Your new film Area
51: Confidential - in a few words, what is it about?
In short - a group of people kidnapped and dropped into the desert area
surrounding AREA 51 find out that there is a more sinister reason as to
why they have been brought together.
Area 51 as such has been the source of numerous conspiracy theories. In
general, do you consider yourself a conspiracy theorist, and your
favourite conspiracy theories, for whatever reason?
I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a conspiracy theorist, although
I am certainly open to it. It is probably my natural instinct to question
things, especially if there is evidence supporting the belief that certain
things are not necessarily what they may seem. I know myself just from
being in the entertainment industry in Hollywood that most reported news is spun to project people or products in a certain way, whether it is the
truth or not. It's all marketing and sales. The same can be said for the
government, not just in the United States, but across the world.
Information is released to paint a particular picture, whether it is to
win elections, sway the economy, or to alter the polling system in ways
which "they" see fit.
Of course, I would have to say that any "conspiracies" or
non-conspiracies involving the possibility of life on other worlds would
be my most favorite. There seems to be equal evidence supporting it but
also supporting that the proof that we actually have is all one big hoax.
Of course, you have to wonder about the implications that it is all a form
of mass hysteria - if so, is mass hysteria supposed to be some sort of
virus? There are so many stories with so many similarities told by people
of all walks of life who never could have actually met - but are those
stories accentuated by what they've already seen in the media?
51: Confidential was written by you based on a story by
your leading lady Devanny Pinn [Devanny
Pinn interview - click here], with whom you have a bit of a
history, on- and offscreen. Now how did that project come into being in
the first place?
The story came about while discussing other genres that we felt the
found footage style may work interestingly with. Normally, neither of us
is necessarily a fan of found footage, but we did see some worth in it,
and a particular form of storytelling that many other filmmaking styles do
not entail. Slowly we put together more or less what we wanted the general
narrative of the film to be, and I wrote the full screenplay in about a
month, give or take a few days. I should note that the script reads a bit
more action-oriented than the film, which is more suspense-oriented.
Coincidentally, about a week and a half or two weeks in, we discovered
that Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) and Paramount were working on a
large-ish budget film simply called Area 51. We managed to get
ahold of that film's outline (from an undisclosed source) and thankfully,
our film and their film are very different from one another. However I
admit that a bit of the editing of ours was inspired by a handful of
techniques employed in Paranormal Activity, particularly the timestamps
and locations that appear at various scene transitions.
Why did you go for the handheld
camera-heavy found footage approach?
It felt like a challenge, as was proven when we shot the teaser
trailer, which is largely unique to the actual film (though quite a bit of
footage we shot for the teaser is in the film, particularly the
teaser-ending shot of my character whispering "They're
here..."). I also felt like it would be an interesting way to tell a
conspiracy-based story. As you pointed out in your review, there is an
actual REASON that certain characters are using cameras thoughout the film
(as initially introduced in the opening scenes with Kat speaking to an
offscreen agent while adhering transmitters to her camera). I also felt
that it would be an interesting way to put the audience inside of the
film, which is one of the places where the "gun camera" angles
I guess in a way, you could say that first-person shooter videogames
are gaming's answer to the found footage subgenre, and it felt like a
great way to cheat cutaways and more kinetic camerawork and to give the
viewer something which they may not have seen before in a found footage
film, which is usually rife with forced jittery camerawork, ad nauseum.
footage films like yours are often more based on script outlines and
improvisation rather than actual screenplays (which at times painfully
shows). How detailed was your script, and to what extent was it set in
stone regarding improvisation and the like?
Right away we decided to actually write the script out, rather than go
for the structured improv approach that many similar films have done. One
reason was that we had a limited time to shoot the film (it was shot over
five days in Nevada with two additional days for pickup scenes in Los
Angeles) and another reason was that I wanted to make sure the narrative
structure of the film was tight with very little run off.
A criticism that I have with many other found footage films is that
often times they tend to deviate away from the point of the film, whether
it's endless "camcorder interview" shots as I like to refer to
them as, or any number of other elements which I feel are unnecessary.
Just because the origin of the footage is supposed to be
"accidental" it doesn't mean that the film HAS to resemble
America's Funniest Home Videos. We didn't want scenes to go on too long
and didn't want to throw a lot of distracting nonsense at the audience.
Every scene and every line of dialogue has a point to it.
That being said, there are of course a few moments where we did sway
from the script a bit - especially in the two pick-up days, and let scenes
roll to see what happens, but I suppose no more than any standard
narrative feature. The reasoning was based on environmental issues to
overcome (shooting largely in the desert can open up a world of
possibilities that one may not have considered while writing a script) and
a number of other factors.
The "interview" portions in the beginning of the film are
also largely improvised, just to give those a more spontaneous feel. I
also had whichever actor began and ended each scene improvise some sort of
"tag" to suggest that we are catching segments of full
conversations. Sometimes the tags proved quite useful and actually made it
into the cut of the film over the actual scene. Many of the lines
addressing the obvious lack of food or water in the desert were culled
from these tags.
What can you
tell us about Area
51: Confidential's main cast (including yourself) and their characters?
The lead character of the film is Alex Villareal, portrayed by Adrian
Quihuis. Alex is a gifted journalist who has succumbed to drinking and
depression after exposing some shady government goings-on in a feat of
bold, hard-hitting journalism (I won't say which goings-on as to let the
conspiracy theorists who may watch the film figure it out for themselves).
Alex is brought on to work on a documentary piece about the
extraterrestrial with his old friend and cameraperson Katherine Hicks,
portrayed by Angie Johnson (who is actually an FX artist in life).
