Jun27How the Writers’ Strike Inspired Adam Saunders to Make His Own Opportunities
Actor-turned-producer Adam Saunders (“Shimmer Lake”) tells Backstage how he found the impetus to start his own production company, Footprint Features, after growing tired of waiting for others to cast him.
A film’s producer is like a sports team’s general manager.
“Think of a football team. The actors are the players everybody knows; the director is the head coach who’s involved in the day-to-day. When we’re actually shooting the movie, they’re working with the players and guiding the actual shoot, and then the producer is the general manager of the football team. We’re overseeing the whole process.”
Acting experience helps him choose projects.
“I started as an actor, and any time I’m reading a script, I’m reading it from that point of view. Do I feel like these are great roles for actors? Do I feel like these are parts that actors will resonate with? Do I feel like these are well-rounded, whole human beings who have emotional arcs? I’m always starting from the character.”
There’s no such thing as a small part.
“Even if it’s the smallest part, I’ll sit in the audition room or make sure I see the tape, because every role is critical in telling a story and making a film. I know how hard these actors work and how hard it is to be an actor, and so I know that getting cast in a film is not something they take lightly. As a producer, now that I’m on the other side of the table, it’s not something that I take lightly.”
If there are no opportunities, make your own.
“I moved to L.A. in 2007 and the writers immediately went on strike. I thought, Oh my gosh, I’m gonna be waiting tables until I’m 100 if I don’t figure out some other path. [I said], ‘Let’s just start a film company.’ I had no idea what that meant, but the idea was that we could produce our own movies and I would act in some of them and my friend would direct some of them and we would create this vehicle by which we could be the artists we wanted to be. That was the impetus: to create the work so I didn’t feel like I was always sitting around and waiting for other people to cast me.”
Your behavior in the audition room is everything.
“We want to make sure that the actor comes in [to audition] and has their own original take on it. Maybe they’re doing things in a way that we hadn’t ever conceived of. Are they smart? Do they take direction well? Are they open emotionally and willing to be brave and bold in their choices? All those things come across in the audition room. Their bravery and their kindness and their emotional depth and their intelligence, all those things play into what we’re looking for as the role dictates.”
Producers can make a safe space for actors.
“Because I am familiar with what these actors are going through and how nerve-wracking it can be, I try to create as actor-friendly a set as I can. When we’re scheduling and boarding out the film, I will say, ‘OK, let’s mark the emotional journey of our main actor,’ because I don’t want to open and on the first two or three days have them blowing out their most emotional scenes or something that should be a climactic moment. We’re building to help them get their sea legs. And, look, people we’re casting in these leading roles are pros and they’ve done this a million times and they can work under any circumstance, but that being said, I think they appreciate it when we create a safe space that allows them the room to do their best work.”
Tell the industry who you are.
“[As an early-career actor], you want to have a sense of how you want your career to go. You can say, ‘I am this, and those are the kind of roles I want to do,’ and you can be discerning in those roles. It’s that concept of knowing the kind of projects you want to be affiliated with, the kind of filmmakers you want to be working with, and the kind of roles you want to play, and then whatever role that is, bringing your whole humanity to it and your whole sympathetic self to it. I’m not saying you can’t play a bad person, but even if you’re playing a criminal or somebody bad, you’re bringing all of yourself to that and you’re making that person feel not like a caricature but like a real, whole person.”
Jun22Oscars: 13 Deserving Contenders From 2017 So Far
As we rapidly approach 2017’s midway point, there are already a number of films that deserve to be remembered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when Oscar ballots go out at the end of the year. Academy voters notoriously have short memories, though it’s hardly their fault alone; studios are so obsessed with back-loading the year with prestige product that in the rush, earlier gems are often forgotten.
So we’re here to help. Perhaps members will take a moment to bear these contenders in mind before the awards season glut finally hits.
NOTE: This list spotlights films theatrically released to the paying public. There have been festival standouts that won’t hit theaters until the coming months, and a number would bear mentioning. Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler are all fantastic in Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” for example. And David Lowery’s vision for “A Ghost Story” makes for one of the greatest motion pictures of the year. But we’ll stick to what will hit theaters as of June 30 for this piece’s purposes.
Best Picture: “The Big Sick”
Don’t dismiss it just because it’s the funniest movie of the year so far, it’s also the most heartfelt and intelligent. Willing to mix big issues with big laughs, the tone is held together perfectly by director Michael Showalter, the outstanding cast and an excellent script. (JR)
Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja”
Best Director: Bong Joon Ho (“Okja”)
Netflix’s Cannes entry is a whole lot of movie, and a whole lot of vision. Director Bong Joon Ho dazzles with his deft kinetic touch while also pulling an impressive performance out of young lead Seo-Hyun Ahn to anchor the zany satire. But as ever, Bong proves a master of balancing tonal shifts, ultimately crafting a moving piece of work. (KT)
Other Standouts: Sofia Coppola (“The Beguiled”); Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”); Jordan Peele (“Get Out”); Trey Edward Shults (“It Comes At Night”)
Best Actor: Sam Elliott (“The Hero”)
The role of an aging star who never realized his greatness fits Elliott like a glove. It’s also a reminder of how underutilized he has been on the big screen. (JR)
Other Standouts: Richard Gere (“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”); Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”); James McAvoy (“Split”); Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”)
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins (“Maudie”)
Hawkins is always excellent and reliable, but she outdoes herself portraying Canadian painter Maud Lewis. Crippled by arthritis, married to a rough fisherman (a great Ethan Hawke), Hawkins allows Maud’s joy to shine through. (JR)
Other Standouts: Jessica Chastain (“The Zookeeper’s Wife”); Anne Hathaway (“Colossal”); Salma Hayek (“Beatriz at Dinner”); Rachel Weisz (“My Cousin Rachel”)
Best Supporting Actor: Patrick Stewart (“Logan”)
Let’s be honest; take away the superhero element and this would be an Oscar slam-dunk. Stewart’s portrayal of Charles Xavier in waning health with a broken mind will break your heart. (JR)
*Other Standouts: Sharlto Copley (“Free Fire”); Ethan Hawke (“Maudie”); LilRel Howery (“Get Out”); Ray Romano (“The Big Sick”)
Best Supporting Actress: Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”)
Jordan Peele’s impressive directorial debut deserves a shout-out in virtually every category, but hopefully no one snoozes on Betty Gabriel’s unsettling work as a housekeeper trapped in “the sunken place.” She etches that inner turmoil across her face with such aplomb you simply cannot look away. (KT)
Other Standouts: Laura Dern (“Wilson”); Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”); Dafne Keen (“Logan”); Terry Pheto (“A United Kingdom”)
Best Screenplay: “Shimmer Lake”
Technically ineligible for Oscars as it didn’t receive a theatrical run, that doesn’t stop this twisty thriller from earning our consideration. What sounds like a gimmick — a crime drama told backwards — proves absolutely essential to telling a fascinating story. (JR)
Other Standouts: “The Big Sick”; “Get Out”; “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”; Split”
Best Cinematography: “Kong: Skull Island”
Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ simian sequel was a bit of a tonal omelette, but one element that gave it an unexpected level of iconography was Larry Fong’s striking photography. Sunburnt vistas and heat-rippled frames sometimes call back to “Apocalypse Now,” but more often they give the film its own intriguing visual identity. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Alien: Covenant”; “The Beguiled”; “The Lost City of Z”; “Song to Song”
Best Costume Design: “Wonder Woman”
