Home
Movies
Webseries
Short Films
Interviews Contact Links Cheez Blog


Drew Hall
Tonight's Feature Presentation

TASTY CRAFT STUFF & ARTISTIC INTEGRITY

an interview with drew hall


The Green Room

Drew Hall is a writer and independent filmmaker whom Ziggy first met at a screening of two of Hall’s projects during Phoenix Comicon 2015.  Several weeks after the con, he was kind enough to share insights about those films, the con experience, and the nature of a film business that invites artists to give up their visions for the sake of a deal.  He’s a true fan’s filmmaker, and someone whose name we expect you’ll be hearing a lot more of in the years to come.  (Especially if he secures the rights to make a sequel to Gymkata.)


The Interview



Convergence


Ziggy Berkeley: When you first introduced Convergence to the audience for the film’s screening at Phoenix Comicon 2015, you started off with a bet.  Specifically: “Bet you won’t guess.”  That’s a bold opening, not unlike tossing blood-soaked tuna to a room full of sharks.  Why that approach?

Drew Hall: Couple of reasons...

At normal screenings I don’t normally say anything like that, but at a con I know that many of the people in the room are highly intelligent and passionate about what they devote their attention to.  Screening at a con is one of the few places where I can feel like myself, so I see the audience as like minded friends.

The other reason is that the chairs at cons are not usually the most comfortable, so I always look for an angle to help people stick in their seats; but it’s also the trick of showing at a con – more so if you’re unknown – that you need to present a spectacle congoers will feel is a worth investment of time.  There is a ton of competition!

Ziggy Berkeley: You had to know that a lot of people (including, I admit, myself) would figure out a major key to the hero’s circumstance roughly half a movie before he did, and spend a lot of time thinking they won your bet.  Was that as planned as it felt after the fact?

Drew Hall: Yes. You ask great questions.  This one is tricky to answer without giving anything away.  One of the challenges with Convergence was knowing that we have a very unique story that from a structure and pop culture aspect preys upon the audience’s expectations.  I hope this doesn’t come across as arrogant, but I don’t like conventional horror films.  I can typically see them coming from a mile away - though a caveat here would be the fact that those which embrace the campy side with purpose and mastery are usually my favorites (Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, Cabin in the Woods).

The goal of Convergence was to break a few conventional rules - such as massive tone shifts.

Ziggy Berkeley: Then there’s the “boom” reveal to kick the third act.  You mentioned after the screening was over that you paid pretty heavily for not allowing any potential distributors to give up the secret.  Tell us about that.

Drew Hall: Yeah; it’s a pretty big risk.  We’re independent, which means unless we are picked up either by a really smart distributor or a larger studio, most smaller houses will want to rush this to market as fast and as efficiently as possible.  They will showcase every amazing VFX shot or clip or “high production” value image that they can use to help push buyers into picking up the film.  That ultimately leads to massive spoiler potential.  From Day One I have refused to let any of the Third Act content get released.

Even the idea of what we do in Convergence is considered “too artsy” for some.  It’s not like it’s an easy sell.  It’s not just horror in parts, nor revenge thriller, nor supernatural thriller - some have even called it sci fi.  Since it’s not a cookie cutter and does rely upon the audience actually watching the film, we lost many opportunities.  If I remove opinion and go only in evidence, audiences love it.  We do well at film festivals by winning by Jury and Audience Favorite awards.  We don’t gain these wins without votes from the audience.

It was a hard lesson to learn – or I should say a big pill to swallow – being reminded that this is a business; moreover, one in which a product is crafted and then sold.  Being an indie filmmaker is like being an inventor who constantly has to come up with the next “as seen on TV” widget.  The lesson is that you have to know this when going into business with sales agents.  They are middlemen between the product and the distributor, so unless you get really lucky to find a sales agent who totally gets your idea, films are treated like a product on store shelves.  The big brands get better shelf space, although their quality can be questionable.  The really unique and tasty craft stuff is on the bottom shelf.

Ziggy Berkeley: Are there any movies that come to mind right away for you that, to your mind, lost something or got ruined by marketing that gave away too much?

Drew Hall: The big one for me right now is the new Terminator.  It seems like the entire film has been spoiled.  I didn’t wanna know who the bad guy is.  Mission to Mars’ trailer literally gave away the entire plot of the film.  The funny thing is that it is increasingly difficult to remain spoiler free these days.  The marketing machines are huge and – much like a time traveling robot from the future sent to the past – they will find you.

