Westerns and horror films style wise can be some of the most challenging work a production team can tackle. Blend the two genres of film together and it makes for a distinctive, gritty and wild ride. Co-writer and director Chris Von Hoffman has done just that with his latest film came out on February 28 th on VOD. Blending the western style, apocalyptic cannibal family dynamic as well as pair of brothers trying to escape, you get a thrill ride with dark overtones on foundation of insanity. Jay Kay sat down and talked with Von Hoffmann about his feature DRIFTER.
Jay Kay: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about DRIFTER. First, discuss the origins of this film and the inspirations that surrounded it. Some are evident like Robert Rodriguez work, TEXAS CHAINSAW and perhaps World War II bomb footage. How close am I and what other work influenced the project?
Chris Von Hoffmann: My pleasure and thank YOU for having me. I first came up with the concept when I was 16 and it was just one of several ideas I had and began to even write some of it back then however the story was slightly different. It was still about two brothers who get trapped in a town however it did not have a post-apocalyptic backdrop and the town was more of a supernatural force instead of being run by cannibal savages. But the basic structure always remained the same. It wasn’t until ten years later after I had more or less honed the nuts and bolts of filmmaking that I decided to start from scratch and approach this story as my first feature film.
Surely World War II bomb footage wasn’t in my mind when developing the project but I’ll take it. Robert Rodriguez and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE were definitely very blatant influences throughout the film however John Hillcoat’s 2005 western THE PROPOSITION was the first film to really kick things off. There’s dozens of other influences but THE PROPOSITION was always the glue holding everything together.
JK: A brothers’ dynamic is always interesting in road movies. You truly establish the alpha within the pair of the Pierce Brothers in Dominic. When you casted for Dominic, what was the audition like not only in creating an authentic connection but working off each other in the familiarity and behavior that true brothers would have? What stood out about Drew Harwood?
CVH: I had known Drew a little bit through some raw short films he had done before I cast him in the film. He was already very good friends with the actor who played his brother so the chemistry wasn’t a problem. Drew reminded me a lot of a young Brad Renfro which was very captivating to me and I knew he would go all the way with the role (which he did).
I never auditioned Drew for the part, I just offered it to him. Sometimes you just have to take a gamble and go off your instincts.
JK: Aria, why be on both sides of the camera? What did that bring in working with cast and crew? Was Miles always to be the tortured figure that builds up to a heroic ending?
CVH: Aria did not work behind the camera on this film. He was simply the co-writer and a lead actor. He was definitely always meant to be the tortured figure. I liked the idea of taking these two brothers who in the beginning, one is tortured and weak, and the other is strong and heroic, then once they enter the town do a flip flop. Like the town is a metaphor for this hellish abyss.
JK: What was the genesis behind the opening of DRIFTER? Why start it on such a tense moment?
CVH: I feel the openings of films should always start off with a bang and I thought it’d be interesting to hook the audience immediately and basically have a shootout within 90 seconds of the film starting. I wanted to put people on edge right away so that they know exactly what they were getting themselves into.
JK: The film is filled with very crafted weapons scenes. What went into the weapon and gun choreographing as well as training? How long in post-production did it take to fully craft the gun play?
CVH: Each action set piece was carefully blocked out in advance so everyone, especially the actors, knew exactly what we were doing on the day. All the gunshot effects were done with visual effects in post-production. It was a very tedious operation to make sure the muzzle flashes looked as authentic as possible.
JK: To say DRIFTER has a post-apocalyptic feel is crazy as the family that inhabits the decaying town that the Pierce Brothers arrive in. It is at times like a haunted doll house meets ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Talk with me about the location and how you turned this location into the world of Doyle and his family? How crucial was planning with the main set and the design overall reflecting the madness of the characters within it? Did the locations and visual style open up doors you never thought about with the film overall?
CVH: Finding the right locations for a micro budget post apocalyptic cannibal thriller was an extremely frustrating task considering we had no location manager whatsoever. I burned a lot of gas money driving out to the outskirts of California by myself trying to find the locations that would perfectly enhance the story.
Locations are everything to me and without the right locations, the film can truly fall apart and jeopardize the viewing experience. The town where we shot the entire second act in was mostly demolished anyway so we really saved a lot of money and time on production design and then the haunted house already looked like what I wanted. They had everything we needed already in there so I was like a kid in a candy shop.
JK: One of the elements that I truly enjoyed was the framing and movement within a variety of shots. At times, you never feel balanced or you feel on an angle or even warped. Talk about working with cinematographer Tobias Deml and editor Chris Visser on this since in each stage of the production the films changes?
CVH: Tobias and Chris were the two main collaborators I met when I first moved to Los Angeles. We’ve been collaborating since winter 2012. What I love about Tobias is that he’s fearless. There’s no problems, only solutions with this man. Also, I’m an extremely neurotic, frustrated, moody person especially when I’m on set making a movie and Tobias is extremely upbeat, happy and positive all the time so we really balance each other out. But he’s very hard on me and I’m very hard on him so it’s a strong dynamic we have.
As far as Chris is concerned, he’s just a terrific storyteller in the editing room and has no problem questioning an editing choice I want to do. He’s far from just a pair of hands. I think when you’re collaborating in the editing room, there needs to be this explosively creative tug of war because at the end of the day, it’s the final film that counts and it needs to be as great as it can possibly be and if that means killing your darlings and butchering your babies then that’s what needs to happen.
