Late last year indie filmmaker Chris Witherspoon reached out to me about his horror suspense thriller Rage--at the time I promised to conduct an interview with the him...Well busy lives for both of us prevented us from getting that chance to chat until recently....Trust me though this will be worth the wait.
Inspired by Steven Spielberg’s classic TV movie Duel and films such as John Carpenter’s Halloween, the film tells the story of Dennis Twist (Rick Crawford) who encounters a mysterious motorcyclist and sets in motion a day-long battle that grows more and more sinister by the moment.
In this exclusive interview for TLR Chris talks candidly about where the idea for the film came from, it's most controversial sequence, it's success what he thinks about the industry and more....
Tell me a little about yourself: When did you know you wanted to make films?
I’ve wanted to make films since I was 12 years old. After watching Stars Wars I begged my mother to buy me a super 8mm film camera and I was hooked after that. I ran around my neighborhood filming anything and everything, people talking, walking down the street, watching television… Like I said anything and everything. After awhile I started scripting little story ideas and getting my family and friends involved as actors and crew members.
Talk about your Influences. What films or people inspire you?
The greatest influence on me becoming a filmmaker was my mother who was an artist herself. She turned me on to a lot of books. She was a big fan of Stephen King so I became a big fan of King's. She took me to the movies a lot when I was a kid. We watched all kinds of movies, every genre, but mostly horror films. As a director, Steven Spielberg was the first to influence me. After awhile I started to study the works of other directors like Carpenter, Ridley Scott, Coppola, Scorsese and Francois Truffaut but the directors that I consider my all time favorites are Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. The thing that I believe these directors all have in common is that they are amazing storytellers. They understand how to convey a story in all of the elements that are involved in telling a story, visually, audibly, story structure and sub textually…etc. The films that have blown my mind over the years are films like Jaws, Halloween, Citizen Kane, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Pulp Fiction, Clockwork Orange, Alien, Aliens, Blade Runner and everything that Hitchcock made. I could go on and on.
We certainly have the Hitchcock thing in common as well as sharing a lot of favorite films. Moving on, tell me what else have you worked on?
I’ve worked in a variety of position in the film industry, everything from special effects artist, production assistant, production accountant, coordinator and many other positions. I’ve worked on films like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Angel (student by day prostitute by night) and many other films. I also worked in commercials and music videos for several years.
Give me some background on Rage. Where did the idea come from?
Rage came out of some personal issues that were taking place in my life and it was also heavily inspired by Steven Spielberg’s 1971 film classic “Duel”. The personal stuff that took place in my life was, I had been having an affair and the mother of my children found out and that brought about a very destructive end to our relationship. Regretfully, it was our three children, who were completely innocent, that were the biggest victims. During this time I was up late one night and Duel happen to be on television so I watched it and was amazed at how good it still was after all these years. At that point I had an epiphany which I believe was very cathartic in retrospect. I took the things that happen in my personal life and formed the majority of the subtext of the film and Duel would serve as the inspiration for the surface stuff…i.e., being pursued by a faceless antagonist who wants to destroy you for reasons that you are not completely aware of. At the end of the day the film is about the decisions that we make and how those decisions affect those around us, especially, the innocent.
How was the casting process completed?
We held opened casting calls in both Portland and Los Angeles. We had approximately 10 days of casting in L.A. where we meet Rick Crawford, who landed the lead role, and Anna Lodej, Jo Black Jacob and M.L. Maltz were cast there as well. We returned to Portland and had three days of casting. The local actors that were cast were Audrey Walker, who plays Crystal Twist along with Richard Topping and Spencer Conway.
You wear many "hats" on Rage, what is your favorite?
I do a lot of stuff on my films and it’s not a vanity thing or that I’m some kind of control freak but instead it’s because of necessity. I’ve never had a lot of money to work with so instead of having to beg someone to come on board and perform a job for little or no money I have found it easier to just do it myself. Having said that I’d have to say that my favorite hat to wear is a tie between writing, directing and editing. In my opinion all three jobs are as equally as important. They are the areas that have the most direct effect on what the end product will ultimately be.
What was filming Rage like? Give me your best and worst experiences.
