Published on August 12th, 2014 | by Allan Brown0
Interview: Directors Zeke and Simon Hawkins Talk “Bad Turn Worse”
Directors Zeke and Simon Hawkins‘ début feature; “Bad Turn Worse” (or “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” as its known in the UK), had its European premier at Edinburgh International Film Festival in June earlier this year. Despite it being the duos first feature film, their astute direction assures this gritty Texan crime thriller simmers with all the right tones, atmosphere, stand-out performances and beautiful artistic flourishes, to make this little indie picture stand tall amongst the other great crime thrillers of recent years, while firmly planting the Hawkins brothers as two incredibly talented, visual and character driven filmmakers.
Over the past few weeks both Simon and Zeke were kind enough to grant me the opportunity to interview them on their experiences bringing the film to life, what films inspired them to become filmmakers and their opinion of the industry today. Here is what they had to say…
Your film ‘Bad Turn Worse’ had its European Premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival back in June – to a wonderful reception, I may add. With its UK cinema release on 15 August, how would you describe it to the uninitiated?
Simon Hawkins – Thank you for the kind words. “Bad Turn Worse” is a teenage, coming-of-age, crime thriller set in the cotton fields of South Texas. It’s meant to be a fun and entertaining genre movie. At the same time, we did our best to tell a well-crafted, quality story with strong characters.
How did you become involved with the film, and what was it about Dutch Southern’s – Southern screenplay that made you want to tell this story as your first feature film?
SH – Credit should be given to our producers – Brian Udovich & Justin Duprie – for putting the project together. Justin is a 4th generation cotton farmer, so Brian & Justin built a movie idea around the cotton-farming world they already had access to in Justin’s hometown of Taft, TX.
Originally we met Brian through the American Film Institute – where Brian & Zeke both went to film school. And when Brian sent us Dutch’s script for “Bad Turn Worse”, the first thing that jumped out at us was the quality of the dialogue. Dutch has an obvious talent for writing dialogue with an exciting and unique rhythm.
And getting involved with “Bad Turn WorseF” was really a no brainer. We knew we wanted to work with Brian & Justin. We were inspired by Dutch’s characters, dialogue, and the seedy universe that he’d created and very excited to go shoot our first feature film in the cotton-farming world of South Texas.
We think the film industry is strongest when there isn’t such a huge separation between the large-scale corporate product created by studios, and the independent filmmakers working with passion and integrity but no financial support. We’re all better off when those two worlds work together
Did the story change at all once you were on-board?
SH – The basic story did not change, but the screenplay did. Some changes were made out of the practical necessities of the budget, and other changes were made based on our taste and where we wanted to focus the movie.
The film is littered with solid performances throughout, and none more so than its three central actors: Jeremy Allen White, Logan Huffman and Mackenzie Davis, who all offer stunning breakout performances. Was it always your intention to go with new talent or was this something that matured during the casting process?
SH – We had no plan as to whether we’d go with known or unknown talent. A lot of the credit for finding Mackenzie, Jeremy, & Logan should go to our casting directors – Angela Demo & Barbara McCarthy. Angela & Barbara introduced us to a ton of young actors in Los Angeles – both known and unknown. We were not familiar with the work of any of our three young leads before this project. In all three cases, it was pretty obvious that Mackenzie, Jeremy, & Logan were the perfect choices for our movie – right after they finished their auditions.
With regard to not casting better known actors, one thing worth mentioning is that Dutch’s script is heavy on stylized dialogue. We were hesitant to make offers to some of the more famous younger actors who were “offer only,” meaning they were not willing to audition for their role. We wanted to be sure our younger actors could handle Dutch’s dialogue before offering them the part.
Having a background in short-films, how did you find the transition to shooting a feature length picture, and did it throw up any unforeseeable challenges?
SH – In comparison to short form projects, making a feature film is much more of a marathon than a sprint. Zeke worked as the director’s assistant on the film “Capote,” so we had some idea of what to expect during production. But during the editing process, we should have paced ourselves a little better. In the future, during the post-production process, we’ll try to see the bigger picture and give ourselves more achievable day-to-day goals – the same way one might run a marathon.
There is a bold and pacey 1st person sequence in the movie, where our protagonists talk us through their perfect heist plan. This sequence breaks the confine of the rest of the film and is a beautiful showcase of skill and fearless directing. How did this sequence come about and was it your intention to have it break out from the flow of the rest of the film?
SH – The 1st person point-of-view “Imaginary Heist” sequence possibly does break the confines of our movie stylistically, but it stays true to the structure of our movie. “Bad Turn Worse” has three protagonists, and the film is told from their three different points of view. In this particular section, we’re experiencing the world with BJ, and the “Imaginary Heist” serves as a heightened exploration of BJ’s fantasy life. As a general rule, we think filmmakers can successfully make bold choices as long as the choices are anchored by the POV of their characters.
And on a separate note, our cinematographer Jeff Bierman deserves a lot of credit for making the 1st Person POV stuff actually work. Simon originally had the POV idea – inspired by the movie “Strange Days” – but there was no guarantee we could pull it off. It was Jeff who immediately jumped on board and built an improvised camera rig with ratchet straps and a life preserver. In general, Jeff deserves a lot of the credit for what we were able to pull off visually in this movie.
The film itself has a very distinct Southern look and feel to it, where landscape and the mighty Texan accent is as much a character as the cast itself. Do you think with the recent success of films like Blue Ruin and Cold in July that there is indeed a subtle revival of the southern crime thriller genre?
