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An Interview with Sean Blau and Adam Petke, Directors of Exile

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2015

Films directed by Sean Blau on (re)Search my Trash

Films directed by Adam Petke on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Exile (formerly The Sunderland Experiment) - in a few words, what is it about?


After an alien saves his life, a rebellious teenager tries to become a part of the strange society that killed his mother.


How did the project fall together in the first place?


We wanted to get something made right away after film school, while contacts were still fresh and people hadn't yet jumped into full time work. Sean spent the previous semester working on the script in writing classes at school, bouncing off ideas with Adam along the way, seeing what seemed possible, what didn't, and getting feedback.


Sean, what were your inspirations for writing Exile?


Acculturation was the biggie. You see lots of alien invasion movies but they're usually just xenocide films, alien exterminators come to kill us in nasty ways with our planet's resources being the end goal. But you see much more complicated and stranger things in real life: Christopher Columbus, old-school Catholicism, etc. Takeovers of populations, culture clashes, forced ideologies and religion. It's a different look at the traditional alien invasion scenario.


What can you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at hand, and what was your collaboration like? And how did you first meet, even?


Coming right out of film school with very limited resources we knew we had to make the best of everything we had. So with that lack of resources we had to get very creative with our approaches to the story, characters, and setting. So the general approach was based around taking everything we already had and making it as horrific as possible.


As for our first meeting, it was in a local art class. We both realized we were into similar subjects of the weird and grotesque and hit it off. Collaboration was great, and we had each other to fall back on when things went south. There were disagreements but also a lot of magical things that wouldn't have been possible without both of us at the helm.


How much of a strain was it to create what I'd call a parallel world on a rather tight budget?


Pretty challenging. We had a lot of grand ideas (alien life forms, scifi-tech, body horror) that we realized wouldn't be possible to make happen like we'd originally thought, so some of the crazier stuff ended up being a slight step down from our original conceptions. At the same time, we were smart enough to get a lot of things working for the movie with no budget thanks to us already living in a desert, naturally post-apocalyptic landscape, and having access to plenty of debris-filled locations.


Maybe connected to the last question, what can you tell us about your locations, and how did you find them?


A lot of what we shot were in our property or nearby. We grew up in the desert and there are plenty of places to shoot where people are willing to let you film for very cheap.


Do talk about your key cast, and why exactly these people?


Everyone we cast in the film was someone we worked with before, a close friend, or otherwise closely connected with us. We had both worked with Dylan O'Brien (David) in the past and trusted his strengths as an actor and willingness to subject himself to horrible things. Katie Reed (Cassie), while her biggest strengths are in comedy, we knew she loved taking things to weird places and making bold choices.  Matt Reed (Krab) is a fellow filmmaker who's in a class all himself. In general our casting revolved around who we knew and trusted to do some really weird things with us in the middle of the desert.


You of course also have to talk about your monster, "the Angel", for a bit, and how was it achieved?


We'd always been a big fan of Pumpkinhead and wanted to do something similar but more Lovecraftian. One of our favorite creatures from the Cthulhu mythos has always been the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. There is something nice about creatures that aren't all that big but still big enough to be threatening. Usually you see things that are small, human-sized, or King Kong sized. We really wanted to do something different, threatening but not necessarily unkillable.


What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The toughest part about the shoot was the heat. A lot of it was in exterior daylight, which meant shooting in the desert in the middle of summer. The heat was miserable and peaked around 120 for a few of the days. The night scenes were more relaxed and chill.


It was also very much a home movie since we were both shooting where we grew up. Parents of crew helped out a lot as far as catering and housing and most everyone was already friends from film school so it was a pretty friendly vibe as far as on-set atmosphere. We did everything we could to make sure everyone was comfortable and always tried to keep things fun. In that kind of heat with no creature comforts and no money the least we could do was try to keep people happy.


A few words about the critical and audience reception of Exile so far?


So far reception has been very positive. We made it into a few festivals. Some notables of this would be us winning Audience Choice at the H.P.Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland 2014. It was the first time in the festival's history the award went to a feature film rather than a short. We also won Best Feature at the Buried Alive Film Festival, another big honor for us.


It looks like we succeeded in creating something very different for people who are tired of the same alien invasion/cult horror movies and we're very happy about that. We were definitely catering to Lovecraft fans, many of which are loving the film. We don't want to make the same movies you've seen before, we want to show you things you won't see anywhere else.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Sean is finishing up a new comedy short about cat breeding starring Exile actors Dennice Cisneros (voice of the Angel) and Justin Little (Mr. Frown). Expect it in festivals later this year.


Adam is working on going into production on his latest script for Old Baby this year. A highly stylized mockumentary that unearths some grotesque truths about a small town in New Mexico and its disturbing local legend/folk hero “Old Baby”. Look for a crowdfunding campaign mid-2015.


What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


We both grew up making our own shorts and showing them to friends then decided to take things seriously and go to film school.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Exile?


Sean: I did a lot of comedy shorts prior to Exile. When I got to film school, the focus became more about dealing with PTSD sexual trauma, repression, and unrequited love. All this gelled together into Exile.


Adam: After I made my first film and realized at its screening that I had made a horrible mistake and had no interest in making anything remotely conventional I set out to make movies that I would want to watch. Most of the films I made prior to Exile are hard to follow, atmospherically driven showcases of bizarre and uncomfortable subject matter.


In 2012 we made a short written by Sean and directed by Adam titled Sandland: Summer’s Kiss about an American family struggling with existence. It was made with poorly constructed puppets in sets built largely from things found in dumpsters.


How would you describe yourselves as directors?


We like making people uncomfortable.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Sean: Ingmar Bergman, David Cronenberg, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Guillermo del Toro.


Adam: I’d add to Sean’s list John Waters and Harmony Korine.


Your favourite movies?


Sean: Cure, La Strada, On the Silver Globe, The Guest.


Adam: Gummo, Robocop, Cabin in the Woods.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


Sean: Battlefield Earth.


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Adam: I know it probably goes against some filmmaker code but if I ever have to watch 8 ½ again I… I can’t watch that movie again.


Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?


Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?




© by Mike Haberfelner

Legal note: (re)Search my Trash cannot
and shall not be held responsible for
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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD