Filmmaker Richard Stringham is from Sherwood, Arkansas and coming right outta the gate with his directorial debut film Close Calls. I got an opportunity to sit and chat with the “up and comer” about life, love, his films and what he has planned for the future.
PJ Starks: How did you come up with the concept behind Close Calls?
Richard Stringham: The idea for “Close Calls” started way back in 2008, but that’s all it ever really was. Just an idea. There was no story, no plot. I was obsessed with a girl named Morgan back then, and I wanted to write a story about stalking and tormenting her. But even with that, there was still no story, which is why I only wrote ten pages of that script and didn’t think about it again for years. It wasn’t until 2014 that the idea for “Close Calls” started creeping back into my subconscious. I experimented with a heavy dose of psilocybin mushrooms that year, and believe it or not, a coherent story started to come together real quickly after that, and I ended up writing that script in three months. There were no rewrites either. It was an awesome, creative high. Characters started speaking to me, and the story felt like it was writing itself. It was great.
PJ Starks: When I watch the trailer for Close Calls I see a lot of different influences from various sub-genres like the Italian Giallo and slashers of the late 70’s. Can you talk about the movies that inspired both the conceptualization of plot and the aesthetics of the film?
Richard Stringham: It’s hard to really pin down which films had a direct influence on “Close Calls” because there are so many of them. I figure the most on-the-nose influence would have to be Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas”. The original idea was born off that anyway. And there’s definitely a heavy Italian influence on the film with regards to the lighting and the overall visual style. Bava and Argento are major heroes of mine for sure. The look of “Close Calls” is pretty consistent throughout, and I have no doubt that when people see the film, they’ll be able to point several influences of which I’m probably unaware. I will say the first half of it feels kind of like Carpenter, Hooper and Craven. Then the second half kicks in and starts delving into Kubrick, Polanski and Lynch territory.
PJ Starks: Being as this is your first time directing a horror feature, what was the experience like and looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Richard Stringham: I would’ve done it all differently, but you can’t learn unless you make mistakes. I’m a firm believer in failing forward. The idea that a series of small failures always adds up to something successful in the long run. A lot of bad, tumultuous shit happened during the “Close Calls” shoot. I look back at the experience fondly now, but I hated it at the time. It was probably the most stressed out I’d ever been in my entire life, and I honestly felt like I was dying everyday. I lost locations, I was stolen from, taken advantage of, threatened with lawsuits, and went way, way, way over budget. And although there were a few disgruntled crew members, I think they all realized at the end of the day that we had a job to do and a movie to finish. Everyone on set busted their asses in the three months we all worked together. Towards the end of the shoot, we all felt a little crazy, jaded and delusional. But I think the madness and the arduous efforts from everyone is clearly reflected in the film, and I couldn’t be prouder.
PJ Starks: From script to screen, what was the most challenging aspect of making this film?
Richard Stringham: The most challenging aspect of it was taking a lot of the psychological stuff from the script and turning it into something visual and cerebral. The camera crew and the art department were smart and talented enough to carry out these ideas, but I believe some of the creative potential was hindered a little by losing our primary location. It was disruptive and devastating to me and everyone on the crew. I had the movie in my head, but it was tough to get it out coherently at that time. We built so many sets and shot in so many different locations, it just felt like a lot of the ebb and flow of the creative process wasn’t very cohesive due to the fact that we had to figure out how to piece the film together. But ever since picture lock, every concern I ever had about certain elements of the script not working or tying together seamlessly on the screen is now behind me.
PJ Starks: You have a new horror feature in the works called Slices. Can you tell us a little more about the project.
Richard Stringham: “Slices” is a psychological thriller I’ve had floating around in my head since 2006. It’s definitely the darkest thing I’ve ever written. It’s about this sad, agoraphobic woman named Kayli who lives out in the country by herself after a divorce and the death of her baby. After she meets this pizza delivery boy named Trent, she thinks having a harmless fling with him is gonna be the answer to her loneliness and depression. But as a toxic relationship begins to form, Kayli sees a dark side in Trent, which brings a lot of her own traumas and inner demons to the surface. And that’s when things start to spiral out of control for both Kayli… and Trent.
PJ Starks: From the look of the poster Slices is a throwback to the video nasties of the 80’s. A lot of slasher films are being produced on all budgets, what will set this film a part from others in same sub-genre?
Richard Stringham: I’d like to present “Slices” as a slasher on the surface, but that’s definitely not what it is at all. It’s basically a psychological suspense piece that deals with the dramatic after-effects of loss, guilt, and the inability to erase your past. Devon Whitehead’s awesome poster seems schlocky at first glance, but the longer you look at it, you start to see something dark and unsettling inside of the artwork. The film will most definitely be a horror film at its core, but I want people to find something incredibly heavy and emotional within the subject matter.
PJ Starks: What advice would you give someone looking to jump into horror realm and make their own feature or short?
Richard Stringham: I would say master the craft of screenwriting first. Or at least be smart enough to know what a good script is, so you can hire a talented writer to pen one for you. Shitty scripts are the biggest problem I see in indie films nowadays. Everyone wants to make a movie, but not everyone knows how to tell a good story! I’ve been writing scripts for seventeen years now, and three of them have won awards for excellence in screenwriting. Before I set out to make “Close Calls”, I made sure, above all, that the writing was solid. I had the story analyzed and critiqued by industry professionals. And once I felt good about it, I knew it was time to film it. Nobody even knew who the hell I was when I started production on “Close Calls”. But because of my script, I was able to attract the attention of talented people like Rocky Gray, Les Galusha, Mitchell Crisp, James Scott Cook, Jeff Bailey, and Omar Godinez. These people are all experienced professionals, and damn good at what they do. So script is definitely key. If you don’t know about formula, paradigm, structure, or hedonic adaptation, then your film is gonna be a mess. It’s not about camera, special effects, budget, or even your actors. It’s about story, plain and simple. And if you don’t have a good story, you won’t have a good film.