In the age of the current blockbusters, it’s very easy to forget the indie film movement we’re also in the midst of. Now, more than ever, it’s easy for an independent film to gain momentum, and if you’ve got a high concept, a great script, and an eye for marketing, you can create a whole new movement.
This is exactly what Dean Devlin — who is best known for producing big blockbusters like Independence Day — is hoping to do with his latest directorial effort, Bad Samaritan. After reading the script from writer Brandon Boyce, he took the leap of faith with this movie, going for a non-traditional, non-Hollywood-type tense thriller that puts both the characters and the audience through the wringer.
In the story, a pair of valets have the clever scheme of breaking into the houses of the cars they valet. Only this time around, they’ve broken into the wrong house, and one of the characters ends up stumbling into a kidnapping victim. What’s more is that the man whose house they’ve broken into has found out what they’ve done, and is none too happy with them.
LRM had a chance to sit down during a roundtable with both Devlin and Boyce, and in the conversations, we learn a lot about the origins of the project, hurdles they had to overcome, and the grassroots approach they are taking for this film’s release.
So what was it about Bad Samaritan that attracted you?
Devlin: I wasn’t looking to do this kind of movie and I’ve never done this kind of movie before. But Brandon made a horrible mistake. He allowed me to see the script before other people did and as soon as I saw it, I called him up and said, “You’re not allowed to show this to anyone else because I’m going to go make this movie.” I loved it. I just thought it was great writing. I thought it was original and I thought it would challenge me. I thought it would allow me to do something I’ve never done before.
You had mentioned in the panel about all the horror movies, and that you wanted to do something different. Can you describe what kind of feel you were looking for in this movie?
Devlin: Again, I like suspense. I like the terror of real horror as opposed to stuff that’s way over-the-top. There’s nothing in this movie that can’t or hasn’t already really happened. There’s this fear as you watch the film: this could be me. I can be in that situation. This whole concept that he came up with of that we hand our keys at a valet and on that key is usually the key to our house. Our car has a registration that has our address in it. But we don’t even think of these things. As I read it, it resonated with me.
Boyce: I’ve just been interested in, I guess for probably the last couple of years, these things that we put a lot of faith in whether it’s locks or passwords or things like that and how if somebody with a mind to do so wanted to exploit and break through every one of those, how incredibly vulnerable you instantly become. For me, the horror of this movie is not as much what Kerry Condon is going through. It’s exactly what we’re talking about. It’s somebody getting into your life and then systematically trying to dismantle it and the repercussions of that.
How were you able to make this without a big studio? I mean, now, that’s the thing. It’s an amazing-looking movie. It doesn’t look low budget at all.
Devlin: Thank you. We’ve been up in Portland now since 2007 and we have four sound stages and over the years between doing the TV series Leverage and then doing Librarians, we’ve developed this huge prop warehouse, a costume warehouse. We own our cameras, our dollies, our lights, the trucks. So we had our own little studio and when the script came along I thought, “This is exactly the kind of movie that’ll get destroyed if you tried to do it at a studio.” If you get a big studio involved, you’re going to cast it incorrectly, you’re going to change it based on whatever was the last hit movie not what’s right for the movie. And I said, “I really need to do a movie properly or I might never direct again.”
So we said, “We’re going to roll the dice.” So we just wrote a check and we made a movie. We hoped to God we didn’t make a really bad decision [Laughs].
So when you read the script, did you already picture David Tennant in that role as well as some of the other actors or did that come after reading it?
Devlin: It came after. It came after. When I first read the script, I was just so blown away by the whole thing and then we started talking about actors. There are certain actors that you always bring up just because you’re desperate to work with them and I’ve tried to cast David in the last five things I’ve done. For a variety of reasons I couldn’t and some of it was studios not understanding what a big star is.
Brandon was my real partner on this, by the way. A lot of times a guy comes and writes a movie and then you bring in ten other writers who do rewrites and they’re not allowed on the set. Brandon and I were attached to the hip throughout this whole making of the film. As we went to cast it, we started talking about people. Then I kind of sheepishly said, “Well you know who I’d really like”. And then he said, “That’s a pretty cool idea. How do we get him?” Then, we begged, borrowed, and steal.
Just quick follow up on that: have you seen him as Kilgrave before he got cast in this?
Devlin: No. By the time he was actually cast, he had done the part. But at the point we started talking about it, I hadn’t seen that yet. Then when I saw it, oh my god. This guy is literally the greatest villain ever.
