--Interview by Nic Brown—
Making an independent film is a
dream shared by many people, but few ever manage to do more than
dream. Writer/director Paul Rinehard and his friend, producer
Darby Kern decided to do more than dream. Paul came up with an
idea for a different kind of thriller, one where sanity and
psychosis make reality a fluid thing. How can you save yourself
from a very real killer, when you don't know what is real? Paul
enlisted Darby's help and the two of them took Paul's screen
play and made the independent film DAMAGED. Now Paul and Darby
talk about how DAMAGED came to be, and the challenges and
rewards of being an independent filmmaker.
Nic-- Darby, Paul, can you tell us a little about your movie
"Damaged" and what sets it apart from other thrillers?
Paul-- DAMAGED is a thriller that at it's core explores the fear
of loss of control. Control of your sanity and control of your
life (or death). But on a surface level it's a little horror
film that sets out to frighten and disturb its audience. We
tried to hit that kind of horror that's missing in many genre
films...the horror that sticks with you after the movie is over,
not just makes you jump when something unexpected pops out at
you. A creepy, eerie and under the skin kind of feeling. Having
said that, we also went for the full on violent type of assault
horror that audiences expect. I think in combining these two
approaches, we came up with a unique film.
Darby-- I think that what sets DAMAGED apart is that it doesn't
go for cheap scares. The psychological terror is far greater
than the physical. Going as far back as THE ROAD WARRIOR, for me
at least, I've been impressed by how much better violence works
when it's suggested rather than shown. The most graphically
violent part of that movie is when the Artie Johnson look alike
gets his fingers cut off by the steel boomerang- and that's a
laugh moment. The nastiest stuff is either cut away from or
happens just off screen, which lets my mind fill in the blank.
That's probably what makes it so nasty.
Even HALLOWEEN, which was absolutely a template for DAMAGED fit
that mold- and that was 3 or 4 years before THE ROAD WARRIOR.
There's not much graphic violence in that story either, and
seeing Michael Meyers in full daylight was creepy as heck.
Which is not to say we shied away from blood and violence in
DAMAGED. There's a little something for everyone.
Nic—Paul, you wrote and directed DAMAGED. Where did the
idea for this film come from?
Rinehard sets up a shot
Paul-- The idea grew out of a fascination that I have with
different types of mental illness. Also, the feeling of how
horrible it would be to not be able to tell reality from
hallucination. Plus the helplessness one would feel when their
mind could suddenly go to a very frightening place and there is
nothing you could do about it. That, to me, is true horror. So
that was where the script came from, and like everything I write
it gelled in my head over time with other ideas, until the right
elements clicked together and it was ready.
Nic-- Paul, your daughter Sadie played Emily, one of the
film's key roles. How was it working with your daughter in this
role? Also how did you deal with some of the more difficult
aspects of the film for someone her age such as the violence and
Producer Darby Kern on the set
(he's the big guy on ther right)
Working with Sadie was a wonderful
experience. There was a shorthand there, being father and
daughter, that you don't get normally. She has never acted
before and she has a natural ability and a realism that was very
important. If you don't believe in her, the film fails. I mean,
she's in most scenes. As far as the violent or gory scenes, she
loved it. She has been around filmmaking and effects all her
life and she sees it for what it is-make believe.
Nic-- What about the scenes where Sadie's character,
Emily, "trances out" were very intense. Was that something that
she developed for this role or was that something she could do
that you worked with?
Paul-- When it came to those scenes, I described to her what it
looked like when someone had a seizure, and she tried to mimic
that. We worked a little on it, but for the most part she nailed
it right away.
Nic-- Paul, you wrote the original screenplay and
directed Damaged. Do you find it easier for you as a director to
work with your own script or is it easier to work with something
someone else has written?
Paul-- I have never directed anything that I had not written, so
it is a difficult question to answer. I think for a director to
do a good job, he really has to connect on an emotional level
with the material and that has never happened for me if I didn't
write it. I'm not saying I never could or would never direct
another writer's script, it's just that I never read one that
spoke to me it that way.
Nic-- Darby, you're credited as the film's producer.
What exactly does a producer do?
Darby-- In my case, you pay for the shoot, you cook 2 meals for
every day you shoot, handle the paper work, line up the talent,
shoot half of and edit the majority of the movie and let the
bloody starlet clean up in your shower.
There was more to it than that. In the case of DAMAGED both Paul
and I decided we wanted to treat this entire project as
professionally as possible. I got involved very early in the
scripting process. Paul had a draft, which ran about 73 pages if
I remember right. When I added my notes it was 91 pages. Paul
took my notes and incorporated them all! I thought he'd flush
about half of them, but he didn't. I can say my notes made the
script better, but the fact is, Paul delivered a great script in
the beginning. It needed to be kicked here and there, but the
script was solid overall.
I told Paul right away that I would probably be a ball buster,
which didn't even phase him. I think he
Writer/Director Paul Rinehard
wanted that in fact. I wasn't gonna
screw around. I told him that if I didn't think we had the shot
I was going to tell him. I think I only had to do that once
during the entire shoot.