Speaking of iconography, one of the eye-popping elements of Patty Jenkins’ landmark superhero entry is the iconic image actress Gal Gadot strikes as the eponymous Amazon. But beyond Diana Prince’s well-known threads, there’s a whole array of dazzling outfits on the screen, from the battle gear of Themyscira to 1920s fashion and World War I attire. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “The Beguiled”; “The Great Wall”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”
Best Film Editing: “LA92”
Lest we forget, National Geographic’s Emmy-contending L.A riots documentary is also eligible for Oscar consideration this year. Last year “O.J.: Made in America” garnered some attention for its handling of tons of material, and hopefully reminded voters that documentary editing ought to be recognized. Reams of footage were assembled from countless sources to drive this particular version of the story, which was also covered elegantly by director John Ridley in “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992.” (KT)
Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; “Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja”
Best Production Design: “Beauty and the Beast”
It’s a tall order to match the stunning animation of the original film, but the “Beauty and the Beast” team pulled it off. Every ornate touch, from the Beast’s castle to the world of Belle’s village, was a visual feast. (JR)
Other Standouts: “The Great Wall”; “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”; “Wonder Woman”
Best Sound Editing: “Baby Driver”
Being something of a musical-slash-actioner, Edgar Wright’s latest owes everything to its soundtrack. But more than that, the precision with which sound is layered and cut to enhance the various tracks scattered throughout gives the film an innervating sense of propulsion. When there’s no sound, you’re desperate for it to scream back. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Free Fire”; “John Wick: Chapter Two”; “Okja”; “Transformers: The Last Knight”
Best Visual Effects: “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
It’s a pity we can’t throw “War for the Planet of the Apes” (July 14) in here, but more on that in due time. Marvel’s latest installment of the “Guardians” franchise doubles down on rendered environments. When you have a character who at times serves as the actual location (I guess you have to see the film to understand), the sky is the limit on VFX. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “Ghost in the Shell”; The Great Wall”; “Okja”
Jun15Netflix Original Movie Review: Shimmer Lake Is a Backwards Tour de Force
Told backwards, Shimmer Lake is the kind of crime drama that very much revels in keeping it’s audience in the dark. There is no hand holding here. No re-explaining things that the audience might miss. This film, from first time director Oren Uziel, is the kind of calling card that has been used to launch careers, like that of Quentin Tarantino.
In order to describe this film, the plot must be kept deceptively simple. First of all, telling this story backwards only serves to underscore what we are seeing on screen. By dint of the fact that we want to know why a scene is starting the way that it is, and the shock we feel when it ends abruptly, is palpable throughout this entire film. Not only is this story told backwards, it is is also told over the course of a week. It follows a local sheriff trying to figure out the moves of three local criminals as well as a bank heist that didn’t go as planned.
On the face of it, Shimmer Lake sounds like your garden variety 2 Days in the Valley or Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead. However, the sheer irreverence of this film makes it better than those decades old offerings. Shimmer Lake honestly belongs in the company of Pulp Fiction. If you’re not quite ready to make that leap then it at least stands shoulder to shoulder with Reservoir Dogs. With a cast that includes Rainn Wilson, Ron Livingston, Benjamin Walker, Rob Corddry and Stephanie Sigman (among others), this movie really straddles the line between deadly serious and darkly comic.
Then there are these motifs where characters are getting shot in every backward layered chunk of film. Sometimes, they even have the same person getting shot in different chunks. How about Oren Uziel’s casting of both Ron Livingston and Benjamin Walker. These two actors look like they could be brothers. Over the course of the film, that looks like it might be one of the biggest reveals? Two law officers and one of them is dirty…Or are they both dirty? Why does this matter? Well, as you spend the movie trying to be one step ahead, trying to figure out what is going on in each section, trying to make sense of the titles that attempt to explain each section, the merging of these characters becomes harder and harder to ignore. It is almost as if Oren Uziel is trying to say that nobody is innocent. We all commit crimes in some form or another.
There is a harshness to the look and feel of Shimmer Lake. Some people might mistake this as unevenness on the part of a first time director. This truly doesn’t seem to be the case at all. In trying to keep us from figuring out this story, the director seems to have intentionally made the film’s presentation confusing.
Ultimately, the viewer is left to interpret the almost Saw-like ending that Shimmer Lake poses. Are we watching a cautionary tale? A dark comedy? Both? Director Oren Uziel has weaved a lot of string for viewers to play with. And at the end of the film, depending on your preference, he either tied the whole thing up in a neat little bow or you just didn’t connect the dots. Either way, the story of Shimmer Lake is there. You just have to see it. And you can right now, as it is currently streaming as a Netflix original.
Jun15Netflix Mystery ‘Shimmer Lake’ Opens Up a Conversation About the New World of Film
Prior to becoming CEO of Footprint Features, Adam Saunders was an actor. His performance roots are ingrained within Footprint’s ethos, which places an emphasis on character and actor. “We only make movies that are character driven, that by definition have great roles for actors,” explains Saunders. Shimmer Lake is Footprint’s third feature following Family Weekend and About Alex. It continues the themes of the trials of friendship and family that thread together Saunders’ body of work as producer, yet each film possessing a distinct narrative identity amidst his thematic inclinations.
Writer-director Oren Uziel’s crime thriller Shimmer Lake tells the story of the fallout from a bank robbery gone awry in a small town. Told over the course of a week, the film reverses cause and effect, telling its story backwards.
In conversation with PopMatters, Saunders spoke of how Uziel’s own film experiences influenced his choice to tell his crime thriller in reverse, the contrast of conflicting tones within the film, the uncertainty of the storytelling process and the actors as forces of revelation. Following its exclusive release on Netflix, Saunders also discussed the changing world of film production and distribution, and how tradition is giving way to modernity.
Christopher Nolan and Sofia Coppola recently spoke out asking people to watch their films at the cinema, not on Netflix. There was a time when the movie theatre was the heart of film distribution, but online platforms have grown in popularity. What is the place of Netflix in the current distribution model, and is the alluring spell of the movie theater waning?
It’s certainly something we spent a lot of time thinking about. At Footprint Features, we make character-driven movies that traditionally would be these independent releases—these type of platform releases back in the day. Christopher Nolan is a great example of somebody who started with those types of smaller movies before becoming a huge iconic director. But if you look at Memento and some of his smaller early films, those relied on the theatrical distribution models. For me personally, I lament that’s not a bigger part of the release strategy for these types of films.
We just had our premiere for Shimmer Lake, and it was an amazing experience to be able to sit there with a couple of hundred other people in a room and to go through it with them—to hear them laugh at the jokes and to hear the gasps. I love that collective experience of seeing movies together, but that said, I’m realistic about how the world is changing. Studios are not making these types of movies anymore, as we are all well aware, and so places like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube Red are coming in and filling the void.
On the one hand, I’m incredibly grateful because it allows us to get these movies out, but on the other hand, I just recognise that in the same way there were silent films, then there were talkies. Things constantly evolve and while I would love to always have theatrical releases, I recognise the world is changing, and that’s not the way it seems to be heading. There are also bigger theaters that are making the viewing experience part of it, whether they bring you food, the chair shakes, or they simulate the rain. But it feels like the traditional theatrical model is changing.
