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An Interview with Matthew Montgomery, Director of Devil's Path

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2019

Films directed by Matthew Montgomery on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Devil's Path - in a few words, what is it about?


Devil's Path is, in the simplest of terms, about two guys who meet on a gay cruising trail in the early 90s. Through a series of circumstances they get chased off into the woods and while trying to find their way out, everything starts to spiral out of control.


Basic question, why make a gay cruising area the main location of your movie?


The movie is about making assumptions and the consequences of those assumptions. I feel like when it comes to gay culture and to a certain extent even gay cruising, there is a certain amount of assumption and preconceived ideas from society. I guess I wanted to represent that in some way. The truth is that during the early stages of the process, it was just a state park. It wasnít until we really started developing the characters that it turned into a cruising park. It came alive at that point, and suddenly the environment began to play a much more important character in the story.


(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Devil's Path, and is any of the movie based on personal experience?


The movie isnít based on any personal experience. I just wanted to do something different. There arenít a lot of gay thrillers out there so I knew I wanted to explore that genre. Also, when I was in film school at USC, I worked on a short film that focused on mostly two characters and was also a gay thriller and it kind of got the wheels turning. My biggest inspiration is Hitchcock. I talk about him a lot actually because I believe heís one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Heís called the master of suspense for a reason. He was really good at making you feel something from what you didnít see as much as what you did see. I admire that and try to emulate it. But when it comes to sources of inspiration, I guess you could say that I was a little inspired by the movie Gerry.


What can you tell us about your co-writer (and star) Stephen Twardokus, and what was your collaboration like during the writing process?


Stephen Twardokus is one of the most talented actors and writers that Iíve had the pleasure of working with. He just understood the character of Noah from the get-go. Collaborating with him was very easy because we had similar sensibilities when it comes to tone. And at the same time, weíre also very different writers so we would often bring different things to the table and figure out how to meld them together. In a lot of ways itís like cooking without a recipe. You experiment with this and that until you get the taste just right. Stephen was excellent at bringing in some levity to the characters and humor. I had a tendency of bringing in the really dark moments. So when we really started crafting the story, there was this nice up and down journey of these very complicated characters in this very precarious situation.


You just have to talk about your rather impressive location for a bit, and what were the advantages but also challenges filming there?


We shot in two different locations. One was a more manicured location, with clearly marked trails, etc. This is the location at the beginning of the movie. The other location was this seventy-something acre property that was just incredible. We shot most of the middle of the movie in this location. It gave us some really magnificent visuals. It was also very expansive so we actually only filmed in a very small section of the property to keep us as close to base camp as possible. The challenges were very physical. Lugging equipment around, trying to level dolly track on uneven ground, poison oak everywhere, and more. Plus the sun was constantly moving, as it does. So youíre chasing light. It was the craziest experience Iíve ever had. The other major challenge was that halfway through filming, we had to evacuate because forest fires had sprung up a few miles from where we were shooting. The fires, which started in Santa Rosa county, ended up causing mass devastation throughout the area. It was very scary. Obviously we were able to finish the movie but it wasnít easy. That was our biggest challenge. Finishing what we started.


What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?


I can say that I went in with the intention of building a quiet tension. The movie starts off very deliberate and paced for a reason. I wanted the audience to focus on two things: the characters and the environment that they were in. So I used primarily reds and oranges to represent certain aspects of both of the lead characters. Stephen Twardokusís character, Noah, ends up in blue at the end for a reason. I wanted to convey to the audience that something has now changed in this character. Also, cinematically, I had long discussions with my cinematographer, Stephen Tringali, about how the camera would reflect the journey of these characters. So we got very specific with our shots and used the dolly, for example, as a way of pushing in slowly on the characters in order to build tension. We also use the camera in a very stable way throughout the first half of the movie. But by the end, the energy is much more frenetic, and so the camera is too. I didnít want to overwhelm the audience with too many visual tricks. I knew that it was important to keep it simple and specific and allow the audience to connect with the characters and their environment.


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


Stephen was always Noah. From the very beginning. There was no question. Iíd been wanting to work with Stephen in this capacity for a long time so this felt like the perfect opportunity. And he knew this character inside and out from the start. He has a way of delivering so much through his eyes and the smallest of facial movements. He just ďbecomes the characterĒ and does a really great job of making it feel grounded in reality. JD Scalzo as Patrick was an entirely different story. We auditioned a lot of people for this role. It was exhausting. But when JD walked in the door, he just grabbed the character and made it his. He absolutely knocked it out of the park. Casting him as Patrick was one of the best decisions I made throughout this process because he has a respect for the craft that was necessary for this character. Patrick has a journey just as much as Noah does. We become very conflicted about who these characters are so it was crucial to have an actor that could play that complexity with ease and confidence. JD Scalzo has that confidence and downright talent in spades.


A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The shoot was very short and very fast. We didnít even have time for a blooper reel. It was a small crew and obviously a small cast so it really became like a family very quickly. The atmosphere, from my director perspective, was very relaxed yet professional. There are always hiccups when you get any group of people together but I have to say that I was surprised at how well everyone got along and enjoyed working together. So much so that when we had to be evacuated and come back three weeks later to finish filming, every crew member came back. It was absolutely like a family. I love every single one of those people.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Devil's Path?


