crap out of you?
It’s not a horror film, but Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER rocked me. She knocked that film out of the park.
10. Popcorn or candy?
If I’m really limited to those two choices, I’m going popcorn, but I’m all
about ice cream during my theater going experience. Even if I have to sneak in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
Did someone get to keep the old-school breast milk pump from the film or are you holding on to it for the Fangoria Hall of Fame?
Are you kidding me?! There’s no way I would ever let anyone have that pump. That thing is on my living room table. I made GRACE so I could put that on my living room table. Although, I have a suspicion it’s the reason I’m still single.
GRACE screens Friday, March 27 at 11:59PM @ Magnolia 3 and Saturday, March 28 at 10:30PM @ NorthPark 7.
Paul Solet will attend both screenings and will participate in a Q&A afterwards.