Boyce: I’m the complete opposite. I’ve never seen Doctor Who. Me, David Tennant —
I was going to say, just as a clue, Kilgrave was in “Doctor Who.”
Boyce: No I’m saying I’ve never seen Doctor Who. The way I came to David was through Jessica Jones and Broadchurch. That’s what I saw and that’s why I thought, “Well of course this guy can do it. He’s exactly this guy.” For me, the revelation of David was what a great guy he is and how charming and funny and his sense of play that he can bring to something. That was all the stuff that I learned once I got to know him and work with him. But that intimidation, that sort of laser-like focus from those eyes on you, I knew that’s what was going to be there the second I saw him in Broadchurch and Jessica Jones.
How would you differentiate this film from other thrillers that have high concepts? What makes this different and more special?
Devlin: I don’t know about more special but I think the thing is that this really is a morality play. I think that traditionally in these things we have super Joe Average Guy in extraordinary situation and Joe Average Guy is a super great guy who gets stuck in a bad situation. Our lead character is not so clean. He lies to his girlfriend, he is a thief. He is not a bad person but he’s also not the greatest guy either. He’s trying to find himself. He’s a young kid who’s on a kind of a messy path. It leads him to this really, truly horrible decision. The big question is, if you’ve made a horrible decision like that, what happens after that really defines you.
This character literally could not live with the idea that that moment defines him so he has to erase that moment, even if it means losing his own life in the process. He’d rather die than live forever as the guy that made that terrible decision. I think that’s probably the biggest difference in that it’s not the common good man in a bad situation. It’s a bit more morally ambivalent character who’s made a really, really bad choice.
Did you find this challenging to direct? You’re usually big explosions and everything. Did you challenge yourself in trying to do a different approach?
Devlin: Yeah, every aspect of this was different than anything I’ve ever done. As Brandon talks about, we did a lot of preparation on this movie and from the lenses we used, from the fact that we used almost no light whatsoever. Almost all of this film was in natural light. How close the camera was to the actors. Normally, I’ve got much longer lenses and I’m farther away and I have to talk to the actors and say, “The camera’s going to be uncomfortably close to you. You’re not going to be accustomed to having a camera this close to your face.” But by doing that, it created this awkwardness, this tension.
To answer your question, yes. Every single aspect of this was different than anything I’d ever done before and that was both incredibly exhilarated and absolutely terrifying. I really did not know if I had completely screwed up until we had that first screening. We were there together and we’re both in the back of the room going, “Oh my god I hope this works.” Then, when we heard the people screaming and then laughing and then cheering, it was just the greatest moment ever.
Boyce: There’s no comfort zone for the people in this movie and we realized I think somewhat instinctively, we need to be out of our own to do that, to really tell the story because it’s not a studio film. It’s not something where you’ve got an atypical hero. You’ve got a woman who’s stress turns out to be very heroic. You’ve got all these things that are really keeping you on edge and you’ve got just constant tension being ratcheted up so we kind of just instinctively knew to keep ourselves in that.
That said, this might be the second film that Dean has directed but this is the guy who’s spent his life in the film business, is a showrunner of incredibly successful television, understands every aspect of this business. I knew all that going in. What I didn’t know until the second we started talking was his facility with actors. And then I remembered you were an actor [Laughs].
Devlin: Him too, he’s in the picture [Laughs].
Boyce: But day one, being an actor I could hear the way that Dean was talking to an actor and giving them something that was very playable and understandable instead of results-oriented. Telling them sort of what- the kind of talk that an actor needs to get that performance out of them and he did that day one and I was like, “Okay. We’re going to be okay.”
Is this going to the big theaters or —
Devlin: Yes. We’ll be 2,500 screens on May fourth.
Devlin: Terrifying. But yes.
You’ve gotten Legion M involved with this.
Got to go there. What can Legion M do for Bass Meraden and how did that come about?
Devlin: Well, normally to open up a movie like this today studios are spending anywhere between 30 and 60 million dollars to open up a film. We don’t have anywhere near that kind of money to open up a movie so we’re going by a really different approach. We’re really doing this like a grassroots political campaign. We’re going right to the people who might buy the tickets and we’re trying to talk to them and we’re trying to say, “If you know other people who might like this movie, talk to them.” We don’t have the money to pay for nonstop ads on television and billboards and we just don’t have it.