We talked a lot- for months in fact- about the look of the
movie. We knew that a story like DAMAGED wouldn't work in a
classic style of film making. It would be boring. I'm a huge
believer in moving the camera, but not for arbitrary reasons. We
watched a bunch of NYPD BLUE and Paul Greengrass movies like THE
BOURNE SUPREMACY and UNITED 93. We nailed the camera style to
something less frantic than the Bourne films, but still very
loose. The idea I had was that we don't want the audience to get
comfortable watching the movie. There's a passage of the movie
that doesn't include any violence, but it is still nerve
wracking. The audience is, and should be, expecting anything to
happen anytime. Some of the people who've watched it didn't like
the style. Whatever. It's not for everyone. Most people never
comment on it because they don't notice it. They don't become
passive observers; they are drawn into the action and the
violence of the moment.
Craig Knitt, who shot about half the movie with me, had
difficulty with this style at first because all of his movies
are shot from a tripod. There's absolutely nothing wrong with
that, but it would have made DAMAGED a dull movie. Some people
think it's a lazy way to shoot but the opposite is actually
true. It also didn't make editing any easier either.
Now for the short answer to the original question: the
producer's job is to get the director's vision on screen.
Period. Sometimes that means insulating the director from hungry
crew members who forget that we need to finish getting the shot
before we break for lunch.
Nic-- Darby, as the producer you are now working on
getting the film distributed. What kind of challenges are you
facing with that?
Darby-- Our problem has been twofold, part of which is
definitely our fault- part of which is the "system."
First, both Paul and I have very little disposable income to
spend on all the things that we need to take care of at this
point. I have two kids in diapers and he has three kids in
private schools so what money we make from all the jobs we do
gets funneled in those directions first. I spent my savings
getting the movie filmed, so there's nothing left to dig into
there. It took us way too long to get a dependable master dvd
made, so a few people got dvds that didn't play right, or very
well. We always want to put our best foot forward- the movie is
good enough to speak for itself- but not having the money to do
everything at the quality you want is very limiting.
The other problem is getting the movie in front of the right
person. Every movie is one person away from selling- but it has
to be the right person. Someone who shares a vision with the
film makers; someone who sees the potential in the project that
you've been working on for so long; someone who understands your
genius. We've had people interested in representing us... for a
hefty retainer. To be honest, if we'd have had the money we
might have done it, but there was no way we could make a deal
like that. Could they have sold the movie? I think so. That's
what makes it so much more difficult.
Another stumbling block is that we can't
seem to get DAMAGED in front of the major studios. We think it's
tailor made for Lionsgate, but have you ever tried getting
something in front of them unsolicited? I understand their
reasons- I've faced it in the publishing world too. But there's
an old story about Jack Lemmon and Mervyn LeRoy during the
making of the film, MISTER ROBERTS. Mervyn said, "Where were you
when I was casting the play?" Lemmon's reply was, "I was outside
the theater trying to get an audition." How many of us have lost
out on an opportunity for the same reasons?
Several people have had a look-see and passed on the movie for
various reasons: it didn't fit their catalogue, etc.... Only one
person has had anything negative to say about it though, and we
suspect she was just off her meds that day. We're waiting to
hear from a couple people and we have a couple more to send
screeners out to. It can get frustrating waiting too when
everyone works at their own speed. What I mean is: you want
everyone to watch your movie the second it arrives on their desk
and the reality is- they can't. Usually because they have twenty
other dvds that arrived the same day or the day before. Then, by
the time they get to yours they're tired, jaded and anxious to
get home to their families. They end up watching your scary
movie in their office in the middle of the afternoon, which is
the least scary time of the day. Meanwhile, I'm sitting at home
waiting for the phone to ring. After a while you can start to
think that there's an antagonistic game going on between film
makers and distributors- and there isn't. They both need each
other to survive. It's a much more symbiotic relationship. To be
honest, we've corresponded with some of the nicest people in the
movie business in the last few months- not nice because they
stroke our egos (they haven't done that at all), but nice in
that they sound like they're genuinely interested in helping us.
Of course, they would sound that way, wouldn't they?
There is so much you can't control once you let the movie out of
your hands. Even the levels on someone's TV can be a problem
when you have a movie that's as dark as DAMAGED. If your TV is
set right you'll see everything we want you to see, but that's
something I can't control.
My advice, have lots of money, and don't give up. You're only
ever one person away from success.
Nic-- Darby, Paul, what has been the biggest challenge
for each of you in making Damaged?
Darby-- You know, making DAMAGED- I
should say SHOOTING DAMAGED was such a fun, uncomplicated period
of time that there were no real challenges. I love spending time
with actors and creative people, so a film set is a great place
to hang out. I had more trouble dealing with personalities in
post production. You know the old saying: failure is an orphan,
success has many parents. That was true here too. People who
didn't get it when it was being shot are more than happy to take
credit now that it turned out good. Maybe I should blame them if
the movie never sells? (laughs) It'll sell.
Paul-- For me, artistically it was walking that line between
making a film that was commercial and exploitative and keeping
it unique and innovative. You want to be able to explore new
techniques and ideas, but you have to be careful. If you stray
too much the commercial market may feel that it is too "artsy".
But I think overall, horror films are a wonderful genre in which
you are allowed to explore. As far as the most difficult aspect
of this for me in a practical sense, it would have to be
enduring the post production phase. For various reasons, it went
on way too long and taught me a lot about patience.