Will Wernick brings a new thriller Safer at Home. A story that is structured on today’s Zoom reality.
Safer At Home takes plays two years into the pandemic, a group of friends throw an online party with a night of games, drinking and drugs. After taking an ecstasy pill, things go terribly wrong and the safety of their home becomes more terrifying than the raging chaos outside.
Safer At Home stars Jocelyn Hudon, Emma Lahana, Alisa Allapach, Adwin Brown, Dan J. Johnson, Brandon Morales and is directed by Will Wernick.
I had the opportunity to connect with the director Will Wernick to talk about the making of Safer at Home. He talked about adapting to the new reality to make a film in middle of the pandemic and more…
Nancy Tapia: So maybe you can give me a little peace of mind, are we safer at home?
Will Wernick: I don’t think in the world of this movie, we are safer at home. I think in the real world, you’re probably safer at home. Although I think it’s been a really hard time for a lot of people, so case-by-case basis.
Nancy Tapia: Right. So this film was written, shot, produced, and everything happened during the pandemic, is that correct?
Will Wernick: Yes, absolutely.
Nancy Tapia: What time period was this?
Will Wernick: This was, we shot it in June, and the idea was presented to Voltage in like the beginning of April maybe. But there wasn’t a script at that point, it was just an outline. Then we started writing, and we were filming very quickly after that.
Nancy Tapia: As a director, when it came to casting, how did things change? Since you did not do the traditional physical casting. It was the beginning of going virtual.
Will Wernick: Right.
Nancy Tapia: So what did you look for in this case?
Will Wernick: All virtual… Well, we went about it, we knew that since there weren’t guidelines yet for filming with the guilds and the unions, we knew that we would have to work with people that we already knew. So the entire cast is made up of, with one exception, actually, who is a friend of a friend. People that I or the producers had either worked with or already knew.
Yeah, and figuring out a way for them to feel organically part of the same group. So we went through a lot of options and people that we had worked with. But I think that the cast that we ended up landing on felt really good together. Which was sort of half the battle when you’re casting an ensemble thing like this.
Nancy Tapia: On top of making sure there was chemistry, right?
Will Wernick: Correct.
Nancy Tapia: Because based on the stories, you have a couple paired and then the one solo.
Will Wernick: Sure. I think we took that in mind, obviously. We kept that in mind, rather. But in a couple of circumstances, we just got very lucky that the actors had such good chemistry. They’re all good actors, and they’re all good working actors. Dan Johnson, who plays Evan, was in my first film. He’s on a show called P-Valley. So casting him was sort of a no-brainer because I love working with Dan, and he’s such an interesting, talented guy.
Nancy Tapia: Let’s talk a little bit about the cinematography via Zoom. So many changes. So many questions just on that category.
Will Wernick: Sure.
Nancy Tapia: Did you film these stories separately? Were any of them simultaneously being shot? Can you share about that?
Will Wernick: Sure. So for the bulk of the movie, probably 80-75% of the movie was recorded simultaneously. So we had cinema cameras and support gear and lighting put into each of the actors’ homes that we shot in. Then, those cameras’ outputs, we were recording on the cameras, and the cameras’ outputs were piped into a Zoom where they could all reference each other in real time. Then, the cameras were linked together with satellite time code so that everything was frame accurate. So when we got into editorial, my editor, Sean, sort of had these stacks of performance. They were long takes, sometimes 25 minutes takes, like a play.
Nancy Tapia: Wow. So all this was camera work, nothing was from an actual laptop or mobile?
Will Wernick: No, a collection of cameras. When they’re in the cars, and when they’re running around, there were some different cameras used, but none of them were mobile devices or anything. They were all real sort of working cinema gear.
Nancy Tapia: Oh, I was going to ask if it was mobile. Cause if so I was going to ask what kind of cell phone was used, haha…
Will Wernick: It’s a cell phone from two years in the future, and it’s amazing, haha… No, they’re Canon C300 Mark IIs with Sigma. They all have the same lenses on them, which I think helps give it a cohesive feel, and shot wide open to give a certain depth of field, so that the characters kind of pop out. Because we knew this is my third film, we knew that at least in some parts of the world, and as it turns out in the United States as well, it will be a theatrical release. We wanted our pipeline to support that. So we treated it just like any other bigger feature film in terms of how it was processed and finished.