Filmmaker David Fairhead remarked to me: “You know there’s a mountain in front of you to climb, and of course, you hope that you’re going to get up to the top of that mountain and I guess come back down again [laughs]. That’s the trickiest bit actually, getting back down. I suppose the coming back down when you are making a film is how do you deal with the distribution. You can make the film, but it’s difficult getting it out there to an audience.”
It’s a faulty logic to assume that the democratisation of distribution through technology has made it easier to reach an audience because the market is now flooded with more competing voices. Technology and these distribution models create opportunity, but with opportunity comes new challenges.
Yeah, I think that’s right. I feel to some extent Footprint lucked out, because when we started our company seven years ago, it was right at the beginning of the democratisation of these technologies. We shot our first movie on Red and it was relatively inexpensive, and as a result, we were able to get the movie made for under a million dollars. That was several years ago and we were able to get a good cast, and we were able to get people to see it.
But fast forward seven years and a lot of people are making these types of movies for much less than we made that first movie. As a result, as you say, the competition is very steep. If you are making these types of films, whether it’s a piece of the cast or a director, it’s critical that there’s some element that separates it from the pack. It’s interesting, it’s almost like a new studio system because whereas five years ago you could just make a movie and sell it, you now need to have some outlet, whether it’s Netflix or Amazon, that’s going to buy it. This is an emergence of a different kind of studio system. I think film festivals are still a place for these films that don’t end up getting the big distribution to be seen, but in terms of having distribution where the world sees your film, I agree with you that the competition is incredibly steep.
One of the immediate connections of Shimmer Lake would be to Christopher Nolan’s psychological reverse thriller Memento. Was there a reason for telling your story in reverse?
If you were to ask Oren this question, he’d tell you that when he was a kid he used to watch movies on HBO, and he’d watch them at different parts—he would come in halfway through the movie, or he would watch it another time and only catch the first half. It would take him a while to watch the whole movie and he always thought it was such an interesting experience, and so he wanted to create a story that told it in parts, that you had to understand out of order.
If you are looking at comparatives, like you say, there is Memento, there are also the John Dahl movies like Red Rock West and The Last Seduction, and then there are Blood Simple and Fargo, these bags of money thrillers where the people who are stealing the money aren’t particularly sophisticated. But in this particular one, going back in time is a critical component of the story—it’s not just a gimmick that Oren threw in there. If the story was told in order, it would be far less interesting. It’s only as we go back in time to reveal what actually happened the day of the bank robbery, that the story has its resonance.
I remember being young and curious, asking questions about all matter of things. There’s the idea that as we age we lose that fervent sense of curiosity, yet Shimmer Lake is all about asking questions. It suggests that as adults we are still curious, which we channel through storytelling.
Whenever I watched TV shows with my mom as a kid, because I would be interrupting every five seconds, she’d say: “Write all your questions down and I’ll answer them in the commercial break.” You’re right, we certainly don’t do that as adults. But to your point, films like Shimmer Lake require you to think, require you to pay attention. I tell some of my friends that I think have a little Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to pay attention at the beginning of the film, because if you are not paying attention, you are going to miss what’s going on.
I think we do have a curiosity, and Oren has done such a good job of building in so many little tiny things, that if you are focussed and you think about it, you’ll go back the next day and you’ll have what we call refrigerator moments. There are a thousand of those things in Shimmer Lake and I think it does play to people’s curiosity.
In as much as the film appeals to our curiosity, its charm should be credited to the comedy.
Yeah, I think it’s a critical component of what makes a film work, and Oren obviously has a comedy background. He wrote 22 Jump Street and we cast a lot of comics: Rainn Wilson, Rob Corddry, Ron Livingston and Adam Pally. These are all people that have a comedic background, and even though the story at its core is a very serious subject, a thriller, in that way genre, it’s not by definition a comedy. It’s the other side of the coin. You can’t have one without having the other, and human existence is peppered with comedy—it’s a critical component of good storytelling.
The comedy is the glue that holds Shimmer Lake together and hiring actors that understand that is at the base of why these performances work. It’s a small town and there are little quirky and weird things. When Zeke is talking to the FBI guys he says: “We all know each other. We all went to school together. We’ll let you take all the credit, but you just let us solve this problem.” They say: “That’ll work out just fine.” You have to have actors that understand the comedy of that situation to make it work. You could play it straight, but it wouldn’t be as good.
Speaking with filmmaker Babak Anvari about Under the Shadow for FrightFest, he said: “Just a minor adjustment can really transform a scene and so those minor adjustments are how an actor can surprise the filmmaker. And that only comes if they truly understand the characters they are playing, but it needs to happen naturally.” In the filmmaking process is it sometimes the small things that offer the most significant transformation?
Absolutely! Look I started as an actor, and so one of my favourite parts of the process is casting and finding the right actors to play these great characters. At Footprint we only make movies that are character driven, that by definition have great roles for actors. So it’s one of my favourite parts of the process, not only casting, but watching these great actors work, whether it’s Ben Walker and his stoicism, who talks about how Zeke is a man who doesn’t smile easily, or Mark Rendall who plays Chris, one of my favourite performances in the movie. You see Ben bring that seriousness with which Zeke takes his work as sheriff of the town to the table, and Mark just becomes this guy in what is a very difficult role to play.
All these guys bring tiny little idiosyncrasies when they embody the characters—the way they walk; the way they talk; the way they look around. It’s a critical specificity and we don’t know who these people are until the actors embody them. Watching these guys work is a joy for me in putting these movies together.
There’s a perspective amongst filmmakers that there are three versions of the script—the script that is written, the script that is shot and the script that is edited. Do you agree and is the process one of discovery leading up to the final cut?
You don’t know. As I was once said, the best plans don’t survive the first day of battle, but you still have to have that plan. If you don’t, then you run out of time, you don’t know what you’re shooting and it’s chaos. You have to have all the shots shot-listed, everything thought through, and to have developed your script to the point that it’s on the page. They say: “If it’s not on the page, it will not be on the stage.”
But still, the final version is going to be far different than the script, which is far different from the shoot, and then ultimately different to where it lands. Shimmer Lake is a great example of that. We had one of the best screenplays that I’ve ever read, and the director who wrote the screenplay was very respectful of his script, that is to say. that we shot most of the things he wrote. He was also willing and able to let things go that he didn’t think were working on the day, and then in the edit, we had a totally different ending to the one you’ve seen.
When we tested it, the audience just didn’t like it and so we went back to the edit and made this new one, which is quite different from the screenplay. This is now what Shimmer Lake is and when we release it to the world that will make it their own, this different ending is the one they will know. So I think there are three versions and you can almost make a claim that now there is a fourth version because the audience is going to say what they want to say—we are going to see what happens once it is released into the wild.
Speaking with Carol Morley about her film The Falling for Starburst Magazine, she explained: “You take it 90 percent of the way, and it is the audience that finishes it. So the audience by bringing themselves: their experiences, opinions and everything else to a film is what completes it.” If the audience are the ones that complete it, does it follow that there is a transfer in ownership?