Adrian normally does comic roles, so he was able to add a bit of
lighthearted cynicism to his character, rather than being the typical
brooding hero character. Angie is actually not normally an actress at all,
and because of that I feel was able to bring a very natural feel to what
is usually portrayed as a clichéed femme fatale.
The film opens with Kat looking into one of her cameras, obviously
attaching some sort of transmission device to it, corresponding with an
unseen entity. I won't spoil it, but those opening moments set up the
entire film from that point on as we instantly learn that there is more to
Kat's character than she is letting even Alex know.
Once we arrive in the desert, we meet a rather unusual young girl
calling herself "Clementine", who Devanny [Devanny
Pinn interview - click here]
portrays. She claims
to be the daughter of a man who runs a store in New Mexico that sells
memorabilia related to the Roswell Alien landing. We also meet
"Lazar", portrayed by Wolfgang Meyer (who directed 15 Till
Meyer interview - click here], who is inspired by real-life former Area 51 employee Bob Lazar,
an interesting figure in his own right who has sparked quite a bit of
real-life controversy - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Lazar.
As this group comes together, they are recorded via surveillance camera
by my character, Kyle Henricksen, an Army Colonel who speaks cryptically
about heading a mission to assassinate Osama Bin Laden a short time prior
due to Al Quada "planning something big" (note: The film takes
place a month before September 11, 2001). It also becomes more and more
apparent that Lazar and Henricksen may be suffering from some form of
environmentally induced dementia as the story progresses.
I should also note Tawny Amber Young, Matthew Evilsizor, Marc Fearney
and Morgan Swanson, who appear as people Kat and Alex interview early in
the film, and James Hawley, Jimmy ScreamerClauz and Victor Bonacore who
are heard as various, erm, "voices".
found footage films often also employ only a very skeletal crew. So what
can you tell us about your crew, and the on-set atmosphere?
The crew really consisted of Angie Johnson (who doubled as the film's
effects artist), Cricket Peters (cinematography and sound), Devanny as
production manager/assistant director, and myself (gun camera operator and
other random duties) - and aside from that everyone helped as they could
when not on camera, whether it was holding cards to bounce light and so
The atmosphere was interesting, and certainly influenced by the
environment. We were shooting in May, in sweltering desert heat, and
occasionally when the characters seem a bit fatigued and dehydrated, it
was because we actually were. I have to hand it to everyone for forging
ahead, even when we were completely exhausted and being turned crispy by
51: Confidential features some wonderful landscapes. Where did
you film your movie, how did you find the locations, and what can you tell us about the trials and
tribulations of an almost 100% outdoor-shoot?
The majority of the film was shot just north of Las Vegas, Nevada -
about an hour or two drive from the ACTUAL Area 51 location. A number of
scenes were shot in a valley at the base of a mountain where, had we swung
the camera around to the other side, you would see Las Vegas in the
distance. Another major location was a park area called the Valley
of Fire (where the scenes with red rock formations were shot).
Unfortunately we weren't really able to exploit the location as much as I
would have liked given the constraints of making the film look
As I mentioned before, if at times the characters seem to be showing
fatigue and signs of dehydration, it's because we actually were. There is
a scene about 2/3 into the film when Henricksen notices his compass isn't
working, and each of us onscreen seem to be slowing down physically and
mentally. The fatigue was real in that scene and I felt benefitted
the film, as well as some of the other scenes filmed in that same
condition (a number of the scenes following that were filmed in sequence
per the script).
As far as
I know, Area
51: Confidential so far only had a few screenings. What can you
tell us about audience and critical reception so far?
far it has been generally positive, and unexpectedly, a lot of the
positive response has come from other filmmakers. I suppose we shall see
how far that goes, as 15 Till Midnight fared incredibly well with sci-fi
buffs, but mediocre with general audiences who expected a faster-paced
sci-fi action film.
$64 question of course: When will Area
51: Confidential released onto the general public?
We are actually working on that now. We shopped the film at the American Film
Market this past November, and developed a few minor leads, although in the past
week a major lead has developed in terms of International Distribution.
Hopefully soon I can confirm the outcome of this development.
future projects you'd like to talk about?
Lately I have been enjoying a return to simply being an actor in films
and not also being the producer or director. I recently completed work on Patient Zero from director Brian Jaynes, who did the
re-imagining of The Legend of Boggy Creek (released simply as Boggy
Creek), and Humans vs Zombies, which premieres on Chiller TV in America in
February. In Patient Zero I portray the scientist responsible for creating
a virus which essentially strips people of everything but their most basic
instincts and induces homicidal tendencies, similar to the infected people
in 28 Days Later, etc.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Coming up in a couple of weeks at the time of this writing, I am about
to start work on my role in American Girls, which is about the
murder of a couple of girls in an otherwise quaint middle American town. I
portray one of the murderers. The film is VERY loosely based on the Bega
Schoolgirl Murders, which of course took place in Australia.
Coming up I also have the horror film Room and Board which
also stars Robert Loggia, Tiny Lister, Robert Forster, Kane Hodder,
Devanny Pinn [Devanny
Pinn interview - click here], Brooke Lewis, and many more. There is also the matter of the
Charles Manson biography Manson Rising, which - unlike most
films dealing with Charles Manson - details his upbringing and what led to
the story that most people already know.
I am also currently writing a sequel/spin-off to my parallel worlds
thriller 15 Till Midnight which is tentatively titled
film's website, Facebook, whatever else?
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
trivia of sorts - the company logo in the front of Area 51 Confidential
was inspired by the one in front of Nicholas Winding Refn's Bronson, starring Tom Hardy. I suppose people will also catch
on to the dialogue references and character name references to Aliens
and The Terminator.
for the interview!