[Sundance '12] Interview: ‘Black Rock’ Director and Star Katie Aselton

Black Rock (review) sold to LD Entertainment immediately following its first midnight screening in the Sundance Film Festival’s Park City at Midnight Category.

Directed by Katie Aselton, the film stars Aselton, Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth as three friends on a camping trip who run afoul of three hunters who turn violent. It becomes a gritty fight to survive in the woods.

By Thursday of Sundance, Aselton was as exhausted as we were. She even offered to have a snuggle session instead of an interview, but I wasn’t smooth enough to take her up on it so I just went with a normal interview. Some spoilers follow in our talk, but they’re good spoilers about violence and nudity! Q: For a long time, man has been the most dangerous game. Is woman taking over as the most dangerous game?

KA: I think women secretly have always been the most dangerous, the most dangerous beasts. We’re fierce. Men have it all on the outside. We’ve got some fierceness on the inside. When push comes to shove, I think we can take someone down pretty quickly.

Q: Were you a fan of that story in all its incarnations?

KA: I loved The Most Dangerous Game. I remember I read it my freshman year in high school and was obsessed with it. It was I think our very first assignment in English the very first day of school freshman year. I love that story. It’s amazing. I love survival stories. I love when humans are sort of forced to go primal. It’s exciting.

Q: Kate Bosworth’s character jokes that she has cancer but then she’s just messing with her friends. Did you ever consider really giving her cancer so she’d have nothing to lose when it really went down?

KA: No, that just felt a little melodramatic for me. I liked the idea, because that’s what friends do. You f*** with each other. She knew how to get her friends on board and she knew, as ultimately happened in the movie, when push comes to shove, the petty stuff falls away which is what she was sort of initially doing. I didn’t want anybody to have nothing to lose. I wanted everyone to have everything to lose.

Q: In a movie like this these days, do you have to explain there’s no cell phone reception?

KA: I think you do. I really do. It’s really frustrating. Cell phones have killed our sense of isolation, but in the state of Maine it’s very possible that you have no cell reception. Although I will say ironically, when we were shooting on the mainland, we had horrible cell reception and we would take a 30 minute boat ride out to the island where we were shooting, and I had 3G. Isn’t that weird? I could watch movies on my phone.

Q: It’s an easy enough thing in one line, because everyone is thinking it now.

KA: And Lake handled it so effortlessly. It was such an easy throwaway.

Q: In old movies they still had to have someone cut the phone lines.

KA: Yeah, exactly. For us it was did the phone get water on it in the boat? What exactly happens? Where are the other cell phones? It’s a stupid thing to have to overcome but you do because then you’re like, “Why didn’t you just call someone?”

Q: Thank you for the body warmth scene with you and Lake Bell. Is a little nudity a must in horror movies?

KA: Yeah, that’s the thing we were sort of playing with. There are certain thriller genre rules that we followed but I made sure to do them on my terms. So yes, I show boobs but I do it in my way and a way that I feel comfortable with.

Q: And you don’t expect it in a movie with A-list cast because they all have contracts.

KA: No, Lake was totally down for it which was great. She’s like, “I’ll go as far you will. You’re with me. Let’s just do it together.”

Q: Did you have any mixed feelings about making soldiers with PTSD the villains?

KA: I did. I was actually really concerned that we did it right and for me it wasn’t that they all had PTSD. It was that I think that one guy really was damaged emotionally, but the loyalty, the fierce loyalty between those guys bonds them together and gels them so tightly that Alex, played by Anslem Richardson, goes along with it because, you know, you follow your seniors. That’s what you do. So for me, I was really inspired by Restrepo and the guys in Restrepo. There was one in particular who had the little wool beanie cap and he looked a lot like Jay Paulson. He was like this wirey thin boy who leaves a boy, a video game playing boy who’s shy and sweet and comes back from that experience a changed human being. He’s not a boy anymore and he’s not a man and he’s just sort of vacant in the face and he’s not okay. That really affected me a lot because it was important for me that these guys were not just random psychopaths, that there was a reason why they were doing what they were doing. And the fact that they were this so tightly knit tribe of boys, when something happens to one of them it really sets the other one off. That is how he knows how to handle things now.

Q: I would even imagine the motivation for the guy who attacks you first is some form of PTSD.

KA: Yeah, you know, I mean these guys were back for 18 days. The fact of the matter is, not to get super political or opinionated about the whole thing, but we bring our boys home and we dump ‘em. We don’t do anything for them so the fact that their backstory for these guys is their way of assimilating back into social culture was to get a weekend away just the three of us and be alone. It’s too much to be back in society right now, elt’s all go on a weekend. But yeah, it’s not surprising that their triggers are really quick.

Q: Was shooting on the island like a real camping trip?

KA: Well, we didn’t shoot the whole movie on an island. We used a lot of the mainland which that coast is so beautiful.

Q: But out in the woods.

KA: Out in the woods, yeah, Lake and Kate and I peed in the woods. That’s just what you do.

Q: And the night shoots?

KA: Those were tricky. It was physically and emotionally a very demanding film. The nights were cold and dark and wet and you’re in the woods. The scene where we’re crawling through the woods when we’re looking for our boat, Kate was in the lead and we’re in the woods. She had no idea where she was putting her hand down. It was dark and creepy and disgusting, so they were pretty brave.

Q: How cold was it?

KA: The night we shot the water scene, the water temperature was 45 degrees. The air temperature was 43. It was cold.

Q: When you’re shivering after that, was that more acting or was it real?

KA: Oh no, it was freezing. It was freezing cold. That month of June, I have no idea what happened. The whole spring last year in Maine was so cold. We went to go location scout in April and there was a blizzard. In April. It was like April 4 and we got a foot of snow. So all of our pictures of location scouting, everything was covered with snow. I was like, “I’m pretty sure I remember this being a beach but I don’t know if there’s rocks under it. I think it’s a beach.” So then we got there in May and it rained the entire time while we were in preproduction. June 1 our first day of shooting the sun came out, thank God, but it didn’t get any warmer. We were freezing. What we’d set aside for wardrobe didn’t work for us at all. We were frigidly cold. It was crazy. June was freezing and then July, as soon as we left, it was like 80 degrees every day.

Q: The guys still are physically muscle-wise stronger so you have to work really hard to win. Is that another frustrating cliché? It’s a good thing to empower women that they can beat up guys, but sometimes unrealistic when these skinny girls take out musclemen.

KA: Yeah, and I think what we showed is you really kind of couldn’t kick a guy’s ass. The first death was by chance. The second one was against an injured guy and the third one was two against one and barely, barely, barely we pulled that one out. For me it was really playing with the idea of who wants to live more. I think that was the girls in this case.

Q: Congratulations on the sale.

KA: Thank you. We’re taking over the world.

Q: What kind of release are they giving you?

KA: You know, I haven’t sat down with them and really hashed out all the details but I know they love the film and are really behind it and are excited for a lot of people to see it.

Q: Have you gotten to see anything else here?

KA: I just saw California Solo last night. I saw Safety Not Guaranteed. Now that things are starting to slow down is when I get to see some movies which is great. What’s really fun is that there are a lot of people that were here in 2010 when I was here with Freebie back with their next film. It’s like we’re in the same class.

Black Rock