Yeah, I think that’s right. Once you release it into the world, it does belong to the audience—it belongs to the world. People ask me what that means, but ultimately once a film is released, it’s what your experience was. I was asked the question: “Why did these things happen?” In the end, my answer is: “Why do you think this happened? You watched the movie and anything we didn’t explicitly say is up for your interpretation.” It’s up to the audience in that moment and we have to be okay with that, and I know I am.
Interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl for FrightFest he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process?
Certainly, as an artist or as a person doing a specific job, you have learned a lot of things, and you’ve become a different version. That’s true as both an actor and as a producer. When you get to the other end you’ve learned so many things. I’m a different producer after producing Shimmer Lake than I was starting. But your bigger question is: As a human, am I a different person having gone through this process? I think the answer is yes because it’s such an intense time period. You are using every ounce of energy to birth this story you believe deserves to be told, and so I think that process is life altering.
Jun11Shimmer Lake (2017) Review: Twisty thriller is a curious experiment with plenty of surprises
Shimmer Lake is a 2017 crime drama about a small town bank heist gone wrong and the sheriff who tries to solve the mystery behind it.
A good hook can make or break a film, with a clever narrative or visual device tripping up viewers to make for a unique experience that both challenges and entertains. Think of classics like Christopher Nolan‘s Memento or Quinten Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction, films that play with structure and timelines to create a disjointed story that keep audiences guessing while engaged. With Shimmer Lake, the latest thriller from Netflix, there are a couple of hooks in the works and both succeed in grabbing attention in a movie that is curious for certain, if not overly-ambitious.
The first hook is the timeline. Told in reverse from Friday back a week, the story follows the investigation of three men, Ed (Wyatt Russell), Andy (Rainn Wilson), and Chris (Mark Rendall) suspected of robbing the local small town bank. After them is Sheriff Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker), who is Andy’s brother and a friend from way back to Ed, the former high school football star quarterback. Joining the hunt for the men are two FBI agents Kyle (Ron Livingston) and Kurt (Rob Corddry), who are more than happy to let Zeke handle the legwork, which leads to the bank’s owner and town judge, Brad Dawkins (John Michael Higgins) and Ed’s distraught wife Steph (Stephanie Sigman), who is still reeling from the lose of their five-year-old son in an accident the year before out on, you guessed it, Shimmer Lake.
Directed by Oren Uziel, in his feature debut, Shimmer Lake is a puzzler and if you’ve read the names of the cast in this drama, you might already have guessed the second hook, that being a thriller populated mostly by actors primarily known for their comedic work. This doesn’t mean the film has no humor because it actually does, though more in the vein of a Coen Brothers film than anything else. This is a dark film, and yet small moments get well-earned laughs, mostly at the expense of Deputy Sheriff Reed Ethington (Adam Pally), who finds himself literally in the backseat of it all, time and time again. Admittedly, the movie is dry – dusty barren out in the desert barren dry – led by Walker’s deadpan acerbic performance that is either going to convince you he is blisteringly sharp in the role or barely interested in this project. For me, it was the first, his unshakable disposition a mark of absolute stability in a world gone mad.
The real fun though is in deciphering the film’s backward plotting, which, when it all ends – or rather begins – makes everything clear, even if you might want to play back a few steps to makes sure you got it all in the right order. That’s not a complaint but a testament to how well the story unfolds. You are genuinely curious and by the start of the second day, Thursday in the timeline, you’re paying much more attention to the details as themes repeat and clues are revealed. You might think you know what’s happening, but no, you don’t.
While the film’s structure and Uziel’s camera are the real draw here (it would be a worthy experiment to play the movie’s days in the proper chronological order and see if it is as good), there are some very strong performances and plenty of solid drama, even if one nagging thread involving Andy’s daughter feels unresolved. If you’re up for a fun challenge and enjoy movies that work like puzzle pieces, Shimmer Lake will have lots to offer, a clever and well-written little gem that is worth adding to your queue.
Jun09‘Shimmer Lake’ Rewinds The Scene Of A Crime | Film Review
The slow burn of murder-mysteries have greatly faded in recent years, as have many of their noirish undertones. As theatergoers continue to drift into the lands of spandex and pixelated shenanigans, the intellectual whodunit finds itself in short supply. The downside to this development is the lack of thrillers in this vein, where the upside is that – every now and again – you find a diamond in the rough like Shimmer Lake.
Shimmer Lake twists the conventional wisdom of storytelling on its ear by allowing the events of a small-town crime to unfold in reverse order. Working from Friday back to Tuesday, writer-director Oren Uziel constructs a story of despair as a local Sheriff, Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker), works to bring to justice three criminals who robbed the town’s lone bank. Learning that one of them may just be his brother Andy (Rainn Wilson), Zeke sets off on a trail of lies and murder, all while the FBI is nipping at his heels (Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston). With a host of suspects, twists, and revelations, how will this path ultimately lead back to Shimmer Lake?
The less said about the film the better, as the discovery is part of the journey. Beginning on Friday’s events, we slowly learn the outcome of this recent robbery. Uziel plots his film methodically, peppering names and situations from the past as a tease for a meal yet to come. Clues are scattered throughout as Uziel weaves us in-and-out of Zeke’s Fargo-esque community, informing us of characters such as estranged couple Ed and Steph Burton and the frigid Judge Hawkins long before we catch a glimpse of the actors wearing those hats (Wyatt Russell, Stephanie Sigman, and John Michael Higgins respectively). Shimmer Lake requires attention be paid, or prepare for a head-scratching conclusion as the pieces finally align for the story’s end game. Or maybe that’s the beginning game?
It’s an audacious direction to stage a screenplay and, with the obvious exception of Memento, it rarely works. Knowing the structure ahead of time gave me pause, worried it would prove to be little more than a well-orchestrated gimmick. Yet once I sat through the final reveal, those concerns subsided and I knew I needed to plan on an immediate return trip. Even as I pieced together the outcome from both the nuggets of information Uziel feeds us, as well as far too many iterations of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes over the years, this film hits my sweet spot. It’s a winning combination of actors playing against type, a looming atmosphere that forebodes the trappings of this town as well as each character arc, and Oren Uziel’s quirky wit which engulfs every scene.
I already can’t wait to head back to Shimmer Lake
Jun09A Celebration Of The Dark Comedy That Is Netflix’s Shimmer Lake
Going into Shimmer Lake — which is about a bank heist gone wrong, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake — is a little odd. It’s a darkly-lit crime thriller told in reverse, just like Christopher Nolan’s 2000 Oscar-nominee, Memento. Anyone who’s watched the Guy Pierce-starrer can confirm there’s nothing funny about a film where a widower with amnesia attempts to track down the man who raped and murdered his wife. Yet, Shimmer Lake, which on paper sounds like a modern update on the classic, is filled with veteran comedians. There’s Dwight Schrute, I mean, Rainn Wilson, Adam Pally of Mindy Project and Happy Endings fame, Great News’ resident crotchety old man John Michael Higgins, and Ron Livingston, who’s best known at That Guy From Office Space.
With all these funny people rounding out the cast, it sure seems like Shimmer Lake is supposed to be a comedy. And if you pay attention, the movie is wickedly funny in the same vein as Fargo, which also skewers small town life. The darkly humorous parts become obvious thanks to deputy sheriff Reed Ethington (Pally). In the first 10 minutes of the film, Reed walks to the police cruiser and expects to sit shotgun next to his partner, sheriff Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker). But a mailman of all people is in his seat. Instead of calmly hopping in the back, Reed walks a few years away to dramatically scream “Why!” in an alarming display of emotions.
