Red White & Blue
After the cult/sleeper hit success that was The Living And The Dead, I decided I like the reaction that most people had to that film; it was more horrific than any horror film they'd ever seen but it wasn't a horror film. As a fan of horror, I watch many purely genre films but the ones I like the best are the ones that push the genre boundary into dark drama and use characterization as a tool to elicit a disturbed or scared emotion - films like Freaks, Tale of Two Sisters, Requiem For A Dream, Santa Sangre etc all do this.
I figured it's something that not many people are doing and so I decided I'd give it another go with my next film. With this in mind, something that had always stuck with me was an online article about a Japanese woman who had been infected with HIV by a Tokyo policeman and so decided to take her revenge on any Japanese policeman who'd oblige her. In the end I think she infected about 9 policemen. Although drugs are better these days than, say, a decade ago and HIV/AIDS isn't the killer that it was initially, it's still not something you'd want to contract.
Given that most people have experienced at least one one night stand, I felt that being given HIV from a casual carnal meeting was also something that most people could identify with and thus it would up the stakes of the reality of the horror - the script is sincere, the film serious and realistically speaking, it's a situation that most people could find themselves in and because of this empathy, it's a subject that if treated as something potentially horrific, is something that I think really is disturbing in the extreme.
I tried writing the script for this a good four years ago but for whatever reason it wasn't working; I didn't like the structure and the characters were two dimensional and so I put it aside. A few years later, I'd concluded that the only way this would work would be by investigating the character of the woman who initially had the HIV and so I sat down and wrote what became the first third of the film; something which from first draft didn't actually change that much.
I also know that I wanted to explore the character who was infected with HIV and so his story became the next thing that I wrote. Once I'd finished that, it became obvious that it was the character who Erica had formed a platonic friendship with (Nate) who would somehow tie the film together in the final third. It could have been very easy to make this film more of a quirky/dark/indie/romance (which it kind of is anyway) but without any violence. Given that I wanted to 'explore' the horror genre more however, it was obvious that the final third of the film was going to be the one that descended into a quagmire of punishment.
I rarely plan what I'm going to write before I sit down although I have a vague idea in my mind as to where I want to go and for this reason I guess I'm more of an instinctive writer and it usually takes about 5-6 drafts for me to take a script from first pass to shooting script and RWB was no exception. Nate initially started life as an escaped mental patient much like Michael Myers from Halloween but a little more sane. Ultimately it seemed the final violent third was more tacked on than anything and didn't make too much sense in terms of the characterization.I struggled with this for a while until I came across an article about an American who'd served as an interrogator in the Iraqi war and who'd been completely freaked out by what he'd had to do. I liked the idea that Nate had served in Iraq but rather than someone who hated his job, he was over-zealous and got kicked out of the army; this would enable him to be a controlled psychotic and someone who could still live on the margins of society whilst not necessarily wanting to truly engage - a sociopath maybe, rather than a psychopath.
People often ask why I set the film in Austin and the answer's pretty simple: Tim and Karrie League. I'd been to Austin with The Living and The Dead for their excellent FantasticFest and quickly became friends with them, especially as I spent 6 days living in their house. When you end up 'on the circuit' you tend to bump into people at the same fests and I think after hanging out in Berlin, Pifan and Cannes, I asked Tim if he'd be interested in exec'ing my next film should I choose to shoot it in Austin. As long as he didn't have to spend any money, Tim was happy to do this and so when I sat down to write, I wrote with Austin in mind as a location. Locations are often one of the many unsung heroes in films/film-making and Austin is no exception in this case. Actually at one of the screenings Tim introduced the film as my love letter to Austin which although I hadn't thought of it that way isn't far wrong, albeit that the love letter is pretty twisted.
The city in which Erica lived had to be large enough for her to go out pretty much every night and keep her anonymity but small enough so that if someone wanted to find her (Franki and his friends), it wouldn't be completely unbelievable if they did just that. Austin fits this bill perfectly and works for this film in a way that most cities just wouldn't work - and of course it does have a unique atmosphere to it which was why I was very happy to spend just under 12 weeks there. As well as having the fantastic Alamo on the doorstep, there's a ton of excellent musical venues, both large and small, and a bunch of mexican, japanese and BBQ restaurants liberally scattered around town so in spite of all the tough work that went into making the film, there was always a bar or gig or meal not far away either.
By the time I made it out to Austin, we'd already cast the fantastic Noah Taylor. I've been a fan of Noah's since watching him in the early 80s in The Year My Voice Broke and then Flirting. Once I'd got a decent draft of the script, I make a list of actors who I was interested in the possibility of playing Nate. I think I put about 5 names on the list and figuring Australian born Noah T lived in Australia still, I felt it was unlikely that we'd get to him. As it turned out, he lived in Brighton, about 90mins South of London and he was free. So once we found out he could read the script quickly and meet me quickly, we made an offer and, happily, a few days later, he'd read the thing and was keen to meet.
