Samuel Goldwyn Films’ suspense thriller The Caller is headed to select cities this Friday, August 26th. Directed by Matthew Parkhill from a script by Sergio Casci and starring Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight, New Moon), Stephen Moyer (“True Blood”, Quills), Ed Quinn (“True Blood”, “Eureka”) Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights) and Lorna Raver (Drag Me To Hell), the film centers around a recent divorcee who starts receiving some seriously needy and deranged phone calls on the old-timey landline in her new apartment.
Originally set to film in New York, the movie instead set up shop in Puerto Rico to take advantage of the territory’s tax incentives and the assistance of the local film commission. The subsequent plan was to shoot San Juan and pass it off as New York, but the filmmakers wisely decided to take full advantage of the exotic local flavor (and avoid the insurmountable task of finding more than two square feet of the Caribbean island that could pass for the Big Apple) and adapted the story to take place in the Puerto Rican capital instead.
Earlier this week I flew out to the island – which was literally enveloped by Hurricane Irene at the time – to attend the premiere, get a feel for the vibes of San Juan (the city is something of a character in the movie) and with speak with some of the film’s cast and crew about their soon to be notoriously difficult 23 day shoot. A shoot most of the people I spoke to felt was appropriately mirrored by the many, many difficulties that beset the premiere and, well… everything that went down over the past few days.
Check it out after the jump.
After hearing the dressing options for his grilled tuna salad, Stephen Moyer easily zeroes in on his choice, “blood orange please“. This is probably about as close as I’ll get to Bon Temps in my lifetime, hearing Bill Compton order something with the word `blood’ in it. Only he doesn’t sound at all like Bill Compton, and he certainly doesn’t carry himself in the same tortured way. He’s much looser, much happier and much more English than that brooding oversexed vampire.
I’m not really supposed to be having lunch with him, our on-camera interview is scheduled by the following day, but we’re in the only room of our hotel that the emergency generator can power. The lobby. There’s still no AC, it’s literally 90 degrees and with the rain pouring down outside the open glass doors I figure we’re at 100% humidity. So people aren’t eating in their rooms. In fact no one in the hotel seems to be in their room at all. They’re all here in the lobby either drinking mojitos or crowded around the one working television, tracking the progress of the first hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1998.
Moyer, who plays love interest John Guidi in the film, has another reason to not be in his 11th floor room. It’s flooded (Ed Quinn’s room is flooded too, but for different reasons we’ll get to later – at this point he’s currently SURFING in the hurricane and is thus not around to explain himself). So instead he’s here with me, his publicist and three members of the film’s publicity team. Funnily enough, the mood could not be lighter. When approached by hotel staff who are offering to swap out his room he politely declines, “Nah I’m fine, could I just get a few towels please?” While he’s most likely exhausted, he doesn’t show it. Instead he’s cracking jokes, ordering drinks for the table (diet coke for him) and just generally shooting the breeze. He’s turned the hurricane into happy hour as we dig into the hotel’s dwindling supply of refrigerated food. It would have been bad form for me to whip out my recorder at this point but in the moments when tourists aren’t approaching and asking for pictures (a request he graciously and endlessly obliges) he swaps stories with everyone at the table, riffing on weird solicitations made by New Orleans society mavens and extolling the virtues of Michael Dougherty’s ‘Trick Or Treat’. This all starts within 30 minutes of me setting foot in the resort and it’s an excellent primer for the next two days as well as a healthy analogue for the production of ‘The Caller’ – people rising above a series of challenges so endless it’s almost comical and making the best of it.
After catching the red-eye to Miami, then sitting on the runway for a few hours as a leaky engine is fixed and the connecting flight’s pilot tries to figure out a way to fly around the storm, “we ‘should’ be okay” is heard over the intercom, and finally embarking on the very bumpy final trek into San Juan – I’m beat. After lunch I head up to my room, plug in my computer so that it’ll start charging as soon as the power is switched back on (something that won’t happen for another 36 hours) and hop in the shower in the hopes that it will be hot. Nope. I settle in for a nap before getting an email that the designated theater across town doesn’t have power either and the film’s premiere will now have to take place sometime after our interviews. They’ve found a theater with power a few miles away (one isn’t suitable for the premiere), so we’re still seeing ‘The Caller ‘that night, but everything has been pushed back a day. After changing my travel arrangements I finally get a few hours sleep.
