Your new movie Wichita
- how did the project
fall together in the first place?
Co-director Justyn Ah
Chong and producer Yaniv Elani and I were roommates at USC’s School of
Cinematic Arts, so our friendship and the fun we were having in school
consuming and creating tons of media was not only the starting point for
our project, it is also a backdrop/theme of Wichita.
your sources of inspiration when writing Wichita?
drew much from character studies of insanity - Psycho,
One Flew Over the
Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi
Driver, The Shining, as well as from self aware
horror like Cabin in the Woods, Scream, and Funny Games.
really hold a mirror up to us as individuals and to the dominant culture
and its sort of mob mentality that demands violent content; real life
spectacles of horror. I think this awareness in horror, and the
participatory element, come from the French New Wave, and Godard’s
Contempt especially is blown kisses in Wichita
when Jeb quotes Bazan
“film shows us a world that fits our desires,” and Raven’s all
“This isn’t film…” She is right, it’s not film, it’s the new
media that all have access to, and with this access comes new, heightened
responsibilities for creators and consumers. Wichita
is really about these
As director, to what extent could you actually identify with your lead Jeb,
who pretty much tries to direct his own show?
I tried to
keep Jeb external - this character that we’re all working on, but when I
found that an actor, after a particularly arduous series of takes, had
written “Matt is Jeb” over and over and over ŕ la “all work and no
play,” I was really shocked and horrified, but he was right, and there
was no turning back. Becoming Jeb led me to push people in a really true
way, or at least in a way that was congruent with the film, but most
importantly, it was fun! Some of my favorite scenes were improv where
actors were almost laughing before action was called, and this tension,
the giggles, and the creeps really make the film as unique and darkly fun
as it is.
you describe your movie's approach to horror?
really set out to make a horror movie as much as we tried to make a movie
about fear. Nothing jumps out and screams “boo!” It’s actually quite
the opposite; we want you to know that Jeb kills in the end, and we want
you to want that. If what I just said rings true, I’m already scared,
right now, at this coffee shop in this public location, because at any
moment the tension could break, the demand for violent content could be
met. Jeb is very real, and he is you, and you are we and we are all
course have to talk about your main location for a bit, and what was it
like filming there?
Shooting at my parents’ house in an
empty ski town at 9000 feet above sea level was the best and the worst. It
allowed us to really get in the shoes of the fictional characters, and so
much of the cabin fever and claustrophobia is real! Our female lead
actually bowed out two days into shooting with bouts of altitude sickness,
but then because so much of the film takes place in the house, we were
able to shuffle and rework the whole thing - bless Persia White for making
it out at a moment’s notice and saving our film. I hate admitting this
because if you didn't know it, you could think the role was written for
Persia and that she was attached for years, but this is in fact not true
and it was the biggest obstacle we faced, both induced and saved by our
What can you tell us about your
directorial approach to your story at hand?
Well I was very
at home on set - we shot in my house, get it?? But really, I just wanted
to make a safe, comfortable collaborative space, and then to stand on the
outskirts of this space. Much more of our time and energy went into
creating and maintaining the space than actually manipulating what
occurred inside it, and the film feels really natural and organic this
What was the
collaboration between you and co-director Justyn Ah Chong acutally like? And how did you first
You phrase the question what was the
collaboration “actually” like - haha! I wish for the sake of this
interview that I could say something dramatic about my collaboration with
Justyn, but I really cannot. In fact working with Justyn was the opposite
of dramatic, it was incredibly grounding and stabilizing. We worked
together on lots of stuff at film school at USC, and even lived together
for a few years, so we know each other very well, and compliment
eachother's strengths. Justyn is extremely technologically and formally
adept whereas my focus, at least on Wichita, was largely on literature and
dramaturgy. We knew this going in and pushed each other to be our best
versions of ourselves.
Do talk about your key cast, and why exactly
Jeb was the most difficult role for us to cast. He had to be this
lovable anti-hero who we really fear and despise but also empathize with
and even cheer for when he commits atrocious evils. As soon as we took a
look at Trevor Peterson, we knew we had our guy. Trevor brought so much
depth and dynamism to Jeb, and his passion and intensity are clear in
his knockout performance; this same passion and intensity set the tone
on set, and I think everyone really wanted to get it right for Trevor.
The second most difficult role to cast was Momma, which makes sense,
being the mother of this crazy protagonist Jeb, the root of his
twitches, and the catalyst for the violent third act. I really can’t
sing praises for Sondra Blake loud enough! She is such a powerhouse -
brilliant, beautiful, totally technical and emotionally method, I
learned so much working with Sondra, and she’s become my most valued
and trusted mentor in everything I do.
I’m highlighting Trevor and Sondra because it’s their film. The key
supporting roles are also played by tremendous actors who were absolute
pleasures and are really going places.
A few words about the shoot as such, and
the on-set atmosphere?
After losing our first week to an
actor malfunction, things grew tense as we were really behind and did not
have the money to go long, so it was go nuts or fail. Our crew was
incredible at not only just working at top speed - 6+ pages a day and
around the clock work, but they also adapted brilliantly. In our short 18
day shoot, we experienced every imaginable weather condition from
summertime heat, to autumn downpours, and the final week it snowstormed,
and yet somehow, it all plays wonderfully and tracks and expresses Jeb’s
descent into madness and his isolation. So while intense and chaotic,
there was an underlying love and passion that really held it all together,
snow or shine.
Anything you can tell us about
audience and critical reception of Wichita?
has been stellar, and you can see what viewers are saying on IMDb and Amazon!
Wichita has plenty of flaws, but because it’s about this
psychotic guy making a movie about a show in a movie and his detachment
from an already fractured and constructed reality, it works - I meant it
that way, in fact, I challenge you to tell when Jeb takes the reigns and Wichita
becomes his creation, not ours.
future projects you'd like to share?
Justyn has been
sailing around the world on a traditional Hawaiian outrigger with no power
other than the sun-charged batteries on his cameras. I’ve just been
cooped up writing screenplays -ha! I guess Chief flies the cuckoo’s
nest, while MacMurphy’s stuck there lobotomized.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
website, Facebook, whatever else?
@wichitathemovie on Instagram!
Anything else you're
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Prime! Keep an eye for us on
Netflix and other platforms by Halloween. Thanks!
for the interview!