During SXSW, I was able to sit down and talk with the directors of the film SNAP, Youssef Delara and Victor Teran as well as stars Nikki Reed and Thomas Dekker. I hope you enjoy our chat about their collaboration on this dark psychological thriller. The interview does include some SPOILERS, so BEWARE!
Annette Kellerman: The screening for the film was great, but I felt like Nikki got attacked during the Q and A by an audience member who didn't care for the film's depiction of mental illness. Would you care to comment on this?
Nikki Reed: I feel like any film I'm a part of, I would hope that it would evoke strong reactions. That means that we've done something right if people get worked up over the subject matter. I'm proud to be a part of it, and this is not my first time being part of a project that is controversial. So I guess that's where I'll leave that. I am personally sensitive to that. I think we all are. Sometimes people forget that this is obviously not a documentary, it's a work of fiction. We were all drawn to that aspect of it and that world it draws you into. Anything that is scary obviously taps into a kind of truth for people. That's where I'll leave that. (laughs from fellow film makers)
Youssef Delara: It's a provoking film and sometimes we're not aware of how provoking it is. As film makers you're so into the monotony of making the thing. That's what festival are for, that's what audiences are for- so we can see the impact of it. That's exciting, actually.
NR: I think something that is really relevant right now- as well and being the sister to someone who is autistic- is watching everything that just happened in Newtown, CT and how autism was connected then in that moment to violence. I have worked with Autism Speaks to get the message out that we cannot generalize. So, I think I'm sitting here with four people who are very sympathetic and sensitive to that, and we were just making some art, ya know?
AK: Did you research mental illness or pretty much just go with what was on the page?
Thomas Dekker: My character is sort of outside of the realm of the reality in a way. It's hard to explain because my character is the personification of that.
Victor Teran: You ARE the mental illness. (laughter)
Thomas Dekker: Exactly, so I kinda felt like I needed to focus on...it's so hard to explain, but I felt that if his character was going through this, then I needed to focus on the purpose. I need to be the reason. So I just kind of tried to do the reverse thought process of Jake's character, but I didn't really research the actuality of mental illness.
NR: SPOILER ALERT!! (everyone laughs)
AK: I'll make sure there's a spoiler alert on the page before running this interview, don't worry.
NR: My approach, I felt like at times really angry at Victor for giving me such a difficult job. (laughing) I didn't really, I love these guys. Obviously, Jake Hoffman had a really difficult role to tackle, but for the sake of the story and for the sake of keeping the surprise, I couldn't do all the things that I wanted to do at some moments because you still have to cater to the audience. I did a lot of research and also just because I want to protect the people to gave us their fabulous knowledge and time I won't say to much, but we were able to speak to a few people who do suffer from this particular illness and were in a place of recovery where they were able to discuss and articulate where they were at. I think it was very helpful for Jake and I in the process. But like I said, there were moments when I wanted to do so much more and I couldn't.
AK: How did revelations at the end inform your performance throughout?
NR: I worked really closley with an acting coach as well, my coach Ivana who I've worked with for years. You can always rely on directors that are so talented, especially when I've been a fan of their work. But with a film like this I really worked closely with Ivana because I needed to find who I was in each moment by myself, not always going to them, but having moments with myself as most actors do figuring out what they want to do. There was a balance I was playing with Wendi. She is a strong young lady, but incredibly vulnerable and for me her voice was coming from this constant insecurtiy that was eating her alive. That was where I was putting my focus.
AK: Are you fans of dub step? The music is very prevelant throughout the film. How did the music influence the story?
VD: We are fans of different kinds of music. This is a good place to talk about Youssef's love of 80's dance music. (everyone laughs)
NR: Yeah, I wasn't born yet, but I wish I could've seen that.
YD: You suck. (everyone laughs)
VT: I think we zeroed in on this because it just worked for this particular story for this movie. This kind of music is incredibly evocative and cinematic. It just seemed to make perfect sense for the character.
AK: There are several instances where the music plays into the visuals of the film as well. Was that more your decision as directors or was that more from the DP or editor?
YD: That was really the editing. Since I was the editor and Victor was a big force in the editing as well, it was very collaborative. That's how we work. We wanted to film to have a very meandering feel but be centered with moments of shock with the quick cutting. So we wanted to bring the audience along on a bit of a rollercoaster experience. We wanted the music scenes to have energy, but we also wanted moments where things just calmed down and you're just with the material.
AK: How long was the shoot?
NR: I don't remember anymore. (everyone laughs) My whole life?