SH – When we were working with Dutch’s dialogue and shooting in the flat farmlands of South Texas, a lot of that “Southern” feel you mentioned happens naturally. If anything, we were trying to reel it in. First, we were trying to keep the accents as realistic as possible. Second, it was so easy to shoot amazing landscapes that we had to be really strict during the editing process and only use landscape shots when they directly served the story.
And yes – with films like “Bad Turn Worse”,”Blue Ruin,” and “Cold in July” – there definitely seems to be a resurgence in the crime thriller genre. But these films are still pretty low budget with limited theatrical releases. They make most of their money in the VOD market. We love to go to the movie theatre, and it would be so awesome to see movies like these start to get more studio support with much larger theatrical releases.
Our favourite movies are usually ones with fiercely independent spirits – anchored by strong genre narratives – with legitimate studio support. We really hope movies like “Bad Turn Worse”, “Blue Ruin,” and “Cold in July” are successful and lead to a resurgence of bigger genre movies like “Chinatown,” “Out of Sight,” “Point Break,” “Fargo,” and “Fight Club.”
Despite the fairly young and relatively new talent at the helm of the film, you do surround them with some seasoned pros. How did the enigmatic Mark Pellegrino and the tour de force that is, William Devane become involved?
SH – Zeke knew Mark Pellegrino from working with him on “Capote,” so he was in our minds from the beginning. For his character “Giff” we knew we needed someone with a strong physical presence who could dominate the scenes with our three teenage leads. “Giff” has a ton of dialogue, so we wanted an actor with a strong theatre background – who would be comfortable with pages and pages of dialogue and confident with much longer takes than usual. Mark fulfilled both those criteria in spades. He is so good as “Giff” that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part.
William Devane came onto the movie much later in the process. We had finished principal photography in Texas and were preparing for reshoots in Los Angeles months later. We decided to offer the part of “Big Red” to Bill Devane, but it was a shot in the dark. We wrote him a letter, sent him the script, and showed him the “What’s Your Price?” & “Imaginary Heist” scenes.
Simon then got a call from one his old NYU classmates, Joey DePaolo. It turned out Joey was now part of William Devane’s management team, and he was going to make sure the offer actually got to Bill. We then got a call from Bill, saying that he loved the script and the scenes we sent, and that he would be happy to play “Big Red.” It blew our minds! This all came at a point in the editing process where it meant so much to us to have someone like William Devane put that kind of belief in our movie.
You guys are obviously siblings as well as a directing duo. Can you describe how exactly the partnership works throughout the filmmaking process, and is this a partnership that will continue with future projects?
SH – For the most part we have the same taste, so agreeing on creative ideas is usually pretty simple. We discuss all major decisions privately and then make sure to present a unified front to our team. Specifically, after “cut,” we might quickly discuss the take and disperse to give notes. And with future projects, we’re certainly hoping to work together again. But we’re also happy to let each other take on solo projects – whenever that might make sense.
What films inspired you to become filmmakers yourself, and what was the last film you saw that left a lasting impression?
SH – In recent years, we loved “The Social Network, “Drive,” “Tree of Life,” and “Warrior.” We read about the workflow between David Fincher and Trent Reznor on “The Social Network,” and how Reznor was writing music without writing specifically for scenes. Then it was up to David Fincher to use the music as he saw fit. That workflow allowed for much more freedom in how Trent Reznor wrote music and ended up directly informing how we worked with Jonathan Keevil on the score in “Bad Turn Worse”
As far as films inspiring us to become filmmakers, some movies that immediately come to mind are: “Batman” (1989), “Major League,” “Chariots of Fire,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Out of Sight,” “The Last Boy Scout,” “Boogie Nights,” “The Graduate,” “City of God,” “Point Break,” “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” “The Beach,” and “Fight Club.”
A question I often ask when interviewing new filmmakers, is their opinion on the film industry today. Do you think there is still a market for smaller indie films such as ‘Bad Turn Worse’ in amongst the huge scale blockbusters that dominate the multiplexes today. Is it becoming increasingly difficult to find finance for such films, and what do you think the future holds for the independent filmmaker?
SH – Is there a market for films like “Bad Turn Worse” in today’s landscape? We’re certainly going to find out in the near future!
With regard to the business as a whole – we think the film industry is strongest when there isn’t such a huge separation between the large-scale corporate product created by studios, and the independent filmmakers working with passion and integrity but no financial support. We’re all better off when those two worlds work together. When the people in power are committed to working with our best filmmakers and to giving them the freedom to take risks, and when our best filmmakers are committed to telling narrative-based stories with at least some mainstream appeal – that’s when we get the best movies.
Is there a market for films like “Bad Turn Worse” in today’s landscape? We’re certainly going to find out in the near future!
Do you have any future projects you could tell us about?
SH – Yes – we do have possible future projects, but nothing is set in stone and ready to talk about. Whatever it is, it better star Keanu Reeves and feature an all Rancid soundtrack.
And finally, do you have any words of advice for would be filmmakers who want to break into the industry?
- Here’s some advice “on filmmaking” that has helped us over the years:
- “The 1st rule of directing is to shut the f*ck up.” – Rob Spera
- “Have the courage to be weird.” – Gil Dennis
And regarding the “industry” side of things – we have found this quote to be especially helpful:
- “The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with this indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply the light.” – Stanley Kubrick
Interview by: Allan Brown
A big thank you to both Zeke and Simon for their open, honest and incredibly insightful interview. You can read my thoughts on their film “Bad Turn Worse’ HERE, and catch it in selected UK cinemas from August 15th 2014 or on ITUNES from 14th Novemver 2104