Interview with QUENCH director Zack Parker
Zack Parker's Quench, a unique character study set in the world of "cutters," hits home video courtesy of Vanguard Cinema on October 28th. I was able to speak with Parker about the film earlier this year after catching it at the 2008 Indianapolis International Film Festival.
Collin: Thanks for taking the time to speak with ScreenAnarchy. Tell me a little about where Quench came from.
Zack: I saw a documentary on HBO in the late ‘90s called The Vampire Murders about a group of kids who were involved in this “vampire cult” and ended up killing the parents of one of the kids involved. I believe it happened in Kansas, and they ended up on this road trip to Florida, which is where they were finally caught. What really got me thinking, after seeing it, was that I had never seen a film portray this sort of alternative lifestyle in an honest way.
Generally, whenever goth people are seen in a film they end up being evil, they’re antagonists, they turn out to be real vampires. I had never seen a film delve into that lifestyle and not show them being evil people, but just people who live within an alternative culture, who follow an alternative religion in a sort of way, with each member having their own level of devoutness like any organized religion. That was the seed that got it all going.
Collin: Something that really struck me was when you represent the cult – the group Derik (the protagonist) finds his childhood friend associating with – it isn’t a situation where he’s in any danger. It’s something he doesn’t understand, but his approach isn’t reactionary. I was impressed it didn’t de-evolve into him being chased by people in black robes with knives. That said, the film does a great job of still allowing there to be some mystery, some shadow around what’s happening with his friend, in his town. I know you’ve said you wanted to portray these characters as real people, not cartoons – in order to do that, how did you work through the script, with your actors to convey that idea?
Zack: These groups tend to be made up of outcasts, people who don’t feel they fit in anywhere else, and that’s kind of what the film is about – acceptance – finding like-minded people. Like I was saying, with religion, it’s important to remember that everyone will have their level of belief, their level of participation. With Jason (Derik’s best friend), we get the feeling he’s still a little self-conscious about everything involved. When Derik asks him about the way he’s dressed, he goes on the defensive. The flip side is Jason’s fiancé – you can tell this is the way she’s always wanted to live, she’s just herself. Gina is a mixture of the two. I just wanted to structure them to be real people – they have day jobs, they have to get by, and for some this lifestyle is something they only do on the weekends. For others it’s an everyday thing.
Collin: The leads – especially Bo Barret (Derik) and Mia Moretti (Gina) - are very strong. There’s a real sweetness to their relationship. I know we can’t talk too much about what happens in the film – we don’t want to give too much away – but you call on your cast to do some brave things. I know it was a mix of casting out of LA and casting regionally (the Midwest) - tell us a little about what it was like finding your actors and preparing them for the film.
Zack: The first hurdle was reading the script. People need to know the material. Ultimately it’s a question of, “Is this a story you want to tell with me?” Of course, when you get to some of those touchier scenes we’d put in more prep time and allow fewer people on set, but all of the actors felt that everything was justified within the story.
Collin: Tell us a little about where you drew inspiration for the film from on a technical level. I think the film has a great mood – it never veers into histrionics, but there’s definitely an air of menace at times, of mystery, and there’s this great melancholy feel that really permeates the whole picture.
Zack: I’d say my three main influences, in terms of other filmmakers, are Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski, and Alfred Hitchcock. Their work tackles very dark subject matter but treats it in a respectful, intelligent, beautiful way, and that’s what I’m always trying to do.
Collin: There’s humor there, too.
Collin: I really appreciate it, and I think you need it—
Zack: Right, right.
Collin: Without it, things could come off as too draining, too depressing.
Zack: I think it’s a dark, maybe even uncomfortable humor – at the screenings we’ve had I’ve found people laughing at some of the most uncomfortable scenes because I think that’s the process they have to go through to deal with it. It’s great. It’s a different experience each time I see the film with an audience. Sometimes they laugh in places I don’t expect – not that they’re making fun of the moment, it just differs. So back to your question, those are my influences. Some people tell me that I have a traditional style – the camera doesn’t move very much.
Collin: You seem to like working from masters a lot.
Zack: Exactly. I like to focus on what, in my mind, is the perfect composition, on keeping editing down. Every cut needs to mean something. I’m not going to cut unless it’s important. I’m not going to use a close-up unless I need to hammer something home. I think so many of these tools are over-used today and they lose their force. I don’t know – I just feel, when I watch a film, I like that voyeuristic approach of the director just standing back and letting things play out – forcing us to watch it happen, as opposed to telling us where to look. I like the audience to be able to look around, to see different things that are happening on-screen within the frame.
