An Interview with Drew Hall (Part I) – By Philip Smolen

One of the best movies I had the fortune of reviewing last year here at Rogue Cinema was Drew Hall’s “Convergence” (for my review, please go here). It tells the story of Detective Ben Walls (Clayne Crawford) who is investigating a recent string of bombings in Atlanta in the early1990s. Ben and three other officers are sent to sweep and clear some buildings. While checking out one of them, a bomb goes off near Ben. He wakes up in a local hospital with his superior (Mykelti Williamson) watching over him. Ben soon realizes that everything in the hospital is not right and he begins to realize that he is trapped and must act in order to stop the continuing horror that is threatening his family, friends and city.

This is a great indie movie and it got its hooks into me so I reached out to Drew and he graciously took time out from his maniacal bi-coastal schedule to answer my questions about how this great indie thriller got made.

RC: Drew, give Rogue Cinema readers a little bit of a background on you. Did you always want to be a film maker or did the realization hit you later in life?

Drew: When I was a kid my Grandfather gave me an old super 8mm camera.  I never realized it was loaded so when I opened the door 1,034 times I flashed the film into oblivion, but there was something magical about hearing that motor run.  Meanwhile, we were fortunate enough to own an old VHS “bag” camera – the kind where you carry around the full sized VCR with you.  I’d get the kids in the neighborhood to come over and I’d film WWF (now WWE) style wrestling matches between them complete with promos.  Later on I got a PXL2000 and began recreating episodes of “Spencer for Hire.” I was of course Spencer, because I had the cut off sleeve shirt.  But as I grew up, I wanted to be a journalist and it was on a flight to interview for entrance at the University of Nevada Reno that changed my life.

We were flying over a massive storm.  The sun was setting casting everything in a golden splendor.  DJ Shadow’s “Changeling” was playing on my walkman.  Outside the window I saw another world.  This massive kingdom of gold, complete with what looked like a meandering river – of course it was just clouds parting – but the impression stuck.  I wanted to recreate that perfect experience of sonance and aesthetics.  I didn’t need the UNR interview (for Journalism) to know what I really wanted to do.  So I came back to the University of South Alabama and pushed as hard as I could.  We had access to a bolex h16 rex and would buy short ends from all the syndicated TV shows.  There were about 6 of us and we all just shuffled positions on each other’s films – all of us ending up in the industry in one shape or another.

RC: What movies made a huge impression on you growing up?

Drew: Yeah, so there are two sets of movies that influenced me – the ones my parents introduced me to – Hitchcock, “Star Wars”, “Coma”, “Raiders”, “The Black Hole” etc. and the ones that the local video store introduced me to – “Hardware”, Oliver Grunier movies, “Maniac Cop”, “Gymkata”; all those really great straight to video movies in the heyday of VHS.

Both have equal levels of impact on my career.  I was lucky because my Mom and Dad both loved to watch movies and we rented a ton of them.  We kind of had a system – for every one time I rented or re-rented (“Star Wars”) a movie, the next rental was one my parents wanted me to see.  Lots of Hepburn, Grant, Stewart…but oddly I never saw “Citizen Kane” until college.

RC: Did you ever feel like a square peg in a round hole when you were young?

Drew: I still do.  I think part of my resistance to move to L.A. is based on that.  I love Los Angeles, but I feel so completely out of place here (I’m currently in LA working).  That could be self imposed (probably is), but I imagine people might feel the same in my home town.

I’m not sure if feeling different is part of a rite of passage or not, but I struggled with depression and anxiety as a teen/young adult.  I’m not some misunderstood artist I just hadn’t found a way to communicate my dreams yet.  That’s a tough time when you’re a creative; thankfully, I had a very supportive family.

RC: Where is your base of operations?

Drew: Our company has its main offices in Mobile, AL (yeah I know – it’s weird), but we also have a small office in L.A.  Keeps things fun being able to travel – but we typically shoot our films in the South.  New Orleans is only 2.5 hours away – so we have access to some incredible gear/crew/talent and Alabama and Mississippi have some killer tax incentives.

RC: “Convergence” is one of my favorite indie movies of 2014. Tell me where did the idea come from? How long did it take to finish writing?

Drew: AWESOME…that’s such a pep me up hearing that.  So there are two answers for the origin of “Convergence.”  The absolute truth is I forgot my sunglasses.  That’s it.