Soon enough it’s pretty clear why Reed is so emotional about a chair. Every time Zeke picks his partner up for patrol, someone new is riding shotgun. At one point, Zeke’s adorable front-seat sitting young niece Sally tells Reed, “Get in the back you fat fuckin’ bastard.” The deputy sheriff’s face of pure disbelief is priceless, as is Sally’s pleased smile to her uncle.
The most grimly funny scene, however, happens to be the moment judge Brad Dawkins (Higgins) dies. It’s revealed the married family man is pulled into the complex bank heist because he’s hiding the fact he’s gay while preparing to run for the Senate. Amid all the criminal tension, Brad invites his young male lover named Billy (Matt Landry) to his home for sex. Billy loves meth and ends up rushing to the bathroom since the drugs “flushed him right out.” At that exact moment, fellow conspirator Andy (Wilson) shows up to collect the stolen money, which is in a duffle bag.
As a gun-wielding Andy and Brad fight over the criminal cash, a completely naked, sweating Billy hides in the bathroom attempting to stop his extremely noisy bowel movement. The juxtaposition is ridiculous. Just when Andy and his loaded pistol are about to leave, Billy very loudly loses his battle with his intestines. Andy rips opens the bathroom door to finds a nude Billy screaming in his face. All together, the young man shrieks for about 15 full seconds as Brad and Andy fight over the gun. When the weapon goes off, leaving Brad the casualty, Billy promises not to say anything and darts out of the bedroom still totally naked — but not before carefully picking up each and every piece of his meth paraphernalia.
You might come to Shimmer Lake to figure out this winding murder mystery, but you’ll stay for the unexpected flecks of humor.
Jun09Interview with Producer Adam Saunders | Shimmer Lake
Shimmer Lake twists the conventional wisdom of storytelling on its ear by allowing the events of a small-town crime to unfold in reverse order. Working from Friday back to Tuesday, director Oren Uziel constructs a story of despair as a local Sheriff, Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker), works to bring to justice three criminals who robbed the local bank. Learning that one of them may just be his brother Andy (Rainn Wilson), Zeke sets off on a trail of lies and murder. With a host of suspects, twists, and revelations, how will this path ultimately lead back to Shimmer Lake?
After graduating with a BA in Drama from Duke University and an MFA in Acting from the Yale School of Drama, Adam Saunders set his sights on a career in Hollywood. As the pursuit of his craft intensified, Adam found he also had a knack for both developing and producing projects. Often the unsung hero of film, a producer fields many behind-the-scenes responsibilities that directly contribute to our favorite films, from lining up capital and casting commitments to finalizing distribution deals.
As the CEO of Footprint Features, Adam produced Shimmer Lake and explains why this was “one the best scripts I’ve ever read”. He also elaborates on the complexities of shooting a film in reverse order, assembling the all-star cast, and how their deal with Netflix ultimately came to fruition.
Footprint Features has several exciting projects lined up, not the least of which is the newly released Shimmer Lake. Don’t miss this exclusive interview with producer, Adam Saunders.
Shimmer Lake releases on Netflix June 9, 2017
Jun09Bianculli’s Best Bets: Shimmer Lake
This is a somewhat unexpected surprise little treat – a made-for-Netflix movie that’s laced with lots of comedy and comic actors, yet works effectively as a mystery drama, and has an unusual story structure as well. Shimmer Lake begins a few days after a small-town bank robbery, investigated by local police and the visiting FBI, then works its way backwards, day by day. And each day the plot goes in reverse, the more we learn about not only the bank robbery, but the characters and their respective actions and motives. Benjamin Walker stars as the sheriff, with very canny support from Rainn Wilson, Rob Corddry, John Michael Higgins, Ron Livingston, Adam Pally, and Stephanie Sigman. Orien Uziel, upgrading his resume substantially from the likes of 22 Jump Street and Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, writes and directs.
Jun08Shimmer Lake: Oren Uziel on the art (and pain) of writing a crime drama backwards
Shimmer Lake isn’t your ordinary crime drama about a bank heist gone wrong. It’s a multilayered examination of revenge, loyalty and plain old bad luck. Oh, and did I mention the story is told in reverse?
Writer/director Oren Uziel used to be a lawyer, but in his heart, he wanted to be a screenwriter, so he quit law to pursue his dream. Assuming anyone can write a screenplay, he decided to write a novel first and later adapt it to film. Because writing the script is the easy part, right?
“It was a pretty dumb plan,” he admits.
But through writing his novel, he learned how to write story, character and everything else a writer needs to know. Unless of course, you’re telling a story backwards.
Writing in reverse
“I don’t think I would do that [write a screenplay in reverse] again. It was really, really challenging to get my character arcs and story arcs, set-ups and pay-offs to work in reverse. It just has to be designed that way – you can’t take a normal screenplay and just chop it up and reverse it. It won’t make sense and it’ll be gimmicky and there won’t be any reason for it to be that way. Shimmer Lake was built that way but it just took it took a long time and a lot of trial and error.”
He sent his first draft to friends and they told him it didn’t make sense. So, he went back and kept working on the story, trying to clarify it. At one point, he clarified it too much.
“Suddenly, everything was too obvious. What I was trying to hide was no longer hidden and I would try it again and they would say, ‘Well, now it’s all happening but for no reason.’”
Keeping just the right amount from the audience
So, he kept working on it until everything was clear on the page and people reading it could understand the story. The process has taken him nine years.
Why tell a story from the end to the beginning, especially if it takes so long to figure out how to do it? The idea came to Uziel as a kid. He grew up as an HBO junkie and would just watch whatever film was on, even if he tuned in halfway through the film.
“I would sort of be thrown into the middle of the film and have to figure out how everyone was related to each other, and what their conflicts were – all as I was watching the scene that was happening in front of me.”
Later in the week, he’d catch the film from the beginning and put the pieces together.
“I’d think, ‘Oh this is going to explain why that guy hated that woman so much,’ and stuff like that. I just thought it was a really compelling way to watch movies. Because when I watched them from start to finish, it wasn’t nearly as good of an experience.”
Audiences love to piece together the story
It was the detective work that excited him.
‘I thought there must be a way to do that deliberately – to make a movie that has all that tension and all that intrigue. That was the goal.”
The film takes place over four days. For Uziel, it was like creating four mini movies.
“The first day asks a lot of questions. The second day answers those questions but presents new ones. And then you keep going and when you get to the end, things aren’t exactly as you thought they were.”
But just because the reverse strategy works on the page, doesn’t mean it’s going to work on film.
“Because the movie has a twist, it’s about withholding information and providing information. In the script there’s a scene where Zeke and Reed are talking about football, reliving their glory days and reconnecting. I had written it so Zeke wasn’t participating in the conversation, he wasn’t smiling, because he knows what he’s about to do. So when I put the scene together and cut back to Zeke not smiling, people watched the movie and were tipped off that Zeke was involved [in the crime].
To fix the problem, Uziel used footage of the actor in between takes, where he was goofing around. “Just a few frames of Zeke smiling fixed it.”