That night, after taking a cold shower and shaving in the dark, I head down to the lobby to meet up with everyone for the shuttle to this mystical building that somehow has enough electricity to power a projector bulb (at least in theory). I drop my iPhone off at the front desk so they can charge it a bit, you know, maybe get me back up above 20%. This becomes a common theme throughout the trip. Initially I was optimistic enough to siphon the power from my computer to charge the device, figuring that it was only a matter of hours before the lights came back on. All I got out of that was a dead computer and repeated trips to the lobby to see if one of the four or five electrical outlets there were unoccupied, which I never had any luck with. There were practically electrical outlet social clubs, people playing cards, eating and drinking, all while charging up. In each of these cases just go to the front desk and leave my phone there for 15 minutes to get out of the red.
I leave the front desk and find Ed Quinn, who plays abusive ex-husband Steven in the film, noshing on some sliders and having a drink with the publicists. Also milling about are director Matthew Parkhill and writer Sergio Casci. Unfortunately Rachelle Lefevre (who plays Mary Kee, the central character) couldn’t make it due to the shooting schedule of her new show (“A Gifted Man“) and Lorna Raver made it as far as Atlanta before deciding against battling Hurricane Irene and heading back home. Also absent is Luis Guzman, though I intentionally didn’t inquire about the reasons behind this since I prefer that he remain an utter enigma to me. But everyone who ‘is’ here seems happy about it and determined to make the best out of things. Again, it’s all kind of unexpected. Their premiere has been postponed and the streets are flooded but there’s nary a complaint to be heard as everyone loads into the vans to head to the screening.
At the screening I notice something off, the projector’s bulb is a little dim which is kind of an issue for a film that’s already shot fairly darkly to begin with. Also, the premiere print never arrived due to the storm so we’re watching a scratched print that, to make matters worse, doesn’t really seem to be threaded through the projector properly. Moyer and Quinn are seeing the film for the first time – as are many of the press – and I’m a bit nervous for everyone involved. But yet again, like everything on this trip and the making of the film, it turns out that something with all the recipes for a surefire disaster turns out to not be a disaster at all. The crowd seemed into it, with one journalist sinking her nails into my arm during the film’s climax and literally drawing blood. LITERALLY. In the van ride back to the hotel Casci asks for a picture of the wound, which he deemed the highest form of compliment.
Back at the hotel bar I speak briefly with Moyer and Quinn, both of whom seemed genuinely thrilled with the film. I then grab a quick drink with Matthew Parkhill and we talk about digital vs. film (‘The Caller’ was shot on the RED 1) with him clearly being in the camp of directors who prefer digital for budgetary reasons and the amount of takes it allows. We actually went fairly deep down the rabbit hole in terms of budgets, cameras and even color grading and I kind of wished that every single electronic device I owned wasn’t dead at this point because I’d love to accurately share his exact opinions. Suffice to say, he doesn’t think that “blue” should always be the default setting for every digital grading program. He also conceded that the print shown wasn’t ideal (he prefers digital projection as well) but joked about how this whole thing was just another bit of “The Caller Karma“.
Speaking of budgets and karma and trouble in general, I should probably get into what exactly made ‘The Caller’ such a difficult shoot. Initially the film was set to go in New York, and at that point the budget was easily a multiple of what it ultimately wound up being. By the time they ultimately decided to shoot in Puerto Rico the costs had lowered considerably but so had the funds available to them. The shooting schedule was cut from 35 to 23 days. The character of Mary Kee is in every scene of the film and on the first day of shooting Parkhill had to dismiss the original lead actress. They contacted Rachelle Lefevre, who was attending to family in the hospital. She read the script and four hours later was on a plane to San Juan, carrying only a backpack. Later that very night she was in the rain, shooting a split. Weather, technical issues, money issues… something went wrong at seemingly every turn. Parkhill commented that every day he showed up on set he was sure would find the production shuttered. And yet, it never was. It gets worse but I’m not sure ‘exactly’ how. Whenever the cast and crew speak about the process there’s inevitably a sense of someone holding back. They get to a certain point and then knowing glances are thrown around, nods and laughs are exchanged and people stop talking. There are clearly some details I’m not allowed in on. It’s akin to hearing your grandfather almost tell you that great World War 2 story, but then shutting down. You know it was some serious sh*t, but it’s simply too much to talk about.
