Most independent filmmakers, I’ve discovered, tend to make movies in which the main subject or storyline is of personal interest to them. Is that the case here?
Certainly. Although Joan is not a reflection of myself, I wish I could be that tough and cool. My personal connection with the film is the concept of redemption. You have a main character who is not a nice person and does horrible things, but by the end she manages to find redemption in a way by getting her revenge. The issues that Joan struggles with is something I struggle with and I think a lot of people struggle with. It’s about the choice to be good or evil. We all have both good and bad inside of us. It’s up to us how we choose to respond to those situations.
Did you toy with different incarnations of the story or plot before squaring it down to the one now on our screens?
Originally, I wrote the script as a big budget action thriller. I was preparing to direct a different script about a haunted house. But for some reason I kept coming back to this story. So I took a look at it to figure out how to shoot it based on the resources we had available at the time. I had always intended it to be about a character who undergoes a horrible attack and then coming back from that. Eventually I settled on making it more of a revenge thriller.
And was there any research involved before putting pen to paper?
A big component of the film revolves around homeless youth and youth shelters. I did a lot of research on homeless youth, what the shelters look like, what issues they face. While I have never personally been homeless, I have friends who have dealt with it. Once you are in that situation, it’s very tough to get out.
How much drafts of the script did you go through? And what did you find you were chopping mostly?
I think in total I went through about a dozen drafts of the script. I think in an early version of the script, I had the main character going to heaven and having an argument with Saint Peter. But then I toned down the comedy elements and it shifted into more of a revenge thriller. Another big part of the film is the relationship between Joan and her ex-boyfriend Anthony. But in the original script he was just a guy she met in a bar. But by adding in their shared history, it added an emotional depth to the script. Lastly, right before we started filming, I did a draft where I tweaked the dialogue to match the actors and their interpretation of the characters.
How do you know if your story or script is working? Do you test it on family members?
I have a close group of fellow writers that I get feedback from. They are all writers and filmmakers so they have a good idea of the process. I used to run a writer’s group for a couple of years based on colleagues from my classes at UCLA. The writer’s group was a lot of help.
Did you write the film with any actors in mind or did that come later?
That really came much later. I tried to have an open mind when casting. Above all, I tried to cast for talent over looks. There were some actors who looked the part, but in the end didn’t have the acting experience to pull off the characters. One conscious decision I made was to bring in actors of color. I didn’t want the cast to be all white.
Is there anything you had to lose, when the shoot kicked in, because of budgetary issues or another concern?
We did have a hard drive crash and lost a couple of days of footage. So we had to do about three days of reshoots. So that forced me to go through what we were missing and what was absolutely necessary for the film. Most of the scenes that wound up getting cut were more about character development and backstory. It was tough losing those scenes but they weren’t absolutely necessary for the film.
Does the film you set out to make on day one still resemble the film that’s about to be released?
That’s a good question. They say the film is made in the editing room, which is true. When it is written, it is one thing. When it is shot, it is another. Then when you go to edit, you figure out what film you really have. I am a fan of organic development of a film. It’s a collaboration. So other people will bring stuff to the film that you hadn’t originally thought of and the film is much better off because of that.
Where does the horror stem from in this case? Where does the movie get its genre classification from?
This film is really a genre mashup. It’s both a revenge thriller and a supernatural horror film. There are certainly scenes with weird, supernatural and horrifying elements. But there are also scenes of dread and creepy atmospheric horror. Plus it’s got some cool death scenes.
Can you sit and enjoy it, yourself? Or are you too close to it?
By the time a film is released, you’ve watched it hundreds of times. You never get back the joy you experience when you first see the dailies while filming. At this point, I probably wouldn’t watch it for enjoyment. As a filmmaker, when I watch my films I tend to notice all of the things I wish I could have done differently or things that weren’t as good as they could have been with more time or money.
Do you have a favorite scene in it?
My favorite scene has to be George’s death. The lighting and atmosphere that we created in that scene were amazing. The work that Jon Schweigart, my DP, and Wilson Holts, the Gaffer, were able to create for that scene looked amazing. Then you add on top the VFX from Paul Lada and the acting from Jamie and Pavle and the scene really comes together.
If we were to embed a scene from the movie on the page, in a testament to show just how great this film is, which scene would you recommend?
Probably the scene with George that I described above.
Congratulations on getting the movie done. Folks probably don’t realize just how much of an undertaking it is to make one. Salute!