Screamfest LA 2011 Exclusive: Director P.J. Pettiette Talks Julia X 3D U.S. Premiere
With the Screamfest LA Film Festival now under way through October 22nd at Manns Chinese 6 in Hollywood, California, we chatted recently with P.J. Pettiette, the director of one of the fest's selections, the 3D feature Julia X, and got the skinny on the horror-comedy flick, which is having its U.S. premiere this evening, October 16th.
Written by Matt Cunningham and produced by Greg Hall, Claude Viguerie and the film’s director Pettiette, Julia X 3D stars Valerie Azlynn, Kevin Sorbo, Alicia Leigh Willis, Joel Moore, and Ving Rhames and follows, "’Julia’ (Azlynn) who meets a man on her third Internet date. As she is is leaving, she is abducted by ‘The Stranger’ (Sorbo) and branded with an ‘X’. After a cat-and-mouse game, she eventually subdues The Stranger, and we discover that Julia and her younger sister, Jessica (Willis), are Internet predators themselves."
“I wanted it to in some ways mock the trends of these women brutality films,” said Pettiette of the genesis of his idea for Julia X 3D, “but then take the audience on a ride that twists the story and flips it around where you really don't know what is going to happen next. That way it becomes funny, ironic, and satirical. At the time I was working on the story, I really couldn't think of anything fantastical that really scared me, but the thought of a woman who ends up on an Internet date with a serial killer? I thought that would be frightening. Then I thought, ‘Well, what if the woman was a crazy serial killer also?’ In the development of the story there were two young girls I knew who did everything together. They would sneak out of the house, share boyfriends (or steal them), fight over bras, and one of them definitely seemed more conniving and dangerous than the other, or at least that's where my imagination went. That became the twist factor for me to really create a story about two sisters disguised as a horror abduction picture.”
“The first draft of Julia X 3D went quickly,” related Pettiette (who previously co-scripted the 1998 film If I Die Before I Wake), “but I started really twisting the story up and changing the protagonists and the tones. We probably took two years to get the financing, which was very difficult as the economy fell out while my producing partner Claudie (Viguerie) and I were looking to capitalize the film. It's one of the most difficult things about an independent project. We ultimately found Greg Hall, who joined us as a producer.”
As for his decision to give Julia X the 3D treatment, “I really felt that 3D would totally enhance the story tonally so we decided to find an affordable 3D rig and company, and Matt and I began to rewrite the script to create more depth to the total visual experience.”
Filmed over the course of thirty days outside Dixie, Louisiana, where Pettiette grew up, “Greg (Hall) and I know the bayous and other locations we selected so Matt and I wrote the new draft with them in mind,” offered the filmmaker. “It was more about adding 3D depth to the project by adding these locations using master shots and all three fields of depth perception, rather than gag shots.”
“Our budget was very small for a 3D picture, and shooting it in 3D was very challenging. For one, I knew that with 3D there are audience limitations in regard to editing (the film). Understanding that with 3D you can't do fast cutting, I knew I would have to use more master shots and therefore create something different and disturbing, yet twisted in the story’s construction. A film that I thought did well overcoming this hurdle was Resident Evil 3D, but since our film’s budget was (probably not) even their craft service budget, we had to be smart and allow that limitations to work for us. Using the depth 3D allowed as a character gave me the opportunity to make a true throwback picture with a lot of practical effects.”
Of casting Sorbo in the role of the nefarious ‘The Stranger,’ “He made the character sympathetic, likable, and funny,” said Pettiette. “Kevin plays a pivotal role in the tonal shift in the film. Only Kevin could create a killer who is narcissistic, lovable, endearing, and a man's and woman's man, and being as likable as he allowed us I think to take the picture to an ironic, satirical, and sometimes over-the-top place. Kevin got the script right away. A lot of people missed the point tone initially by misinterpreting it, but Kevin saw the deadpan humor in it immediately.”
Balancing horror with comedy effectively isn't an easy feat, and we queried Pettiette on his approach to the mash-up.
“I knew all along that we wanted a movie that was winking at the viewer the whole time,” responded the filmmaker, “(where we lure them into) thinking it's going to be one kind of a film but then twist it and inject some real deadpan situations of people talking very frankly about killing, dating and idyllic and romantic notions. We hoped the audience would get this, and so far in most places, especially at its world premiere in Germany, the audiences have responded really well! It's important for me to not give anything away (about some of the twists of the narrative), but when Joel David Moore enters the film, his performance and his character takes us to a realization of the truly madcap place which he and the audience have landed in. There are some uncomfortable moments in the film, and we worked hard to keep the tone shifting back and forth to create a constant drama and tension. I did want the audience to have fun. The film is meant to be an intense but fun ride.”
As for post-production, “The thing I love about the 3D process is that it's totally collaborative from the very beginning, which makes for a better crew experience and movie,” offered Pettiette, “especially for a low-budget film trying to compete with Avatar in the 3D realm. I knew then early on with all the unknown issues of 3D to bring my editor Rob Neal and the 3D team from 21st Century with us to Louisiana. We also began to work early on with Light Iron Digital and Katie Fellion, who really brought the 3D to another level in the final stages of post. The picture's visual design was done by Mark Tanner, and we really wanted a surreal but very colorful palette in the movie. Light Iron Digital kept the colors rich so it's almost like with the colors and the 3D you are eating visual candy the whole ninety-two minutes of its running time. We really wanted to go against the reality horror de-saturated look and washed out colors and make our movie a fresh visual experience.”
“Claudie (Viguerie) and I couldn't be more excited to be a part of Screamfest,” concluded Pettiette of the Screamfest LA premiere. “We love Rachel (Belofsky) and her real commitment to the genre as a fun experience and not a pretentious sell-out. It is a scary experience, though, in its own way to screen the picture with an audience, but it's so friggin' cool to do it at the Chinese Manns Theatre so who cares if I'm nervous: I get to eat a hot dog and see a movie, our movie! I'm also excited to see the other films selected. I actually like the programming Rachel does. It's always been tasteful and entertaining!”
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