Filmmaker  Q&A Alex Drummond

by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"

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DCP:
Can you talk to us about the origin of your love for movies? Which films influenced you growing up?

 

Alex Drummond:

I was born in (cough, cough) 1976, so the original STAR WARS trilogy was a big influence. I loved RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and the ROCKY movies as a kid. After I saw GHOSTBUSTERS I became somewhat obsessed with ghosts and finding ghosts. (At least as much as an 8 year old can be obsessed.) We didn't get to go to the theater that much when I was younger, but I did see some big movies that had a profound impact on me: E.T., STAR TREK II, RETURN OF THE JEDI, BEVERLY HILLS COP (my classmate Jonathan Referente saw it, so I begged my father to take me. Clearly a bad idea considering how my life has turned out. Haha.), and BACK TO THE FUTURE. We taped JAWS and me and brothers watched it so much we could act out the movie pretty much verbatim. We would rent movies on the weekends and that was something I'd look forward to each week. That's when I started to see more horror movies. I'd also watch the edited versions of the classics on Channels 5 and 11. I remember watching HALLOWEEN for the first time with my grandfather on Halloween night. Looking back, I'm surprised he watched it and let me watch it. He was a Sinatra guy and went to daily mass. I remember doing a lot of things as a kid that didn't involve just watching TV and movies, but I watched a lot of TV and movies. I can't seem to find that time now.

 

I could go on and on about the movies that influenced me, so I'll just name a few that I haven't already mentioned: THE EXORCIST, ALIENS, PLATOON, PREDATOR, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, DIE HARD, BATMAN, DO THE RIGHT THING, THE GRADUATE, ANNIE HALL, PULP FICTION, CLERKS, THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN. There are too many... They all changed how I viewed the world in some way. Whether it was creatively and expanded my imagination. Or in how I viewed the reality of the world I lived in.

 

 

 

DCP:

Where did the idea for your film Killer Party come from?

 

Alex Drummond:

The idea of making a movie goes all the way back to CLERKS. That was my introduction to "Do It Yourself" filmmaking. Even though that seed was planted in my brain, I took a different route and decided to leave New Jersey and head to Hollywood. Honestly, I wasn't doing anything while I was living in New Jersey to pursue my dreams, so I knew I needed to do something drastic to even have a chance. (I was also rejected from film school at NYU, USC, UCLA and Columbia, which was a good indicator of where I was at that time. Who knows, I'd probably still get rejected from those schools today...) I hoped writing would be my way into making movies, and even though it didn't work out according to my plan, screenwriting and almost selling a couple of scripts led me to making KILLER PARTY. My wife Rachael and I were expecting our second child, and to me it felt like if it doesn't happen now, it ain't gonna happen. (The jury is still out on that one...) I felt confident in my writing, so I believed it was time to do something drastic again, and that was to make a movie.

 

The influences for the original idea I had were movies like HUSBANDS & WIVES and THE PUFFY CHAIR. I wanted to do something about couples in Hollywood who were going through an early mid-life crisis because their lives hadn't turned out how they hoped. (Life not turning out how you hoped is a recurring theme for the characters in most of my scripts.) I took that idea and added the contained horror-thriller element of being trapped at a house. Clearly, influences like SHAUN OF THE DEAD, ZOMBIELAND, DAWN OF THE DEAD and 28 DAYS LATER are there as well. It essentially became a metaphor for my survival in Los Angeles. Could I do it? Was I strong enough, smart enough, good enough?  I realized while writing that the fears I had about my "career" were intertwined with my own fears about being a parent. Writing the script was the most fun I have ever had writing anything because each day I "knew" I was actually going to make it. There was a different energy, and even added pressure, that I loved.

 

DCP:

This being your very first directed film, and it being a feature straight out of the gate, did you have any high expectations for it? Do you feel like any of those expectations were met?

 

Alex Drummond:

Well, I suppose I had different expectations at different points in the process. At first, I wanted to make a feature that would get into film festivals. Of course, I dreamt about Sundance, but I knew pretty early on that Sundance wasn't realistic for the movie we were making. (Before lunch on our first day of shooting. Haha.) While we were on set, I didn't know if we had a movie at all. We were going so fast, shooting 11-12 pages a day and I knew there were things we weren't getting because there wasn't time. I was trying to edit the movie in my mind as we were shooting because we had to make every shot count. I knew the numbers weren't adding up (we had to go back and get some things later on just to tell the story that we did). I had to put aside those fears and doubts, and just focus on getting the best that we could in the moment. After our first rough cut of the movie, which I'm horrified I showed to anyone, I sent it to a distributor and he told me, as gently as he could, that it was "unwatchable." That stung quite a bit, but it wasn't a shock. And I knew we had our work cut out for us all over again. So we had to scratch and claw just to get back to that original goal of making a film festival quality movie.

 

To reference the question about the origins of the idea for KILLER PARTY (The original title was THE SHOWER), there was an expectation, or at least hope, that this would be a calling card movie. It would showcase my writing and the acting of my wife and friends. I know I could have done a much better job as a director. I was a first-timer shooting a movie with a big cast in eight days and most of our pre-production period was spent raising funds. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Haha. That we got this far is attributable to a few very important elements: a talented, hard-working cast, a small, strong crew led by our line producer Rikki Jarrett, the effort and talent of our DP Harry Frith, and the generous support of so many people who helped us along the way and donated time and money. And cockroaches. Which is the last line of the movie. The ethos of KILLER PARTY, and possibly my life, is in the script: "We'll be like cockroaches after a nuclear blast." The existence of the struggling actor or writer is filled with doubt, doom and fear. Rachael and I are constantly picking each other up. And that's exactly what happened here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DCP:

You have a great cast in this picture whom I felt all gave some of the most natural, memorable performances through out the film - What was the casting process like for these great performers?