So Legion M is a grassroots company. By nature, they are literally owned by their own fans. What we’re working on with the Legion is they’re going to organize screenings, they’re going to do giveaways, they’re going to all the conventions. Even the ones I can’t go to, they’re going to and we’re really going to try and reach out directly to the customer and say, “We think you’re going to like this product.” If we can convince them, hopefully, they’ll talk to other people. The Legion has over 30 thousand people across the country and in Canada. Already, they’re organizing screenings, they’re organizing parties to watch the movie, to discuss the film. If this movie succeeds, it’s really going to be from the bottom up.
So what can people do to help get it in theaters?
Devlin: The best thing to do is to talk about it on social media. Use the #badsamaritan. The more people know about it — what happens is, in movies today about three weeks before a film opens, they do a thing called tracking. They just ask people, have you heard of this movie? And if you’re on tracking, then the people who own the theaters feel really confident and they put you in the better theaters, they get behind it. If you’re not on tracking, they’re worried no one is going to show up so then they put you in smaller theaters.
We only really have money to spend about a week and a half before the movie opens. So we don’t have money to get us on tracking. The best thing we can do is have people talk about the film, spread knowledge about it, get people to watch the trailer. The trailer is our best tool for understanding the movie. If enough people know about it and we show up on tracking, we won’t just be on 2,500 screens. We’ll be on the best 2,500 screens.
You talked about the moral ambiguity of the hero. Actually interested me, was it tough to cast the role of someone who kind of walks this moral tightrope?
Devlin: Absolutely. I think that’s the thing, you know? I don’t know you were in the panel but I described how the studios were absolutely sure that the audiences would hate the character in that moment. Now, they didn’t say that because they’re stupid. Had we had an actor who couldn’t pull this off, you would have hated him. He would have been a liar. He would have been a thief. He would have been this terrible guy who left this girl behind. But what they didn’t factor in is a brilliant actor who could really reach to the depth of that moment. If you think about the movie, the actor and I talked about this, if you think about the movie Schindler’s List. If you remember that amazing moment where there’s the boy of a soldier at the bottom of the stairs and his friend is being killed up the stairs and he’s paralyzed. He can’t run, he can’t go to save him. He’s just frozen with fear. That depth of fear. I had an actor who was willing to play that, who was willing to go that deep with his character.
I think without [Robert Sheehan]’s performance, it really easily could have gone south but we made a commitment as filmmakers not to hedge it in the script. We said, “We’re going to trust an actor to get us there.” We thought it was a lot more interesting. In a normal movie, he’d have been a guy who works at an orphanage who’s the sweetest kid in the world who’s taking care of his ill mother and then these bad things happen to him. We love this guy, we hate that this happened to him. We wanted to not love this guy until he earns our love. But to do that, you really needed a great performance. I’m going to go out on a ledge here but I think Robbie Sheehan is the best actor under 40 today.
How did you find him?
Devlin: Well I found him from the TV show Misfits.
Devlin: I was crazy about him on that. I’ll tell you a little story. We’re in the middle of shooting the movie and again, it’s low budget film, and Robbie comes to us and he says, “I have to fly to San Francisco this weekend.” And I said, “Robbie you can’t do it.” I said, “If anything happens Sunday night, the plane’s delayed or the plane’s canceled, we’re screwed. We can’t afford to not have you show up Monday morning. I’m sorry, I can’t let you go.” And he said, “But Peter Jackson is asking me to audition for the lead of his new film.” I said, “I’ll pick you up at your hotel and drive you to the –” and he got it. He is the lead of Mortal Engines.
He’s about to explode as a giant star and he deserves it because he’s fantastic.
Boyce: I’ll say it again, he just wasn’t afraid to bring that vulnerability and those flaws that the character has. Unfortunately, there are a lot of stars that just don’t want to look bad. That’s kind of what leads to them, the studio notes saying, “Can’t you make the guy work at an orphanage or can we give him something more heroic to do?” That just wasn’t as interesting. So good on him for being able to do it. And to you for finding him.
Devlin: I think there’s something about him being Irish too that works.
He was nice to listen to.
Boyce: We have two. We have two Irish actors and a Scottish actor.
Devlin: But the other two are playing Americans.
Boyce: Playing American, the lead played himself.
Do you find as being an actor as well that helps you with your writing process?
Boyce: Absolutely, it does.
Like, “I’ve always wanted to say this line,” or “I’ve always wanted to–“
Boyce: I certainly say everything out loud to myself. I have to remember: somebody has to say these things. Somebody say it and somebody has to play it emotionally. Just keeping that in mind I think just makes it a lot easier and hopefully makes it just feel playable but still interesting to hear.
What was it like to act in your own film and have Dean direct you?
