By Junsui Films | September 2011
The director of Red White & Blue tells Junsui Films all about his latest genre-bending tale…
Junsui Films: Tell us how you came up with the idea for Red White & Blue?
Simon Rumley: Back when my feature The Living and the Dead (2006) was touring the festival circuit I started to notice how the film was gaining a reputation for being as ‘horrific as a horror film’ even though it wasn’t typically classified as one. I enjoyed the debate the film raised amongst audiences and purposefully decided that my next film would explore and push that contradiction even further.
For Red White & Blue I took the quintessential horror/slasher template of the hunter and the prey and infused it with elements of drama and romance, whilst retaining a darkly disturbing edge, which I find far more interesting than being just ‘scary’.
The character of Erica stemmed from a story I read years ago about a Japanese woman, who after being infected with a sexually transmitted disease by a Tokyo policeman, started to openly spread it to his colleagues. I felt the idea of a woman essentially weaponizing her own body was such an intriguing and unique hook. I actually started writing the script a long time ago, but like many, it ended up in a drawer.
JF: How did you get the project off the ground?
Luck. I routinely meet up with executive producer Doug Abbott, who I first worked with on The Truth Game (2001), to discuss various projects and it was during one of these meetings that he told me if I could make Red White & Blue for a certain budget he could get it made. So I pulled it back out of the drawer and started working on the script. Doug secured the funding and finance and ten months later we started filming.
JF: Your previous film, The Living and the Dead, was a distinctively British affair. Why did you decide to set Red White & Blue in the US?
To be honest, despite the positive response to The Living and the Dead, things were still relatively quiet for me. I had an agent, but that didn’t really work out and no one was knocking down my door to make another film in Britain. After having travelled all over the world with The Living and the Dead, it really opened my mind to shooting outside of the UK. Of course, like most filmmakers, I always wanted to make a feature in the States where I believe there is more chance of getting picked up as well as attracting better finance. Also, despite some of the questionable material that makes it to the cinema screens, I still believe the US produces the best films in the world.
JF: Red White & Blue journeys into very dark and disturbing territory. Did this have any impact on the casting at all?
Casting was tough, although one of the first people we managed to get involved was Noah Taylor. He was top of a small list of actors I had in mind for the role of Nate and when we discovered he was living in Britain we reached out to his agent. Noah read it quickly and enjoyed it but wanted assurances the film wasn’t just an excuse to make a gratuitous gore-fest like Hostel. So we met, talked over the character and Noah came onboard.
Marc (Senter) was always in my thoughts after I’d seen his performance in The Lost (2006) in which I felt he brought an almost ‘grounded craziness’ to his character. That sort of balance was something we were looking for in the part of Franki. It was crucial the character displayed a sense of ‘normality’ yet still be completely believable when he ‘flips’ and ends up doing the things he does in the film. Luckily, Marc liked the script and seemed genuinely excited to join the film.
The role of Erica was by far the hardest to cast. We initially spoke to three reasonably well known ‘name actresses’, all of whom liked the script but all of which had various issues with either the nudity or the violence. Then we tried to cast a local whilst on location in Austin, Texas but that didn’t yield any results either. By this point a few of the producers were becoming very anxious, so we hired an LA casting agent who held open auditions.
We narrowed a list down to about five girls which included Amanda (Fuller) and I flew out to LA to meet them. Pretty much from my first conversations with Amanda I knew she was right for the part. Not only was she full of questions, but she seemed to instinctively understand and appreciate the tenderness, isolation and the tragedy of the character. So we offered her the part, signed the contracts and a few days later she was on set ready to begin shooting.
JF: Tell us about you decision to shoot on location in Texas?
Well apart from lending itself so visually to the narrative, the decision to shoot in Austin was largely thanks to executive producer Tim League. Tim owns a chain of incredibly cool independent cinemas called The Alamo Drafthouse which apart from showcasing some great little movies also employs waiters to come and serve you food and alcohol whilst you watch a film. This eventually led to him starting up the Fantastic Fest festival eight years ago, which I attended with The Living and the Dead.
Tim kindly offered to let me stay at his house while I was there and we became friends. Sometime later I asked Tim if I ever shot a movie in Austin would he be keen on helping out and he said yes. So with Tim’s support and knowledge of the area we were able to secure some fantastic locations and really capture the true essence of Austin. The locals were also exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Some even allowed us shoot in their houses. The three week shoot was fast and intense but we had a great crew, a committed cast and everyone really delivered.
JF: Tell us a little bit about the budget and the challenges you faced.
Money was quite limited. If we’d been afforded a bigger budget it’s conceivable we would have shot on 35mm and may have cast a few bigger actors but I always envisioned the film as a very gritty, stylised piece.
One of the final scenes was a lot more graphic in the script and we initially tried to stay faithful to it but I wasn’t pleased with effects, so decided to cut it and opt for a cheaper more restrained approach. On reflection it worked out for the best.
JF: Has it been difficult securing distribution for Red White & Blue?
It’s been harder than we hoped. From a marketing stand-point, I think it’s seen as a ‘hard sell’ thanks largely to the film’s blend of genres. That said, the film did manage to earn a limited theatrical run in the States last year and garnered positive reviews and good word-of-mouth. Trinity Films, who also handled Gasper Noe’s Enter The Void (2009), is handling the UK release so we’re hopeful the film can continue to build upon its success.
JF: Tell us a little bit about the first time you watched the film with an audience.
I rarely watch my films with an audience. Having written, directed and produced the film I tend to watch the first few minutes, leave and pop back for the finale and the Q&A. But when the film premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival – where it was being screened on an IMAX screen in a 500 plus seat auditorium – I was persuaded to go along.
I think the audience were expecting some sort of ‘slice of life’ film and were quite shocked by it. By the end there was this eerily hushed silence so it was hard to gauge their reaction, although it’s not exactly a film you’d want to leap up and applaud too. It’s intended to linger and stay with you long after the final credits have rolled. In fact we’ve had responses like, ‘two weeks later and the film is still living with me’. I find that very satisfying.
JF: What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished work on a psychosexual horror anthology called Little Deaths and my segment is called Bitch. The film is essentially a set of shorts but with an overreaching narrative. I’m also doing a similar segment for The ABC of Death which is a 26-part horror anthology piece where 26 individual directors including the likes of Ben Wheatley, Ti West and Jason Eisener each make an individual episode inspired by a letter of the alphabet. I recently wrapped my segment on location in Suriname.
Beyond that my next feature will be Strangers, an intimate chase thriller set in China. It concerns two American businessmen who after witnessing a murder find themselves on the run from the murderers. It’s very much in the spirit of the early (Steven) Spielberg movie Duel (1971). I can’t wait to get started.