Interview: Andrew van den Houten on Producing Punk Rock Slasher THE RANGER

Award winning producer Andrew van den Houten has produced such films as The Girl Next Door and The Woman. His production company Hood River Entertainment partnered for the first time with Glass Eye Pix to produce The Ranger, a delightfully demented eighties throwback slasher that screened to a sold-out crowd at Fantasia Film Festival this week. The Ranger incorporates punk music and style, twisted humor, and a surreal setting where a group of punk rockers encounter a park ranger who takes his job very seriously causing bodies to start piling up. The film is the directorial debut of Jenn Wexler of Glass Eye Pix and stars Chloe Levine, Amanda Grace Benitez, and Jeremy Holm. Dread Central recently had the pleasure of speaking with Andrew van den Houten about producing The Ranger, punk rock, upcoming projects, and more! Read on to find out what we talked about.

Dread Central: Hi Andrew! Thank you for talking with me today. I just heard that The Ranger sold out at Fantasia. Congratulations!

Andrew van den Houten: Thanks! It’s super exciting! That’s just so cool.

DC: I spoke with producer Heather Buckley the other day and she mentioned showing you the script for The Ranger, but she said the timing was bad. What did you think the first time you read the script?

AVDH: I thought it was awesome! I thought the script was just so engaging and so much fun. It read really quickly, too. The action and the characterization and the plot were really handled well, so I was intrigued for sure. The timing was really about the fact that I wasn’t making movies when Heather approached me. I was taking a little break from doing that because I was taking care of my mom at the time, who had been fighting cancer for three years. So that’s really why I didn’t focus on it per se.

A few months later I was definitely getting back into the business and the timing was perfect when I was at Fantasia. I met Heather about three months before Fantasia happened up in Montreal, which is just such a good place to discover new talent and also talent that’s trying to get projects off the ground. And Jenn, ironically, had been a filmmaker who I had awarded years before for Best Film in her category for The Etheria Film Festival for a short that she had done, so it was kind of like full circle. It was like, here’s an opportunity to produce this amazing, talented filmmaker’s first feature. Why the heck not!

DC: I’ve talked with director Jenn Wexler about the punk rock aesthetic of the film and that’s part of the reason why I adore The Ranger. Did that have anything to do with your decision to be a producer?

AVDH: For me it was kind of cool because I grew up in New York City when CBGB was around. I was a little kid in the eighties, too, so I was always curious about punk rockers rolling around the city and back in the eighties it was pretty common place. Punk rock was so popular. It was such a big, big thing. I was always intrigued by that scene. I thought the music was just so frickin’ powerful and it grabbed your attention. So when I thought in context, like a horror film, a slasher, it lends itself to that kind of energy. I thought that was a really cool blending of themes.

DC: The Ranger is Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut. What was it like working with her on this film?

Photo and hair: Mariah Hottell

AVDH: I was very lucky to have an incredible team of filmmakers, and other producers, too, working with Jenn; one of which is from my company Hood River Entertainment, Ashleigh Snead. Her working with Heather and Jenn from Glass Eye Pix, and Larry Fessenden of course, they were really on the ground for the entire shoot. I was there for probably a few days at most. When I was there it was lovely to see Jenn doing her thing and I was impressed with the focus and the creativity that she was able to surround herself with, and also really the vision she has. To watch it come to life for those few days was very cool. To watch it come to life from beginning to end was even cooler of course. Being able to be around set for a little bit gave me a sense of the intensity and the focus that was really there to bring the script to life.

I as a filmmaker am always looking to expand on new relationships that bring a fresh perspective, or a different perspective, to the stuff that I’ve done and I like the fun nature of this project in particular. The punk rock aspect, the slasher aspect, and it really had a bubble gum flavor of the eighties blended in the visuals. It was just really cool to see the actual fabric of the movie through Jenn’s kind of pre-conceived trailer, sizzle reel and watching that come to life. Working with her is a treat because you never want to say no. She’ll ask for things that are completely reasonable, but obviously sometimes things cost money. I think the nice thing about Jenn is when she brings things that cost money that may be outside of the budget to the table, it’s things that really are going to ultimately impact the film in a positive way if we consider them and take them seriously.

There was one song that was a sizable amount of money licensed, but it was so worth it because it became the theme of the ranger, “The Most Beautiful Girl” by Charlie Rich. That isn’t a punk rock song, it’s a country song, but I think that’s the kind of cool thing though. Jenn really, not only valued the punk rock score for the movie, but also kind of balancing out the ranger’s melodic kind of element as well, which kind of aligned itself with country music nicely.

DC: This movie has an amazing cast that includes Chloe Levine, who I’m a fan of from The Transfiguration, as well as Jeremy Holm and Amanda Grace Benitez. As a producer, how much interaction with the cast did you have and what was it like?