Nancy Tapia: So you were never physically filming or was it all based on how you had the cameras set up?
Will Wernick: We went in beforehand and got everything set up and blocked out. I’ve been using the same director of photography for the last three films and trust him quite a bit. So it was sort of all set up for the characters. And visited a couple of the houses to make sure everything was working, but for the most part, it was very remote. Which was not so much fun, not the way I would want to make a movie again. But it was the way we had to make this happen.
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Nancy Tapia: What scene would you say was the most challenging to direct based on the storyline?
Will Wernick: I mean, the stuff in the cars was difficult because you’re out on real roads and stuff. Probably where Jen (Jocelyn Hudon) hits her head. Just because doing stunts is always complicated and this made it more complicated, so probably that. But it was nice because being a writer and a producer and then directing, a lot of the things that would have been super difficult to shoot were not possible to do given COVID. We were able to just not write into the script. So basically what was on the page, we were able to get because we knew we could.
Nancy Tapia: Yes, you co-wrote, is that correct?
Will Wernick: Yep. So one of the producers, John Ierardi, and I came up with the story. Then we brought in Lia Bozonelis, who I had just finished writing another film with called Ghosted, which it looks like we’ll film later this year. Then, she and I wrote the script.
Nancy Tapia: Did you originally come up with the concept of involving a little bit of intake of drugs to spice it up?
Will Wernick: Yeah, that was part of the original pitch. We wanted things to escalate past where they probably would if everybody was level-headed. We also wanted to show that after being trapped essentially for two years, not that drugs are innocent, but something as potentially innocent as being safe at home, Trying these things could get out of hand very quickly because of the state of the world.
Nancy Tapia: Yeah. In this case, they are in mid pandemic, that psychological torture, then just it adds the life events. The drugs was that last drop that just pushes it to the edge, for sure.
Will Wernick: Well, good. What part of the country are you in?
Nancy Tapia: I’m in LA.
Will Wernick: Oh, you’re in Los Angeles, so you’ve seen LA change. It’s changed so much this last year-and-a-half.
Nancy Tapia: Very much so and with your film, lots of us can really relate. Especially, this being one of the places that’s been shut down slightly longer. So there are so many parties via Zoom. Now, after watching this film, I think a lot of us are going to consider wanting to record our Zoom parties, haha…
Will Wernick: Right. You never know what might happen, haha…
Nancy Tapia: What is next for you?
Will Wernick: My next few projects are a little less directly related to what’s happening right now. I’m doing a film called Whitebread that has two of the same producers as this, that looks like it’s shooting in a few months, but that’s more of a straight thriller of a film. Then, we have a film called The Bend, which is a drama thriller set in Montana, later this year.
Nancy Tapia: Oh, I love Montana, will it be filmed in Montana?
Will Wernick: It will be. It takes place in Montana. We might film in Utah because of the wacky way production works, but it’ll take place in Montana.
Nancy Tapia: That’s great! By the way, I did not expect that ending for No Escape. I was just horrified.
Will Wernick: Yeah.
Nancy Tapia: I was just like, “What?” No way to predict that.
Will Wernick: It’s been fun watching. It came out on Hulu recently, and watching Twitter, there’s thousands of people commenting exactly that, which is gratifying to me, for sure.
Nancy Tapia: Yeah, I was constantly like, “Oh my gosh, that’s horrible.” Then when you think you’ve seen it all, the worse comes!
Will Wernick: Poor Ronen Rubinstein and poor Keegan Allen. Tough day for those two.
Nancy Tapia: Yeah…Well, thank you so much for your time. Fingers crossed, I hope we’re not jinxing 2022, and things look better haha…
Will Wernick: Right, haha…back at you. Thank you.
Nancy Tapia: You’re welcome. Well, good luck. We look forward to seeing more of your artistic work.
Will Wernick: Oh, thank you so much.
Nancy Tapia: You’re welcome.
Will Wernick: Take care.
Safer at Home is out in select theaters, VOD & Digital today!