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Sundance ’11 Interview: Calvin Reader on the Ultra-Hyped ‘The Oregonian’

Out of the dozen or so horror films premiering at Sundance this year, one of our most highly-anticipated is director Calvin Reeder’s The Oregonian, a macabre story about a lost young woman who “enters the unknown” after being involved in a horrific car accident. B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen recently got on the phone with Reeder – the director of several fantastic short films including blood-soaked mini-classics like Little Farm and The Rambler – to discuss his latest invention, which features his actress girlfriend and frequent collaborator Linsday Pulsipher (True Blood) in the title role. During the lengthy interview the idiosyncratic director discusses his filmmaker influences, claims he has no interest in going digital, and even asserts that he doesn’t consider any of his movies to be a part of the horror genre at all. Get the full story inside.
I definitely count myself as a fan of director Calvin Reeder’s previous short films, which include terrific entries such as incest-themed gore-fest Little Farm, puke-tastic backwoods chiller The Rambler, and acid trip extravaganza Snake Mountain Colada (all streaming for free online, I might add!) Now the director is making his solo feature directing debut (he previously co-directed a film called Jerkbeast back in 2005) with The Oregonian, premiering in the Park City at Midnight section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Based on the bizarre trailer it seems Reeder will be fucking with our heads yet again, and I came away from our recent chat even more excited to check out his latest gonzo experiment. Check out the full interview below.

Bloody-Disgusting: There’s a lot of secrecy surrounding the movie. Is it kind of a situation where you couldn’t possibly explain what the movie is about, or is it a deliberate kind of secrecy to make people anticipate the movie more?

Calvin Reeder: Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Or maybe it’s just the movie isn’t really meant to be explained in words. [Laughs] I think you could watch the movie probably eight times and not have an accurate description of it. It’s just not that type of movie. That being said, I hope it does inspire conversation. I think that’s what I hope for the most. It’s difficult to explain. But I think it’s more easy to understand than it is to explain.

BD: I ask the question because I’ve seen all your shorts, and they always end and you’re always like, ‘what the fuck?’ Particularly ‘Little Farm’ and ‘The Rambler’, and ‘Snake Mountain Colada’ which is also a crazy one. So I had to ask because I thought, ‘how could you even explain those movies?’ They’re just so off-the-wall.

CR: Yeah, I think it’s kinda like that. I think it doesn’t tread as lightly as ‘Snake Mountain’. I think that was more funny than anything. This one can’t be funny. It’s mostly pretty dark.

BD: It looks pretty dark from the trailer. It looks almost ripped from the same universe as ‘Little Farm’ or ‘The Rambler’ specifically. Is it a companion piece to those shorts?

CR: I think if people are into my stuff, I kinda hope they’re all companion pieces. I don’t think it’s directly linked. I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I’m starting to think that maybe I’ve just been making the same damn movie ever since ‘Little Farm’. [Laughs]

BD: It definitely looks really interesting. So this is your first solo feature directing project. Talk about how the project came together initially.

CR: Well, I had been trying to make a feature version of ‘The Rambler’ for a few years, or maybe two years, anyway. And it just was going really bad. So I just changed gears and involved some of the people that I wanted to make ‘The Rambler’ with for something that would be less money, and we could do in less days. It was really funny, it was like right as you kind of change your outlook, it all just kind of came together. It was actually incredibly easy. It was like, I wrote it and then within like four months we had funding…some of the funding fell through but then we found the rest of it. Before I knew, we were shooting…I don’t know, it was just really easy.

BD: Why do you think this one came together easier than ‘The Rambler’?

CR: I think it wasn’t as challenging…it was very challenging in some ways, but…’The Rambler’ is kind of elaborate and would have been expensive and would have taken a lot of people’s time. This was a movie of minimal commitment from a lot of people. Even though I think it plays big, it didn’t take that much from people. They could put both feet in for a small amount of time.

BD: This is also the first one of your works that you didn’t act in. Is that just because it was a bigger project and you wanted to just focus solely on the directing side?

