Interview by Christine Thompson
NATHANIEL ATCHESON: It started with social media. These people are interacting through a social network. I wanted this to reflect the time that we are in, a time we are headed towards – cyber-bullying and online harassment was a central theme for me.
I wrote the first draft five or six years ago, and social harassment was less of a thing that it is now, but came into it as a huge influence when we finally started shooting.
AMFM: And what better group of people to harass than a group of people who can’t defend themselves, the prison population. It made me feel very sorry for people that are incarcerated. What was your thought process behind this?
NATHANIEL: I feel like we are all a huge gray space. I don’t believe that there’s ever just good or evil, and I hate characters in movies that are portrayed as purely evil, they don’t ring true to me. So I was interested in writing characters that are somewhere inbetween the spectrum of absolutely awful and absolutely perfect. Also, the idea of forgiveness. When is it too much? When have you gone too far and you no longer deserve forgiveness? Is there a world where people who are guilty of horrible things given a second chance? Maybe they didn’t have all the resources all of us have had and they weren’t given the opportunity to make a better choice. Those people can be forgiven a little bit. So that’s where I was coming from.
AMFM: Could you explain why you wrote the characters as you did?
NATHANIEL: Well, with Denver, he is the one who was hiding the most. Phoenix was a victim of circumstance and genuinely regrets what happened. With Orlando, he had a life that wasn’t great and crime was just the easiest way to get through.
AMFM: Ryan how did you prepare for your character?
RYAN: It’s more about the serial killers that were the teachers, or the mailman. Unassuming characters you would see every day. You want to trust Denver, you want to hang out, solve problems, keep the peace. He obviously has a relationship with Phoenix and not giving away too much, but that was what was so cool about playing a character like this. Like a fishing lure, he uses his smile and his kindness and the way he talks. That’s what’s so cool and scary about my character. These people exist. I remember watching an interview with this guy who had murdered a woman. He talked about how he cut her head off and it was like he was talking about baking a cake. There was no remorse, no guilt – nothing. That’s what helped me with the line “Don’t worry, I’ll be right next door” at the end of the film. I liked my character, he had a dance of not giving away too much, and playing with the people in The Domain.
AMFM: You also portrayed him as someone who was super intelligent.
RYAN: Most of them are. They’re usually very intelligent people.
AMFM: Brit, your character was much more empathetic, what did you draw from to portray “Phoenix?”
BRITT: I did a fair amount of research on her specific drug addiction, and constructed myself a specific past, and relationship with her mother. In terms of playing the character, that past is informing her present. But once they’ve been informed there is a Saharan Flu and they are in survival mode, so much of Phoenix’s past goes on the back burner. She’s still able to struggle with that haunting past, but to look forward to the clean slate they are promised. For Phoenix, Denver is obviously a sliver of hope of becoming this good person she sees inside of herself and her mother, who is a symbol of gentleness and femininity, to help guide and find that person in this environment.
AMFM: Kevin, you as “Orlando,” wow, you play the type of person none of us ever hope to run into casually or otherwise.
KEVIN: I knew that I had to come full force on this, or it never would have worked. When you dissect my character, I really think that he’s a scared person. He’s that guy who’s tough as nails on the screen. He’ll come at you and give you everything, but face to face he’s not that guy at all one on one. But that’s what bully is, he’s great with numbers. He knows it’s a video game for him, like frogger. How can I push a few buttons to make do what I want them to do so then they can be as miserable as I am. If I’m going to go down, I’m taking them with me.
AMFM: Even though your impetus for the movie was the social media bullying aspect, I came out of it thinking about the prison system. Have you given thought to that?
RYAN: We made this a year and a half ago. But since then…there’s a show now called 60 Days In, where they plant people in real jails and follow them around. They try to get more info on how to make the jail more efficient, or how they are getting the drugs in, or the trading that goes on. I thought it was kind of cool how we were ahead of the curve. Let’s say in 20 years who knows what could happen. A lot of people go in and they end up worse after than they were before. So this is actually in a weird way a reality that could exist to try and better people.
BRITT: A good documentary to pair with this would be “Thirteenth,” which asks people to take a look at how we treat our incarcerated individuals as second class citizens, and this film is a cautionary tale in regards to how we feel about isolation and what people deserve in the face of their actions.
RYAN: Or even more, turning prisoners into money-making ventures. You could see a world in the future where Domain becomes a privatized money-making industry, where people are filmed against their will and forced to interact and they are free entertainment for people.
KEVIN: Well, that’s how reality shows really started. The OJ Trial was our first reality show. I remember being in South Carolina with my family and watching it. Then someone said let’s do this in the real world. Let’s do “Survivor” and then boom boom boom. So Ryan hit it, we might be something like this in 10 years.
KEVIN: Yeah, but that would make me not want to go to prison.
AMFM: A deterrent to incarceration
AMFM: So let’s talk about the sets. You got me with that ladder. How did you make the scene where Phoenix and Denver were close together at night talking before they slept?
NATHANIEL: What you see on the screen is rear projection.
BRITT: Which is the only time we did that. Everything else was live-recorded. We did rehearse it several times.
NATHANIEL: They were acting with a recording.
RYAN: We rehearsed it in front of each other, then they recorded that, and then projected it onto the screen. We acted to the projection, had to time it out.
BRITT: Yes the reverse of it.
KEVIN: I didn’t know that!
NATHANIEL: It was a nightmare to edit too.
AMFM: It was done really well, someone took a look at it over my shoulder as I was watching and thought they were side by side.
KEVIN: You said something earlier about “sets.” But it’s singular. Just one set. We had the same bunker. Everyone was filmed on the same set for the master, but we were all on go pro cameras feeding into the set. So we were “live” but we also had our master camera.
AMFM: Finally, I’d like to talk about the character “Nadine,” who invented the bunkers and DOMAIN. How did you write her?
NATHANIEL: She evolved. At first she was an evil puppet-master type of character who was wanting to punish them and taking pleasure in it. She eventually evolved into an empathetic character who was really trying to do something good and is having her life’s work taken away from her, because the world isn’t as empathetic and won’t support a situation. I found there was a real heart-breaking aspect to that.
AMFM: That really made the character work for me. Congratulations on the film.