YD: 25 days?
VT: Yeah, 25 days.
TD: But we've been working on the voice work for my character I feel like for the whole of last year. (laughs)
YD: Yes, Thomas has been really nice coming in.
TD: In a good way! That wasn't a complaint.
YD: The final voice that you hear, we've gone through various revisions and Thomas came into our edit bay and did a bunch of different versions. That was a process of really honing exactly what the voice was gonna be.
AK: It does become fairly obvious early on in the film that you are actually the voice in the head. Was that always intentional or was that also something that changed as the film came together?
VT: We took the approach that we were okay with the audience figuring it out in their own time. That people were going to figure it out at different points depending on how clued they are into this language. Some people are going to get it right away while others may not get it until a little bit later and we were okay with that. I think early on we thought that we would hide it for a little longer. For me secretly as a writer I was hoping for people to think they had it figured out, and then when we're so open about it it's like, "Wait, ok, this isn't what it's going to be about." We were trying to put those things into the movie all over the place.
YD: There's a lot of misdirect. I think that goes into the editing, the story, there's a constant misdirect that is happening. Basically our protagonist becomes our antagonist. There's a huge mind-effing that is happening. We try not to mind-eff the audience too much because we want to keep them engaged, but that really went into our thinking with this film.
AK: I'm obviously going to have to put a spoiler warning on this interview, but in my review I tried my best to keep it as spoiler free as possible and this idea of misdirect is actually what made that possible, so thanks for clarifying that.
NR: Eff yeah! (everyone laughs)
TD: (to Victor) And you had said that you wanted it to be pretty evident from the get go what kind of movie this was. That this was about delving into a specific person's psyche, so I don't think it's necessarily a twist movie.
VD: It certainly wasn't meant to be. Wink Wink. (everyone laughs)
AK: Nikki, how did you become involved in this project?
NR: I got a phone call: there's this great script with some really interesting young film makers involved. I think you're going to have some kind of reaction to this. I remember it was late in the evening, I was at my father's house- yes, I spend most Friday nights at my father's house- and I read the script and ran into the other room and said to my dad, "I'm going to do this movie and I don't care what the deal is going to end up being. And are you working right now, because I want you to do it too!" Because my dad is a production designer. So we read the script again together and my dad was really into it. Because he's so visual he gets all these really cool ideas that bring things to life- before I'd even met these two (points to Victor and Youssef, everyone laughs) I think it was maybe a week later when Jake was free and we all got together and I watched Philly Brown which was the film they did prior to this and I was so impressed and blown away by their vision and again, the specificity of the story. It evokes a very strong reactions and is a very emotional piece. So that's it. It happened really quickly. I was hanging out with you guys, we didn't have a deal done, but I was like, "I am doing this movie!"
YD: That says a lot actually. Having a commitment like that. And actually we did not have a production designer at that moment and to work with your dad, who has a HUGE list of credits, we were shocked. We were like, "Are you sure you want to do this little movie?"
VD: We looked at his credits and were like, um, we'll take him!
NR: My dad has worked on FIGHT CLUB and MINORITY REPORT, ya know huge movies. And one of my favorites RACE TO GLORY(everyone laughs). I'm saying that because he hates when I say that (everyone laughs again). He's not even here for me to embarass and I still want to! The point is, no matter what your resume looks like- I mean, Thomas has been working since he was 2 years old, and Jake has a long family history with acting- it doesn't matter what your resume looks like. Everyone wanted to be a part of this movie.
TD: I was doing a TV show up in Canada and the season was ending and I was really desperate to do something completely different and challenging. Out of my normal- I don't want to say comfort zone, becaue I don't really have one- but out of the normal stuff that I've been doing for a while. I don't even know how you got it to my manager, or if she found it, or what the hell happened.
NR: It was probably me knocking on your door.
TD: My manager just sent it to me, and I'll never forget I was in my car on the phone and she said, "Yeah, I'm gonna send you this script and I'm gonna be honest, I don't really understand it, but I think you'll like it."
NR: That's what my rep said! (everyone laughs)
TD: So, I read it and immediately got it and connected with it and called back and said I was interested. Then I flew back from Canada on a weekend and met these guy for coffee and expressed how I'd really like to do it and they allowed me to.
YD: There's those moments when people walk in and you know that they're the cast, and that happene with Jake, Nikki, and Thomas.
NR: Me too?
YD: Oh yeah.
