Chiller/Scream Factory original film Fender Bender premieres TONIGHT, and we recently caught up with director Mark Pavia and stars Bill Sage and Makenzie Vega to get the scoop for you!
In the horror movie Fender Bender, there’s a new villain in town. He’s just passing through, but on his way he’s going to take a few lives. The Driver, played by veteran character actor Bill Sage, is a terrifying serial killer who stalks the country’s endless miles of roads and side streets in his rusty old beater, on the lookout for the next hapless victim he can crash into.
Bill Sage has that face you know – he’s been in everything from American Psycho to Precious – though his name may not always ring a bell. Which is actually a good thing, as it allows him to disappear into character. We caught up with Bill and asked him about the highs and lows of playing a cinematic serial killer in Fender Bender.
Dread Central: You seem to be carving out a bit of a niche in the horror genre as a villain – some being more overtly bad than others. Is that something you endeavored to do?
Bill Sage: I don’t know that I ever planned to carve out any niche; I just found some great indie projects, largely because of my agent, and they were great villains, but they were also great scripts, particularly We Are What We Are. I got nominated for a Chainsaw Award for that so I’m kind of enjoying this genre and the people who watch the genre. The fans exceeded my expectations in terms of their appreciation for indie cinema. They are very loyal to it and they feel like it’s theirs, and it is.
DC: Who is The Driver, to you?
BS: He’s a shark; he’s an apex predator, but he’s a human being and something’s happened to him. From day one something was off about him, something dramatic; there’s some inciting incident that’s happened to him, that’s left its mark on him and has left him this way. Perhaps he suffers from a type of autism or is a savant of some kind, but he’s a full human being and the disguise that he wears is the white tennis shoes and the t-shirt, the dad outfit. Who he is or who he becomes… this is just what I put together to ground myself in reality… who he is, is an extension of his car or his car is an extension of him. The guy in the leather, that is the Driver, that human being, some strange anti-hero.
DC: We understand that’s actually you in the leathers and behind the mask – even though you could have had a double, you chose not to… why?
BS: I wanted to do all of it because it’s respectful to people who watch these films. I want them to see, if they ever go in close and see the car going around the town square, I want them to see all of it, expect the one that is lit on fire. I also don’t want to take away the stunt man’s job so when it comes to fire, that’s his job, to be covered in gelatin, but all the movements are me. Anything that required a huge stunt was the stunt guy, but even a lot of the really physical stuff, it’s all me, and what we particularly want is the movement… I want The Driver to know exactly how much time he has without wasting any energy; he’s efficient to the penny so he’s efficient with everything that he does. He’s going to get that person just before they get out the window. I wanted it to be real and not just told with camera angles. You can’t just put anybody in a leather outfit. This was an interesting part, too, because we never see his see his eyes; that was a great idea. Yeah, I just think it was… maybe some actors would look at it like there was nothing there, but there’s a ton there… It’s different than anything I’ve done; I’ve never done anything this minimal, and if we want to do something next, we’ll go into who The Driver is.
DC: Tell us a bit about having to go head-to-head with such a young actress as Makenzie Vega – she makes a good adversary in the film.
BS: She’s very young but she’s been doing it for a while so we got really lucky to get someone as talented and worked as much as she has. She’s just twenty-three years old but she’s been around it and usually with good actors, if you get to rehearse, great, but if you don’t, you need to work quick… so she was like that and we were able to talk to each other just before, decide what our beats are, and I could tell just by talking to her and I’ve been doing it for a while. I really like the way that scene came out, actually. Yeah, yeah, she was great to work with, we just jumped right into it, she was great.
In the film, Makenzie Vega plays Hilary, a fresh-faced new driver out running some errands in her mom’s immaculately-appointed car, when – BAM! she gets rear-ended. The other driver (Sage) steps out, and the two access the minor damages and exchange information. Little does she suspect that his information is all a lie. Armed with Hilary’s name, phone number, and address – oh, and a huge knife – The Driver pays her a visit later that night.
We got the opportunity to chat with Makenzie on her role in Fender Bender and to talk about horror flicks in general. Here’s what she had to say.
Dread Central: It’s not the genre you’re known for, so… Were you excited about trying your hand at horror?
Makenzie Vega: Absolutely. As opposed to working on “The Good Wife,” which is all drama and long dialogue, this project is so extreme and so suspenseful and exciting for the reader of the script, the people creating it and the audience watching it and I love that, I love something that you can not only have an extreme experience filming and also get to challenge yourself, but also be able to watch the movie and be scared and have fun. It’s definitely something you can watch with your friends, it’s definitely something for all ages, all demographics, and it warms your heart because it reminds you so much of those throwback slasher films from before, all the ones that we love so much. It is also very realistic at the same time, things that are happening are not make-believe monsters; they’re a serial killer.
DC: How did you find an in to relate to Hilary? She’s such a shy, subservient, small town girl.
