The Movie Waffler Waffling With BLOOD RUSH Director Harris Demel | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With BLOOD RUSH Director Harris Demel

We chat to the director of the claustrophobic thriller Blood Rush.

Interview by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Hi Harris. I really enjoyed Blood Rush, aka Flipped, finding it very gripping. I wonder if we could start with you telling us a little about the process of Blood Rush’s pre-production; how long did it take to get off the ground and how did you raise investment/interest? I notice that on imdb there are two films listed with Blood Rush’s synopsis under your name, have you remade yourself?!

Greetings TMW (and TMW fans)! I’m so glad you enjoyed the movie, and thank you for sharing your feedback – I sincerely appreciate it.

Getting the movie off the ground started when I was in the corporate world, aching to do something truly creative. After nearly two decades in tech, I simply up and quit. Then I studied the craft of screenwriting, and it took nine months for me to write my first script. Next, I took a two-day course, designed to demystify the filmmaking process for first-time directors, like myself. The course’s main message was to simplify, so I needed to write a new script in a smaller world.

Rather than lock myself in a room for another nine months, I recruited my long-time friend and prolific screenwriter, Rob Greenberg, as a co-writer. I presented him with a concept of a woman trapped in an upside-down car, her only connection to the outside world being a damaged cell phone. Nowadays, people joke that their smartphone is their lifeline, and I liked the idea of making that literal, the conflict being that the help she connects with turns out to be anything but.

At the time, there was a flurry of headlines regarding domestic abuse involving celebrities. It’s an important topic that’s rarely covered in movies, and Rob and I wanted to dig deeper. That helped shape our characters and define their arcs, and three months later, we had a draft ready for script consultants, friends and family, and their feedback helped us arrive at a final draft.

Google financed the movie, and by that, I mean about 12 years ago, I bought shares of Google shortly after their IPO, and that fortunate trade allowed me to fund the movie myself. As if making a movie (my first, at that) wasn’t hard enough, shooting outside, contending with the weather and having actors literally hanging upside-down, upon screening the first cut, I found that I had a major problem: Some people didn’t understand the ending. It needed to be fixed, so Rob and I rewrote the ending and I ran a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a reshoot and the second round of post (and a big shout out to everyone who helped!).

I’m a slower writer than Rob; scheduling the actors for the reshoot was hell, I wanted to do the first round of editing myself, and I wanted to get my hands into visual effects, (because they’re a great brain-ambidextrous exercise, and doing so satisfied the nerd in me), etc., etc., so overall, it took about two years to finish the movie.

The two listings on IMDB are in error – Thanks for letting me know!  I’ve asked IMDB to remove the first one, as it’s clearly an orphan.

The single location thriller is one that I would imagine seems appealing to low budget film makers due to the ostensible lack of costs. However, I would imagine that the actual reality of creating a film with a character stuck in a single space but which is still varied and compelling would be very challenging. Could you talk a little about the filming of Blood Rush?

You’re right – Using a single location is appealing to filmmakers for reasons of budget and simplicity, the mantra of the two-day course I’d taken, but it’s also an enormous challenge keeping a (largely) single-location movie interesting and suspenseful, while avoiding having it come across as a theatre play. You can use gimmicks like visual effects, or you can hang your actors upside-down, but the real key is in the story. That’s the foundation of any decent movie. And as they say, you can take a great script and make a poor movie, but you can’t take a poor script and make a great movie. To keep people glued, you need well-developed characters, solid structure, and viable twists and turns that today’s savvy audiences never see coming.

In this case, the actors were literally upside down for the majority of the shoot, and while that could be labelled as gimmicky, it’s actually allegorical to the story. It’s also one of the keys to the movie’s suspense, in that no one knows the physiological limits of a person hanging upside-down. That was something I researched prior to the shoot. I couldn’t find anything concrete on the web or in speaking with my doctor friends. We were confident, however, that the actors could hang for roughly 30 minutes at a time. So, we would shoot for that duration, but the window tightened as the day went on and the actors became more dizzy and fatigued.

I also need to also give crazy amounts of credit to [lead actors] Stella and Evan, who were warriors. It’s much more difficult playing an unconscious or dead person than people probably realize. Being strapped in while hanging upside-down adds to the challenge exponentially, but somehow, Evan did it while remaining the incredibly good and positive person he is, and I know he helped Stella get through what had to be one of her most gruelling roles. Stella was literally upside down for the majority of this shoot, keeping her lines and blocking straight with blood pooling in her head, which speaks to the enormity of her talent. I’m forever grateful to both of them for putting their trust in me.

In what is essentially a two-hander, the film relies in no small way on the performances of Stella Maeve and Michael Madsen, so it is just as well that both are very good indeed. However, as their interaction is almost exclusively over the phone, I’m intrigued as to how the back and forth rhythm was realised: did Michael record separately, or was he on set? I’ve always had a soft spot for Michael Madsen (anyone who dedicates their spare time to poetry and hot sauce is alright in my book); how did he get involved with the project?

Mike arrived with one of his poetry books, and I was honoured when he signed and bequeathed it unto me! I too, am a Madsen fan, and he was great to work with. During the shoot, we had an on-set reader for Stella to play against for the phone scenes with Casey. However, the on-set reader spoke much faster than Mike, who was recorded separately months later. I had to come up with a ton of creative solutions to produce a final result that came across as organically-flowing conversation. In some cases, it was speeding up and slowing down the video and/or audio, in others I was able to go to a visual cut away, and in others, I was able to (hopefully seamlessly) chop up the voice-over dialogue. To an extent, it was like being a DJ, getting two separate pieces of music to work together melodically and rhythmically. It was fun.

My reading of Blood Rush’s subtext is that the film is in part a comment on modern celebrity culture; Casey seems to feel that he has a right to Nicole due to her fame, and is able to manipulate her using the details of her life that are readily available on social media. Is this an accurate interpretation? Were there any particular influences on the character of Nicole?

I won’t mention Chris Brown by name, but yes, there were particular influences that shaped the characters and their circumstances. And in terms of celebrity, when my oldest brother was a kid, he used to blanket his room with posters of rock stars. There was a wall between us and them, be it the graininess of the photos, the stage smoke, or our one-way contact with them through rare images or records they released.

With the advent of the Internet, the wall has thinned down to a speck of electrons. We see what they have for lunch, because for some odd reason, they feel compelled to post pictures of their kale salad. They interact with fans by bouncing tweets back and forth, like balloon balls at concerts. And they engage in real-time wars of words with each other, and we eat it up, because train wrecks are so much more entertaining in real time.

But they’re still the fortunate few who broke through, trailed by the same old stigmas, caused by our idolisation and envy of them. And if they post it or if it’s caught on camera, it’s ours to devour whether lines were crossed or not. And the stigmas themselves don’t prejudice, in that our society still considers their tragedies self-induced, whether it’s their drug problem, their nakedness (so to speak), or their “choice” in getting into an abusive relationship. So much more passes through thinner walls.

Ok, we enjoyed the gripping trials and tribulations of poor Nicole Diamond and have said as much in our review, but here is your chance to do likewise; why should TMW readers hang out with Blood Rush?

TMW readers should waffle with Blood Rush, because you like us, you really like us, and TMW fans love you, and so by association, if we can connect those dots… This is not your typical horror movie. There are subtleties, nuances and metaphors I really hope come across. I’m sure it’s got its flaws, blah, blah, blah, but hopefully it will stick around in people’s minds long enough for them to empathize with an abuse victim, a fellow human being, by spending some time in her head.

Thank you so much for giving the movie a chance, and your time, these great questions, and your terrific review!