But it was that spark that ignited the idea.  I had been asked by some investors if I would do a horror movie.  They wanted a creature feature which really isn’t my style.  So I pitched them an idea about a guy who forgets his glasses and therefore has a bad day. They passed (I would too).  So I let the fire build more.  I came back to them with a new pitch…Die Hard in a Hospital.  That got me at least to the treatment stage. Then I turned in a very different idea, but set in a hospital with a cop.  I enjoy horror films, but I’m no expert in that genre, so I decided to write what would scare me the most – a zealot.  Most of “Convergence” is based on factual events.  In Mobile/Pensacola during the 90’s there were some really tragic murders committed in the name of God by anti-abortion extremists called the Army of God.  Those kinds of monsters scare me.  So the backbone of Daniel Donner (Ethan Embry) in the film is grounded in a reality I experienced as a kid.

The script was turned around pretty quickly.  I turned in the first acceptable draft in 6 weeks.  Once they approved it – I continued to tweak it – ALL THE WAY THROUGH PRODUCTION.  Assistant Directors hate me – but luckily the First AD on “Convergence” (Tony Niknejadi) is a long time friend – and the Producer (Scott Robinson) was incredibly patient and trusted in my vision.

RC: Initially setting the film in the 1990s is a great touch. Did the time shift cause any problems while writing the screenplay or during filming?

Drew: We had some small challenges. But the thing is finding a 90’s model car in Alabama is super easy.  Plus, the civic vehicles were loaned out to us by the city, who hasn’t updated theirs in a while.  I’m really particular about details – so everything that Ben (Clayne) is wearing is period – even his shoes!  The swat team at the beginning and the end are period correct – even down to their guns.  Ben carries a model 92 (was standard issue at the time) – and every gun in the film was set prior to 1999.  Yeah it may not matter to some – but I hate seeing the wrong gun in the right hands.

I did have a tremendous amount of maps and designs with the Production Designer Mark Terry on time basis, so we could shift at the perfect moment without loss to the story.  In the end it came to a series of discussions on geography.  Where would this person be at this time in the story?  Where can this hallway go to dodge something modern?

I wanted to structure the opening of the film to feel like a 90’s cop action movie.  The goal was to make it feel like you had been there before.

The last thing that seals the deal for me is the music.  We had an amazing music super on the film that somehow was able to get “Santa Monica” by Everclear for us.  We had a connection to Toad the Wet Sprocket and were able to get “Fall Down” in the film as well.  I had originally wanted “Harvey Danger”, but I feel like “Santa Monica” is so much more indicative of the times.

RC: Where you ever tempted to sell the screenplay for “Convergence” to anyone else or did you know that you had to direct it?

Drew: “Convergence” is a deeply personal film for me.  I am Ben.  I am Daniel.  I am all of those characters.  The idea to even write it was born from the death of a long time friend named Ben Walls.  So in some ways – I had to do it – as it is my story about my struggle with the ideas of spirituality, faith and revenge (vengeance).

RC: Where did you find your actors? Clayne Crawford crushes it as Detective Ben Walls.

Drew: Clayne had worked with AD Tony Niknejadi before and he’s the real deal southerner.  He lives in Birmingham, AL and I had wanted to work with him since I saw the first season of “Rectify” and “Baytown Outlaws”.  He’s like family to me now.  Such a good guy…just make sure you always say Roll Tide, Bubba.

I’ve been a huge fan of Ethan Embry since “Can’t Hardly Wait”, but when I saw his performance in “Cheap Thrills”, I knew that he could pull off Daniel.  He just has this way at looking at you with such innocent eyes – then he can have Daniel turn those around on you and the intensity is tremendous.

Laura Cayouette is based in New Orleans.  She was introduced to me by the casting director.  I was floored that I even had a chance to work with her.  She’s so good in “Django”, and now I’m talking to her about her character of Esther!

I don’t wanna spoil anything – but the entire cast is made up of a wonderful group of people who gave us everything for the role.  It was truly an inspiring series of events.

RC: Chelsea Bruland and Mykelti Williamson are also great!

Drew: So this is my second film with Chelsea.  I love her so very much; she is family.  I cannot believe she’s trusted me twice as a director. It’s very flattering.  The thing about her is that she will do all the crazy brutal physical stuff, get a puncture wound, hop up and say “I want another!” Then she’ll deliver so brilliantly as an actress it’s just silly really.

Ever since I saw Mr. Williamson as “Fearless” on “Boomtown” I knew that I wanted to work with him.  He’s been on my shortlist for a really, really long time.  But what I got from him so far exceeded any expectations. I sometimes would just freeze on set while talking with him. The inner nerd in me was losing it, causing a system wide shutdown.  He is truly a pleasure to collaborate with.

NEXT MONTH: Drew Hall tells us more about “Convergence”, and about his development of a new sci-fi epic “Aether.”

For more information on “Convergence”, Please visit these sites:
Twitter: @frame29films
My Twitter: @teslapunk