The best for me was the rape scene in Rage. Having a scene turn out just the way you envisioned it in your mind when you were writing it is a great feeling. I knew that it could be a very good scene, a very powerful scene, and it worked out even better than I thought. The worst aspect would be the lack of time. Rage was shot in only 24 days and I just wish that I could of had more time… and money for that matter. Most people think that Rage was made for 100k (I wish). The reality is that it was made for a sparse 47 thousand dollars.
Describe the film's main Character
The films lead is the Dennis Twist character and I would describe him as a “flawed everyman”. Yes I said “everyman” because, arguably, he is an accurate representation of many men today. He’s not very happy with his job or his entire life for that matter and he is having an affair. The number one cause of divorce today is still infidelity so it’s not like men can’t relate to him. Which is funny because at different screenings of Rage, I’ve seen the responses of the men in the audience and even though Dennis is not a very good person, I think that most men don’t want him to get caught. Basically, all of Dennis' problems are self-inflicted.
What separates Rage from other films in the same genre?
I think that Rage differs from most films in the indie horror genre because it is a hybrid. Rage is a suspense-thriller with horror overtones. To be completely honest when I started writing Rage I didn’t think of it as a horror film. I thought of it as a straight drama at first and as I continued writing I realized it had become a suspense-thriller and it wasn’t until we started filming that I realized that Rage would be considered a horror film. This has caused some people to be conflicted in their opinions. Blood and guts horror fans are a little thrown off. But I believe that in order to bring some originality to the genre we have to look to other genres and change up the recipe a bit.
What's the overall reaction been like to the film?
I’m very happy to say that the reaction so far has been great. Festival wise, Rage finished up its run this past November at Horror Quest where it won their highest honor, the “Best at Quest” award, which brought the awards total for Rage to 15, including 5 for best feature, and that ain’t bad. Rage has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from reviewers all over the world.
Some people have had problems with a few scenes, including the rape scene. They believe that I went too far, which I disagree. I know that there are many films that have rape scenes in them that are much more graphic. Just two for example are “I Spit On Your Grave” and “Irreversible”. When I asked people for specifics about the scene they always describe things that are just not there. Hitchcock called this the “transference of the menace from the screen to the mind of the viewer”. This happened with audiences who in 1961 described the shower scene in “Psycho” saying that you could see the knife penetrate Janet Leigh’s body. We all know that not true. Ironically it was the Psycho shower scene that I studied when designing the rape scene in Rage.
I would add that, while the film does have it's share of violence--the reaction to the rape scene is a bit over blown. Aside from the examples that Chris discussed, I would call your attention to the The Killer Inside Me, which features a far more brutal looking sequence.... Talk about what's on the horizon for you.
Next up is a project that I’ve wanting to make for a very long time. It’s a horror anthology entitled “The Twilight Hotel”. I originally wanted to make it before Rage but it was just too big a film, budget wise, and I knew I couldn’t raise the money necessary to produce it. The idea for this film comes from two of my all time favorite television shows, “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and Ron Serling's “The Twilight Zone”.
They are two faves of mine as well.
I’ve always wondered what would of happened if Alfred Hitchcock had directed episodes of the Twilight Zone? In the screenplay I created a place, an old 1920s rundown art deco hotel where people, who aren’t very good people to start with, check into the Twilight and must deal with their personal demons…literally. The film will have all the trademark qualities, the suspense and mystery of Hitchcock and the surprise twist endings and supernatural aspects of the Twilight Zone, and I hope to have funding in place as soon as possible and look to start production by the end of the year or early 2013.
Share your thoughts on the how you see the film industry.
I’m not a big fan of the industry as it exists today. Well let me be a little more specific… I’m not a big fan of what Hollywood is producing. I used to think, in the late 90’s, Hollywood had become too formulaic with no originality. Today to say that would be a BIG understatement. It really sucks when you already know the ending of a movie even before the opening credits finishing running. I think that it’s time for a major shake up in Hollywood. The same way there was when the studio system gave way to the original independents and film school students in the 1970’s.
And finally--Your chance to say anything else...
Just thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me about Rage and I look forward to coming back and talking with you once distribution plans are finalized.
You are most welcome and I look forward to our next chat!
Be sure to check out the film's official website and Twitter feed for updates. You will be glad you did!