If I had to come out swinging for anything at SXSW, it would have to be Simon Rumley's (The Living and the Dead) new film, Red, White & Blue (review). It's far and away my favorite of the fest thus far, which is odd because usually I don't assign a favorite label to things that make me feel physically battered and emotionally bruised afterwards. But I can't help but respect a film that can pull that off without ever being outright exploitative. So, if you're at SXSW, keep an eye out for it. If not, know that we here at Cinematical will definitely be keeping an eye out for news on the distribution front.

Cinematical: When you were first coming up with Red, White & Blue, what was your sales pitch, so to speak, to producers and friends wanting to know about it?

Simon Rumley: I guess when I first wrote it, I was looking to do a specific story about this girl who used her body as a weapon. I did a few drafts of that and it didn't really work, so I thought that if it was going to work, it would have to be a character study first and foremost. And then once we have sympathy for the character, you can take it other places. So once I had that worked out myself, it became a bit more clear in my mind how it would progress and then the structure came.

By the time I had finished writing the script, in my own mind it was a slacker-revenge movie. The first half is very much a Richard Linklater / Larry Cohen film and then the second half becomes a lot harder and more extreme. So that's actually how I ended up selling it to people, as 'slacker-revenge'. And some people would say, 'slasher-revenge? What's so cool about that?' and I was going, "No, Slacker!" and they'd go, 'Oh, that's interesting.' Really I figured there aren't any other slacker-revenge films around, so I took two elements from stuff I like in films and put them in one.
Cinematical: Red, White & Blue clearly appeals to the horror demographic, and you just kind of pinned it down, but would you ostensibly consider it a horror movie?

Rumley: Kind of like my last film, yes and no. I don't think it's a scary film, but I do think it's a disturbing film and it's a draining film. I think making scary films is, not to denigrate people that make great scary films, but I think there's a lot in the editing and sound design, just turning the music loud on a certain cut, that makes people jump. I personally am not so excited about scary films, per say. I look to do stuff that's more emotionally draining and disturbing that leaves people with that "Oh, my God" feeling.

Is it a horror film? Of sorts, I think. It is and it isn't, much like my last film The Living and the Dead. A lot of people went, "This is more horrifying than any horror film I've ever seen, but it's not really a horror film," and I think this is in fairly similar territory.

Cinematical: And you're happy with that qualification?

Rumley: Yeah, I love it. I've been watching horror films since I was 8 or 9 or something. I do love them, but I think a lot of them are really generic and crap, but for me the most exciting ones are character studies and about character elements and people with psychotic personalities. Certainly the Korean films of the last decade, the Park Chan-wook films are stuff, are very much embraced by the horror audience but they're not necessarily horror movies. That for me is kind of where I'd like to think I sit. I think in the English language there aren't very many directors doing that sort of thing and it's great that my movie has been embraced by the horror audiences.

Cinematical: Sticking with that idea, when you began production did you think, "This is exactly the movie I want to make" or, conversely, did you design by exclusion; did you say to yourself, "I don't want to make a movie that is this, this and this,"?

Rumley: No, no, it was pretty much the movie I just wanted to make. I work on the script quite a lot, usually my optimum number of drafts is between 5 and 7 drafts. As you write the film and show it to people you start to have more ideas and you're very much so finding yourself as you write it, but for me, I say what Hitchcock has always said, "Once I lock down the script, the rest is kind of easy." There's a lot of truth in that, I think. Once the script is there, it's very much the structure we use and the editing.

I wrote the script in London but obviously with a knowledge of Austin. I came back to Austin around the third or fourth draft to see what I could and couldn't do and pretty much everything seemed possible, so we just went from there.

Cinematical: Aside from the budget logistics, what do you think are the greatest challenges facing indie filmmakers, particularly those making films for the horror movie crowd?

I think there's a few different levels of challenge. Getting it seen is an obvious one. Even when you come through a festival like this or Sundance, which are generally considered to be springboards to public knowledge and public awareness, it's really just about getting more people to write about it and get it on the Internet. That whole marketing side is still the biggest thing that everyone faces. A film is still a film even if you're a low budget indie filmmaker, so you're still competing with Hollywood and their budgets are obviously a million times higher than anything you can get involved with.

The other thing is just getting good scripts. Relatively speaking, it's actually quite easy just making a film; it's not that hard really, especially with the way technology is today. But getting a good script is the really tough thing and inevitably - I've been doing this a long time, this being the fifth script I've directed - you're never really sure what's going to work and whether it's not. But having a good script sets the template for getting a good film, obviously.

