In ‘WE ARE WHAT WE ARE‘, a seemingly wholesome and benevolent family, the Parkers have always kept to themselves, and for good reason. Behind closed doors, patriarch Frank (Bill Sage, ‘BOARDWALK EMPIRE‘) rules his family with a rigorous fervor, determined to keep his ancestral customs intact at any cost. As a torrential rainstorm moves into the area, tragedy strikes and his daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers, ‘THE MASTER‘) and Rose (Julia Garner, ‘MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE’, ‘SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR‘) are forced to assume responsibilities that extend beyond those of a typical family. As the unrelenting downpour continues to flood their small town, the local authorities begin to uncover clues that bring them closer to the secret that the Parkers have held closely for so many years.
‘WE ARE WHAT WE ARE‘ also stars Michael Parks (‘DJANGO UNCHAINED‘), Golden Globe Nominee Kelly McGillis (WITNESS), Nick Damici (STAKELAND), Wyatt Russell (THIS IS 40) and newcomer Jack Gore.
Anticipating the New York City release of ‘WE ARE WHAT WE ARE‘ we sat down with Jim Mickle and Co-Writer Nick Damici to discuss the films Catskill’s location, life on the festival circuit and more The film opens on Friday, September 27, 2013 in New York at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
Filming in the Catskills, did you write the script around the location or did you want to utilize some of NY state’s filming incentives?
Jim Mickle: It was written for the location. When we first started we had thrown around a few ideas as to the films setting; New Orleans was an idea at one point, but I remember thinking that we did not even know anything about New Orleans. Then I thought about Philadelphia because I had grown up right outside of there, but I did not know anything about Philadelphia either as I had grown up in the middle of nowhere. We had spent a lot of time in the Catskill area while shooting ‘Stakeland‘, and after it got hit by Hurricane Irene hit we felt a strange attachment to it. We had done an apocalyptic movie up there and it now looked like one in real life. I remember, even before that movie came out, I was talking with Nick about how great it would be to be able to go back up there. Nick is also able to tell a story within a world so that was the backdrop.
Nick Damici: Once we made that decision to shoot it in a rural area it made it a lot easier.
How do you approach the screenwriting process as a collaboration?
ND: We generally get drunk and stoned and talk about it for a while (laughs). Ironically, this film reversed on us. Jim sent me 4 pages and I was impressed with them. It set me on a mark and I just started writing. It went pretty quick after that.
JM: Usually I like to give Nick his space to explore and discover. We do not block things out ahead of time and I think that is the best way since he makes discoveries on his own that are great. He will send me something at night and I always think it is great idea that came out of nowhere.
ND: He makes notes and we will talk about it. Once in a blue moon I may be stuck and I will call him. We have known each other for many years so we know each other. We do not have any bones between us.
How were you first introduced to the original film? What was it about that film that made you want to remake it into your own?
ND: Jim brought it to me. At first we were somewhat hesitant to do a remake, but we watched the film together. I liked the fact that it was not a ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ kind of cannibal movie, plus the Mexican angle through me off a bit. Once they gave us the leeway to parallel the story into an American version, where were could operate outside of the specifics, was in an interesting exercise. At that point we had only done original stuff, and it was important for us to show the producers how we could adapt.
What were some of the aspects of the original that you were set on keeping in your version?
JM: I like the quiet tone of the original. I think there is an element of that in our previous films, but I was really seduced by the idea to keep that tone for an entire film. ‘Stakeland‘ was a film that was really sprawling in its story; it had a ton of characters, it was apocalyptic and at any moment an action scene could pop up out of nowhere. After that I remember thinking how I really wanted to challenge ourselves to do something that was the exact opposite. We work with the same production team who is incredibly adaptable and able to raise to challenges so we all wanted to make a film that was story driven with a handful of characters in an enclosed space.
ND: It was interesting because up to that point we had done monster movies. In this film, the characters own actions were the monster. The beast lurked within them.
As a director, how did you work with the actors to create the family dynamic?
JM: We brought them up a few days before shooting to force them to bond in a way. The house had already been prepared so we sat around the kitchen table and read through the script together. There was something about being in that space so the actors could see the table was very important. I always hate in movies where you can tell if actors just met. Bill (Sage) had already played Julia’s (Garner) dad in another film, so they knew each other. We took them out to dinner and to a shotgun range. To get them to click we never talked about it in terms of art, you talked to them as a family. Like, if you don’t do these terrible things the lord will punish you.
Going forward, and after a successful festival run, what is your distribution strategy?
JM: It goes and it is out of your hands in a way. What is exciting now is that EOne picked up the film and, since they are a relatively new company in the US (Canada-based), are motivated to do something great with it. There strategy, which I love, is that they are presenting the film as a Sundance and Cannes screening film, so that has a dark curiosity to it. The film is an elevated genre film and we hope it becomes a true crossover film for genre folks and art folks. Personally, our experience wit ‘Stakeland’ was so bad, almost any effort at this point is a good effort.
How was the experience on the festival circuit?
JM: It was great! It is everything you dream of. I never thought I would ever have a film to play Sundance or Cannes. Let alone back to back. It is surreal and validating.
– Interview Conducted, Edited & Transcribed (on-site) by Steve Rickinson