CR: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don’t love acting. I just do it in some of my friends’ movies because I just want to hang out with my friends, and sometimes I do it in my own movies because I can’t find anybody else to get vomited on. But this one was pretty intense for me. There’s a lot of shots. I’m a really obsessive shot-lister. So I had to make sure we got everything in that limited amount of time. And also, there just isn’t a role for me. If you look at the movie, there just really wouldn’t be some place for me. So I was stoked to just direct, it was fun. I’d like to continue just doing that.

BD: Speaking of the cast, Lindsay has been in most of your films. Talk about working with her, and what specific qualities she brings to the films that you think really works.

CR: Well, she’s great. I met her…I was taking an acting class up in Seattle, an improv class. And I wanted to make friends of actors that could help me make a film I made called ‘Piledriver’. I met her and she was fantastic, and she was like the only actual young actor in that [class]. Everybody was like 45 or over, and they weren’t gonna work for the movie. But I met her, and she was just incredibly natural. So I started working with her, and then we started dating and we’ve been going out for like six years now. But she’s really…there’s nothing that she’s afraid to do, which is I think pretty evident. And she’s pliable. And I’m not really big on dialogue, and she can emote things without words. So I think that that’s one of the things that makes us a very good pair artistically, because she can just kind of fill up the screen even if I don’t write a lot of dialogue. And in ‘The Oregonian’ she gets to do a lot of that, more than ever. She really knocks it out of the park.

BD: Well you mentioned that she’s pliable, and she definitely has the quality where she could be the girl next door, or she could be some crazy backwoods character. She definitely does have a look that kind of look that definitely lends itself to that, to be able to play all these different kinds of roles.

CR: Yeah, yeah, she does. She’s a transformer.

BD: Could you talk at all about her character in this?

CR: You know, it’s pretty well described in my description there on the Sundance website. She’s a lost woman who’s looking to escape her former life. And she enters the unknown. I hate to say too much more.

BD: I actually like that, because I feel like movies are often way too over-explained before they even come out now. So I kind of like the mystery there.

CR: Well good, I’m glad it’s holding up.

BD: You were talking about before how it’s so hard to explain your movies, and that quality reminds me a lot of David Lynch. Is he an influence of yours?

CR: I mean, he’s in there somewhere. But you know, I think I’m more into like the [Andrei] Tarkovsky, [Andrzej] Zulawski, Nicolas Roeg, Jodorowsky set. Those movies to me are far more dream-like. And that really works for me. Aesthetically those guys are…they’re in my dreams, man. [Laughs]…those guys are definitely my main influences, I’d say. Nicolas Roeg’s first four movies, Tarkovsky, Zulawski’s Diabel and Third Part of the Night. And then the Jodorowsky stuff. I think everybody loves that, right?

BD: It actually didn’t even occur to me, but now that you mention it…especially Jodorowsky. You definitely have a lot of similarities there.

CR: Yeah, there’s too many of them, huh? [Laughs]

BD: Your films are also known for being very gory, which a lot of horror fans really love obviously. And you’ve got a really high-profile special effects guy this time, Jason Collins. Talk about how he got involved in this.

CR: Oh, Jason is a friend of mine who I met because he was doing a special effect on Lindsay’s face for a photo shoot. He put a couple of scissors in her eyeballs for a still photo. And it was amazing, it definitely was. And we just got to talking, and he actually lent me all the stuff for ‘Snake Mountain Colada’ even though he wasn’t able to be on the set. Actually he was able to be on the set but I gave him my wrong phone number. Sound familiar? [Side Note: Reeder gave me the incorrect phone number for this interview as well before realizing his mistake and calling me a couple minutes after our scheduled time.]

BD: That’s becoming a problem for you.

CR: I know! But we stayed in touch and figured it out, and he was excited to do The Oregonian. He hadn’t seen it yet, but I’ll get him a copy.

BD: So you shot this on Super 16, which makes sense. Have you ever shot on digital video or have you always shot on film?

CR: Everything I’ve cared about is shot on film. I’ve shot some little stuff on video…I don’t know, it doesn’t seem worth my time.

BD: It definitely…[he starts talking] oh, go ahead I’m sorry.

CR: Oh no, I was just gonna complain about video, that’s all. [Laughs]

BD: No please do, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.

CR: I was just saying that every camera that comes out, everybody talks about how much it looks like film and I don’t understand why they don’t just use film.

