At the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year I managed to catch a film called Brake, a thriller starring Stephen Dorff set almost entirely inside in a see-through box (you can read my original review here).
The film is coming to DVD and Blu-ray soon (read my DVD review here) and ahead of that the director of the film, Gabe Torres, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
Warning: the interview contains some plot spoilers:
With Brake you had to film one actor inside a box for almost the entire movie, what challenges did that pose both from a storytelling point-of-view and a practical one?
Gabe Torres: Holding the audience’s interest is key, so in crafting the rewrites on the script and in the visual storytelling I decided to withhold information. I made it a puzzle for the audience and our main character to figure out with the limited information being given. I also never let the audience know more than our main character. This way the audience would be come personally invested in everything Jeremy did, heard or saw. They needed the information as much as he did. By taking this approach, my goal was to subliminally put the audience right in the box with Jeremy emotionally and not in a cheap way by lots of hand held POVs and such. The other tact I took was to keep the interior of the box evolving visually. Start in the red light and darkness, then reveal a little more when the car pulls out into daylight and light leaks in, then the bright lights come on and eventually bullet holes provide daylight and the electric lights flash and short out. Each visual phase mirrors Jeremy’s emotional state. Right in the beginning he’s in the dark. At the point in the story he knows nothing of where he is, he’s physically and emotionally IN THE DARK. As the engine starts and he hears the car, we see the inside of the trunk and reveal more and so on.
There was obviously an immediate comparison between Brake and the Ryan Reynolds thriller Buried. Had you seen that film before you made Brake and if so was it in your mind to try and distinguish your film from that?
GT: I never saw BURIED. Only the trailer. From what other people told me, it was gimmicky with the camera work and I saw some of that in the trailer. I tried not to let the camera work in BRAKE go there. Others describe BRAKE as an action movie in the trunk of a car, where as BURIED was more of a one man stage play in a coffin.
Do you think there can and should be lots more films set in such a confined space or would it eventually become a gimmick i.e. found footage?
GT: I think the “confined thriller” is indeed a new sub-genre. Like the “found footage” genre, the confined thriller has grown out of a new wave of low budget filmmaking that can create a big scares, action or thrills on a smaller budget. By keeping your locations down and with a limited cast you keep costs and shooting days down. The key is to have a great script and great actors. If an audience is not compelled by the characters then it will indeed be just merely a gimmick. The rise of these sub-genres is not unlike the rise of Film Noir films of the ’30s and ’40s which were smaller budgeted films at the studios which could be shot in limited locations and sets on the lot. These were done on shortened schedules and focused on sensational stories of crime and darker subjects. They made money and became classics. I hope BRAKE fares that well. 🙂
The film is the debut screenplay from Timothy Mannion. How closely involved were you with the writing of the script and how closely did you stick to what was on the written page?
GT: I received BRAKE as a first draft spec screenplay that I thought had amazing potential. I was heavily involved in doing rewrites on the script along with my co-producer Andrew Hilton who is a great writer as well. Tim’s basic structure and scenes are all there. I mostly worked on character and dialogue stuff along with fact checking and adding lots of technical dialogue through my Secret Service friends and friends who had worked in the White House. My goal in the rewrites was authenticity in what was portrayed even in the midst of a fantastic tale. The last scene in the ambulance was completely new and was not part of Tim’s original script. Andrew Hilton and I wrote that together and the core idea for the twist came from Stephen and Ryan Ross, one of our Executive Producers. We did struggle with how to end this, but this I felt was a cool twist and string way to go. People seem to love it or hate it. 🙂
Stephen Dorff does a fantastic job with a difficult role. Was he always the actor you had in mind or did it take a long time to find the right man for the job?
GT: Yes, I had always wanted to see Stephen in this role. I knew he’d knock it out of the park. And he did. BRAKE and the role of Jeremy really needed a fearless actor. We had been friends for many years and I had known Stephen since he was twelve and was close with his family. We had always wanted to find something to work on together and this seemed like a great fit.
The film slowly unravels its political themes as we learn more and more information about why Stephen’s character is being held captive in the box. Was it your intention to make any sort of political statement?
GT: No political agenda. I was just looking to make a great thriller set within the the world of terrorism, political intrigue and even a little procedural within the Secret Service.
With your extensive experience in television projects, how did making Brake differ from those?
GT: I had done several features prior to BRAKE, but TV has given me a great skill set as a director. One is the ability to think fast on set and not over think things. Keeping things moving on set kept Stephen in the mindset I needed him to be in as well as kept the energy in that box alive and visceral. We didn’t over think, over talk or overshoot.
Finally what projects are in the works for you at the moment?
GT: Starting a new film in March. A really great genre mash up. Keeping it under wraps for now. Stay tuned. 🙂
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Brake is out to own on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on October 29th.