Interview: Aaron Harvey, Catch .44

After previously associating himself with B-horror movies like “Blood Island” and “The Evil Woods”, writer/director Aaron Harvey has branched out into action and he has upped his budget. Those of us who love B-horror may be sad to lose him, but his latest film — “Catch .44” — is a treat for us all, especially film geeks.

Aaron gives us a slick action, crime film with plenty of violence, some rocking tunes, some good-looking women and star power. Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker are not just cameos of this one — they are its driving force. I had the pleasure of throwing some questions at Aaron just prior to the film’s DVD and BD release and he was more than happy to give his two cents and more. This is a man who loves every aspect of film, every genre of film… he breathes it, he eats it, he dreams it… but on to the questions!

GS: I was pleasantly surprised by Bruce Willis’ performance. I also liked the reference to his band. Did you consider throwing any Seagrams in there somewhere?

AH: (laughs) Not sure if this is the kind of Bruce that Seagrams would want pushing their wine coolers. Course, if he was actually still pushing Seagrams, this might be a different conversation. I think he did a Japanese Subaru commercial at sometime too…and of course we rented a BMW for the shoot…

GS: While everyone probably wants to know about Willis or Forest Whitaker, what would really make my day is a story about the legendary Brad Dourif…

AH: Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as much time with Brad as I would have liked. He came in for a quick day and handled his business, but I would say this – Dourif is the funniest guy you’ll ever meet in person. Absolutely hysterical. Every thing he said was a one liner and the cadence he speaks with will bring you to tears. He did insist on resetting the truck he was driving after every take and almost backed over the stunt coordinator on multiple occasions, all the while ranting about the pony tail that I insisted on him keeping for the shoot. There’s some great outtakes of him finding the gas station attendant dead on the toilet too…maybe they’ll show up on the DVD. But I have so much respect for that guy. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST was such an inspiration. And Brad always plays the doctor or the deputy in so many great films. Figured it was apropos to put him in mine.

GS: Other reviews have compared your writing, especially the dialogue, to Quentin Tarantino. Is this a fair assessment?

AH: Oh, I don’t know about that. Of course I love Quentin, and that’s flattering to even draw any comparisons to his writing, but he’s the king of that fast talking, dialog driven style. At the time I was writing this script, I was really thinking more in the vein of situational films like GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and DOG DAY AFTERNOON (I guess you could throw RESERVOIR DOGS in there), because I was setting out to make a film that I knew I could actually accomplish and accomplish well, considering that as a first-timer, I’d probably have no time and no money (of which we had neither). I was into the idea of doing a film with almost a stage feel to it – where the actors were essentially standing around talking about and dealing with a particular situation, with the audience being informed of the characters through the situation, versus a character moving through a longer narrative and letting the character inform or drive the situation. I also wanted to make it as exciting as I could and try to stay as far ahead of the audience as possible, hence the heist element (added mystery, excitement, etc).

So in that way, I end up with a talking head, heist film and since Quentin essentially is the king of those, I can see why people would draw comparisons. But all the dialog really came from life – from people I know and hang out with. The girls – talk like girls I know. Same with the Billy (Shea Whigham) character – modeled that off of a friend of mine, who would probably act exactly like that in the given situation. Also, the situation itself was interesting to me, the whole Forest / Shea / Malin dynamic and how they each would react / interact with each other in this particular moment. Also the idea of having a twelve minute Mexican standoff sounded fun, so… Maybe the things I enjoy in films are similar to the things Quentin enjoys, but truly I really wasn’t thinking too much about actually emulating Tarantino. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the man and can completely see the comparisons though, so I guess to answer your question, you could say that’s a fair assessment. Although the next film I’m currently writing is quite the opposite of this one. Completely character driven with as minimal dialog as I can get away with. Sort of a Walter Hill / lonely man / working class hero kind of movie, but criminal. Like the Ryan O’Neal character in THE DRIVER or Robert Mitchum from THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE in sort of this KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE kind of world. Definitely a more serious (for lack of a better word) film than CATCH .44 was – in terms of the thematic element that’s being dealt with (themes of identity and brotherhood, etc). I always also thought of CATCH .44 as sort of my AIP picture that never was. My BOXCAR BERTHA. My little exploitation film that Roger Corman would have given me $200k to make 30 years ago. Now that I’ve got that one out of my system, I can focus on working on my TAXI DRIVER. And I’ve now gone way off topic, next question…

GS: What was it like being a man writing dialogue for women about living in a man’s world?