More often than not, that's the problem with indie films. People say, "Hey, man, let's get together and make a movie" and it ends up being just...

Cinematical: Slapped together?

Rumley: Yeah, exactly.

Cinematical: Obviously the story needs to take place in Texas, as Texas most embodies the Red, White & Blue spirit, but why Austin versus any other Texan city?

Rumley: I'd been here with The Living and the Dead for Fantastic Fest and stayed at Tim and Karrie League's house. I like the whole bar scene and the gig scene, so to me everything was just sort of pictorially evocative, so I kept Austin in the back of my mind. I'd been wanting to make an American film for a while and as a filmmaker and a writer, you have some ideas that you immediately put down on paper and some you don't use for 10 or 20 years and some never at all, but I kept thinking it would be fun to shoot here.

It was a combination of all those things really. And knowing Tim and Karrie...they're really well connected and just great people, so we really couldn't have done it without his help. He's one of the exec producers as you know, but having that level of people behind you supporting you, supporting the film was invaluable. That was one of the main reasons, because of Tim and Karrie, really.

Cinematical: When it came to casting Nate, did you cast a wide net with auditions or was it straight-out Noah Taylor's role?

Rumley: We had a list of about five people for the Nate character and Noah was always my top one. I've watched him since I was 16 or 17, when I saw his first film The Year My Voice Broke, and I always kind of loved that and his career. We approached a few agencies for availability of other clients because we thought since Noah lived in Australia it would be a bit of a long shot. But it turns out that he actually lived in the UK about an hour away from where I am in London.

So we asked if he would be prepared to meet the director if he likes the script, and can he read it within the next two days, and all those things were answered positively. He read it and liked it, so I drove down to Brighton and we had a 90 minute chat. He wanted to make sure it wasn't going to become a Saw or kind of Hostel - the writing in the script is a bit more graphic than the film, even though the film is still relatively graphic. So I assured him that it was going to be a different beast than those films so he came aboard. It was amazing to get him, we considered ourselves very fortunate that he came aboard. He did an amazing job and it was an absolute pleasure.

Cinematical: Well considering you wrote it more graphic, at what point did you decide to take a more restrained route in the final cut?

Rumley: A few different reasons. When I wrote the script, Audition was one film whose structure I mimicked a little bit. It had this long build up and then this fairly unpalatable ending and I thought that was kind of cool and loved the audience's reaction to it. So when we started looking at the footage it made more sense emotionally that we didn't concentrate on that completely, that we pull back a bit and have the reminder of why he's doing it and not so much what he's doing. It's this love story that is very beautiful and tender and it's still kind of tender, but it could have worked out better for the characters involved.

Cinematical: Obviously Red, White & Blue is a product of its times, but did you have any overt political agenda, particularly in giving Nate the background that he has?

Rumley: In a very small, political way I suppose it's a comment on where we are as a race, really. In some respects, taking America as the "Master Race" of such, the dominant global power, and looking at its foreign policy, how it rushes into war and we as Britain have followed. I wanted to make a film which worked on a few levels. The emotional level is the main thing, the visceral thing you respond to, but if people wanted to think about it a little more, they could see more subtext. Obviously the name of the film has an intended resonance and each character has the American flag in their segment at some point, but that wasn't something we tried to egg on.

Cinematical: Was Red, White & Blue always the title?

Rumley: No, for a while it was Dark, Darker, Darkest and, again, as I was rewriting it it changed. The Iraqi thing didn't come until the second or third draft. Initially he was an escaped asylum inmate and it was a lot more violent. Bit by bit I got a bigger grasp on the film and what I was trying to do with it, so once I made Nate a much more normal person rather than an escaped inmate, it made more sense to change the title of the film in the end. I like the title on a number of levels, but it also sort of reflects the structure of the film.

I probably went through 60 titles or something, I usually have one and stick with it. I spent a lot of time making up new ones, but Red, White and Blue was the one that stuck.

Cinematical: So what are you doing next?

Right before I came here I finished a psycho-sexual horror film anthology with two other actors. It's called Little Deaths and my segment is actually called Bitch, and there were a few dogs involved. When I get back to England I'll be right into editing that. There's a novel called Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite which I optioned and that's looking kind of interesting. So I've got a few things in the pipeline and hopefully I'll be coming back to Austin at some point.

Cinematical: Well hey, you should come back for Fantastic Fest, even if you don't bring anything.

Rumley: Yeah, I know for sure. Hopefully I'll be back with Little Deaths, but we'll see.