 

Alex Drummond:

Casting this was both very easy and very hard. Many of the parts were written specifically for friends. Many of us had worked together at a restaurant. These people became our L.A. family. So knowing them and knowing their talents, I wrote parts for them. Which is also why there are so many characters in the movie. I wanted to get everybody in. Probably too ambitious for a first feature, but I was writing with my heart and not my head in that sense.

 

We did have to cast a few of the characters: NICK, PAT, SARA, RYAN, KIM, THE CLOWN, CAROLINE, VIOLA. (That's already enough characters for an indie movie, and that's just half of the cast.)  We did auditions, which was an incredibly humbling experience. It was my first time being part of that process, and to have all these wonderful actors audition for something I had written felt like a dream. I could not help but pull for each actor in the room. My heart goes out to all of them. Even auditioning for an ultra-low budget horror-comedy is a nerve-wracking experience. I can't imagine what studio testing must be like. We saw a lot of great people.

 

DCP:

What was the most challenging part about the making of this film, or the most fun?

 

Alex Drummond:

Well, each step of the process was the most challenging part at the time. The only thing that came relatively easy was writing the script. Back then, I wrote every day, so that was fun and natural. Pre-production was a challenge because we had to raise funds AND actually set up the production. Production was hard because we were an ultra-low budget movie shooting a crazy amount of pages each day. Experienced people told me we couldn't shoot the movie in 8 days. We needed twice that. They were right. Haha. Post-production was hard because you have to accept that if you didn't shoot it, it can't be in the movie. So editing was about finding the best version of what we did shoot. I screamed at my monitor a lot. This was my Jack Torrance period. We finally got it to a point where there was something we could show to people and that was a tremendous relief. I honestly didn't know if an audience would ever see what we shot.

 

I should mention a particular challenge while shooting the movie: my wife went into labor. I used Rachael's pregnancy in writing the script. The script was done in May, the baby was due in mid-September. Going into the process I thought we would shoot in June or July. Once we found out how much it was actually going to cost to do a SAG production, we pushed the shoot to the beginning of August to raise the necessary funds. My feeling was if we didn't shoot the movie before the baby came, we'd have to wait another nine months to make the movie. There was a momentum and energy that was going and if we stopped then, well, I just didn't think it would happen. So at sunrise on our seventh day of shooting, Rachael asked me if there was a contingency plan in place in case she went into labor that day and we could get all her shots for the movie. I told her there wasn't, and that the baby could come on Saturday, which was two days away. That didn't work, and three hours later her water broke when she stood up from the makeup chair. This was a nightmare because the baby was 5 weeks early. Fortunately, everything turned out OK and we had a healthy baby girl named Isabel Rose. We shut down for a month, and luckily, we were able to pick up where we left off. And since I was able to actually watch the footage we had shot for the first time, we were also able to add some shots that we missed. (A few, at least.)

 

My favorite part of the process was going to film festivals. I'd sit in the back of the theater and watch the crowd and listen to their reactions. We got a very warm reception at genre festivals. It was both humbling and uplifting. We have received a tremendous amount of support from folks who saw the movie at festivals. I also loved meeting other filmmakers. They'd share their stories and I'd share mine and I became part of a much larger community. These filmmakers have helped me so much and I hope I can return the favor to other filmmakers. I'll take this opportunity to say that if you like independent movies, you have to support your local film festivals. They give indie filmmakers an opportunity to reach an audience. Heck, even if you like only studio movies, many of those filmmakers start with indie films.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DCP:

After having completed and released your first film, what is one of the most important lessons you learned the making of it that you know you can carry with you to other projects?

 

Alex Drummond:

Communication might be the biggest lesson. As a writer, I feel confident about my ability to communicate on the page. A director has to communicate ideas verbally, often on set while everyone is waiting for your answer. And time is money. (I'm not an artist, so even for a storyboard I would have to convey what's in my head to someone else. I just read that Curtis Hanson used photographs to show what he wanted for L.A. Confidential.) If you can communicate clearly, that gives you the opportunity to get what you want. I could have been a much better communicator throughout the process. When it comes down to it, as a filmmaker, you have to get what you want. If you don't, and you compromise here and there, it will add up. So I definitely learned along the way that you need to know what you want, and you need to say that clearly, and you need to do it.

 

DCP:

What inspires you on a daily basis, not just as a writer/director, but as a person?

 

Alex Drummond:

I'm inspired by my family. I want to be a good husband and father. A good son and brother. I have a responsibility to my family that helps me keep things in perspective. I have my moments, though. Then I've gotta snap out of it and make dinner or take the kids to the park and be a dad. I also find inspiration from movies and tv shows and books. The things I love inspire me. I'm also inspired by the audience. I want to tell them a good story. 

 

DCP:

Can you tell us about any other projects you may be working on for the future?

 

Alex Drummond:

I'm trying to keep busy, so I have a few things I'm working on. I have a contained horror-thriller called MURDEROUS, about a group of old friends who get together for the holidays and things turn out very badly. (This was the first script I wrote after the experience on KILLER PARTY, so you don't need to be a psychologist to see where that idea came from.) My buddy Dave Samartin and I are polishing up a teen horror-comedy called MONSTER JOCKS, about high school football players who take an experimental drug that turns them into blood-thirsty savages and the band geeks who have to stop them. I'm also starting to work on some TV scripts, all about people whose lives haven't turned out how they hoped, so we'll see where that leads.

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