Boyce: Honestly on those days, I’m just an actor. We did the first shot and the first day, we’re outside, it’s freezing. Afterward, our cinematographer, our camera operator, came up to me holding one of the marks and he says, “You ever seen one of these? Because you obviously don’t know what this is for.”
But on those days, I’ve done my work so I have to just be an actor. With improvisation, I probably granted a little bit more license with improvisation but then again, I kind of feel like had it right on the page at that point and if I don’t then that’s a problem with the writing. But it was fun and I appreciated the opportunity.
Devlin: He was misbehaving. I had to call the writer down, write up to talk to him and say, “Say the lines like I wrote it.”
Boyce: That would have been an interesting conversation to hear.
Can you talk about the process of wanting the character to be Irish? That that was not originally the character wasn’t going to be Irish.
Boyce: Originally this story took place in Los Angeles with two American kids. As we were talking, as Dean and I were talking and he wouldn’t shut up about this guy Robbie Sheehan. So I’m looking him up and I watched Misfits and I thought, “Yeah he actually is great.” But then we realized that really can be part of the story. He came here with his mom who’s remarried an American and we just sort of worked out this whole story about he didn’t really want to come here. He doesn’t really like that stepdad and that all factored into the relationship that made that a lot richer and gave him something to play. It put kind of a chip on his shoulder. Robbie’s kind of like that to his advantage. He fell right into that.
I think it was a great thing, along with moving to it to Portland which really gave it a feel and a look and a tonality and it helped the time of year. Unlike LA, which the seasons never change. Dean has done a couple of shows up there and frankly was so dialed in that — Dean already knew every location in Portland. So that really helped.
How did you prepare to become this creepy, intimidating, scary guy? Right now, you’re very casual and then you have to —
Boyce: I’m a pretty nice guy in the movie. But for David to do it, it was — I guess there’s a little bit of myself in him. But the same with all the roles, really.
Devlin: He knows everything about every psychopath that ever lived. Literally, I would suggest an idea for the character and he would say, “No, no, no. That’s not how they think.” And then he’d bring up these books.
Devlin: He would show me in the books the way a psychopath … and I was like okay. I get it. I get it now. So he’s incredibly well-versed in people with twisted minds.
So with a show that obviously had a lot of psychological twist to it: was there anything you had to do to make sure that the actors would be okay so it’s … you hear stories of the impact of those kinds of films on the actors.
Devlin: The thing that’s interesting is that we had actors who are very good but also had different styles. As they were talking about before, Tennant literally can turn it off the minute you say cut. He’s literally — the shape of his face changes. And then you say, “Action” and it changes. It’s amazing. He had this shape like dead eyes thing that I don’t know how he did but he just as soon as you said action or cut it went away. Then he would just be himself.
On the other side, Robbie for instance, there’s a section where he’s tied up. He’s in the snow and he’s beaten and it was freezing that day. There was literally a blizzard happening. After every cut, everyone is running to the tent to be warm. He would stay out there. We would say, “What are you doing?” And he said, “No. My character’s being tortured right now. I have to sit here.” And he stayed there in the cold the whole day. His lips were getting purple and I’m getting worried he’s going to get sick but that was his way to get to that place. You’ll see there’s this showdown in the movie.
You’ve seen the film. There’s a showdown between David Tennant and him. They’re so intense, both performances, and both approached it completely differently. But they both got to the same place through different roads.
Boyce: It was completely seamless to sort of know to deal with and talk to each actor and Dean did a great job of managing that. Jac and Kerry they’d already agreed. Once they were in with the script, they sort of knew what was going to be, what was going to be in store. They knew it was going to be in Portland, they knew we were shooting in the dead of winter. Everybody was on board. Once they were committed, there was no- there was very little pushback.
Devlin: But we were very careful. For instance, a lot of the movie Kerry’s tied up. We literally — I put on the chains first to show her and then we had another person put it on first. We really wanted her to feel confident that she wasn’t going to be injured physically. When you see the performance, it looks like everything hurts. That’s her performance. I’m not a believer in putting actors or crew members at risk when you shoot a movie. I don’t think it’s worth it. I think we have all kinds of great digital effects.
There’s a moment in the movie, it’s a tiny moment but when you know when the car hits the car and you see it … digital. I don’t need a car to hit another car. There’s beginning part where there’s a horse being whipped. Digital. I didn’t want to hurt no horse, no horse getting tortured.
No blowing up the house?
Devlin: Nope. Everything —
Boyce: No, that was cool.
Devlin: Everything was done safe because we can today and so you should. We took a lot of time with all the actors to make sure that they knew: we don’t want you to get hurt.