BD: I think the perception among a lot of filmmakers is that it’s just more difficult to shoot on film.

CR: Well, I don’t know. Filmmaking is never really a pleasant experience. Even if it’s hard, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

BD: Yeah, yeah. But I think shooting on film definitely lends itself to your movies because they have kind of a timeless feel to them. They feel like they could’ve been shot in the ’70s. So I think it that way it definitely makes sense for the films that you’ve made.

CR: Oh thanks, I’m glad that that comes through.

BD: Yeah, it definitely does. So I was gonna ask you if this follows a more traditional narrative than your other films given that it’s a feature, but it sounds like we’re gonna be just as bugged out by this one as we were by the rest of your movies.

CR: [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t wanna turn anybody away…I think there’s no wrong way to watch the movie, and I think that you won’t be completely lost. I think you’ll be with it. But yeah, a traditional narrative, probably not…I think it’s just kind of hard to describe, and I hope someone finds a way to describe it for me. [Laughs]

BD: It sounds like the answers in the movie come across much more visually than they do in a traditional sense, then.

CR: Yeah, I hope it’s visual, and I also hope it’s visceral. I hope they feel it. I mean, if it’s funny, if it’s scary, if it’s whatever, you know?

BD: Can you talk about any of the gore effects? You’ve had some really memorable ones in some of your past movies.

CR: Well, I’d hate to give up any of the secrets. If I gave up any of the secrets in those other movies without anybody seeing it, that’d be like, ‘oh, I already knew that happened’, so it would be less climactic. I’d hate to give up the ghost. I try to use it sparingly. I use a lot of it when I do, but I don’t want to make slasher movies with just excess [gore]…but I usually try to localize the affection, poignant areas. So I don’t want to give any of those up, but I think people will be stoked.

BD: What’s coming up next for you?

CR: You know, I’m still trying to get ‘The Rambler’ feature on the burner here. I’m kind of hoping we’re gonna get a little heat from Sundance and maybe get that going. But I don’t have all the money I need or whatever. So if I don’t do that one, maybe I’ll just do something else like ‘The Oregonian’.

BD: Will you do more shorts or are you fully focused on your feature career right now?

CR: Yeah, if I don’t have any projects going I’ll definitely make a short.

BD: Speaking of ‘The Rambler’, can you talk at all about how you might expand that? There’s a script for that right?

CR: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s approved by Anchor Bay in fact. They want to come in and help. They’ve only been able to provide some of the funding or whatever, but we can’t seem to find the rest of it just yet. But yeah, it’s not really an expanding of the short, but a lot of those parts are in it. It just kind of starts with The Rambler getting out of jail, and he kind of follows this somewhat episodic and sometimes very psychedelic journey. [Laughs] It’s hard to explain, just like everything else I guess.

BD: What are some of your favorite more traditional horror films?

CR: Yeah, I really like Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’. I think everybody likes that one, right? I’m a big fan of [Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s] ‘Messiah of Evil’. I’m also a big fan of ‘Who Can Kill A Child?’, that’s another big favorite. And you know, I love ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Exorcist’ too, it’s all good. I love it when a movie surprises me, like when it’s really scary. ‘Who Can Kill a Child?’ has a lot of those moments, where you don’t expect it. So I like those kind of movies.

BD: Do you think you’ll stay in the horror genre going forward?

CR: You know, I don’t know. I think there will always be horror elements to everything I’ve done and do. I think it just kind of comes with everything else. I don’t know, are they horror movies? Do you think so?

BD: I think some more than others. ‘Little Farm’ and ‘The Rambler’ probably…hew the closest to the genre, I would say. And then ‘Piledriver’ I would say is probably more of a…gosh, I don’t know. That movie’s just more of a fucked-up love story I guess.

CR: [Laughs] Yeah. I mean, I like horror movies, for sure. I’m just not sure that I’ve ever made like a real horror movie. But I love movies that scare me, and I would like to one day make a movie that actually scares people. That would be cool. One of the things that interests me about making films is like pursuing what actually might be scary to somebody. You know, I don’t think I even need to say it, but I don’t follow the horror trend, you know? [Laughs]



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