Ziggy Berkeley: Now let’s dial it back to the beginning for your film.  What was the genesis of Convergence, and why did you choose so politically touchy of a catalyst for the story?

Drew Hall: I am a Southerner, and I grew up in a part of the South which during the 80’s and 90’s was fiercely anti-abortion.  As a kid, I was dragged along to peaceful rallies and protests against abortion.  It’s part of my history, and I decided from the onset to make Convergence a deeply personal film, as the pictures I had done before it were ‘merc work’.  I didn’t have a stake in the writing for those; I was hired to direct and deliver a motion picture.  So for my first solo credit, I drilled down to pull a bit of personal history, coupled with the creation of the monster which scares me the most.

A zealot in any form spooks me, but those who commit murder under the auspices of religion are the monsters I’m most afraid of.  There’s a fanatical absence of logic to them which is unnerving.  Growing up in Mobile, AL in the 90s, we had several murders in the area in which the motivation was “God told me to do it to help take down the abortion clinics.” These were not heavily pre-meditated acts of violence.  They were impulsive, vicious, and unrelenting murders by terrorists.  The completely counterintuitive nature of these acts is what really sends my head spinning.  This was the form of terrorism before 9/11, and since Convergence takes place in the 1999, I could pull from my past to carve out the catalyst for the narrative. 

There is a religious undertone to the film.  I don’t feel like it’s preachy, but I wanted the character of Ben to struggle with faith, and I love mysteries where everything is connected.  His journey is an exploration into my own identity within religion.  Can revenge be redemption?  Can redemption be revenge?  How does one’s faith conflict with either of these?

Ziggy Berkeley: The already-noted marketing issues aside, what was the biggest challenge you faced during the making of Convergence?

Drew Hall: I wish I had a crazy story with Convergence, but to be honest we had an amazing cast and crew.  The dedication and trust they all put into me was powerful.  We had some small challenges along the way, but nothing of major negative consequence. 

The most frustrating portion of filmmaking to me is music licensing (not score – we have an insanely good composing team of Page Hamilton [Helmet] and Patrick Kirst).  Since we were set in 1999, I desperately wanted to get a song that helped evoke that mood.  It was the 90s.  Things were great.  The tech bubble was booming, and Y2K was our only real threat.  I must have reached out to 15 different artists/labels for songs – everything from Flagpole Sitta to Notorious B.I.G. to Beastie Boys to Filter.  All of them were out of our price range until our Music Supervisor Ken Hauptman hooked us up with a version of “Santa Monica” by Everclear.  Turned out to be the perfect cue for that opening sequence.

It wasn’t an issue after the fact, but the entire crew also probably walked 5 to 6 miles a day while we were filming in the hospital.  The Art Department must have walked 10.  We had our offices there plus cast rooms plus 80% of the sets. 

Ziggy Berkeley: What about your biggest coup; something that fell perfectly into place?

Drew Hall: There’s a scene in the film between Ben Walls (Clayne Crawford) and the Nurse (Chelsea Bruland) which is one of my favorites in the film.  We originally had planned on shooting a completely different scene that morning and needed some additional HMI lights for the windows.  Turns out the owner of said lights had a flat tire and was nearly 3 hours late getting to his shop in New Orleans (a 2 hour drive from Mobile, AL).  This caused a huge ripple effect and forced us to shoot the bottom half of that sequence in the kitchen as it was written.  The lights showed up so late that we had to pull another scene up.  An actor who was supposed to be in that original scene needed to leave the following day, so I was forced to rewrite.  That night I sent my assistant to go get me a six pack of beer.  The script supervisor (also a brilliant writer in his own right) and I sat down to beers and crafted the scene between Ben and the Nurse.  We reblocked out the action sequence and made sure it matched to the dailies from the kitchen scene. 

We felt like everything happens for a reason, and this time we got to see exactly what the reason was.

Ziggy Berkeley: The horror presented by Convergence relies heavily on suspense and atmosphere and leaves almost no room for unsubtle humor on the screen.  Were there any jokers on the set who kept things light when the cameras weren’t rolling?