AH: Actually, that was probably the easiest part – only because I hang out with a number of women and I hear the conversations. I tend to find (as most people know), that women are pretty multifaceted in the way that they talk about and perceive the world around them and especially men – and it’s interesting because men are so linear with it all, whereas women tend to almost over think things to the point of arguing with each other about something that would otherwise, for a man, be a relatively simple discussion. And I love it, because women are so much more colorful than men are, that I figured why not write a discussion like this down. It’d interest me to hear it and I thought people would dig it – especially women. I’ve never really heard actual, true dialog in films from women talking to women. It always feels inane or false, so I thought I’d try for some measure of authenticity – and what better way to start a film than a female ranting about sex and compromise, in a real, direct way. Who wouldn’t want to hear that? I’ve also been with my girlfriend (now wife) for almost 15 years, and she’s a straight shooter – so I’ve got a pretty good handle on women’s psyches. Hours and hours of inadvertently making her mad at me for something and me having to rectify the condition has offered me a particular insight into understanding women, that I don’t think a lot of my other, 30 year-old buddies might have yet. I have an unfair advantage. (laughs)

GS: I have to thank you for the excellent, eclectic soundtrack. If you hit shuffle on your ipod (or whatever) right now, what are the first three songs?

AH: Thanks, glad you dug it. Ipod wise, top three: White Lies – ‘E.S.T’, The Cult – ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and True Loves – ‘Hooray For Earth’. *bonus, Johnny Flynn ‘The Wrote & The Writ’.

GS: As both writer and director, you both crafted and executed your vision. Which elements of your idea/script translated to the screen as expected and which did not?

AH: Well, writing you can get exactly what you want and directing is the great compromise. Fortunately a lot of the ideas and the general feel of the script that I was after, I feel I was able to accomplish. There was a lot of shot ideas I had and a lot of set-ups that had to be abandoned because we literally had no time to make this film – the entire picture was shot in 20 days, which means that by the time you’re trying to pull out the dolly or throw the camera on a crane, it’s already 5 o’clock. So the shot list got pared down to literally just the bare essentials (as for me the performance was more important) but I wish I was able to actually do a lot of the stuff with the camera that I wanted to. Unfortunately, you do what you have to do in order to get the film in the can, which is what we had to do on this one. But I’m pleased with how it came out, considering what we had stacked against us. I’m a rigid planner, so I sort of knew every day what I needed to get and what I couldn’t afford to get – and we maxed out every moment of filming. There’s almost nothing on the cutting room floor.

GS: At one point, Burt Reynolds was to be in the film… what happened? (And is this why there’s a “Boogie Nights” reference?)

AH: The film at that point was a different incarnation. When I wrote it, my best hope was I would get someone to give me $500k and we’d shoot this thing with whoever we could get in it. When Burt agreed to do it, I think the producers thought we could go bigger with it and the film grew a little from there. Burt unfortunately didn’t make the cut, and frankly at the time was dealing with some personal issues, so it worked out better in the end for everybody. We financed the film using foreign pre-sales and some equity and I just don’t think that Burt has much value anymore, unfortunately. Such a shame, as the man is an icon. I did keep a small reference to Burt and more specifically WHITE LIGHTNING by naming Brad Dourif’s character Sheriff CJ Connors. In terms of the BOOGIE NIGHTS reference, that film is high on the list of greatest films ever and PT Anderson is my favorite director, so whenever a reference can be dropped…little nods peppered throughout. But Burt was just a happy coincidence at the time – not the reason for the reference. There’s actually a number of other references to films I love throughout the movie. For example, the girls are going to Chaparral – which if you’ve ever seen ROLLING THUNDER you might catch at the beginning. Lots of little things like that.

GS: One shot in the film seemed like a nod to Twin Peaks… please tell me I’m right.

AH: I’d say, based on my answer to the previous question, you nailed it… good spot. Love Lynch. A friend of mine is his nephew, so I feel like I’m a degree away. Might as well throw him into the mix as well.

GS: I know you’re a fan of obscure Fulci and one of my favorite Miike films, “Visitor Q”. Any titles you consider to be “must-see” for the die-hard horror fan?

AH: Oh yes, I love VISITOR Q. AUDITION and ICHI THE KILLER are both fantastic and both Miike films that are completely worth catching. But must see wise, there’s a great film with a young Jason Alexander from the early 80’s called THE BURNING. That’s a must see. The poster for that film is fantastic as well, looks like a cheap romance novel and THE THING mixed together. Can’t beat that.

GS: What’s in the future for Aaron Harvey? I want to hear more about “The Deranger”… is this still in the works?

AH: I touched on the next one earlier. As much as I love horror films, I’m leaning hard into darker, violent, character driven dramas – which some might consider close to horror. I’m looking to do an interesting, complex revenge/redemption film. The next one, if I had to compare it to anything, deals with a brother (family) relationship, similar to the ones in films like THE INDIAN RUNNER or SHAME (which by the way is out now and is fantastic), with the darker, criminal undertones of films like DRIVE or A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE or MEAN STREETS. Should be a good one.

DERANGER wise – I think that one’s dead on the vine. At least for the moment. If it makes a resurgence, it’s an interesting film, so keep the fingers crossed…

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