We met up in Brighton and the main thing Noah was concerned about was that the film didn't descend into a Hostel/Saw style gorefest for gore's sake. I assured him it wouldn't and after showing him a copy of The Living and The Dead, Noah committed to the film which was excellent news for all concerned. All three lead roles are actually pretty tough to play and Nate is no exception. It turns out that Noah had always wanted to play a killer (serial or otherwise) but had never found the right script for his sensibilities and with his scraggly hair and beard and faded tattoos, he wasn't a million miles away from looking the part.
Marc Senter was someone I'd seen on the film fest circuit in a film called The Lost which was playing at the same time as The Living and The Dead. He played a guy, essentially a psychopath, leading a normal life until he kills some girls, after which he loses the plot. It was a great performance and one that trod the line very carefully between being normal and being psychotic which is exactly what was required of Franki. Again, Mark read the script, loved it and came on board half way through prep which was quite luxurious compared with Amanda Fuller.
Erica was the trickiest of the three leads to cast and quite a few LA folk said we wouldn't cast the role which seemed overly melodramatic; as it happened, they were almost right! The general consensus was that our actress had to be willing to take her clothes off, and for not money and, above all, she had to be able to act which seemed to be the trickiest requirement! I spoke to a few 'name' actresses on the phone who responded to the script but for whatever reason they felt the role 'wasn't for them' so during this time we also tried casting locally but that wasn't working either. Finally exec producer Adam Goldworm suggested we did an open LA casting session. Given that this was two weeks before filming was due to commence we felt this was a pretty good idea!
Our LA casting agent saw about 50 girls over 4 days and sent the auditions to Bob and myself whilst we were prepping in Austin. I think we saw Amanda on the 3rd day and I was pretty sure she was the one. There was another girl who did a good first audition but not such a good second one. I ended up flying over to LA to personally audition the 'top five' girls but in my mind, I was pretty sure that Amanda was the only one and, indeed she was. When I asked her if she had any questions, 20 minutes later she was still talking and I felt she was really the only person to have an instinctive understanding of who Erica was and what she was doing with her life and why. We met the next day for brunch before I had to shoot off again. She flew out on the Thursday I think and we started shooting on the Sunday - talk about cutting it fine!
Casting the film generally didn't start out as an easy process since one local casting agent let us down pretty badly and then another one or two read the script and didn't approve. It was only when we met Karen Halford that our luck started to change and as someone, who again, understood the film instinctively, she was a great energy which was needed to promote the script to local actors and agents. One of the casting agents we'd been speaking to had spoken to a few actors' agents and told them not to let their clients audition for the film (!?) so initially we were getting a lot of 'not interested's but Karen persevered and bit by bit the word got out that the script was pretty decent and over the two/three week casting process, we managed to cast everyone perfectly well.
One of the most enjoyable things about prepping the film was that the three lead actors, myself, Bob the producer and Milton the cameraman all stayed at Tim and Karrie's house so although this had the potential to go seriously wrong, it actually proved to be a great success and for the period that we were prepping and shooting, the house would almost be our production centre - something helped by the fact that we got a sponsorship deal with the local beer company LoneStar so whenever anyone was thirsty they'd come back to ours (Tim n Karrie's).
We all agreed the shoot was about as good as shoots get. When there are so many things that can go wrong, it's a constant source of amazement (to me at any rate) when things don't. We had a great and unflappable line-producer in the shape of Paul Knauss and certainly he's to thank partly for this. Also Milton Kam (DP) and I were working for the third time together so knew how each other work. Also, we did a ton of preparation together so when we got on set, as is usual for us, we both knew exactly what was required so we both worked very quickly. At first no-one thought we'd be able to shoot this film in such a short period of time - we shot 27 locations in 18 days - but we felt otherwise and we were right. In fact, apart from one person who ended up being a constant source of petty aggravation, the whole crew were a pleasure to work with and did a fantastic job keeping up.
It was the first time that any of us had shot on the Red camera so we (me, producer, dp, editor) were slightly nervous about this but it turned out to be the perfect choice of camera even though initially I was planning on shooting on something a lot lower quality before I reached Austin. Throughout the whole shoot we kept ice cubes on the camera's cooler to combat the ludicrous temperatures we were shooting at - highest being 110! But the cameras worked throughout and we only lost some footage once or twice and that was something to do with shooting in an extremely noisy nightclub, the speakers of which apparently messed with the hard-drive.
We were all knackered at the end of the shoot and only had a week to calm down before returning to UK to edit. After such a great experience of Austin it was sad to finally say goodbye but of course that's what we had to do.
Rob Hall (editor) and I spent about 10 weeks editing the film on a final cut pro in my living room (in the end it turned out to be cheaper to buy one than to rent a London room and a machine), which, much like the film, was a very enjoyable process. Richard Chester (with whom, like Milton Kam, we were working on our third film together) composed the excellent score and by mid December we were invited back to the prestigious Rotterdam Film Festival where the film played to unanimously positive reviews and a strong word of mouth. As ever, this served as an excellent springboard for the film to be invited to other festivals and to date, just under a year after Rotterdam, the film's been invited to about 30 festivals with more scheduled. IFC released the film on a limited theatrical and on VoD, in September last year and as 2011 asserts its authority, the film will be released around the rest of the world.