2 items from 2017
A mysterious man with reflective glasses stalks a trio of isolated campers in Desolation, the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Sam Patton. When Abby (Jaimi Paige) loses her husband to sickness, she takes her 13-year-old son Sam (Toby Nichols) and her best friend Jenn (Alyshia Ochse) on a multi-day hiking trip to spread her husband’s […]
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- Ben Pearson
Premiering tonight as part of the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival is Sam Patton’s Desolation, which follows a grieving mom named Abby (Jaimi Paige), her teenage son, Sam (Toby Nichols), and their friend Jen (Alyshia Ochse), who head out to the woods in an effort to honor Abby’s deceased husband’s wishes and spread his ashes, only to come across a mysterious loner who begins following their every move. The trio must find a way to elude their woodland stalker before he can make them his next victims in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Daily Dead recently had the chance to speak with Patton about his first time at the helm of a feature film, and he discussed how his time working at Blumhouse helped prepare him to take the directorial reins on Desolation, working with his cast, and more.
Great to speak with you, Sam. I noticed on your résumé on IMDb that you've been working in different facets of the film industry for a while, and I noticed specifically that a lot of those happen to be with Blumhouse Productions. Because I know Jason Blum and their mantra in terms of making films on a smaller scale, do you feel like being in that environment and being involved with projects on that level helped prepare you for when it was time for you to go out and make your first feature?
Sam Patton: Oh, one hundred percent. A thousand percent, even. I got my start in Hollywood as an intern at Blumhouse, and within a few months was getting paid to work on their movies and I love all the folks over there. I've got a couple of mentors in that organization and it was just a great crash course. I started working with them when they were still in little offices on the Paramount lot, right after Insidious, which was really their first home-grown movie, because Paranormal Activity was an acquisition.
So, I watched them go from being a little company to a really big company making tons and tons of films, and I got to be part of a lot of them. So, it was a crash course in learning how to make a movie for a small amount of money in a contained environment with a small cast, and still tell great stories that deserve an audience. I could talk for an hour just about all the lessons I learned there.
And it was actually after a few years there when the opportunity came to make this movie, and I wanted to go for it. I don't think I would have been nearly as confident that it could be done for so little, for a modest budget, if I hadn't been coming straight from doing so many movies there.
Was there something in particular about this script, because I know this was co-written by Matt Anderson and Michael Larson-Kangas, that made you go, "Yes, this is absolutely the project I want to be out there making for my debut,"?
Sam Patton: Well, it was two things. It was the characters, which I fell in love with. The son is named Sam, which was the case when I read the first draft of the script, but it's made for plenty of jokes about what a traumatic childhood I must have had, and how this movie is autobiographical.
I was going to ask [laughs].
Sam Patton: No, no, that was in the first draft I read [laughs]. But it was the characters that jumped off the page immediately to me. I felt for them. I felt for their situations. The closest comparison to their situation in my life that I have experience with was when my grandmother passed away when I was nine. She was only 60, which is young, right? And all of her children and my grandfather all had really strong relationships with her and not that they had bad relationships with each other, but they all related through her. And so when she was gone, they had to sort of figure it out. She was the one that brought them all together for family things.
And so now, Abby and Sam, it's not that they don't love each other, they just don't get each other at all. But now they're all they have, and so they need to come together. And that character struggle was what drew me in. When I went looking for a contained environment horror film to make, the producer in me was looking for something small and doable on a small budget, but this was one of the first scripts I read. I fell in love with it, but I thought, "No, you can't make the first script you read." And I read more scripts, but came back to this one because it was so great.
And then the second part of it that made this script so important to me, it has this mirror element where it’s not quite an allegory—it's not like Metamorphosis with Kafka, where it's straight allegory—but there are parallels in the external story to the internal story, and I just thought that was really good storytelling and I wanted to bring it to the screen. And I thought we could do it.
For me, though, I have to find a point when it has to be made. It has to be now that we make a movie, and then we do it. So, that personal urgency is something I always try to find in every project, or else, how are you going to put two, three years into a movie, if you're not passionate every day about it?
Because you were working with basically four actors in this movie, was it conscientious on your part that you were trying to really keep this intimate and contained in terms of both the story and these characters?
Sam Patton: Definitely. There was at least one draft that had flashbacks to Michael in the hospital and we definitely discussed other scenes where there were park rangers finding a dead body, too, and an action opener. There were a lot of things discussed and I kept coming back to this idea that the movie should start and end in the woods, and it should be about these four people, and we should believe in the world they talk about, but you don't have to see it. Because to me, that's almost more real.
One example I give to people when I try and explain the right way to do it is, in the first Star Wars film, they blow up Alderaan. They blow an entire planet out of the sky. And we don't see anybody on Alderaan, but we see an old Jedi clutch his heart and sit down, and then we know something really terrible happened. You don't need to see the Marvel-level movie destruction of Alderaan to get it. You need to see a quiet moment, you know what I mean? So, yes, to answer your question, definitely for me it was important to keep it small and intimate.
And also—this is something I definitely discussed a lot with my cinematographer—we tried to challenge ourselves to do everything with less. If we thought a scene needed four setups, could we do it with two? Could we do it with one? Could we do a scene with one setup? If so, we're doing it with one setup, so how do we keep it interesting? And so that was sort of a challenge all the way through. It's like, "We don't need that. What's the fewest number of characters we need? What's the fewest number of locations?"
So, I like to think of working in a box as a really creatively liberating thing. Limitations, I like them a lot, because it gives you somewhere to start, it gives you a frame of reference. Some people don't always embrace that as a creative tool, and I think people should when they're making movies, small movies especially, that don't have the benefit of big budgets or stars to carry them.
- Heather Wixson
2 items from 2017
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