TD: But, it's interesting because people that are seeing the film are saying to me that they think this is such a "you" part, and the irony is that I've never played a part like this. I've never played the villain- not that he's the villain- but I've never played someone so cold and aggressive. So it's funny that people are saying it's such a "you" role. (joking) Well, maybe if they know me personally that's where they get it from, cold and aggressive. (everyone laughs)
AK: What was your favorite part of making this film?
TD: My green room. (everyone laughs)
NR: Your green room?!
YD: Your storage closet? (everyone laughs more)
TD: I had one chair...
NR: Hey! I had one chair too!
TD: That was a pretty tragic room.
VT: Yeah, it was a low budget film.
NR: (jokingly) Well, I was really treated like a star, that's what I loved. Star power.
VT: My favorite part is how the actors weren't divas at all.
YD: Nikki had to act on a particularly nasty carpet for like an entire day.
NR: I think now we're only checking off the things that will haunt me for the rest of my life instead of our favorite parts (everyone laughs). This is turning scary guys if we can't find that moment! I can't say that the environments we were in were the most awesome. It was rough and it was difficult at times trying to find a way to focus and feel like you're ready to get in front of the camera and do exactly what you want to do. Sometimes we were in this old warehouse and I didn't have a chair to sit on and I'm like, okay I guess I'll just pace for an hour and go through my lines. I think they did it on purpose to drive us crazy. My favorite part was getting to work with such talented people who have amazing careers ahead of them. I'm sure they are going to go onto make Academy Award worthy films and I'm sure Thomas and I will be in all of them. I don't know if they told you that, we have like a 30 picture deal with them (everyone laughs).
VT: 30 picture deal.
TD: Maybe 29. (more laughs)
NR: But getting to know such talent was my favorite part. I mean, Jake is so great. Thomas is so great. I know it sounds like overkill, but I mean it. I'm such fans of them.
TD: My favorite part was the freedom I felt to experiment with the character, with the voice, with the ad libs. I was gonna say this earlier, but Victor is one of the most specific writers I've ever worked with, but in an amazing way. Like, when we were doing all the voice stuff, all those reams of dialogue, you could just look at it like I'm just being nasty and cursing. But every single sentence has a reason why it's placed there. Like what is Jake's character going through that leads to my characters saying this. It was incredible to see how meticulous we were in that way, but in another way I was given so much room to play with this character. Also, my favorite thing was how much I ended up getting to do. Initially a lot of it was supposed to be just the voice, but these guys just kept sticking me in another scene and other scene. It was thrilling for me to get to do more than what was originally planned because I was having such a good time.
YD: That's the joy of independent film work. If something is working, you can milk it basically. We had the 3 point specialist and we just kept passing him the ball (everyone laughs).
VT: My favorite part was the ice cream sandwiches on the last day
NR: Yay!!! Who doesn't want an ice cream sandwich?
TD: Ice cream sandwiches?
NR: Aw, you weren't there the last day!
TD: I didn't bring them anything on my last day.
NR: You didn't have to, your performance was enough.
AK: Was there anything that didn't make the final cut?
NR: Yeah, there were a few scenes I remember.
VT: There was one with you and Scott (Bakula) that was a good scene, but it just didn't make it.
NR: Right! Then there was the scene where it was me and the DJ at the club that didn't make it.
YD: Yeah, you want to keep the flow going so sometimes you gotta drop some stuff that on paper and when you're shooting reads well, but has to go in editing.
TD: I think one of the strongest aspects of the movie is how much it really moves.
NR: It does move!
TD: Because I saw a very rough cut and then seeing it last night finished, I just realized how much the pacing and the music help carry the whole ship of the movie. It doesn't stop moving.
YD: As film makers, that's pretty much our goal, to keep that train moving.
AK: Is there a big take away from this movie or, like you touched on before, are you just making art?
VT: I wouldn't say there's a message for sure. I think that if there was an intention, we hope that people will take away that even the inexplicable things have reasons for the people who are doing them. It's very uncomfortable for us to take knowledge that there are human beings with their own set of motivations and logic to what is happening and you can't just categorize things as evil when there are so many factors that contribute to these events. If we endeavor to understand them we're gonna be able to do better to prevent them. Right now we're not very good at it.
YD: No message. (everyone laughs)
AK: Making art?
YD: It started with the kernel of a message and a story came out of that.
AK: Fair enough. And on that note, I think my time is up. Thank you so much for chatting with me about SNAP!
I hope you enjoyed my talk with the SNAP crew. Be on the look out for a few more interviews I did during SXSW.
- Rebecca Elliott