Interview: Director Michael Peterson on The Making of KNUCKLEBALL

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Award-winning Canadian filmmaker Michael Peterson started out making documentaries and later made the comedy Lloyd the Conquerer. His new film, Knuckleball, is a twisted story about a boy forced to fight for his life while also learning dark family secrets. Knuckleball stars Michael Ironside, Munro Chambers, and Luca Villacis and the cast and crew worked in unbelievably bitter cold weather while making the film. Dread Central had the chance to speak with Michael Peterson about the inspiration for Knuckleball, working in frigid weather conditions, and a lot more! Read on to find out what we talked about.

Knuckleball is in theaters and on VOD and digital HD now.

Dread Central: I think Knuckleball is an original story and it has some pretty terrifying moments. What was your inspiration for the film?

Michael Peterson: The inspiration comes from being a parent and that worry that you always have that you can’t protect your kids. You’re out for a walk and they run forward and you can’t find them for five minutes and every worst case scenario runs through your mind. Sort of playing around with those ideas was the original inspiration for the script.

DC: I’ve seen Knuckleball described as an R-rated version of Home Alone. What do you think about that comparison?

MP: (laughs) I don’t hate it or anything like that. If that’s an easy way for someone to describe it to their friend or something like that, I get it. I think it’s like a street pitch like if someone says, “Oh it’s Predator meets American Psycho or I don’t know (laughs). It’s just like an easier way to pass along information without getting too specific about it.  If that’s the way people want to talk about it and it’s not in a negative way, it’s in a positive way, I’m okay with it. I don’t know if that’s an automatic expectation. Hopefully, once they watch it, they won’t take it on terms as some kind of eighties homage to that and they will watch it on its own terms.

DC: Knuckleball has an impressive cast and they work well as an ensemble. What was the casting process like?

MP: It was good. I wanted to work with Michael Ironside for a long time. I met him several years ago randomly. I sent him the script because this felt like the right one to do that with. Fortunately, he really liked it and he got back to me very quickly and he was like, “I love it. I’d love to come on board.” And then he tested me a little bit and I passed whatever those tests were (laughs).  I had a slightly different person in mind when I was writing it, just in general. I hadn’t seen Turbo Kid at that time, so Michael suggested Munro Chambers to me and I said, “I don’t know. Let me think about that.” When I watched Turbo Kid there was a naiveté in his performance and I thought if you added that to a villain, it makes the villain even more compelling and sympathetic, which is always good with a villain because you want to understand where they’re coming from. To me, it just makes it a deeper, richer, more complex bad person.

Michael fortunately introduced that idea to me and I was one hundred percent for it after talking to Munro. He’s such a great actor and he hadn’t done any sort of bad guy roles, so it felt like kind of fresh territory. That’s something I like to do, whether I do it constantly or not, is to make good people bad people (laughs). Then Luca came. A friend sent a tape to me and said, “Oh he’s in Channel Zero, you’ve got to check it out. He’s awesome.” I watched the tape and in the tape he’s twins and I was convinced there were two of them when I first watched it. I wasn’t sure. Then when I spoke to him and his dad, they were so nice and well prepared and he was serious and mature. He seemed like he would be really fun to go on this adventure with.

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DC: I spoke with Michael Ironside earlier and he had so many nice things to say about working with you and the cast and the crew. He said everyone just worked so well together and I think that really comes across when you see the movie.

MP: Oh, thanks! It was a hard shoot. It was really cold. That’s the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. It was so cold that the grease on the zoom lens froze. We couldn’t use it that day. It was just brutal (laughs)! You know those hot packs you use to warm your hands up? We had those taped around cameras (laughs).  Fortunately the crew and the cast were all game. No one was sitting back like, “It’s too cold. I can’t do it.” Everyone was really game and trying to make it happen and they came together to do that.

DC: The cinematography is fantastic. How did you and cinematographer Jon Thomas work together to get those perfect shots, like the opening sequence for example?

MP: Thanks! I really appreciate that. That means a lot. What I typically do when I work with a cinematographer is that I’ll give them reference photos and I’ll give them a bunch of movies to watch, so they can have an idea of the sort of visual language and style that I’m thinking of. I might send them a film and say, “Don’t worry about the last forty minutes. It’s really just a ten minute sequence and I think that really applies to this part of the film.” So one of the references visually was Let the Right One In, just because it’s dealing with the cold and it’s dealing with kids. It just works really well and it’s a really beautiful film. That was definitely one of the references. And then he would show me stuff that he was thinking of for a scene and I would say yes or no. Typically that’s how that’s done.  One of the things I think of is finding the beauty or the extra things that are there that you can’t plan for. We had really interesting weather when we were doing this. I made sure we captured it. It’s so beautiful.

DC: Baseball is discussed in the film, but I’m wondering why you chose the title Knuckleball?

MP: (laughter) The real reason is probably because I suck at titles and I couldn’t come up with a better one (laughs). We tried to come up with a better title, but that was the one that we always came back to and the one that always seemed to work best. In the very first draft of this script, I think we called it, The Kid Alone script (laughs), or something like that. Then in the next draft we called it Welcome, and then we landed on Knuckleball and we thought we would have this conversation for months. You’re always worried that you’re not picking the best title, but I think this title is the best one that we could come up with. I don’t know if it’s too heavy of a metaphor (laughs), or whatever. You know, knuckleballs are always unpredictable and sometimes it’s a dirty pitch, but it felt like that connected to the material on a secondary level as well.

DC: I like that there were some things that were left to the imagination. For example, we don’t see what Dixon has on his computer and also the details of the plot twist in the final act. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but what do you hope audiences take away from this film?

MP: It’s good to communicate and not hold secrets (laughs), that’s probably one thing. Some of that information I wanted the viewer to have the same amount of information as the lead, Luca, would have. So we don’t get any more or less information than he really does, right? So we see what he sees and we understand what he does and we’re a little bit older and we can really put pieces together using our imagination. I really wanted to try and control the amount of information using his character to let us know what we do or don’t know regarding that aspect. So, in twenty years that kid is still sitting there and he never really quite knows. He knows what he saw, but he knows he will never know the full picture. You don’t see very much in the film because a lot of it is just suggested. I think that makes it much worse. It makes the ending way more than if you just explained it away.

DC: Can you tell me what you’re working on now?

MP: Yeah! I’m working on two films. One is a sci-fi murder mystery with the first people that are sent to colonize Mars. The other one is a revenge exploitation film with two elderly gentlemen, and it’s actually very similar to Knuckleball. It will be a lot gorier and darker though (laughs). I love it. I didn’t write either of these scripts, but they’re both so good. I’m dying to make them. I’ve got to figure out how to get those started.

 DC: I really appreciate you taking time to talk with me today. I really love the film.

MP: I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it, especially noticing the cinematography. That’s actually really important to me because I watch a lot of movies too. Sometimes attention is not paid to that and we just have the technology that we can make things really look good in the right way. Anyway, I’m glad you liked the film. Thanks so much.

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