Drew Hall:  Haaa...  Yeah it’s a pretty intense film.  About 2/3 of the crew and I have worked together before, so we were all quite comfortable being around each other.  The VFX producer (and Co-Director of Aether) Horst Sarubin and I are often mistaken for brothers. While we were filming, Halloween happened, so we dressed up exactly the same and just swapped around name tags.  It was a fantastic gag, but the pinnacle prank was during the big torture scene filming.  The set was very tense, and for good reason.  I grabbed the producer Scott Robinson and showed him the trailer for Gymkata.  Between takes we pulled Clayne Crawford aside and told him that we had just landed a huge option for a remake and felt that he would be perfect for it.  With our best poker faces ever we showed him the trailer.  The look on his face was priceless.  He looked up and said “You’re serious?”  We replied with a stoic “YES.”  He suddenly back pedaled with “I’ll need to talk with my agent.”  Then someone screamed out “Gymkata!” in the background, and he knew it was a gag.  The rest of the day the between takes, the cast and crew would riff on ideas for making Gymkata Too.

Ziggy Berkeley: What about Convergence makes you the most proud as a storyteller and filmmaker?

Drew Hall: Making Convergence was a huge step forward for me as a professional.  I pitched an insane idea and somehow secured the funding, support, and family to back me up.  I’d call it a confirmation that doing what I’ve loved to do is what I should be doing. 

On a broader spectrum, we made a film that connects with audiences.  I miss the days of walking out of a theater discussing the film we just saw beyond the basic “good or bad.”  At screenings, we’ve had full on theological debates erupt.  People are always puzzled on how we did a few of the shots, or have found themselves needing a moment to relax and comprehend everything they just saw.

But the biggest success for me was that I felt the film honored my friend Ben Walls.  He passed away a week or so before I started writing the film.  I suppose Convergence was one way I was dealing with loss, hence naming the lead character after Ben.  The fact that the film evokes a range of emotions is a good sign that Ben’s influence on me as a friend made a lifelong impact.

Ziggy Berkeley: Prior to Convergence, you screened a “proof of concept” short at Phoenix Comicon that plays along a very different vein.  But before we get into that, please tell our visitors exactly what is meant by a “proof of concept” piece.

Drew Hall: Original content (a property) is often a difficult sale in today’s marketplace.  Most movies and episodic programs are based on a book, remake, or established property.  When you pitch original products, you need to have a series of art, images, or a proof of concept reel to help visually back up your ideas.

Ziggy Berkeley: With that in mind, tell us about the world of Aether: Prologue.

Drew Hall: Aether is a steampunk inspired science fiction film about a group of outcasts who must join forces to defend their home from Assassins, Conspirators, and a Tyrant who will stop at nothing to keep his floating kingdom Skyborne. 

The Aether’verse is a very large world akin to Mad Max meeting Firefly, but without space travel, and set in a fantasy type genre.  It’s one part political thriller, one part sci fi actioner, and one part fantasy film.

Ziggy Berkeley: How did that story come about?

Drew Hall: I’ve been working on this story with co-writer Denny Wilkins for nearly 5 years; prior to that I had been developing a similar concept for another 5 years.  So 10 years I’ve lived in the Aether’verse between other scripts and projects. 

Do you remember a time when original science fiction ruled the cineplex?  I miss that era, and I wanted to craft something which evokes that same sense of scale.  Aether was born out of necessity to bring a world to life.  It some ways it was like reverse engineering an RPG, then basing a feature film off of said RPG.

Ziggy Berkeley: One of the goals of the proof of concept is to show people what you could do with their money if they bankrolled the picture, and for story, that makes sense; but for effects… how do you deal with the challenge of proving you can properly present an effects-driven film without the economies of scale provided by the large effects budget you don’t have yet?

Drew Hall: That really is the trick, and it sounds daunting, but we have an incredible creative team supporting us.  The funny thing is that the script draws people on board.  Everyone finds one or more connective points within it and therefore is immediately excited about the project.  Though we have some VFX in the picture, we want to do as much in camera as possible, akin to the early masters of science fiction.  Star Wars was an amazing experience as a kid because it was such a huge world and most importantly, the visual effects supported the story and were not the sole purpose of the film.  I know that with the right supporters, we can help welcome back sci fi to this realm of existence.

Ziggy Berkeley: What sort of response have you had to Aether: Prologue thus far, or aren’t you at liberty to say?  Any chance of more coming soon, and can people at large have a look at what has been done so far?

