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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 04.17.20] thriller drama crime

Writer/director Scott Teems is clearly interested in stories redemption. His feature film debut That Evening Sun focused on a farmer returning home to deal with a family secret. He spent a season on TV's "Rectify" which focuses on the drama of a man putting his life back together after spending nearly 20 years on death row.

For his latest, a thriller titled The Quarry, Teems has adapted Damon Galgut's novel of the same name which tells the story of a drifter whose chance road-side encounter with a troubled preacher changes his life completely and forces the man to come to terms with his actions.

The Quarry is a very introspective film that relies heavily on the actors to provide much of the internalized drama. Thankfully, Teems has Shea Whigham and Michael Shannon, two powerhouse performers who are more than capable of meeting the story's demands and they both succeed in delivering the powerhouse performances at the centre of this quiet thriller.

We had a chance to speak with Teems just before what was to have been the movie's SXSW premiere, to discuss the appeal of this story, casting and what's next.

While that premiere did not play as planned, the film is being released on VOD on April 17.

Quiet Earth: How did you come across this novel and what was it about the story that compelled you to turn this into a film?

Scott Teems: About 10 years ago I had just finished my first movie That Evening Sun and I was looking for my next project and came across the blurb or the synopsis of this novel somewhere on the internet. I just sort of stumbled upon it and immediately was hooked by the premise and set up the idea. It had all these things I was interested in: men and violence and religion and how those things intersect or you know, crash together and explode.

So I bought the book, read it, and really loved it. The book is set in South Africa, the coastal Plains, and it's dealing with post-apartheid racial injustice. But that setting and that those themes and ideas felt very relevant and translatable to the United States. It felt like the barren Plains. I had Texas in my mind. And of course unfortunately through all the world there is racial injustice and conflict. And so those themes were resonant with me and it had the central premise that is a classic universal idea of the stranger rolling into town pretending to be somebody he's not. You can take that idea into any location or setting and make a great story.

One of the things that I find really interesting is that it's such an interesting tale of redemption as well, but so much of the of the story is internalized. How difficult was it to adapt some of those ideas for the screen?

It's tricky because it's a piece that in a lot of ways is dependent on the actors and you have to cast actors who can carry a story just through their eyes. So much of the film is quiet, so much of Shay's performance... it's silent in a way, as you mentioned. And even Mike too. Everyone's got their own, even in Catalina [Sandino Moreno], and everyone's got their own internal life and internal strife.

It's a combination of having wonderful actors who really are thoughtful, deep people on their own and therefore have a lot going on all time in their mind and behind the eyes combined with what I tried to do and in the way I told this story. It's a very sort of reserved, observational, formal sort of approach to the filmmaking. And that hopefully allows you to watch and feel like you're observing and seeing something into, and inside the minds of these characters in a way. But it was definitely an exercise and that was challenging and in a good way.

It's taken 10 years to bring this story to life. What were the major challenges of getting this to the screen?

When we first started out in 2010, in fact, I was looking recently in my old files and I realized I finished the first draft of the script in March, 2010 so literally 10 years ago. This is a story that on the surface doesn't scream huge box office, commercial appeal and so people have a hard time visualizing that, whether it's financier's or whoever you're trying to sell the movie to.

It's sometimes it's difficult to visualize who the audience is for a movie like that. But we all know that thoughtful independent cinema has its audience and I knew this movie was a suspenseful thriller at its heart and had those beats as well. I knew you could sell the movie that way too. And so it was just a matter of being patient and eventually finding the right actors to play the roles.

The project sort of died for several years and when Shea got his hands on the script a couple of years ago. That brought the project back to life and Shea's passion for it, which then brought Mike on board... that made it all come together.

Shea and Mike have worked together in the past and they have a really unique chemistry and this time around it seems like their roles are a little bit reversed; usually Michael Shannon is the. How much time did these actors, all of them, have to work together and to find their characters because there are a lot of pregnant pauses between the characters and a lot of information is read in those moments.

Certainly in any relationship, but especially like the one that Shea and Mike have as friends off-screen, played a lot into this story because they trust each other as actors and they each know the other will bring his best to the scene every time and we'll be totally prepared and they understand how each other works.

They work very differently as actors. Mike's a very internal guy and he does a lot of his work beforehand. He comes in really prepared and knows exactly how he's going to do it while Shea is very much into trying new things and figuring it out as together on the day. They work very differently but they have a trust with each other that I think allows them to have these roles that feel very lived in and, and their dynamic on-screen to be very tense because they can really give all of themselves knowing the other person's going to be there. And the same with the other actors. Everyone's so prepared. We had no rehearsal prior to making the film. It all kind of came together very quickly and when it did finally come together and so we had no rehearsal.

How difficult is it for you as a director to work with actors that have such different approaches to filmmaking? Does it, does that make it more difficult for you to make decisions?

Yeah, it's a challenge, but it's one that I embrace. I think part of your job as a director is to find the way each actor and each crew member, each creative person on your show, to find the language with which they communicate and then learn to speak that language. That's your primary job so that you can paint a picture for everyone that says "this is the movie we're trying to make."

It's a challenge and sometimes a difficult challenge to figure out how each person communicates. Do they want to be talked to? They want to be left alone. But that really is the job of the director much more than framing up an image. It's finding each creative person's language and learning how to speak it.

Now that this is out in the world, 10 years of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, what's next for you?

Well, I wrote Halloween Kills, which is the sequel to the Halloween that came out a couple of years ago and that comes out this fall. Hopefully if all continues on pace, hopefully by October the world will be a little bit back to normal. So that's the next thing I have.

I also wrote an adaptation of Stephen King's Fire Starter that I'm hoping will film this year. It's supposed to, but you know, everything's a bit in the air right now with the way the world is. But I'm hopeful there's still projects will see the light of day in the next year or so.

The Quarry is available on VOD on April 17.

Recommended Release: The Quarry

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