Advice on breaking in
Uziel’s advice to writers is to break the rules. “I don’t believe in any of those page count rules. I’ve never learned them, and I’ve never followed them. I go on my gut and from watching movies and reading screenplays. But all movies, whether they’re told backwards or forwards, need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You have to be able to follow and understand everything that’s happening on a character level and build it in.”
Shimmer Lake, which stars Rainn Wilson, Ron Livingston and Rob Corddry, releases on Netflix June 9.
Jun08‘Shimmer Lake’, Netflix: When Is it Available on Netflix?
Netflix’s new crime thriller, Shimmer Lake, will be available for streaming on June 9. The film centers on local sheriff Zeke Sikes who’s on the hunt for three bank robbery suspects, and stars Rainn Wilson, Benjamin Walker, and Wyatt Russell.
The movie also marks the directorial debut of Oren Uziel, who wrote 22 Jump Street and Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.
RELEASE DATE: Friday, June 9, 2017
TIME AVAILABLE: 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT
Benjamin Walker as Zeke Sikes
Wyatt Russell as Ed Burton
Rainn Wilson as Andy Sikes
Ron Livingston as Kyle Walker
Adam Pally as Reed Ethington
Stephanie Sigman as Steph Burton
John Michael Higgins as Brad Dawkins
Rob Coddry as Kurt Biltmore
According to Collider, the movie unfolds in reverse by beginning at the end. As the story unravels, audiences can put the pieces of the puzzle together to help find the names of the robbery suspects.
The outlet recently spoke with Uziel about Shimmer Lake and his other recent projects. Asked how he went about writing the story, Uziel said, “I wrote it the way it is. I wrote the whole thing backwards. I never wrote it forwards and restructured it. I think it wouldn’t have worked that way. For me, it was a matter of starting with an end point. I just knew … As an exercise, it was interesting. It’s the first screenplay I wrote.”
The story of Shimmer Lake is a tumultuous one. According to Variety, the script was optioned by Fox Atomic, but the company then went out of business. Recalling the experience to Variety, Uziel laughs, “It was my first introduction to Hollywood.” As the script was being read and optioned by a number of production companies, Uziel pursued other projects, like “22 Jump Street” and “Zombieland 2”. Asked why he decided to pursue these other projects while “Shimmer Lake” was still in the works, he tells Variety, “Originally, I didn’t know anything about filmmaking and had no experience… So I said, let’s baby step it, let’s learn how to be a screenwriter and learn how movies are made. I had told the last person who optioned it, ‘If you can get this movie made, I’m sure it’s going to be great. But if at the end of the first option period you haven’t made it, please give it back to me because I suspect I might be ready to direct it then.’ And he did.”
Jun07‘Shimmer Lake’ Writer/Director Oren Uziel on His Reverse Crime Story, ‘God Particle’, & ’22 Jump Street’
Making a directorial debut is hard, but making one with a story told in reverse is a specific kind of challenge. Just ask filmmaker Oren Uziel, whose directorial debut Shimmer Lake hits Netflix on Friday, June 9th. The film is one of the first scripts Uziel ever wrote, before he’d go on to work on movies like 22 Jump Street and the upcoming Cloververse movie formerly known as God Particle, and it’s a crime story told in unique fashion.
The film stars Benjamin Walker as a local sheriff hunting down three bank robbery suspects, two of which are played by Rainn Wilson and Wyatt Russell. The story unfolds in reverse, beginning at the end, as the audience tries to put the pieces together for this crime that may be more than what it appears on the surface. Uziel fills the cast out with actors who have a solid comedic background like Adam Pally and Rob Corddry, and the result is a dark and moody drama that doesn’t feel overbearingly bleak. The performances are swell, and working with The Witch cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, Uziel carves out a foreboding aesthetic that adds to the tense atmosphere surrounding the story.
I recently got the chance to speak with Uziel for an exclusive interview about the film. We discussed the process of writing a movie told in reverse, the impetus behind casting actors with comedic backgrounds, the surprising origin story behind the film, and working with Netflix. Given that Uziel is also busy writing other notable screenplays, we also discussed how God Particle turned into a Cloverfield movie, his take on the Mortal Kombat reboot, looking back on the genius that is 22 Jump Street, and his yet-to-be-made script for a Men in Black reboot.
Check out the full interview below. Shimmer Lake will be available to stream on Netflix starting June 9th.
Image via Netflix
I hate to ask such a boring question at the beginning, but this idea to tell a crime story backwards is fascinating to me. I genuinely am curious, where did this idea first come about for Shimmer Lake?
OREN UZIEL: It’s funny because I have this story … I wrote the script eight years ago. I have referred to what the origin of it is a million times just in passing. I no longer know if it’s true or not, but I do think it’s true. I grew up watching HBO either at friends’ houses or my parents finally got it when HBO was just a channel that showed movies. It was the only place that showed movies uninterrupted, without commercials, and with nudity and cursing and violence. I would watch anything. I remember that I would flick over to HBO and it didn’t matter at what point of the movie it was on, I would just start watching. I have this memory of watching a lot of movies just completely out of order because I would watch something and then four days later I’d find it again and it would be half an hour earlier. I would say, “Oh! Oh shit, this happened before that other stuff. It’s going to explain why that fat guy hates that other guy so much.” I had no idea why he was so angry before. I found it really compelling. I realized that a lot of times when I finally watched that same movie from start to finish, it wasn’t a particularly good movie, it was just that the tension and the thrill of trying to figure out what leads to the thing I’d already seen, while also trying to keep in my head what’s happening right in front of me, was a really compelling way to tell a story. I thought if it works for that movie, why not construct a movie like that and be able to take advantage of that and laying set-ups and pay off as you go and take advantage of that structure. I really think that’s where it came from.
That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought about that, cause that’s how I used to watch movies. Thinking about it now, it doesn’t … With DVR and on-demand and Netflix and everything, I don’t know if anyone’s watching movies like that anymore.
UZIEL: Definitely not. It’s just not the experience. I watch things with my kids now, and they can’t even … If they can’t watch something right now, they cannot understand that concept. If you’re watching a TV show on network television. They’ve gotten into Survivor lately. Like, “Let’s just watch!” “You can’t watch. It’s not a thing yet.”
Yeah. If it’s not on-demand yet, what’s going on?
UZIEL: Yeah. I always thought it adds a component of active watching, if that makes sense. The goal was to, if you do it deliberately and you make sure the story you’re telling is not one that would function forward, then it becomes more than just a gimmick. If you watch Shimmer Lake forward, it’s not Memento where it would still be rewarding. You’d watch it forward, it’s a movie with no surprises.
How did you go about writing the story? Did you plot the entire thing out forwards first and then write it backwards? Did you write it forwards and then restructure it?
UZIEL: I wrote it the way it is. I wrote the whole thing backwards. I never wrote it forwards and restructured it. I think it wouldn’t have worked that way. For me, it was a matter of starting with an end point. I just knew … The first thing that popped into my head was this notion of this guy with a bag of money, and he’s tired, and you know he’s been through a lot. A car pulls up, and there’s someone that he knows is inside. Someone he’s been waiting for and trusts. But what happens from that moment forward, they betray him, but not what he expects to happen. It just felt like, all right, if that’s where I’m ending up, how did I get there? What is the story? I’m going to lead all those things to come to make sense. As an exercise, it was interesting. It’s the first screenplay I wrote.