AVDH: Yeah, Chloe’s great, isn’t she? I spoke to them when I was visiting. I also suggested Amanda Benitez to play in the film as well and she was definitely a perfect addition to what we were trying to do and what Jenn wanted. When I suggested it Jenn was very responsive. She’d seen her in All Cheerleaders Die, which I produced. Other than that I didn’t really know many of the actors so that was on Jenn and her casting director. It was just such a pleasure to work with the casting director. She really knows how to find great actors. For me though, like I said, Amanda was a perfect fit for Amber. I got to hang out with a lot of the cast after the movie was made when we started playing film festivals and such and that was really cool. They’re all really fun, enthusiastic, passionate, and creative actors.

DC: I know that you’re a producer on Darlin’, the sequel to The Woman. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

AVDH: Darlin’ is in post-production right now. I directed Offspring. I don’t know if you knew, but essentially it’s a trilogy. There are actually three films and Darlin’ is the third one. The first film in the series was based on a book by Jack Ketchum called Offspring which is a sequel to a book called Off Season. I read Offspring and I fell in love with, not only the book and the story, but the character of the woman was one of those particular characters that really popped. So, I called Pollyanna McIntosh to act in that film and we went and spent a summer in Michigan and made that movie. I actually directed that film. The one thing that really resonates with me after the film was finished was her particular performance and the character.

So I knew I wanted to continue the storyline, but I also knew that I wanted to bring in a director that really was someone who could elevate and take it to another level. I had done kind of what I needed to do to pass the ball and get the franchise started. I flew Lucky McKee to New York City and I screened the film for him with Jack Ketchum and I asked him to essentially pitch an idea to us and that we were considering doing a sequel and he did. He went with the woman and he pitched it. He said “Hey man, I’m going to get inside her head. You’re really going to understand her perspective and feel what she’s going through.” I thought he did a really good job with that. So, we ended up making The Woman. It was supposed to be shot in Michigan just like the first one, but the state denied us the tax credit program. They said the film was not going to be acceptable for tourism. I said “That’s crazy. Truly do you think people think there are cannibals living in your woods?” That’s a little asinine. Let’s be honest. You’re looking at a state that lent itself to Sam Raimi’s career. He’s from Michigan (laughs).

So we brought the film to Massachusetts and there was a big to-do. The whole thing was covered on the front page of The New York Times and I was interviewed. There was this whole thing about first amendment rights and tax credit law and how does one decide what projects should be eligible. It was really fascinating. We ended up getting the film shot in Massachusetts. Low and behold, the film got into Sundance! Then I was like “Well now we have to continue the story again because the film was so well received.” It was very controversial. It really drove a lot of interest.

At that point, two directors I was talking to suggested that I consider a woman to write and direct the project. They thought that Pollyanna would be the right person to do that. In the back of my head I knew that she was wanting to write more and directing a couple of things. It was actually Lucky McKee who suggested that Pollyanna do it. And I thought well, that is the most logical fit for this kind of franchise and evolution. I called her immediately and she was very graceful and open and willing to discuss it further. We had lunch and discussed it and she looked at me and said “As long as this is something that I can take my time with and do it right, I’m interested in making it happen.” We gave her the time to do it and there were ups and downs and moments of challenge and she and I and friends really worked through those moments.

Ultimately, we were able to get the film set up and she got to write and direct her first feature that’s really going to hit the market. Something that really builds on something she had been building creatively so much over the years anyway. It was really just a fine chapter and closure to a long, long journey and she killed it. She did a great job. I’m so proud of her! What a stressful thing to have to co-star, write and direct a movie on a limited amount of money. She really works tirelessly. I think she slept a total of eight hours the whole shoot period. I kid you not. She really was not sleeping as much as one would wish to during an intense project like that. That’s kind of the way Darlin’ came together and it definitely deals with a lot of really interesting themes. It deals with sexism and patriarchal corruption and it’s kind of something that I think is going to resonate with the time that we’re living in.

I think if you watch a show like The Handmaid’s Tale, that show is something that really gets me going on a physical and emotional level. I feel like we’re living in such an aligned universe to what that fictionalized tale is exploring. You’ll find a lot of interesting similarities. I think it’s cool that it’s set in a trilogy that we’ve been following and it’s such a U-turn to anything we’ve seen the previous movies move towards. I think everyone will be happy with it. Need I say more, I think I might give too much away.

DC: I’m really looking forward to Darlin’ and good luck with The Ranger! I really appreciate you taking time to talk with me today!

AVDH: Anytime! I think Jenn Wexler is definitely going to be a filmmaker that we all want to watch and support and I feel the same way about Pollyanna McIntosh. I just have all these great collaborators I’m getting to work with right now. It’s inspiring. As somebody who has directed two features, it’s a good reminder of the fun that can be had as well as the intensity and passion that can make these things really resonate on another level when you’re working on shoestring budgets. It’s challenging. Anything these days that is low budget takes a lot of passion and a lot of verocity from the director (laughs). I appreciate your time. Thank you so much!



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