I grab my flashlight (the hotel has begun issuing them to the guests) from the concierge and head back up to my room – missing out on a wild night of ocean swimming in the rain, according to a few that stayed up. Quinn, who is almost imposingly athletic and very much drawn to the water, was stung by a jellyfish, “It was not a big deal, in a hurricane they get gut into pieces and the surge pushes them in. I’ve actually been stung twice here“. I ask him how he’s enjoying the hurricane and how his room being flooded differed from Moyer’s situation, “ I’m loving it. I’m just happy there’s not more damage to the island because it’s been the coolest experience being here. I love the tropics so the experience of this is actually really cool. Except for when I flooded my hotel room. I wanted to listen to the hurricane so I opened the sliding glass door not realizing it created a vacuum effect and sucked all of the moisture out of the atrium. So I woke and there was an inch of water in the living room.”
The next morning I awake hoping that the AC will be on, that my computer will be charged and that I’ll have hot water. No on all accounts. I drop my phone off at the front desk and head to breakfast, where it becomes apparent that the hotel really is running out of food. All of the menu items are cancelled, and there is a brunch set up consisting of what’s available. Stuff I don’t normally eat. It was fine, and at this point the power wasn’t even on in the local hospitals so I consider myself lucky to be getting coffee.
Everyone’s on-camera interviews with Moyer and Parkhill are scheduled for 10AM but have obviously been pushed back. Around an hour is spent finding a room in the hotel with a suitable temperature that can be reach by the power generator for the audio/video equipment. Everything’s hot already and those big lights make it even hotter, so there’s some last minute running around to find some place to shoot that won’t melt the talent. Once everything is set up we all sit in the same room as the interviews are being conducted, which means that every journalist there (to be fair, there are only 5 of us) could hear the journalist before them ask the exact same questions. Repetitive lines of questioning are the nature of the beast at junkets, but it’s a little unnerving hearing 70% of yours asked literally 5 minutes before you and again 5 minutes after you.
To their credit, Moyer and Parkhill each did a good job of not giving a rote answer to every question, they’re clearly happy enough with the film to find new ways to talk about which aspects they found most engaging. At one point, during an interview for another outlet conducted by the journalist who dug her nails into me, Moyer asks me to bring my iPhone over so he can show the film camera the picture of “what you did to Evan“. For more on what they had to say, check out my interviews with them which will be posted soon.
After Moyer and Parkhill I sit down with Ed Quinn for a quick chat. When asked what he liked most about the script Quinn replied, “It’s smart. I did a really brutal CSI:NY arc and I swore I’d never play the abusive husband or boyfriend again because it’s just such an intense [experience]… but here there’s a very smart aspect of it where you can take it on face value superficially just as an abusive husband in a broken marriage, which is genius because it’s terrifying and opens up the audience to a terror that [even if] they don’t personally understand they know someone who has gone through it and then by having those sensors of terror opened up then here comes the psychological aspects of the story that’s being woven. However in all of the scenes that I play, I was able to play them with a sense of duality. That there may be a different truth, a different pov, and if you watch the movie closely especially for little things like wardrobe and mannerisms and energy and if you really look at that last scene there is a possibility that the movie may be something different than what we thought on surface, on face value. So I wasn’t always justifying the abuse, I could play it all with frustration and sadness. There’s lots of different ways to look at it and that allowed me in every scene to play hurt, frustration, awkward, embarrassed, exasperated and that’s what was so wonderful. Sergio’s script and Matthew’s attention to detail is what allowed all of those performances to come through.“
The film’s ending is narratively satisfying, yet conceptually ambiguous. When asked on his personal take Quinn offers, “You can watch this as a straight horror film and it’s a lot of fun and really scary or you can sit back there and be very cerebral about it and interpret it in a different way. I’m part of something where some people say, `wow that was scary’ and other people say `wow dude, that was heavy’ because the way I’m looking at it, it can be brain food.”
Quinn’s favorite horror movies? “‘Night Of The Living Dead’, ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Jaws’. And ‘The Thing’. I love the ‘The Thing’, I watched that with my writing partner the other night, it’s so simple and contained and it’s just like ‘Das Boot’ meets god only knows what.”
I shuffle over to Sergio Casci and ask him where he got the idea for the film, “14 years ago I was living in an old tenement in Glasgow and the phone rang and the idea popped into my head fully formed. The idea stayed with me and it was one of those happy situations where the story wrote itself, first as a half hour short, with only two characters, Rose and Mary…. basically it was a two act play and I wanted to expand it to a three act film.”
