In his latest movie Proxy (review), indie filmmaker Zack Parker takes on some pretty brutal subject matter – the murder of a late-term fetus, lesbian obsession, secrets, lies, and stalkers. And that’s just for starters! Read on to see what Parker has to say about all this and more.
Dread Central: You’ve been making films since you were a child… What’s the enduring fascination for you?
Zack Parker: I don’t think it’s something I can necessarily pinpoint. I’ve just always had a connection to movies. Almost felt I understood them in a strange way. My parents divorced when I was pretty young. My mother worked, so I was just one of those generation of kids that grew up in front of the television. That was the world I knew.
My dad bought a small Hi 8 video camera when I was eleven, and I just started making little short movies with them. Mostly clay-animation at first (the California Raisins and the Domino’s Noid were both popular at the time), then later I started making things with friends.
Once I got into middle/high school, I would always try to make a movie, or shoot a scene from a book, to get out of doing a book report or some other kind of project. It was just fun, so it never felt like work.
Like most young artists, I’m sure your parents think that you’re going through a phase, or will grow out it. I come from a place that has zero connections to movies or Hollywood, and this is pre-internet, which made it feel even further away. It’s the only career path I’ve ever pursued. I think once I made the decision at nineteen to leave collage and move to LA, my family started to take it seriously.
In regard to where it will all lead, I guess that remains to be seen. I’ve been fortunate thus far to make the films I want, how I want, and where I want. I suppose that is what’s most important to me; to continue to tell stories that I have a connection with and to maintain whatever voice I may have.
DC: Your first feature, Inexchange, has been compared to Carrie. Why do you think that is, and what do you think of all the remakes of the 70s classics? (Specifically, Carrie). That was in 2006… can you talk about how the accelerated rate of bullying and revenge in today’s online world might affect you if you’d made that film today?
ZP: I suppose the Carrie comparisons came through the bullying aspect, and possibly through the stylistic choices made throughout the film. As for remakes; some work, most don’t. I certainly understand the business thinking of it. Taking a successful piece of material that has survived for decades, then repackaging and contemporizing it for a new generation in an attempt to recapture that success. I have no allusions about film being a business. It’s a necessary evil.
As films grow older they tend to take on a bit of nostalgia for audiences. I prefer the original Carrie, but perhaps that is because I saw it at a time where films were having a huge impression on me. I prefer the aesthetics of it more than the remake. It’s not that the newer one is particularly a bad film, it just wasn’t a new experience for me. It’s not going to have the same impact because I know the original so well. But, when I watch the original now, I can remember that feeling of seeing it for the first time, that nostalgia. I believe this is why every time I watch it, it still feels like a new experience.
As for would I change anything in Inexchange if I made it today; on the technical side, definitely. It was my first feature, so it is very difficult for me to watch it now. But story-wise, I don’t think I would change much. Of course, the lack of technology (cell phones, iPads, etc.) makes it feel dated, but I think the overall message is still quite relevant.
DC: In your new movie, Proxy, you focus on some really dark material… the in-utero baby murder was especially disturbing… do you take your cues from real life, like say, the killing of Sharon Tate or the recent spate of fetal abduction assaults? Or is it purely as a filmmaker thinking: What’s really going to be brutal? How can I freak out the audience?
ZP: I always take a bit from real life, though typically not through news headlines. They tend to be aspects of my own life that I am dealing with, or subjects that I am fascinated by and want to explore.
Due to the structure of this particular film, I knew I had to hit the audience hard early on. I tend to be what some would call a “slow burn” filmmaker. I like a story to take time, and to build up a development of the characters and their world. I knew that if I could knock the audience off balance quickly, give them this feeling that anything could happen in this film, it would earn me the time to start to build the story. It’s almost a promise; stick with me, and something like this will happen again later. I find it ends up creating a nice innate bit of suspense and tension as the film unfolds.
DC: You put your actresses through hell in Proxy. Did any of them hesitate after their initial reading of the script?
ZP: I knew that these roles were going to go to some pretty dark places, and probably be quite challenging. So I was looking for actresses that were going to embrace those challenges, and in my mind, fall in love with the story for all the right reasons.
Alexia Rasmussen and Alexa Havins (who play Esther and Melanie, respectively) were two of several actresses that were submitted to me and whom I met with. Both really seemed to understand and be enthusiastic about the kind of film I was attempting to make. I think Alexia really responded to the introverted and broken psyche of Esther, and her potential to be a very unlikely and unconventional female lead. As for Alexa, I think she was excited about the dual nature of her character, the facade that controls her life. As a mother herself, I know there were times where it was quite difficult for her to go to those dark places, but she is a consummate professional, and executed the role quite beautifully.
Kristina Klebe’s character had to undergo the largest physical change. She did a lot of training through weightlifting and boxing. We were trying to transform not only her silhouette, but the way she moved. Her character is fueled by passion and ferocity, and it was important for both of us that the physical matched the emotional.
DC: There’s one really arresting scene in Proxy, where someone is shot. And there’s almost a Peckinpah vibe to it. You really keep it slow. And not just slo-mo, but what looks like still frames. Please tell us about the inspiration behind this very unusual and risky choice. Any cinematic influences for this?
ZP: The film undergoes a big change at the halfway point, so I really wanted to create this marquee sequence around that. I was in love with the super slow-motion sequences that (Lars) von Trier was doing in Antichrist and Melancholia with the Phantom camera. Since our scene was dealing largely with water and blood, it occurred to me that this could potentially be a beautiful way to execute it.
That entire sequence was shot at 1500fps. So, though it does look like still frames at some points, it is actually still moving pictures. I feel like when you when slow things down that much, the violence and gore become somewhat balletic. I knew the sequence would live or die by the score that was driving it, and as always, the Newton Brothers created an exquisitely haunting piece that elevates the whole scene to another level.
DC: What will horror fans like best about Proxy?
ZP: As with all of my films, the reactions have been quite polarizing. Some are really embracing it, some not. Personally, I’m still not sure I would call it a horror film, simply because I don’t want to create incorrect expectations. I think it is very dark and deals with some pretty tough subject matter, but I don’t want people expecting murder and mayhem every ten minutes. I think it is probably a hybrid of several genres. When I set out to make a film, my hope is that it will be something that people haven’t seen before, and executed in way that feels unique.
DC: What’s your next project, or what do you hope to be working on it the future?
ZP: I am in the beginning stages of putting together the next one. I have co-written this one again with Kevin Donner, whom I wrote Proxy with. It is a story that I have been developing for several years now. I’m always wanting to progress in my work, and this has been the most complicated screenplay I’ve dealt with to date. It has a larger scope that anything I’ve made before, and if all goes according to plan, we’ll be shooting later this year or early 2015.
Look for Proxy on VOD April 18 with a DVD release to follow.
Alexia Rasmussen, Alexa Havins, Kristina Klebe, and Joe Swanberg star.
A very pregnant Esther Woodhouse (Rasmussen) is walking home after her latest OB appointment when she is brutally attacked and disfigured by a hooded assailant. When Esther seeks consolation in a support group, she finds friendship and empathy in Melanie (Havins), another mother scarred with tragedy. Esther soon begins to believe that the horrific event might be a bittersweet act of fate. However, friendship and empathy can be very dangerous things when accepted by the wrong people.
Proxy is a European-style suspense-thriller that promises to challenge the traditional cinematic form. Parker has reunited with The Newton Brothers to compose the score as well as Jim Timperman as Director of Photography to lens the film. A notable addition to Parker’s crew is seasoned Special F/X Make-Up Artist James Ojala. Proxy was shot on location in Eastern Indiana.
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