MV: Well, so much of this is kind of in real time, so the way Mark described it is, it’s a series of unfortunate events that occur for this really awesome, sweet, down-to-earth girl. It kind of hit home, you know you have those days where one thing after the next is just going wrong and it hurts and having that very realistic dynamic to it helps bring that spur of the moment pain in every moment, no matter what it was, no matter what Fender Bender scene it was, whether it was the very beginning where she’s having boyfriend issues or the fear of her friends or the fear of The Driver and the pain of having your parents get on you, all of this is very active pain. It made it difficult to film but at the same time made it very real.
DC: We know Mark was inspired by the horror flicks of yore, so did he give you any homework before you started shooting, as far as old movies to watch?
MV: You know what? I didn’t have to go back and look at anything because Mark was right there the entire time telling me what his vision was, and that’s really what this project is. This project is his baby, his vision, and he’s so in tune with the genre. He’s so in tune with how things classically are and how he wanted to shift them a little bit. It’s so funny because you’ll see him on set and he’ll try and kind of re-enact how he wants you to do it and he makes these huge dramatic faces and everything that’s reminiscent of that moment in a scary movie, when something suspenseful happens and everyone looks over so Mark was my muse.
DC: Some actors who play villains refuse to interact off-set with their “victims” in order to create a barrier and maybe even be scary, while others don’t. What was Bill’s process?
MV: Well, absolutely [some do that] and actually it’s kind of funny. Two days before we actually started filming, we decided to have a dinner; it was Halloween night ironically, just before we started filming, so we all go out and Bill and I are having a conversation, we’re cracking up, we’re laughing so hard and Mark looks over at Josh, one of the producers, and said, ‘You know, maybe we shouldn’t have them hanging out; there’s just too much chemistry there already,’ and that’s kind of the appeal of this character. If you’ve seen The Driver scene and the fender bender scene, there is a normalcy, there is a pull towards The Driver, kind of something that makes him normal or likeable and he is consoling and there is chemistry but there is something so off. So Bill, the performer, comes across with this really cool vibe of being weird to The Driver’s character, but because of that natural chemistry that was there, it made it want to be normal with him but the inability to do so because of that strange dynamic he had with everybody. He’s not a normal character, he’s a driver, a serial killer who is posing as a normal person, and that totally comes through. Being able to work with him in those scenes came through when we were filming it because I was fighting the wanting to be normal with him the person and also different because his character was so bizarre and so off. I really enjoyed the way he brought out the character.
DC: Have you been bitten by the genre bug? Will we see you in more horror movies now?
MV: I think my throat at this point is rested up and ready for the next one. We had a great time on this project and I feel that with this genre it really allows you to expand your creative side and test out different things you really wouldn’t get to test out on just a drama per se, and I would love to work on more horror films. I would love to even write one someday, it probably wouldn’t be that scary, I get scared so easily, but I think as a performer and as a creator that’s all we want to do, work on different projects, things that make us happy and make us excited about what we do, so horror films are definitely a part of that.
Writer-director Mark Pavia set out to make a horror-thriller evocative of the classics of yesteryear, and as such, Fender Bender brings you back to a time when the boxes sitting on the shelf at the local video store beckoned you with masked, knife-wielding maniacs and a twisted tagline – “A Crash Course in Terror.”
Pavia had a great time setting up this cat-and-mouse game, both on the page and on set. We flagged him down for an interview, and here’s what he had to say.
Dread Central: Your two leads have good chemistry, which isn’t always easy – or even possible – to get. Can you talk a little bit about how Bill and Makenzie came to be cast?
Mark Pavia: Bill Sage and Makenzie Vega did a great job, simply amazing. I mean, we went through the normal casting process and their names came up and I was certainly excited by both of them. Makenzie I had obviously seen on “The Good Wife,” and I always thought she was amazing but beyond that, because that is what she had to do recently, fans like us remember her from Saw. Remember when you first saw Saw and said, ‘Who is that amazing little girl in that film?’ Her talent, depth of character, was even evident way back then and I always followed her throughout the years after Saw and I was excited when her name came up. I was like, ‘Yes! She would be perfect’ because her character needed to be sweet and innocent and carry the picture emotionally and I knew that Makenzie could pull that off in spades and she did… she was really amazing. And Bill, of course, is a classic character actor, and when his name came up it was like, ‘Absolutely!’ because he could bring a kind of creepiness to The Driver and a sense of reality, but it’s not just that… it’s his movement, the way he embodies the character. He just gets into it, he disappears into the character, so it was even to the point where he was dressed in the outfit so people were scared to go around him.
DC: The Driver, except for a few scenes, is covered from head to toe in black leather. Even his face is covered. Is that all Bill?
