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Freddy chats with Daniel Robbins, director of PLEDGE

Freddy Beans here with an interview with PLEDGE director Daniel Robbins.  I reviewed the film here.

PLEDGE is a simple set-up, with masterful execution.  It follows three poor saps trying desperately to escape their uncool status.  How far are they willing to go?  That’s what PLEDGE is all about.

Freddy Beans:  How’s life treating you Daniel?

Daniel Robbins:  Great!  Thank you for taking your time here.

FB:  Likewise sir.  In your words, can you give a brief synopsis of PLEDGE for our readers?

DR:   Sure.  Three unassuming nerds really want to join a frat.  This frat off campus invites them in and they discover that there’s something more sinister going on.

FB:  That’s perfect!  You don’t’ want to give away too much here.  What was your favorite part about making PLEDGE? DR:  My favorite part is probably…Look, low budget films usually suck because you really don’t have resources they’re typically long days and can be full of problems.  What’s great about making a low budget film, is that you generally don’t have the luxury of putting the whole cast and crew up in hotels or trailers.  The entire cast and crew lived in the mansion that we shot in.  So it was kind of like a camp environment.  We’d wake up, have breakfast together, and shoot.  Then after the shoot we’d have dinner, play cards, and wake up the next night and start shooting 7 PM to 7 AM. 

FB:  Damn.  Them’s some long days.  Builds up a sort of camaraderie that way.  What was your least favorite or hardest piece of making PLEDGE?

DR:  Probably the weather and relying on accidents.  The weather, because we’re shooting in a New York summer at night. (7PM-7AM)  The house we were filming in was a really tough environment.  We needed to rely on a lot of accidents to make the film work out.  With this one luckily, a few ended up happening.

FB:  The obvious question is, were you in a fraternity?  Does any of this come from personal experience? DR:  Maybe it comes from, I was never in one but I always wanted to be in one.  I went to NYU, so very frat poor institution.  (Laughs) Zack Weiner went to another liberal arts type of school and came up with a story we thought would be great.  My friend Michael, who is a co-producer, went to Arizona and we watched our friend haze some people.  That led to making the movie. (laughs) FB:  (Laughs) That is such a cool experience!  You got to be a part of it yet not get involved.  No liability!

DR:  Yeah it was really crazy!  I won’t say if it was Arizona State or the University of Arizona but it was one of them, and they did really crazy shit.  This was a regular Tuesday night, not Hell Week or anything like that.  Were you ever in a frat? FB:  I wasn’t.  Say to say it, but no.  After seeing PLEDGE, I suppose, I’m glad I wasn’t.  (Laughs)

DR:  (Laughs)  Makes sense.

FB:  For Pledge, casting was key man.  I think all the roles, even the extreme, harder to believe roles, were on point.  What were you looking for during auditions?

DR:  Thanks man!  I also love the cast.  It was a low budget movie.  Usually there’s a few weak links.  You can’t pay people a lot, so you have to sort of discover each person individually.  With this we got really lucky finding them.  The main thing we were looking for in auditioning was, the ability to do some improvisation.  When the actors take ownership of their lines, it generally leads to a more electric environment on set.  The performances.  It makes them feel less rehearsed.  Zachery Byrd, we found him a week before shooting.  Without him, I think the entire movie falls apart.

FB:  I couldn’t agree more, he’s the heart and soul of your film.  It’s all about the cast here.  PLEDGE has great horror and you built tension throughout the film.  It all falls apart though, without that cast, like you said. 

DR:  You have doors you have to walk through to make a good movie.  The first door is most likely the cast.  If you have a deep cast, even if the script isn’t great, and you can get them to mine authentic moments.  It will be watchable.  It’s probably cast then story, or story then cast depending on the film.  Then everything else.  Director is like 8th on the list. (Laughs)

FB:  (Laughs) I completely agree with you here.  A cast can completely make or break a film, all on their own.  I wasn’t a fan of the concept in PLEDGE.  I ended up really enjoying it through your execution.  On the flipside, I loved the concept of your earlier film UNCAGED and less so the execution.  Do you have any lessons you’d like to share with someone aspiring to become a director someday?  Maybe lessons learned through the process of making UNCAGED?

DR:  Thank you so much for watching UNCAGED!  I love you for that.  Very few people have seen PLEDGE and maybe 1/10th of that have seen UNCAGED. 