I mention the location change from New York to Puerto Rico and adapting the piece to fit the change of scenery and he answers, “Well when I wrote it as a feature at first it was set in Glasgow and it was so hard to get people interested in it. Then I changed it to New York and suddenly people were interested and we hooked up with producers and so on. But they wanted to film in Puerto Rico because they have great incentives and great crews and they wanted to shoot Puerto Rico as New York. I said to Matthew yeah you can shoot San Juan for New York, but why would you want to when you can shoot San Juan for San Juan? It’s a beautiful place, aesthetically it’s gorgeous but it also has this incredible cultural and spiritual background. You know the business with the Santeria and the different religions here. I think watching the movie, what Puerto Rico brings to it in the background are all of these subtle little things which I think adds a richness.”
Casci’s favorite horror films? “I’ve got to say it’s ‘The Excorcist’. Though I don’t think an 18 year old who had never seen it would like it. If ‘The Excorcist’ was being made today I can guarantee that there would be an opening kill in the first five minutes. I’d say out of modern horror my favorite is ‘The Sixth Sense’. It has such a sense of dread which is what I’m most interested in conveying. I’m hoping ‘The Caller’ will scare the sh*t out both kids and their parents“.
Casci ended the interview with an impassioned plea for horror filmmakers to get rid of the `Opening Kill’ unless absolutely necessary, “nowadays before the titles they need to opening kill so the 14 year old boys don’t get bored.I would take to the streets and protest the opening kill. If I hate one thing more than anything, it’s the opening kill, because it destroys the movie if it’s not needed there. You should write an article about how it’s killing horror movies. I mean some scripts call for an opening kill, what I hate is when it doesn’t and they artificially put one in to indulge the 14 year old boys“.
After the interviews I head down to the beach to swim in an afternoon rainstorm that Quinn describes as “intoxicating“. After trying to bodysurf a bit (and hoping no one was watching from the hotel) I become increasingly concerned about being struck by lightning and exit the water.
That night everyone piles into the two vans to hit the premiere (the allocated cinema now has power, even if the hotels and hospitals don’t). After a few words from Parkhill, producer Luillo Ruiz (who is quite the character) gives an impassioned introduction to the film though it was in Spanish so I have no real idea what he said. He then handed the microphone over to Moyer right before the PA sound cut out. Moyer laughs and shrugs it off, this is par for the course. Then the lights go down and we get video introductions from Rachelle Lefevre (who is now blond and on the set of “A Gifted Man“) and Luis Guzman. Guzman’s introduction in particular was pretty great. I have no idea what he was saying – Spanish again – but it involved him giving a speech in front of his open refrigerator with a bottle of Bacardi. The premiere print still hasn’t arrived, so they have to use the scratched one from the prior night. At least now the projector is working properly. Things are getting better.
And then things get better still. Once back at the hotel we happen upon a miracle – THE POWER IS BACK ON. We head down to the afterparty where Sergio Casci cuts a rug, Parkhill chats away and Moyer and Quinn are practically forced into the corner by party crashers with cameras. Everyone seems happy and relieved. The production of the film definitely fostered a sense of community that was rekindled, nearly two years after the film wrapped, by the intensity of the premiere. Everyone involved on ‘The Caller’ went through quite a bit of trouble to get the film made, but it seems none of them would take it back. Whether or not it’s for the movie or the experience, or a mixture of both.
At 330PM the next day I head to the airport with Quinn. He comments that most of the time junkets are awful, and that in the cases where he doesn’t like the film they can be absolute torture. Finding something good to say can be difficult. Though it’s clearly not the case here, even at this point he’s not at a loss of good things to say about the experience or the film. Our plane is late due to mechanical failure. When we finally get to Miami for the final flight back to LAX ‘that’ plane is late because there’s no pilot. Everything is pushed back a few hours.
I finally got home at 2AM this morning. When I swiped my credit card through the taxi’s magnetic reader, it was declined. I was confused, he was enraged. I called my bank and they informed me that “half our cards aren’t functioning due to system maintenance. You can use it again at 6AM“. I ask them to tell this to the cabbie, it makes no difference. He demands my iPhone as collateral (he refuses to take me to an ATM) claiming “I’ll come back here with your phone at noon tomorrow and you have my money then!” There’s no way I’m giving this lunatic my phone. He threatens to call the cops. After a few minutes of pleading he lets me try my card again….. it works. But at this point I am utterly broken and exhausted.
I head up the stairs to my apartment, tired and nauseous. I think to myself, “almost everything that technically could have gone wrong with this trip went wrong. And yet, I had a blast. I wouldn’t have traded the experience of these two days for anything and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
I more than suspect the people behind ‘The Caller’ feel the same way.