The reception has been mostly positive. There was one review where they thought I used sound and music too much. Haha! But the truth is that all those things were intentional and placed there for a reason. Most of the reception has been very supportive and thoughtful. For example, I recently screened in my hometown and had someone come up and tell me how much they connected with a certain aspect of the story because it meant something personal to her. That was everything to me.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Iím working on a number of projects right now. All thrillers. The one that Iím ready to share is called Pullover. Itís about two boyfriends who are traveling cross country after recently stealing some money from a family member, and while in the middle of the desert at a diner, one of them goes missing.


You initially entered the film business as an actor - so what got you into acting, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


I knew I wanted to be an actor as far back as I can remember. Iíve never wanted to do anything else. Thatís just all Iíve ever known. In terms of training, absolutely. Iíve trained at a number of different places. I take the craft very seriously. Itís the whole reason Iím now a storyteller that uses structure in his writing. I believe the craft/training is the key to a real and raw performance. I trained at USC School of Theatre, Point Park Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Gregory Berger-Sobeck at The Berg Studio in Los Angeles, and with various other coaches throughout Los Angeles.


What made you pick up directing with Devil's Path, and were you never tempted to cast yourself as one of the characters in your movie?


It was just time. It was time for me to direct. It was something that had been encouraged upon me for a long time and I resisted it because I only thought of myself as an actor. But by the time I got into film school, I realized that I had my own stories that I wanted to tell now. And yes, with Devil's Path, I was originally going to play the role of Patrick. This would have been a HUGE mistake. Casting myself as Patrick was just my ego flexing itself I think. When it really came time to seriously think about making this movie, it became clear to me that if I was going to direct this movie, then it made sense to focus on that and have another actor, the right actor, step in and play that character. Iím so glad I made that decision because I truly believe that one of the reasons the movie works so well is because of the dynamic between Stephen and JD. Their chemistry is evident. For me, as an actor, Iíve recently made the decision that I will not cast myself in anything I direct for the foreseeable future. Except for maybe a little cameo perhaps. As a director, I want to be able to focus on that craft.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Devil's Path, in whatever position?


Aside from acting, I mostly produced. It was my first experience with being on the other side of the camera and I liked it. I worked with a production company called Guest House Films co-producing and producing their first few films. During that time I started writing. I had always been a writer, since a very young age. But this was the first time I started writing with the intent of telling a story that I wanted other people to read or see. I wrote a few scripts, shorts and features, before finally landing on Devil's Path. That was a journey all on its own. But I believe that it was important that Devil's Path be my first film as a director. It represents the kind of filmmaker that I want to be and the kind of movie that I want to make.


How would you describe yourself as an actor, and some of your techniques to bring your characters to life?


I feel uncomfortable trying to describe myself as an actor. Maybe other people Iíve worked with are better at answering that question. I can say this though. As a young actor, I very much used to rely on my instincts. I would tap into my emotions and just fly. Iíve always been a very sensitive dude so I can cry at the drop of a hat, for example. Later, I started realizing the importance of specificity in performance. So I started studying with Gregory Berger-Sobeck at The Berg Studio, and itís through his training to be honest that I really started understanding the concept of making choices as an actor. I learned how to source from my environment and explore more with my characters. Suddenly it became so much more fun and unpredictable - and specific at the same time. Because it forces you to make a decision about what your character really wants and how they will go about getting it in those particular circumstances.


Actors, filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?


As I said earlier, Iím a huge Hitchcock fan. But I feel like thereís a long list of actors and filmmakers who inspire me and who have inspired me over the years for various reasons. Here are just some filmmakers and actors off the top of my head: Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher, Jodie Foster, Bradley Cooper, Paul Newman, Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, and many more. But my father is my biggest influence and inspiration.


Your favourite movies?


This is such a tricky question cause I feel like it ebbs and flows. Right now Iíve been watching The Hitcher on loop. I love that movie. But Iím also a huge fan of Contact with Jodie Foster, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Iím a big sci-fi fan so I tend to gravitate toward watching sci-fi movies a lot. Arrival is one of my favorite sci-fi movies. And then thereís the classics. Rope is my favorite Hitchcock movie. I could go into a whole diatribe about why Rope is such a great movie. Strangers on a Train is a close second for me. I also love Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum, directed by Charles Laughton. A new favorite movie of mine is this indie film, a thriller called What Keeps You Alive. My taste is varied though. Cause Iím also a huge fan of the Friday movies.


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


Nothing specific. Iím not entirely sure that thereís a movie that I actually deplore. Even ďbadĒ movies are a success just by the fact that they were able to get made. I have a huge respect for anyone who can get a movie made, even if itís perhaps not my cup of tea. I guess I could tell you that in terms of taste, I tend to avoid sappy romance movies. 


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


Yes! Our website. All of our links are below. Please check out our constantly updated website and there is a link below where you can pre-order the DVD on Amazon. Thank you for watching!




Devil's Path website:

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Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


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On the same day
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... and for the life of it,
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A Killer Conversation

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

out now on DVD