MP: Yeah, that was him, that was all Bill. Now obviously, spoiler alert, you know what I’m talking about, there were scenes that we had to bring out the stunt person for safety reasons, of course, but no, that’s Bill Sage in that outfit. When I was casting the movie, and you would understand this as well because you understand the genre so well, all of these movies that we love, kind of these masked killer pictures in the 80’s that we grew up on, like you said, a lot of times they cast stunt people in the outfits like Michael Myers, not the original picture, but subsequent movies, and most of the Friday the 13th pictures, because they’re in the mask the entire time. I didn’t want to approach it that way… the original Halloween with Nick Castle as Michael Myers, he was an actor and he moved a certain way which was realistic… Bill [was] out of the outfit for a big portion of the first half of the picture, and at the end I wanted to bring that sense of realism when he was dressed as The Driver. Even though you’re in the outfit, you’re still performing, right? You’re still acting and I think that comes across in his movements because Bill is amazing that way, he has a lot of experience in martial arts and things like that so yeah, you could tell with his precision, it’s very evident that was Bill.
DC: It’s hard to compete or even differentiate yourself from all the iconic and memorable masks in horror movie-dom… so tell us how you approached The Driver’s look in Fender Bender.
MP: Well, I knew from the get-go that The Driver was a human extension of his car, so in my mind when he steps out of the car, he’s still the car. So I started there and I knew I wanted black leather because I wanted The Driver’s jacket, his gloves, that’s why his weapon is a car door handle so he is his car. So then I was like, okay, I knew I wanted black leather to reflect the light in my mind, also his car is black, he has black leather seats in the car, you know what I’m saying? So the eyes were circular like headlights, the mouth I said okay, let’s make it like a grill so I kind of just started there. When I actually went into prep, I already had sketches, references, photographs; I already knew exactly where everything should go and we brought a designer on and I made suggestions during the design process and I said it’s not done until it creeps me out. When it was done and put on and they walked into the office, I said, ‘Yes, that’s it! That’s creepy,’ and I knew we had it. And to touch on all the great masks from this era of film, like the Michael Myers mask, I wanted to make it more organic to the way he works, like connect everything, through the car and the whole Fender Bender idea and process, procedure, he’s very exact in what he does, The Driver, even down to his killing tool and his outfit. He’s messed up, man; he’s crazy.
DC: Genre fans also always notice and comment on the cars in movies, too. Like, everything from Duel to Death Proof. So tell us how The Driver got his old 1970s ride.
MP: My very first car I bought when I got my license cost about six hundred bucks and it was an old 70’s Nova. It was all rusted out and stuff and in my mind I was like okay, this is his first car and he’s had this car for a long time. So I kind of started there, you know, for just nostalgic sake, let’s make it a Nova type car, and we ended of finding a 79’ Skylark and it might be the same body as the Nova. We found that when we were on location in New Mexico, I couldn’t believe it, it was found by our transportation captain I believe, it was white so we painted it black and just changed it, added some rust and some dents on the front bumper, you know that scene that indicated that he’d been in multiple fender benders in the past but that’s how we found the car. I guess it’s a reference to my past although I’m not like the driver.
DC: The Driver’s get-up is race-driver inspired, isn’t it? Maybe a hint of Frankenstein in Death Race 2000?
MP: Right, getting back to the costume again, Bill has some chrome molded to his costume from the car itself, so you know the chrome mouth, the circular eyes, the lids of his eyes are chrome, the door handle’s chrome, his weapon, so it’s all one thing inspired from the same place.
Fender Bender premieres TONIGHT, at 9 PM ET. Written and directed by Mark Pavia (Stephen King’s The Night Flier), the movie stars Makenzie Vega (“The Good Wife”), Dre Davis (“Pretty Little Liars,” Scavenger Killers), Cassidy Freeman (“Smallville,” “Longmire”), and Bill Sage (American Psycho, We Are What We Are).
Evocative of the horror-thriller classics of yesteryear, Fender Bender brings you back to a time when the boxes on the shelf at your local video store beckoned you with masked, knife-wielding maniacs and a twisted sense of morals.
Shout! Factory and Brainstorm Media present an EchoWolf Production. A Mark Pavia Film. Executive producers are Richard Foos, Bob Emmer, Garson Foos, Meyer Shwarzstein, Mark Pavia, and Nadia Redler; produced by Carl Lucas, Joshua Bunting, Jordan Fields, and Gus Krieger. Fender Bender is developed and executive produced by Shout! Factory in association with Chiller.
In a small New Mexico town, a 17-year-old high school girl who just got her driver’s license gets into her first fender bender, innocently exchanging her personal information with an apologetic stranger. Later that stormy night, she is joined in her desolate suburban home by a couple of her school friends, who try their best to make a night out of it, only to be visited by the stranger she so willingly handed all of her information to — a terrifying and bizarre serial killer who stalks the country’s endless miles of roads and streets with his old rusty car, hungrily searching for his next unsuspecting victim.