Image via Netflix
UZIEL: I think if I had written … I would not write this screenplay now, because I know how difficult it would be. Back then, I was just too naive to know what the challenges were. I remember when if first started giving it to my trusted friends and readers, it very quickly was like, “Oh, this doesn’t work. It’s way too clear what’s about to happen.” Or, “This doesn’t work. You didn’t make it remotely clear enough. It’s happening for no apparent reason.” Or, “It’s not following.” It took a lot of rewriting and making sure everything adds up and everything is happening for a reason and not just coming out of left field. That’s one of the biggest flaws with any movie in this genre, whether it’s told straight or backwards. You have to make sure that when the things finally happen, they’re not just happening because you want them to happen.
Yeah, yeah. The film its self is quite serious, although not without its moments of humor. The cast is full of comedic actors. I’ve met Ben Walker and he’s hilarious. How did you go about casting this, and what was the impetus behind casting actors who had a comedic or improv background?
UZIEL: I would say it was more comedic than improv, so it was important to me. Some of it is happenstance through casting an indie movie, I will say that for sure. In making Jump Street and making Kitchen Sink, which became Freaks of Nature, I’ve been working in comedy. I think comedic actors are amazing. I think they are capable. When comedic actors play things straight, I think there’s a certain pop to me that always hits me hard. I think that they have an ability that always blows me away. Ben Walker is, I won’t say secretly, because he had some of the comedy show in New York. He seems very straight, but he’s not. He’s a very funny guy, as well. I think all these guys, it’s fun for me to take Adam Pally and his impulses to go big and reign him in a little bit and get the genuine from him. I think he’s amazing. Rainn can be … You feel his pain so much more. I don’t know, cause I think you’re so used to seeing him being funny, it’s like, “Well, no. This is real.” It really had a lot of impact.
For sure. This is also your first movie as a director. The visual aesthetic is very cloudy and moody, reflecting the more somber and sinister actions of the characters. It really gives the film a sense of foreboding. Even though Adam Pally is funny, and I know that he’s funny and he’s cracking some jokes, I feel like something bad is going to happen. Obviously, you see some bad stuff happen at the beginning. As a first time director, how did you go about deciding how you wanted to tell the story visually?
UZIEL: A lot of it is a combination of things that we’re talking about. What you’re saying is kind of music to my ears because I wanted to have that look and feel of foreboding. I think that can help you if your cast … If you’re just looking at your cast, you’re gonna say, “Oh, this is a big, fat comedy.” I think if you’re going to cast a movie like that, you have to dispel that notion quickly or you’re going to be confusing the audience, and subverting their expectations in a bad way. You always want to do that in a good way. I think with a movie like this, you have to be really careful about tone. You have to make sure it’s consistent. To me, picking that visual style is about picking the tone that the movie really is going to live in. It is a move where bad things are going to happen and keep happening to these people. I think layering that level of gloom on top of it was a very specific choice and a helpful choice. Unquestionably a lot of that also comes from … I chose to work with Jarin Blaschke, who had just done The Witch. I don’t know if you saw The Witch but that is…
Oh yeah, it’s incredible.
UZIEL: That’s as scary and gloomy and creepy a feeling movie as you can get. Jarin is great and was a great partner in helping, through the lighting, to set that mood. Set that aesthetic feel to the whole film.
Image via Netflix
Yeah, I saw The Witch at Sundance and went off the logline. It was the first screening, and I didn’t know it was a horror movie. I was just terrified out of my mind. I though it was this Colonial period drama, and I was blown away.
UZIEL: I think that’s the best way to see that movie. I love it. It’s not really a horror movie. It’s like a movie of dread.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
UZIEL: You just sit there for however long it takes like, “Oh, God! Ew. Uh.” It’s great.
I’m also curious, what’s the Netflix experience been like for you? If I’m not mistaken, you made the movie first and then sold it to Netflix.
UZIEL: Yeah. We actually sold the movie kind of in the middle. It was a strange process. We were in production. We were on set. At some point, I put together a simple reel of the footage we already had. I think that reel, giving a sense of what the look was, combined with the cast and script, they jumped on board. It’s somewhere in the middle of a movie that they made with us and that we made and sold to them. It’s been great. It’s strange as a, probably any filmmaker, maybe moreso as a first time filmmaker, to have a movie at Netflix, because … First of all, it’s great to have an independent movie that’s making a profit very quickly. It takes a lot of the pressure off. To have a distribution set up right away. I knew people were going to see the movie. I knew how they would see the movie. That’s a huge burden lifted. The flip side is it’s weird. I don’t know what the experience of having a movie on Netflix is going to be yet. I know that people will see this movie, but I don’t know how that will feel from where I sit in my living room. It takes a lot of pressure off. I guess if you have an independent movie that eventually gets distribution in theaters, then you will live or die on that first week or two and that roll out. It could just crush you and then your movie goes away. I can’t imagine how that would feel, and I don’t have to. I’ll say that. That’s definitely great.
Did knowing that it was going to be mostly seen on Netflix impact the editing process, or post-production process, at all? That it wasn’t going to be on a traditional theatrical roll out?
UZIEL: No. No, it really didn’t. Other than knowing we had a partner who … I don’t know how to say this, but truthfully doesn’t give a shit. They’re not worried about anything that maybe someone else would. It’s like, “Just go for it. Do what you want to do.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about God Particle, or as it’s now known, the untitled Cloverfield movie. Did you write that just as an original Sci Fi film that then morphed into part of this Cloverfield universe? Was it always planned that it would be in step with something like 10 Cloverfield Lane?
UZIEL: It was written before 10 Cloverfield Lane and the expanded Cloverfield universe even existed. It was another spec that I wrote probably a year or so after Shimmer Lake. It definitely existed as its own science fiction movie. After years of, you know how scripts kind of hang around? People like them, but for whatever reason, system hasn’t decided to make them yet. Suddenly, everything fell into place with JJ and Bad Robot and with Paramount. I don’t know exactly when it became a Cloverfield movie, but I suspect in this current market where it’s harder and harder to market an original movie of any kind, original science fiction movie probably in particular. I think everyone just knew if it fits, and it does, into that Cloverfield world, it should. It can only help the movie.
Did you have to do much rewriting on that? Was that something that was adjusted during production?
UZIEL: We rewrote during production. I’m not sure … With Cloverfield, Cloverfield is … I’m not sure what it means to be part of the expanded Cloverfield universe other than knowing what kind of quality and feel you’re going to get from something that’s coming out of Bad Robot and JJ. It helps getting an understanding of it. “Okay, I understand what type of movie it’s going to be.” As far as specifics, I don’t think there is one specific thread that makes it a Cloverfield movie, I guess.
Which, I think is a really great way to do it. At heart, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a really terrific contained thriller. It has this tangential connection to Cloverfield that gives that audience recognition, but audiences go and they get to watch these powerhouse performances. The cast of God Particle is stacked. Is that how you approached it and everything? It seems like a really smart way to do it.
UZIEL: Yeah. I think if you can get that off the ground, which they are close, it’s very smart, and also great for makers of science fiction. It relieves you of that burden of, “How are we gonna get people off their asses and into the movie theater to see something they’re not sure?” It’s not a guarantee. The cast is different. We don’t know exactly what we’re getting, but if that stamp of approval of it being part of the Cloverfield universe is enough, then yeah. That’s a huge win. So I’m all for it. If you turn on The Twilight Zone, that’s sort of the way I think about it. “I don’t know what this story is going to be, but I know it’s going to be a Twilight Zone story.”