JK: Talk about casting the family and especially Doyle played by James McCabe? He has such an offsetting feel in his actions and movements. His pronunciation is deliberate and evil. Was the character of Doyle like this on paper and on the screen or did James bring something more to it?
CVH: Pretty much every member of the family were people I had known about through the short films they had done or plays they had performed in. They were all from this acting school in North Hollywood called PLAYHOUSE WEST. All theatre trained which I respected quite a bit.
The original script for this film was closer to a skeletal blue print than anything. I knew I wanted to keep the script as raw as possible so that it would give me plenty of room to embrace the aesthetic on screen cause this particular film is all about the atmosphere and the style. As far as James’ performance is concerned, we developed it together in several meetings before filming began. However once cameras rolled, he still came up with so many additional nuances that fit the character so well that I wish I came up with them.
JK: Sasha and Latos are quite a pair. A Joker and Harley Quinn feel to them. I know that is used a lot but it really shines through. Sid and Nancy perhaps? None the less, casting them must have been interesting for not only performance but body type to fit the exposure of living in that world.
CVH: Several people have compared Sasha to Harley Quinn however oddly enough I never even thought of that when we’re developing the character. The idea was that Latos and Sasha were like twisted archetypes of the “Quarterback” and the “Cheerleader” with a little bad boy / bad girl greaser spin on it as the cherry on top. Brian Yuzna’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III certainly had an influence.
JK: Why did you have rebellion in the storytelling with Vijah, when you could have had the whole family be cannibal crazy?
CVH: Since the film is so nihilistic and cold, I felt I needed at least one sympathetic warm character to balance things out but even she has her own serious flaws as a human being.
JK: Talk about the scene when the family comes together for dinner? Talk about the fun and challenge of directing madness?
CVH: This was one of the most challenging nights not only because it was an enormous amount of coverage but because for the first time during the entire production schedule, our RED Dragon fried and was shut down for three hours. This happened right before the first shot at the dinner table as well as when the domestic sales agent for the film stopped by to visit so it was a very tense first half of that night.
Once we got a last minute replacement camera, everyone buckled up and were prepared to work overtime into the morning. It ended up being like a 16 hour shoot.
JK: What was makeup and costume design like? I am so thankful you made the teeth look the way it would actually look as well as established style to fit each character instead of making them cookie cutter!
CVH: We had no costume designer or wardrobe supervisor so I ended up having to create most of the character’s wardrobe myself which I honestly quite enjoyed. I loved dirtying up the character’s clothes in my backyard. And then I would lock the clothes up in the trunk of the picture car for a straight month in the heat so that when the actors put the clothes on, it really felt and smelled disgusting. We also did make up screen tests for each of the cannibals to make sure it all looked right on camera.
JK: We have a wonderfully disturbing blend of practical FX makeup, prosthetics and CGI in DRIFTER? How much did the schedule and budget affect the look pertaining to this? What was more of the preference practical or special FX?
CVH: I was able to get this special effects guru named Kris Kobzina to come on board and help us out with all the practical effects. He’s a hardcore horror fan and has worked nonstop for years on big and small genre projects so he’s very experienced and knows exactly what he’s doing not to mention he’s an amazing human being as well. Very down to earth but an extremely hard worker and incredibly detailed which I love.
The practical effects didn’t really break the bank because Kris was able to cut us a great deal since it was my first feature and he was well aware it was a super tiny budget. He was also good friends with one of the supporting actors so that helped a lot as well.
If we had a lot more money, I would’ve loved to go all practical but since the budget was so small, that just wasn’t the case so I had to mix it up.
JK: What did composer Nao Sato and the overall score mean to this film?
CVH: Since the score especially for DRIFTER is essentially the soul of the movie, it meant an enormous amount. Nao had scored two short films of mine prior to scoring the feature so we were both pretty aware of each other’s view points. The film has more or less wall to wall music so it was definitely a herculean task sculpting the score from the ground up with Nao but I loved every minute of it. He’s an incredible composer and I want his work heard across the planet.
JK: Where did DRIFTER come together? Pre-production, filming or post?
CVH: Definitely preproduction. Everything was prepared as methodically as possible because I knew we were going to be essentially restricted to 12 hour days and a 13 day schedule and most of the money was coming out of my savings so if I went just 30 minutes over, it was going to hurt me financially. So, I really made sure everything was ridiculously prepped in preproduction.
JK: What did it mean and what were the intangibles it brought with two directors on this film?
CVH: There were not two directors on this film. It was me and only me directing the film.
JK: What is next for the film as well as you two? Where can we find out more?
CVH: I’m currently in pre-production for my second feature that I’ll be directing later in the spring. It’s based on a screenplay I wrote that I had been working on for the entire year of 2016.
You can find out more information regarding Drifter on its FACEBOOK PAGE under DRIFTER Feature Film. If you want to look me up, you can find me on FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM under my full name, Chris von Hoffmann. And if you want to view any of my short films, you can check them out on VIMEO.
DRIFTER hits VOD and iTunes (2/28) and the night before it begins its LA theatrical run (2/24).
(Images found on Yahoo)
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