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.
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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?
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 gore?
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 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.