This writer hit the set of the then-shooting Patrick Cunningham-directed feature Model Home in the LA area enclave of Santa Clarita on July 9th and while there chatted with the filmmaker regarding the project as well as with co-producer Will Clevinger (The Devil’s Carnival) and more.
Shooting Day 19 of 20 in the entirely suburban and seemingly white-bread environ, it was hard not to feel that aliens with a hankering for Reese’s Pieces and nuclear families with daughters named “Carol Anne” would both feel entirely comfortable on the set of Model Home. The rented residence in which the production had set up shop and the homes that surrounded it were dotted with manicured lawns and tricycles with colorful handle-bar streamers, abandoned apparently by the pre-pubescent children who had ridden them. Smart perhaps, as what was shooting inside Model Home was fairly disconnected from the tranquility the family-centric locale strove for.
“It’s a psychological thriller,” first-time writer (with William Day Frank) and director Cunningham told us of Model Home as we stood in the driveway of the home. “I was listening to an NPR story about ‘live-in staging,’ where recently evicted families are paid to live in empty homes in abandoned neighborhoods to make them more livable, and I thought the idea of people being rented as ‘furniture’ was pretty messed up, and I thought that there would be an opportunity to kind of do a re-write of The Shining, about a family that are caretakers of an isolated property, that was a little bit more current, where I could put a different spin on it. It’s been pretty interesting.”
Of the genesis of the film, which revolves around a single mother (Contagion actress Monique Gabriela Curnen) who entertains a dangerous fantasy after she’s recruited to live in an unsold property in an empty development, “My co-writer and I started on the script almost a year ago this week, and I think we are on our twentieth draft,” said Cunningham. “So it went through many drafts and many readers, which was a huge help, because the script now is the bedrock, and with all of the variables during production, it’s nice to know that I can rely on it, and it helps me do my job, as opposed to something I need to re-write in the middle of the night to be shot the next day.”
Rounding out the cast are Kathy Baker (Take Shelter) and newcomer Luke Ganalon, who are joined by Jon Jon Briones, Keram Malicki-Sanchez, Jasper Cole, Maree Cheatham, Sunny Vachher, Cici Lau and Victoria Cruz. Clevinger and Ben Rabbers (The Devil’s Carnival) co-produce, as does Jarod Einsohn, with executive producer credits going to John Frank and Douglas Britton. William Day Frank produces. Elle Favorule provides the special FX makeup.
“We got really lucky with our casting,” Cunningham effused. “Our casting director, Kendra Patterson, had a dream list that she put together, of everyone she really wanted for the roles, and we were able to get every single one of those people that she thought would be best. It’s been wonderful for me sit there and watch them work. It makes me look awesome.”
As for what genre fans can expect, “I like my horror,” said Cunningham. “I’d like to think that we are grounding all of the horror elements in the story with Model Home. The lead suffers from bi-polar disorder, and the most horrific elements come almost directly from case studies and actual events so I didn’t have to stretch very far to find genuinely horrific stuff that was also completely realistic. I didn’t want it to feel clunky, like, ‘Now we are going to be scary!’ I wanted the horror to be rooted in the narrative, and I wanted the narrative to be rooted in fact. I think we are pulling that off.”
Filmmaking is a process by committee, however, so we asked Cunningham what challenges he’d faced in bringing his script to the screen.
“Moviemaking itself is a compromise so were there things in the script I had to change?” posited Cunningham. “Yes, but I think one benefit of being prepared is that you get lucky, and if you are super-prepared, things happen with the project that add to the film while you are in pre-production and production, and I think that we are breaking even with the stuff that we had to lose for various reasons, mostly time, budget and reality, and the stuff that we were able to find and create on the spot, thanks to great casting and a great production team and lucky coincidences. We lost stuff. That’s inevitable, but we’ve also gained some really cool stuff. I feel happy about it.”
Just prior to catching a ride in the production van with Clevinger in order to check out some dailies, we chatted briefly with FX artist Favorule, who noted of some of the carnage she’d help deliver, “There’s been stabbing, there’s been cutting and there’s been bullet holes and even a little wire-work!”
“In three or four months we should be done,” Clevinger (whose previous credits include the forthcoming Under the Bed as well as 2006’s cult fave Automaton Transfusion) said of post-production on Model Home. “It’s a character-driven piece, and we really want it to get out there. It’s not every day where we do something like this, because we are blending elements of things like One Hour Photo, even though I hate comparisons, but it’s not every day that you find a cast like this in a project with a narrative that sort of prances around the genre. Literally every single character in the film, and its casting, was thought through because we were just so picky.”
As for youthful actor Ganolan, “We got really lucky with him,” said producer Frank. “He’s in ninety-eight percent of the film, and he carries it in a lot of ways. We auditioned so many, but when Luke came in, we knew right away. Even his head shot was better than everyone else’s. But his casting was the major factor in us being able to do the movie. We needed a child actor that could knock out a scene in two takes, and he can do that, and he’s been game for everything.”
“It’s weird,” commented Clevinger, “because the kid actors that ‘have it’ are like thirty-year-olds in twelve-year-old bodies. They’ll go and do some intense scenes, and then right after they will be talking about playing Wii and stuff, and I’ve really never understood how that works. But Luke’s excited to be in a rated ‘R’ movie and to be able to tell his friends that he was surrounded by murder and mayhem.”
Catching up with Clevinger yesterday, he reflected on principal photography, “Model Home has been the most challenging and yet rewarding experience I have had in filmmaking thus far. We dealt with crazy conditions from the locations that we shot in (writer’s note: they included not only Santa Clarita but ‘Club Ed’ in Lancaster, Studio City’s resin kit Mecca Kit Kraft and a rather dicey Travelodge in North Hills, where crew vehicles were broken into) to the sheer scope and size of the film for the money we had. This crew was the best I have ever worked with, though, and everyone pulled it through. I am so pleased that I got to be a part of this film, and I can’t wait to get into post-production and to see just what we have. Hopefully the film will be ready in time for the start of festival season, come January 2013.”
As for Under the Bed, which Clevinger produced and which was directed by Steven C. Miller (Silent Night), “It just made its world premiere this past Sunday in Montreal at Fantasia Fest,” said the producer. “Although I couldn’t be in attendance because of other commitments, Miller and my producing partner on the film, Brad Miska, were there; and from what they told me, the audience and critics got what we were setting out to make and loved the movie. We handled this differently than anything else I have made, in that we only released one still photo over a year ago when we completed production, and we haven’t talked much about it since (in the press). So when people see it, they’ll have no idea what to expect. We will be screening Under the Bed next at FrightFest in the UK, and then we will see what happens with distribution. It’s going to be a busy and exciting end to the year, and I am looking forward to it.”
Still Photographer: Aaron Whitmore
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