Ordinarily, in a film like this, one would figure Della would be beaten, raped. Nearly killed. And ordinarily, a film like this would be directed by a male. Such is not the case for either. Della turns the tables on her assaulters and her bloody revenge is orchestrated by Susan Montford, a Scotland native making her directorial debut. Montford produced last year's actioner Shoot 'Em Up with Clive Owen and the upcoming creature feature Splice by Vincenzo Natali.
ShockTillYouDrop.com caught up to Montford this week to talk about her first time in the director's seat along with producer Don Murphy who shepherded the project lensed in Canada.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: While She Was Out is based on a short by Edward Bryant. Was it difficult convincing him that you were the right person to adapt this?
Susan Montford: I was looking for something to write and direct, be it $500 thousand or a million, whatever I could get. I tried to direct a very elaborate film I wrote about the Manson family. It was all set to go then 9/11 hit and everything fell apart. I tried to get it going again. I was ready to do a movie guerilla-style and I came across Ed's story and I thought that was it. It was just a simple, very direct story with no sub-plots.
Don Murphy: While She Was Out was actually published as a chapbook, it was an eight or nine page story. Susan had read it and the interesting thing was when I contacted Ed's people, you figure a relatively obscure short story would be available. But it was interesting because this story had been under option since 1994 consistently by this guy who had done one movie as a producer, Excalibur, and he kept renewing the story. As lady luck would have it, after Susan decided it was something she wanted to do, I contacted Ed's agents and the option had just come up. We then forged ahead, Susan wrote a hundred million drafts and here we are.
Shock: Was expanding the story difficult and what trappings did you want to avoid, Susan?
Montford: It wasn't difficult at all because it was such a great concept. It's a really great opportunity to have the victim fight back and turn the tables on the aggressor. I tried to set it up so she seems like a victim. She's incredible fragile, someone who might be raped and horribly killed. But I wanted to turn it around so she was the one who was doing whatever she had to do to survive. After she does in the first boy...she has to do what she has to do.
Shock: Killing becomes easy.
Montford: [laughs] Also, with the boys, I know some directors would make the choice to just make them evil. But, for me, I wanted to make them a little bit vulnerable, a little bit stupid. Because in my experience these aren't often the guys who would do that kind of thing. They're talking big, they're talking hard. But to me they're just silly boys who wind up in a bad situation.
Murphy: The thing about Susan's pitch that was exciting was: What if we did the movie in quasi-real time? Susan wanted to follow Della. There was no cutting away, like, "meanwhile back at the ranch..." There are a few moments when you stay on the kids rather than her, but there's no "B" plot. You follow her when she's in a situation of kill or be killed. And I thought that was daring and it excited me.
Shock: Did you find Kim immediately receptive to the film when you made her the offer and did step up to some of the challenges Della faces in the film?
Montford: Kim was on a very short list of actors who I dreamed of for the part. I had a meeting with CAA and they talked to me about a few different actors. And days later I got a phone call from that and told me Kim wanted to meet. I had a meeting with her and she arrived in character. She was dressed as Della and she told me she wanted the character. I had stayed up all night stressing about all of the different questions she was going to ask me.
Murphy: The interesting thing was that she's in her 50s, but the character was always supposed to be a mom of two in her 40s. So it wasn't until we actually met with her when we realized, shit, she looks like she's in her 40s, I don't care how old she is!
Montford: She's very fit, so she does a lot of stunts herself.
Murphy: As a producer, you get worried...there's a scene where she's running from the boys in a housing development and she's climbing up a plank and she falls on barbed wired - she did that. I was like, "Hey, we have a stunt woman!" And she told us, "Nah, I'm doing it." Okay, but if you get hurt, I'm f**ked, but she did it.
Montford: All of these people called me to tell me she was delicate, she's a gentle little flower. She totally surprised the hell out of me because she was tough and fit. Don't get me wrong, she is delicate though. There's a scene where the boys chase her into a river and the director of photography, the assistant director and myself got hypothermia and Kim is in there barely dressed, with a coat on. She was amazing.
Shock: Did she have any say in what tools she wanted to carry in her toolbox and take out the boys with? Or was it all scripted?
Montford: It was all scripted. The deaths are certainly interesting. We blocked them thoroughly and we created a finished make-up effect which we then augmented with digital effects. Then we worked backwards from the finished effect and did all of the effects leading up to the digital effect. Kim really went for it. At some points we kept breaking all of the rubber tools she was using on the boys.
Murphy: The death of the character Vingh, that was [actor] Leonard's wrap night and I'm pretty sure she was so into it he went home seeing stars.
Shock: Guillermo del Toro is an executive producer on this, did he have any friendly words of advice on your feature debut?
Montford: Oh, he was fantastic. He helped me a lot starting out with giving me tips on how to work with actors and he also watched all of the dailies. He gave me feedback on them. He was really helpful in getting us distribution and everything, awesome all the way through. I can't comprehend where he gets all of this energy from.
Shock: This experience must have whet your appetite to direct more. So what's next...something charming and sweet like a romantic comedy?
Montford: I don't know if I have it in me to do a romantic comedy.
Shock: That's what we like to hear!
Montford: I'm looking at a few projects, but for me it's all about the story. I really like gripping, realistic stories. I'm looking to do something with a great story for whatever budget it is. If you're in love with the project, it doesn't matter.
Shock: You mentioned that you were willing to do While She Was Out for whatever budget you could get, but wouldn't you agree that throwing more money at this wouldn't necessarily be the right thing? Don't you think it thrives on its limited, guerilla means?
Montford: I agree. I think sometimes films end up with the budget they're supposed to have. Funnily enough, you always want more money. Oh, I'd like to get more money for the effects. I think this was the perfect budget. We had to find more money, though, in post-production, but I had to pull in a lot of favors.
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