Film Courage: I like how you say you with DRIFTER [his movie from 2015] that’s who you were at that time and maybe whether it makes you uncomfortable or not, you see who you were, what you were going through and what you were trying to get the audience to feel. And you can see that with bands (let’s say U2), their first two albums very angry and raw (excellent albums) but different from newer ones where life is maybe a little better, money is little more plentiful and so people are in a different state of mind.
But I get it, I was watching this talk show with Wes Craven and I think it was from 1988 and it had some of the commercials still playing [in the Youtube video] and this was from a talk show that I watched as a little girl and it was like “Wow? Even the tone of the commercials were more upbeat? The music, everything.” So the tonality of the world was different then.
We reflect what we see. So in 2015, people had come out of the recession. It was a tough time for everyone especially millennials because jobs were not plentiful, you could have felt that. It was an angry time for a lot of people.
Chris von Hoffmann, Horror Writer/Director: I think I was just open to exposing the ugliness of humanity. The flip side of things like Bret Easton Ellis. When he wrote THE RULES OF ATTRACTION and AMERICAN PSYCHO and all of these kind of things. He was much more attracted to the flaws of people. And I think the one thing that I’m very attracted to is kind of like a common thing that no matter how mainstream I would want to dabble in. I am very interested in very flawed people and very flawed characters against even more flawed characters.
Sort of like a somewhat cynical outlook on the world but in a fun, exciting way. Not in a witty kind of entertaining kind of way. think I’m getting better at approaching it with the same kind of intention but I mean lighter is not the best word but a little more audience friendly but still having that same kind of outlook. Because I don’t want to lose that kind of outlook because I think that’s what make my kind of stuff specific, something a little more like my mom would enjoy. DRIFTER is not her kind of movie. It’s just not her kind of movie.
Film Courage: With DRIFTER I’m not sure if you’re able to talk about the budget? I was curious how you did the location scouting because you talked about the desert. And how you were very intrigued by the desert. I know the desert has always intrigued me. There is something frightening about it and then something mysterious and etherial at the same time because you can kind of get lost in there and there are all these interesting drifters (there really are and you kind of wonder what their background is). What is it about the desert and how did you find the location?
Chris: We shot the movie for like $40,000. But I’d shot a couple shorts in Lancaster/Palmdale so I was a little familiar with that area. And DRIFTER was the first time I really embraced my fascination with the desert because I had been really fascinated with it for a couple of years because I love stories about isolation.
You know just getting old before your time and just burning so much gas money just driving to the outskirts because there was no location manager or anything. It was a very skeleton crew. But the kicking off point was that my cinematographer had known about the town that was in Bombay Beach [California]. BAD MATCH with Keanu Reeves shot there a few years ago, they had wrapped filming a few months before we had arrived. But I think mostly they do photoshoots and commercials there and they don’t do that many features (maybe they are starting to). But that was the kicking off point to write a story around that town and then drive around all over the place trying to find something. It was actually really…since there was no location manager that movie is so much driven by the set pieces, the locations were paramount in that story. If the location didn’t fit, that movie was going to get laughed off the screen and I’ve seen a lot of micro-budget, post-apocalyptic stories shooting in Vasquez Rocks in Valencia [a popular LA County attraction] and you see tourists in the background. I want to shoot in places that no one shoots in, forbidden places.
Film Courage: Devil’s Punchbowl?
Chris: Yeah. I wanted to go to Death Valley but it was way too far. So just finding these different places and we were in pre-production for a long time. It was a very small crew so I need time to get all that stuff. And the locations were probably the most major thing because you don’t want to break the bank but you want to make sure that the locations are as cinematic as you can get. So a lot of negotiating and shooting and random spots all over the place.
But it was mainly all around Lancaster, Joshua Tree, Bombay Beach, Victorville [California]. We shot a little in LA inside this haunted house, oddly enough right around the corner from where I lived. I’d been trying to find that location since forever and I would go in all these houses that were normal houses. I was trying to look for a haunted manor, TALES FROM THE CRYPT kind of house. And I was shocked that we were able to get the house that we got because the guy was just this super nice guy and hooked us up on a great deal with it. I just get so obsessive because I love locations, I love the bigger the better. And seeing this house that was right around the corner, right around my nose the entire time and it literally had everything we needed. All the rooms they had extra furniture, literally everything we needed was there. It was very odd, almost like destiny.
But locations, that’s one of the things that I’ve very stubborn about in pre-production because it dictates the quality of the movie and I’ve seen films with really crappy locations and I’m just like “Why would you ever use that?”
You’ve got to be realistic at a certain point. But I think there’s a difference between being realistic and settling. You want to make sure you can get the best location you can possibly get. And I think a lot of people are just like “That’s okay. Let’s just shoot there. We’ll just shoot around it.” Locations are so, so important. If you’re making a cinematic story, they are very, very important. It just dictates so many things.
Film Courage: How did you deal with the wind and the heat? And also too I don’t know how close were any stores, so how were you dealing with the remote location and the elements?
Chris: We shot two filming blocks in July and August 2015 and in July we were shooting a lot of night stuff in the Lancaster/Victorville area and it was freezing. One girl she was covered in fake blood for hours that night and she was shivering (her teeth were chattering the entire time). It was rough but that was nothing compared to when we shot in the town because the Film Commission, they were like laughing at us because we were shooting in August. Even that other movie that I was talking about, they filmed in April and even then it’s hot out there and it doesn’t start to cool until October. We could push until October. I wasn’t going to be one of these guys who shoots on the weekend and months later shoots again. I’m too impatient for that. And so in the thick of August, literally the worst time you were supposed to be shooting there. I remember we were so cautious if we could afford a medic there because we needed a medic to come about and we were nervous if we could afford it. And then we finally did get one to come out and there were a couple moments where people almost passed out.
And it was very intense. I’d never felt heat like that before. I remember when we first arrived, everyone was having a great time driving out there. And the moment we first arrived people couldn’t breathe when we stepped out of the car because the moment we arrived we went right into filming and people were already feeling it. And we had four more (much more ambitious) days after that. I think the hottest it got was 120 [degrees] and it was the biggest day that it was the hottest (the most ambitious day). But I think looking back at it, I think it dictated people’s performances. I think it really…freezing cold and scorching heat I think it really influenced people’s performances because all that sweat is all real. The sunburn and all of that, all of it is real. I just love the stories of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, scorching heat and such a nasty atmosphere and locations they were filming in so that you don’t want to touch anything. You look at the film and it lends itself very well to it.
Question For The Viewers: Do you settle for locations or do you keep searching?
CONNECT WITH CHRIS VON HOFFMANN
About Chris von Hoffmann:
After a short stint at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and acting in several off-off-Broadway plays, Chris von Hoffmann moved to LA and turned to writing/producing/directing.
Chris von Hoffmann has made several short films including Fuel Junkie, White Trash and Vodka 7. White Trash had its World Premiere at the Chinese Theatre for the 17th Annual Dances With Films film festival and won Best Guerilla short for the 10th Annual Action on Film film festival. Vodka 7 won Best Cinematography at the WILDsound film festival in Toronto and screened at Tribeca Cinemas for the 9th Annual Big Apple film festival while Fuel Junkie had its premiere at Sony Picture Studios. In 2015 he directed his debut feature film Drifter which secured worldwide distribution and was released in 2017.
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