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An Interview with Brandon Slagle, Director & Star of Area 51: Confidential

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2012

Brandon Slagle on (re)Search my Trash

 

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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.

 

Obviously, 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?

 

Area 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 came from.

 

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.

 

Found 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?

 

Adrian Quihuis

Angie Johnson

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.

 

Wolfgang Meyer

Devanny Pinn

Brandon Slagle

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 Midnight) [Wolfgang 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".

 

So-called 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 on.

 

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 the sun.

 

Area 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 "accidental".

 

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?

 

So 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.

 

The $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.

 

Any 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.

 

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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 15 Past Midnight.

 

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

 

http://facebook.com/Area51Confidential

 

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

 

Some 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.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

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
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

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

out now on DVD

 

 

Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...

 

Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!

 

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