Drew Hall: We have been gleefully overwhelmed with support for the Aether’verse family.  We premiered the full 8:30 proof of concept film at Phoenix Comicon, but we have also released it online.  Interested parties can head over to AetherPrologue.com to see tons of behind the scenes videos, interviews, trailers, concept art, and the entire film.

In the meantime, we have had strong interest from several key players in the business.

We do have a few extra bits on the way.  First off we partnered up with Blue Water Studios to create the Aether Prologue Comic book.  I refuse to just tell the same story in comic form, so it is a true companion piece to the feature film.  The story in the Aether Prologue comics takes places 12 months before the events in the motion picture, so if you’re savvy enough to have read it, there are lots of Easter eggs for you when the finished picture is released.

Due to the budget, we cannot crowd fund the film, but we are toying with the idea of making an original web series that takes place in the Aether’verse and will also compliment the events of the motion picture. 

Ziggy Berkeley: Despite having become wildly popular (and thus profitable) in literature (and as a cosplay and pop cultural phenomenon) over the past several years, Steampunk has not really had a proportionate surge in Big Hollywood.  There are hints here and there, but no major movement.  Why do you think that is?

Drew Hall: It might sound odd, but Steampunk, to many people, is also period driven.  This makes it quite expensive to produce on a grand scale.  There are also so many versions of it that are so loosely defined outside of the community that it may scare off some companies as being a viable property.  I believe SyFy had a web series called Riese which didn’t perform as well as they had hoped – though that’s an assumption based on the fact that it ran a short lived life – but so did Firefly...

Ziggy Berkeley: Do you have any favorite Steampunk stories that you’ve read from the shelves?  And perhaps a favorite amongst the rare big screen glimmers?

Drew Hall: I enjoyed Boneshaker, though I’m not a huge zombie fan.  It has a great world building element to it.  The best Steampunk stories I’ve encountered come from the community characters themselves.  Airship Isabella has a great concept on their hands, as does Chris McCallum with his M.E.C.H. concept – really great stuff. 

On the big screen – though it’s not “traditional” Steampunk – I’m a Browncoat.  So anything in the Firefly or Serenity universe is gold standard for me.

Ziggy Berkeley: What was Phoenix Comicon Film Festival experience like for you as a filmmaker?

Drew Hall: Jon Bonnell was an incredible host.  I will say that of all the cons we’ve attended, Phoenix has so much to see, it’s insane.  For being such a behemoth, it was also quite intimate at times.  The crowds were very pleasant and knowledgeable.  We had great venues in which to screen for a con.  I wish we could have shown in a theater setting, but we were still happy. 

Ziggy Berkeley: Do you have any particular standout memories from strolling about the con during your downtime?  (Or didn’t you have that luxury?)

Drew Hall: The biggest one is that I got to spend time with my wife and watch her get giddy of BSG stuff, coupled with the fact that my best friend and Co-Director was with me... It just made it a magical time. 

I love cosplay.  I love the fact that someone has spent time truly thinking about presenting a known or unknown character in a way that is competitively unique. 

Jae Lee.  I have been a fan for as long as I can remember loving comics and I got to meet him!  Plus he signed something for me...INSANE.

We walked around with the legendary art director David L. Snyder (Blade Runner) and technical art director Kim Bailey (Stargate) talking all things sci fi and film history.  What’s not to love?

Ziggy Berkeley: Final question I always ask: what type of cheese and recreational beverage would you pair yourself with?

Drew Hall: There is no doubt that I pair best with Piave.  The sweet floral notes coupled with the slight sharp salty bitterness are reminiscent of my own personality.  I go well with two different beer varieties.  The first is a Bierre De Guarde from Two Brothers.  It’s malty and sweet on the front in, with again a hint of roasted finish.  The complexity settles in between sips.  It’s a pondering beer.  The other is the seasonal release of Hopslam from Bells.  This one off ever changing beer is rare, best served fresh, and runs the gambit of floral hops yet retains an amazingly warm malty finish.  The kiss of honey settles the palette.


Doom Cheez Cinema is now Cinema on the Rocks. Thank you for your support!

Tweet this page!




Who are Aether's Sywrens?  Wouldn't you like to know...

- Interview conducted by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2015

This interview was conducted via email several weeks after and independent of Phoenix Comicon.


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


hermajestyspod.com

- copyright 2000-2017, Ziggy Berkeley and Cinema on the Rocks, all rights reserved.

Promotional/still images copyright their original authors. If you're going to drink, please do so legally and responsibly. Thanks.