In director Tyler Savage's STALKER, the paths of two lonely men cross one fateful night. Andy (Vincent Van Horn) befriends rideshare driver, Roger (Michael Lee Joplin), only to blow him off when his behaviour becomes too strange. He chooses to instead focus on his budding relationship with girlfriend Sam (Christine Ko), but is tormented by an angry Roger.


In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Savage spoke about not wanting to banishing his anxious fears, and fulfilling an ambition to tell his own Los Angeles noir set story.


FRIGHTFEST: Why film as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you?


Tyler Savage: I’ve always gravitated toward film. As an only child, films always provided a keyhole look into other worlds, which helped me understand behaviour and other people’s experiences. I enjoy theatre as well, but film has always been my focus.


FF: 'What we are' versus 'who we feel we are' can often be out of synch. I've spoken with directors who say that it took a number of films before they felt they could call themselves a filmmaker. Do you feel that you can call yourself a filmmaker?


TS: It takes time to build your confidence and find your voice, or perspective - at least for most of us. I’m certainly a filmmaker. Once you’ve put in your thousands of hours, and pushed through rejection and disappointment to complete whatever vision it is that you have, I think you’ve done the job.


FF: As you say, it’s a commitment to make a film, and it requires you to give up a period of your life. With that in mind, what compelled you to believe in this film, and decide to tell this story at this particular point in time?


TS: Film does have a way of consuming your life, especially when you’re in production, but I find it easy to make those sacrifices when I’m really dialled in on something.


With this film, I largely just wanted to have fun with friends and like-minded collaborators. I’ve always loved genre films, and I’ve always wanted to make my own kind of Los Angeles noir story. The timing felt right in terms of where we are culturally with both our relation to technology, and the overdue evolution of representation in film.


FF: A friend who has just directed his feature debut, was commenting to me in a slightly frustrated tone that the question about inspiration tends to focus exclusively on cinema, instead of considering broader inspirations. What inspirations lie behind STALKER and your vision for the film?


TS: That’s interesting, and I agree that the conversation sometimes skews to, “What movies inspired your movie?” It’s rather limiting, and as a film lover, I was certainly inspired by many films, mostly noirs and 80s/90s thrillers. I was also inspired by Los Angeles and my two male leads, who had a natural dynamic I wanted to work with.



FF: I recall a filmmaker saying to me that horror cinema can effortlessly present themes in a way that other genres and stories cannot. Would you agree, and why is horror able to accomplish this?


TS: Genre films, and horror specifically, provide a great framework for theme and commentary. Unlike most comedies or a nuanced drama, you can be bold and clear in your ideas, which is one of the things I love most about working within a genre framework. That said, it also presents its own set of unique challenges because you’re making something that’s part of a beloved tradition, so you better do it well.


FF: STALKER balances being an entertaining yarn, with topical themes and ideas, specifically about social media and the role of technology in our lives. How were you attentive to striking this balance, allowing the two natures of the story to have their own space, not intruding upon one another, but complimenting one another?


TS: I wanted the film to be fun and entertaining, but with a clear noir commentary about some of the pitfalls of participating in our tech-driven world. A friend of mine one time said, “Follow your enthusiasms”, and I think that’s largely what we did in hopefully finding the right balance.


FF: In your director’s statement you spoke about the fear of failing on your first feature. How did you counter those feelings on STALKER, or are you never able to banish these feelings?


TS: I don’t know that I could, or should banish this type of anxiety altogether, because on some level that’s what’s pushing you to do good work. Clarity of intention is the key to keep from letting that anxiety get the best of you. With STALKER, I knew that we were making a fun film, and that everyone on board understood the film we were making. So any anxiety was drowned out by the joy and excitement of what we were all trying to do together.



FF: Recalling the idea that there are so many archetypal stories, is it possible to be original, or is originality a little like a box inside of a box – originality inside of unoriginality?


TS: I’m not sure, exactly, but I think it can probably be both. With this film, the originality is sort of a box within a box because we tried to find something new in obviously well-trodden territory. There are films that do seem to break new ground, but they’re few and far between. The idea of originality gets too much air sometimes because generating work that is unique, but also follows certain traditions, is usually worthwhile. There’s a lot to be said for doing something well and bringing your own flavour and perspective to it.


FF: Interviewing Larry Fessenden, he spoke about how a film is abandoned. Would you agree with this sentiment, or is a less harsh phrasing that it’s about being able to let go of the film?


TS: I probably agree with that. However long you spend in editorial, whether it’s a few months or several years, you become very aware that the film has a life of its own in a way. It could be many different iterations of itself, and at some point you have to step away from it, or abandon it, and say this is the version, or a version I’m comfortable with.


Paul Risker.


STALKER is available now on Cable and Digital VOD.


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