GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH
POWELL ROBINSON AND PATRICK ROBERT YOUNG
Powell Robinson And Patrick Robert Young's Threshold, centres on the reunion between estranged siblings Virginia (Madison West) and Leo (Joey Millin). He learns that a mysterious cult helped his sister when she was at her lowest, and during a ritual her emotional and physical sensations were bound to a man she has never met. Sceptical, he agrees to take a cross-country road trip to find the stranger, and as their journey unfolds, he begins to think his sister's delusional tale might be real.
In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Powell and Young spoke about shooting a film in 12 days without a script, and throwing themselves at the mercy of instinct.
FRIGHTFEST: The advice often given to writers is to write what you know, but there are different levels to this concept. I’d argue that writing about what you know refers to emotion, tapping into familiar feelings so the storytelling has an emotional authenticity, that can be felt by the actors and the audience.
Patrick Robert Young: Usually writing for either of us, it's a lot more subtle or hidden, as you said emotionally, but this movie wasn't written. It was based off a 20 page outline and we knew we were going to be dirt tired, and relying on whatever we could draw from in the moment. We figured we had to play it close to the chest and to make it as personal as possible, so we could fall back on something a little bit more literal in our lives if we had to, even at our most tired.
We hit a point in the schedule where the creative juices stopped for some reason. We couldn't stop filming, we had no time, we had no money, we had to get the movie done somehow. We needed to make sure all five of us [including producer Lauren Bates] could draw on something instantly, and there’s so much of all us, emotionally and literally in the movie.
Powell Robinson: Part of what also translated that way was how we ended up filming. It had to feel very real to fit the way in which the characters and their relationship came across. With the improv and with their characters being based on parts of us, the way we ended up shooting the movie was almost like a documentary, rather than a regular horror film. It seemed to tie in so well with the fact that we were retelling parts of our own stories through this documentary lens, and you can feel all of us on the screen at all times.
FF: In low budget films on a tight schedule, is there a value in relying on instinct, and could we liken this instinctive approach to stories told around the camp fire?
PR: Our actors talk about how their shoot was acting entirely done on instinct. We had no time for, or the ability to do traditional blocking and rehearsal because there was no script.
The way our schedule would go is, we'd be driving for 6-10 hours and then we'd find a spot. We’d have talked through the scene while we were on the road, and written it in what we called a “writing rehearsal”, where we talked through the beats they needed to hit. We'd then get to where we needed to shoot, and it was usually golden hour. We’d have 45 minutes to get scene(s), and they just had to go for it because there was no foundation of a script to work from.
It was purely acting what felt right in the moment, and because of the way the phones worked, and it was the two of us operating and filming the improv, it was often filming on instinct as well. It was following the action to the best of our ability, and letting the actors be our guide. This movie was done on instinct, on all fronts.
PRY: A lot of trust went into it because we started the 12 day road trip without a third act. We talk about this 20 page outline, but it was only two thirds done. In the same vein as you said, doing a camp fire tale or a goodnight story, we knew that something might change along the way that we had to adjust where the characters would probably end up. Thankfully our actors gave us a lot, and we found what is in our eyes a very satisfying ending.
FF: The characters, their life experiences and memories seemed genuine. It didn’t have that feel of two actors performing, but felt we were witnessing two estranged siblings reunite.
PR: We owe the whole film to them. The memories feeling real is partially true in that before we shot the film, we sat down for a full day in this cafe and built a shared life history with them. We had life events leading up to when they stopped talking, and then different events for each of them in two time lines for what they were doing when they were on their own. They could reference whatever they needed to from this life history, to feel like the family story is real, and then they could surprise each other with the stuff that happened to them separately. In every scene we integrated some part of that shared history.
PRY: We would not have set out on this project if we didn't have full confidence that we were working with amazing actors that could handle it. All five of us had been working professionally on much bigger projects, and we knew it would take an immense amount of talent, trust and luck to pull this sort of thing off, and 90% of that talent factor came from those actors. It was seeing them together in auditions that made us truly believe we had something here.
FF: Technology such as the iPhone creates a greater freedom to aspiring filmmakers, but shooting a film is only one stage of a drawn out and challenging process. What was the thought process for your use of the iPhone?
PR: ... Despite it being a technological adventure, the movie is not based on the gimmick. Not every shot is an iPhone gimmick, and believe us when we say we thought about doing it that way [laughs]. The second we started shooting, we didn't do any of that because this is about the characters, and none of that's going to feel right.
PRY: There are still two in the movie, but they’re only during the travelling montages, when we stuck the phone to the window and we had the car drive over my phone, which was terrifying and amazing. We realised quickly that we didn't have the time for all those setups, and it just pulled you out of the movie, and we never wanted that with what the actors were giving us. This is a movie where you're supposed to feel lost, to feel like you're sitting in a conversation with them.
We used the phone to make a movie, not an iPhone movie. We used it to make it feel natural and realistic to shoot in crowded public locations without getting caught, or drawing attention to ourselves. It's great how flexible these phones are, like you said anyone can do it, but also anyone can tell quality.
Having a phone in your pocket doesn't give you great actors, it doesn't give you a great story, and it doesn't give you the will to spend three years on post. It doesn't give you, with a certain amount of privilege, the money to spend on audio post, and as many distributors as there are, they can still tell when something is for lack of a better word, amateur.
The phones are a great tool for practising and for making stuff on the go, getting better at your craft, and in certain situations like ours, they were the right tool to make the movie. No matter how many movies are out there, there's still a line of quality. We were very intentional with how we targeted our festivals, and who we targeted for distribution, being aware of, what is this movie's audience? Who are the kinds of people who would want to watch a $15,000 iPhone road trip family drama with some horror in it?
THRESHOLD is available on ARROW, in the UK, US and Canada.