RInterviewby Brian Taylor
w/ Zak Hilditch (Director) and Ross Dinerstein (Producer)
Q (Brian):Zak, this is the second film you’ve now done with Netflix with 1922, that came out in 2017, what are the benefits of working with Netflix?
A (Zak):Well, 1922 was my first taste of what that whole new world was like and it was amazing, it was just so supportive. I adapted this Stephen King story thinking, no one wanted to make it and it landed on Ross’ (Dinerstein) desk. We kind of knew each other a little bit at that point but he was on a golden run with Netflix at the time doing smaller horror films, but this was like a step up incrementally with the King brand and all of that and he really dug it. When Netflix says yes things happen very quickly and we found ourselves doing 1922 like, just making this movie together, having to work together, but it was just such a great experience. They were just so supportive of my vision; what I’ve done with King’s words and it’s just gone so smoothly that cut ahead two years later and this one was no different really. It was just like that trust was there, 1922 worked out great for both parties so again this was a no brainer when I had this. I gave it to Ross and took it to Netflix, so it was like a rinse and repeat of what we already knew was a good relationship. It just happened to work out again with those guys.
Q (Brian): So, Rattlesnake is heavy as suspense, what other films have helped influence you on the feel you were going for on this film?
A (Zak): This one was very much like my previous film 1922, like I sort of see this as very much based on a Stephen King novel that Stephen King never wrote. This was me dabbling into that sort of King world. That and my previous film before 1922, These Final Hours which was a ticking clock, impending doom about a father to be. In many ways this is like a spiritual successor to that but looking at it in a completely different context and also just dabbling in ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Those are the sort of ingredients that I love playing around with and this one is sort of all of those together. Anything from like the Twilight Zone to King’s work has sort of infused its way into my interpretation of all of those things that became Rattlesnake.
Q (Brian):Well, it’s actually very driven by your lead actress (Carmen Ejogo) so I’m curious, how did the casting process go and how did you come about Carmen?
A (Zak): Yes, so basically, I had this concept in my head for a couple of years about a parent whose child is stricken by something and an entity helps out but then has a promise. So, I had that initial concept in my head and never really knew what to do with it. Then about a year and a half before my son was born, it just sort of clicked and I knew that when he was here I wasn’t going to have time to write or anything. So, I very quickly wrote this script and it sort of just came out of me and that immediacy sort of made its way on the page and so did that primal nature. So, the movie was written very quickly. I gave it to Ross, it was then financed by Netflix very quickly, so we found ourselves in this position where ‘oh my God, this was like the quickest route to making something ever’. It’s amazing but now it’s like ‘okay we know when we want to shoot, which is soon, so who’s available’? So, I had just been watching season 2 of The Girlfriend Experience, which Carmen is amazing in, and I was like, wow, who is this? She was very fresh on my mind and I was like well, Netflix is so supportive on who you want to cast and taking sideways decisions on things and you don’t necessarily have to go to the same ten actresses that every studio want you to try out with. They want you to be unique and different and Carmen had never done anything like this before and I didn’t know her from a bar of soap, so we sent it to her and within two days we were skyping. She just really dug it and she had seen my previous work and we just sort of hit it off. So, again, it’s one of those situations where it all happened so quickly and you just can’t imagine another actress now pulling off this role and Carmen gave it her all and really went there for the film. It was one of those great little marriages where everything just sort of happened so quickly where we had no time to think. We just pulled this thing together and then we had Carmen and then we’re in New Mexico shooting it.
Q (Brian): You were saying just now that you wrote this screenplay before your own son was born. So, what was the toughest scene actually to write and also what was the toughest scene to actually shoot?
A (Zak):Whew, toughest scene to write and shoot. What was the toughest one to shoot?
A (Ross):The rattlesnake was tough.
A (Zak):The snake was hard, 1922was hard with the rats but nothing was as hard as the snake.
A (Ross):The snake was really dangerous. You know, we had the humane society there, we had handlers and all that. At the end of the day it’s a rattlesnake. There’s nothing you can do to a rattlesnake to make it less dangerous. So, we had an ambulance on standby, we alerted all the hospitals, it was stressful.
A (Zak): And in terms of writing, there wasn’t really anything too hard to write. Again, once everything clicked, the hardest thing was spending that two years having this what I thought was a pretty good concept in my head but now knowing what to do with it, that was the trickiest thing. When it clicked this one particular day and I was like ‘oh my God’, I might have just enough time to get this down, because he’s almost here. Again, I just sort of went into this other zone and it just sort of all like you know, snowballs like you figure out okay, if it’s a cross country trip, which state should it be in? Obviously, it should be Texas because I want it to be in the middle of nowhere and I want it to be big Americano and blue skies and canyons and desert roads. So, it was just the incremental decisions that you make when you start googling things and like oh, should we tour here because it’s a beautiful sounding town but like there’s actually a really dark underbelly reality to this town and there’s a documentary about it and everything just sort of felt like it was pulling me to give it a name and figure it all out. Writing is so hard but this one, as hard as it was, was sort of, because I had been sitting on it for so long, I think that when I had finally popped the pimple it just all came out.
Q (Brian): Well, the runtime is pretty right on. At least for me, suspense movies with shorter runtimes are really good, is there a longer version out there? Or had it always intended to be 85 minutes?
A (Zak): I mean it was like a 95-page screenplay, which is very similar to These Final Hours. These Final Hours was a 85-page screenplay and that was an 85 minute movie. It’s amazing when they stay a minute a page. Whatever happens in an edit and whatever rabbit holes you’re going to hit, it always comes back to what that initial count that was in the screenplay. No, it was always very lean, mean, fighting machine this movie. It just needed to be, you know, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome at all and hopefully if anything it still leaves you wanting a little bit more at the end there. Those are the films I love, where it ends and you’re like oh, well I really could of, aw, you know, you’re still wanting a bit more of that world. I think that’s a good way to go out especially with something like this sort of genre world.
Q (Brian):Last question. Your last two films have actually been about tough choices. So, speaking of choices, what are you working on next?
A (Zak): Um, fingers in a bunch of pies. I’m still dabbling in stories about human conditions set against big genre backdrops, intimate personal stories set against like big genre landscapes. We’re sort of cooking something right now that’s hopefully a continuation, a different kind of examination, of that same singular point of view movie where you’re following one character who just so happens to be dealing with this bigger thing that’s forming morbid. Again, those are the sort of films I like getting my teeth stuck into. Hopefully we can say more soon, fingers crossed.
Rattlesnake is streaming now on Netflix!