Exactly. It’s kind of like an anthology flavor.
UZIEL: It’s like an anthology for those kinds of movies. I think if JJ … If what he’s doing, is positioning himself a little bit to be the Rod Sterling of JJ-type science fiction movies, more power to him.
Image via Netflix
Absolutely. The premise its self is a contained sci-fi thriller about a group of astronauts fighting for survival, which is a premise that’s been tackled in a bunch of other sci-fi thrillers. When you’re writing of it, what were you hoping to achieve in setting this apart from other similarly plotted or similarly premised films?
UZIEL: I guess for me, sometimes those movies tend to be more concerned with whatever the obstacle is. I’m more concerned with the characters relationships to each other and that obstacle, I guess. To me, when you’re making an astronaut movie, I’m just curious about what those astronauts are going through. What their experience and what the character story is. What, specifically, the threat is, is often less of a concern to me, I guess, is where it might differ.
That’s definitely great to hear. I’m also curious, you were attached to this Mortal Kombat movie. What’s the status of that at this point?
UZIEL: I don’t know. I wish I knew. I have a long history with that Mortal Kombat project. It was the first thing I ever got hired on. After Shimmer Lake went out and around the town, I took a lot of meetings. One of the first jobs I got, and then ended up didn’t getting, was to write Mortal Kombat for Warner Brothers. The guys who hired me exited the company before we even could complete the paperwork, so it was a job that existed and then disappeared. It was soul crushing. Kevin Tancharoen, who was also trying to direct that movie when everything went away, he had just directed the Fame remake. He’s a very cool young director. He called me and said, “Hey, would you be willing to write a short that I would shoot, cause I think there’s something here. I think we can convince one of those to do it.” I ended up writing a short for him that he shot. It became kind of a big thing. I know he used that to convince Machinima to make the digital series, which I didn’t have anything to do with. After a couple years of that, New Line came on board to actually make a feature version again. It was at that point that Kevin called and New Line called and they said, “Hey, you were there at the beginning, do you want to come back?”I said, “Sure,” so I wrote them a feature that has been the basis of what the Mortal Kombat movie will be, but it’s been kicking around for a little while now. I know, I’m forgetting off the top of my head, but somebody great just came on to produce. James Wan, right?
Yeah that’s right.
UZIEL: That, to me, was a good sign that maybe things were heating up again. But, beyond that I really don’t know the specifics.
What was your take on it that kind of sets it apart?
UZIEL: I don’t know what remains of this, but I know it was going to be … It’s been a while so it’s hard to sum up quickly. It’s almost like if you took The Avengers, of if you took a storyline like that, but set it in a hard R, over the top violence and hard-edged world of Mortal Kombat. It was a little bit like that. It was a little bit of that Wanted-type story that brought together a bunch of these characters and pulled zero punches. It had a tone that was still fun, but very dark.
That’s a movie that I need to see.
UZIEL: It’s a movie they need to make, but I don’t know what they’re doing with it right now.
I get it. I also wanted to say that 22 Jump Street is one of the best comedy sequels ever made. Simply as a fan of that movie, I wanted to ask what it was like penning that script and working with Lord and Miller on that one? I think it’s this brilliant tightrope walk.
Image via Sony Pictures
UZIEL: Thanks. That makes me happy. Those things are so fuckin’ hard, sequels. I think sequels to comedies that are already knowing and meta, that’s made it particularly challenging. I can tell you that I came at it as a fan, as well. The first one came out when I was still living in Brooklyn. I remember I went to see the movie, and I just … My expectations were sort of low. I don’t think we knew exactly who Lord and Miller were yet. A lot of people walked out blown away like, “That was fucking great. Really fun. I love those guys. Love them together. I just laugh the whole time.” At some point, I’d been hired to write a new Men in Black for Sony. They needed help on Jump Street. They sent it to me. My experience working on it was Phil and Chris were off in Australia working on Lego. I think they were on the fence about whether they were going to do the second one. To me, I looked at where they were at with it, and as a fan, I thought, “Oh, no! These guys aren’t having fun together anymore.” The characters … Channing and Jonah, they were just being really mean to each other.
UZIEL: My take on it was, “If you’re gonna make a second one, and you want us to come along for the ride, the reason we’re gonna be there is because of how much we love these guys and how much we love them together.” It really was a love story between these two guys. If we can just tell the story again and find a way to make us care about them and how much they care about each other, then we’ll make sure its super funny on top of … If that was the the base layer, then lay it on top of that is all the stuff that makes it super funny, I think that’s what’s gonna make it work. I think, ultimately, that’s why it works, because those guys are so good and so fun to hang around with for two hours.
Yeah, it’s brilliant. Is there any status update on that Men in Black movie that you wrote, or is that still in stasis?
UZIEL: The Men in Black movie that I wrote was going to be a new Men in Black movie. A fresh start for that franchise. Before I even turned it in, I think the studio had gotten excited about the idea of smashing together the Jump Street series and the Men in Black series. That movie, the idea of that movie killed my movie. I don’t know the status of that movie right now. I would never call it dead, because nothing is ever dead. I’ve not heard anything lately. It’s not dead, but it’s quiet right now. It’s napping.
Was that one more in the vein of Jump Street? It felt like an answer to the success of the Jump Street franchise. The one that you were writing.
UZIEL: Yeah, I think it was gonna be … Yeah, it was. That thing’s dead as can be, but yes, it would have been much more … But, Men in Black II was kind of fun and light hearted. It was gonna be a little, I guess, harder … If you take Men in Black and hit it a little harder, then it veers more towards Jump Street. Yeah, it would be a little grittier, a little more real, a little less … The Men in Black series had gotten a little old. Tommy Lee had gotten old, obviously. He’s still awesome, but I don’t know. I don’t think there was a need to see those guys again, but it’s a great world, the Men in Black world. I think it’s super fun, so it would have been a little grittier. A little different setting, and maybe a little more Jump Street-ish.
Shimmer Lake is available to stream on Netflix starting June 9th.
Jun06‘Shimmer Lake’: Rainn Wilson, Benjamin Walker, and Rob Corddry On Netflix’s Wild New Crime Thriller — Watch
For his first time behind the camera, seasoned screenwriter Oren Uziel (who has penned scripts as diverse as “22 Jump Street” and the recently announced “Mortal Kombat” reboot) went for the chills, with an inventive twist.
His new Netflix crime thriller, “Shimmer Lake,” follows a motley crew of small town citizens and one preternaturally calm local sheriff as they attempt to untangle the mystery of a bank robbery gone terribly wrong. Told backwards, with each day ticking back through a particularly eventful week to reveal not just whodunit, but whytheywould, the film packs some big twists and some well-earned reveals.
In our star-packed exclusive featurette, stars like Rainn Wilson, Rob Corddry, Ron Livingston, Adam Pally, John Michael Higgins, Wyatt Russell, Stephanie Sigman, and Benjamin Walker, along with director Uziel and producer Adam Saunders, talk about what makes “Shimmer Lake” so special…and so creepy.
“Shimmer Lake” is produced by Footprint Features. The film will be available to stream on June 9 on Netflix.
Check out our exclusive featurette below.