Collin: I think that lends itself to being a window into someone’s existence – not a forced perspective – and I think that really goes to your earlier point about the piece not being some sort of judgment on the characters or their beliefs or actions. It’s about acceptance.
Collin: It’s an interesting experience for the audience because I think – even though the technique adds distance in a way – it lets you feel closer to the characters through being allowed to observe.
Zack: I want to show things objectively. I don’t think the film takes a black-and-white, protagonist / antagonist approach. Each character has good and bad traits. I’d like to leave it to the audience to decide whether anyone is right or wrong, because I feel like that’s closer to real life.
Collin: Tell us a little about the challenges of dealing with a film like Quench that straddles genre lines.
Zack: I always knew this was going to be a hard film to sell, a hard film to market, because it doesn’t fall into a particular genre. It’s not face-paced. I think, while it has horror elements, it’s not a horror film.
Collin: Marketing it that way would be a mistake I think, because you have a core audience when you’re talking genre who have expectations and if those expectations aren’t met, no matter what else your film offers, it ends up disappointing to a degree.
Zack: Absolutely. Whenever I talk with someone after they’ve seen the film I usually ask them a series of questions about what the picture reminded them of in terms of other media. Generally when you a pitch a film – both to make it and sell it – you have to have points of reference – “this meets that.” I did that with my first film, Inexchange - “It’s Carrie meets The Shining”. With Quench it’s much more difficult. I love it as a filmmaker, that people have a hard time finding a point of comparison – but from a marketing standpoint distributor reps want to know, “What’s it like? Who’s the audience – is it goth people?” I’m not goth, but I still thought enough of the story to make it, so obviously it spoke to me – so, that’s tough. I don’t mean to sound pretentious in saying it, but I’ve had a great response from other filmmakers or people who are big film buffs. But you can’t sell a distributor on, “This is a film for filmmakers!” It’s a struggle.
Collin: You had a somewhat circuitous route to bringing Quench to life. You spent a good deal of time in LA, but then came home to make this film. What lead you back to Indiana?
Zack: I moved to LA when I was 19. I did two years at Ball State University and after I made a short, a professor urged me to head out west. I started at the bottom, I worked as a PA at Roger Corman’s company – everyone has to start out at Corman’s – and I was just meeting people. I had the script for my first film ready, and I found someone who said they had the money to do it. I came home after about two years – we had cast the film out there – and we had planned to shoot it at Ball State because I had written the script with it in mind. Six months before we were going to shoot the financing fell through. The producer said she wasn’t going to raise the money. At that point I figured I need to learn how to be a producer myself because I couldn’t trust anyone else to really get the job done. It’s almost unfair to ask someone to find the funding for your movie. I ended up producing two shorts that year, one I wrote and directed, another written and directed by a friend. Mine ended up getting into one of the festivals at Sundance and after that I was able to raise a very small amount of money to make my first feature. I brought back a lot of people from the cast we had previously assembled and crewed it with people from around Ball State and did it that way. After that I moved back to LA to sell the film. I’m glad for the time I spent in LA. I think you can make a film anywhere in the country, but the business of film happens in LA. After spending a few more years out there and getting my first film sold I found out it wasn’t really necessary for me to be out there – that I would actually have an easier time getting films made in Indiana as long as I could maintain my contacts in LA. My key crew people I generally go back to – my composer, my sound guy – they live in LA. A lot of the actors I’ve worked with have moved out there. I still go out there every three to six months. I like casting from there but I like coming home and finding talent too. It’s generally cheaper and you find people just as skilled around here if you look. I also find that, in working with small budgets, it’s actually sometimes easier to fundraise around here. If you’re tenacious enough and work to establish the right contacts you can do it. It’s easier, too, to make a living off of my films here because the cost of living isn’t nearly as high as it is in LA. I’ll definitely shoot my next project here.
Collin: Which leads to my next question – what are you working on now?
Zack: I’m co-writing a film with my friend Brandon Owens. We’ve been making movies together since high school – he has the “story by” credit on Quench and was the writer / director on that other short I produced. We just finished a draft, it’s called “Scalene”. It’s told from three different perspectives and is about how we all remember events from our own angle. It’s even further from the genre than Quench. I’m just trying to make something unique, something different.
Collin: I appreciate your time. Congratulations on the film and I wish you continued success.
Zack: Thank you very much!