FB:  (Laughs)

DR:  I think the main lesson is, like you said.  With UNCAGED we tried to tell a complex story in a simple way.  So the 96 minute movie had all these moving parts, a lot of characters that mattered, a few intersecting storylines and it led to some contrivances.  We tried to do too much.  So we decided instead of making a complex movie in a simple way, let’s try to tell a simple story in a more complex way.  More intricate and thoughtful.  With Pledge we just wanted to follow these guys, make the story real straight forward and tell it as well as possible.  It’s also 20 minutes shorter than UNCAGED.  We’re shooting in like 15 to 18 days and it’s not enough time to mine the movie and make something good.  So we decided 96 minutes was last one, let’s make this one 78.  Take the time to get certain moments right.  The other lesson is what you mentioned before.  How important cast is.  Even before the script was finished.  We were casting on the first draft, because we knew it was going to take a lot of time.  One last thing I think helped, is on UNCAGED it was the first real movie I was making.  I was really excited about having a red camera and trying to get decent shots, cool moments, and make the werewolf look good.  With PLEDGE I realized that’s not the most important thing.  When you look at the totem pole of importance the top thing, is to figure out what the scene is accomplishing.  What’s the best way to do that?  Let that dictate the direction everything goes.  Instead of leading with your excitement for everything to be cool.

FB:  Yeah.  You’re the man for taking that question head on.  I really appreciate that.  With a thoughtful answer to boot, thank you for that.  Not so much a question here but PLEDGE for me really came off akin to: I don’t know if you remember a 2015 movie titled GREEN ROOM.  It had a very similar feel to this film and that one was rock solid too.  I think you did a great job man.

DR:  That’s what we screened for everyone before shooting!

FB:  No shit?

DR:  Yeah, the bathroom is basically stolen from GREEN ROOM. 

FB:  That’s awesome!  I’m going to pat myself on the back later for that one.  Thank you buddy!

DR:  That’s crazy impressive.  The only difference is, in the bathroom we show both sides of the conversation.  And GREEN ROOM, only showed inside the room.  For us, we wanted to humanize the bad guys to a certain extent.  We decided to show both sides.  It’s amazing you just said that.

FB:  I loved both movies man.  They gave me that same feeling of claustrophobia.  Stuck in a room with nowhere to go.  It’s intense.  You built the intensity and tension throughout.  Which is key for a horror film.  What’s your favorite horror film or films?

DR:  I hate to say this because Zack always tells me, it’s not a true horror movie.  SHAUN OF THE DEAD is my favorite though.  I’ve watched that like a million times.  More traditional horror would be ROSEMARY’S BABY.  SHAUN OF THE DEAD is one of my favorite movies period, excluding genre. 

FB:  That’s a great call-out.  SHAUN OF THE DEAD is honestly sort of a perfect film.

DR:  It is.  It’s so dense.  You can watch it so many times, there’s always something new.

FB:  So true!  And the humor hits you just nonstop.  It’s almost a tinge Monty Python’esque.  Who or what inspires you?

DR:  Great question!  I don’t have any kids.  I could say my parents but they’re Jewish parents so they probably preferred I was a doctor or lawyer.  I really didn’t do what they wanted.

FB:  Who does what their parents want man? (I’m now hoping my kids don’t read this one.)

DR:  Honestly, they’re amazing and shockingly supportive of everything.

FB:  Well, you’d only be the second person to ever name their parents.

DR:  Really? FB:  True story.  What’s your favorite comedy and you can’t name SHAUN OF THE DEAD now.

DR:  Let’s say SOME LIKE IT HOT to sound pretentious and like I watch my old movies.  That movie doesn’t make me laugh the most but I love it a lot.  Otherwise, MACGRUBER and maybe THE HANGOVER. 

FB:  Nice.  You can’t go wrong with any of those.

DR:  MACGRUBER is one of the best movies ever.  I think it’s getting more credit now but I think it’s like ANCHORMAN.  Where there’s a sort of delayed response, then everyone realizes how amazing it is.  It’s already slowly happening.  They’re making a MACGRUBER 2.  Anytime I can plug that movie, I’ll take the chance. 

FB:  Cracking me up over here Daniel!  I don’t judge.  My favorite comedy to this day is THE JERK.  It has been a pleasure interviewing you today man.  Anything else our readers should keep an eye out for from you?

DR:  Zack wrote a crazy drug comedy horror movie called BAD TRIP.  Where three kids take the wrong drug and things go pretty nuts.  He’s trying to ruin every pillar of teenage-hood or early adulthood.  Between college and drugs and make it all seem really miserable.  Another horror movie we’re trying to make may be a Rabbi-gangster movie.  Those are what we’re circling around right now.

FB:  (Laughs) Holy shit that Rabbi gangster sounds like a gold mine.  Good luck in all your projects and thanks for your time today man.

DR:  Thanks man.  It was really great speaking with you and thank you again for the UNCAGED shout out.  That’s one in a million.  I really appreciate it.

FB:  You’re welcome.  Have a great one Daniel!

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