Gavin Schmitt Interviews Director Drew Hall
After more than fifteen years in the movie business, Drew Hall is taking what he’s learned and transforming it into movies that matter. Recently, he unleashed “Sons of Liberty” (affiliate link) and now he has “Convergence”, (affiliate link) a much more serious horror film than we usually see.
Drew was kind enough to speak with us on February 4, 2016 about “Convergence” (affiliate link), and being the first time we’ve spoken, we covered some of his past achievements working in just about every area of production there is.
Gavin Schmitt: We’re going to go back to the beginning, to a little film called “Waking” (2001).
Drew Hall: Oh, man.
GS: You were an assistant director on that picture, which starred R. G. Armstrong. Did you have much interaction with him?
DH: I possibly did, but that was one of those microscopic movies where I think I started out as an AD, then they moved me to the camera department. The guy had such a tiny budget. I’m sure I met Armstrong, but my memory fails me on that one.
GS: You mention going from one job to another, and it looks like over the course of your career, you’ve really done everything from directing to acting to editing to composing…
DH: Yeah, you know, it’s about making a living. Early on I decided I wanted to be on the crew side and came up on that side. I didn’t go to a traditional film school, so I learned how to be a grip, and jumped around to various departments. I’m terrible at sound. It was entry level positions at first, but the idea was that if I’m going to be a director someday, I want to direct with the knowledge of the other departments. Now, knowledge of them doesn’t mean I have their level of skill, but I’d know enough that I could sympathize with them if we hit a problem and help them adjust. That was my thought as a kid, but really I just love being on set. It’s fun.
GS: A lot of great directors started out as production assistants, so it makes sense. Now, looking at your credits, the most interesting thing on there has to be working as cinematographer for the Bloodhound Gang tour video “One Fierce Beer Run”.
DH: I went on tour with them right after high school. I shot it around 1996 or 1998, which dates me, but I had just graduated high school. They played a house show in Auburn, Alabama and I became friends with them. I hung out with them, and they were looking for someone to shoot their tour video, so I went on tour with them for two or three months. I saw the entire United States in a tour bus with a bunch of crazy dudes. I learned more about the music business than I ever thought was possible. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Career-wise it was fine, but looking back on it as a businessman, it changed the way I interacted with anyone in a business sense.
GS: I’ve seen them in concert and they put on a very questionable show.
DH: Yes, very much so.
GS: So how much of what we see is them and how much is just the act?
DH: I don’t know what I technically should say, but I’ll be honest about it. Jimmy Pop, the singer, is inspiring. He’s one of the smartest businessmen when it comes to how he runs his business. He totally gets it, puts on a great show and a great performance. He’s authentic, he’s funny, but it might surprise people that he doesn’t drink, smoke or do any drugs. He’s almost what you’d call “straight edge”. Lupus was the guitar player at the time, and he and Jared were crazy. But they’re crazy on stage and then became chill, laid back guys. They were like being in a fraternity. Some crazy moments, but everyone was there for the same purpose.
GS: One more stop before we get to “Convergence”… you found yourself in the editing room on “Frankenfish” (2004), yes?
DH: I cut it. I cut the dailies and made a very rough assembly. The editor was out in LA and I was the assistant editor, based in Alabama. It was one of the first HD features. We had all these cameras, all these decks, and these were days before metadata. I’d transfer the clips from the tapes, log them, and then bring them into the Final Cut program. I cut dailies, cut scenes, and eventually cut the entire version of the film that got delivered to the producers in LA. They gave me an editing credit.
Oddly enough, the writer on that was Simon Barrett. I met Simon on that movie, and several years later I moved to Missouri and worked in the production department at an ad agency. We shot commercials and short films. One day we got an offer to do a movie called “A Horrible Way to Die”. One of the girls at work says, “Oh, my friend Simon is coming.” And it turns out that Simon is Simon Barrett. The director, Adam Wingard, was living in Birmingham and knew a bunch of my friends. So the film community is a very small community, and Simon has gone on to do great stuff with Adam and AJ Bowen. It was interesting to see them walk in the door out of my film history past. I never thought I’d see them again.
GS: That story makes “Frankenfish” seem much better.
DH: That movie was crazy hard. The locations were brutal, it was unseasonably cold, and the cast was in water all the time. Then you add the CG effects. It was chaos. Luckily for me, I was on the opposite rotation. They filmed mostly nights and I had a day job, editing from 6am to 6pm.
GS: The kernel of “Convergence” (2015) started with a real cult from the area you grew up.
DH: Yeah, that’s true. They’re actually spread out over the country, but they have their base of operations in this part of the south. A little bit north of me. They’re called Army of God, and I believe at the time they were considered a terrorist group. I’m sure they still are. They claimed a lot of bombings, which is where I took the influence for “Convergence”. (affiliate link) There’s a great documentary on HBO about them that made me sick to my stomach and made me cry. To see someone take something about love and goodness and turn it into violence and hate… it’s a gruesome documentary. My character, Daniel Donner, was based off a couple different people. One of them was a guy who said God told him to shoot up an abortion clinic, and then he did. When he did, he shot a pregnant woman who barely survived. She wasn’t there for an abortion. She worked there because she needed a job, and wanted to keep her baby. It was ironic. When I was a kid, there were anti-abortion rallies and my parents were big into that so I’d go to these rallies. I remember seeing signs with pictures of aborted fetuses, really graphic stuff. It wasn’t done out of hate, but was a properly done protest. But Army of God was operating in my backyard the entire time I was growing up, so it was scary.
GS: What strikes me about Daniel Donner, played by Ethan Embry, is that he can be either a good guy or a bad guy, and he plays the whole range.
DH: Ethan is absolutely amazing. When Ethan and I talked, we had a very personal conversation that will stay between me and him, but in that process he brought up his thoughts on the character. He didn’t want to play Daniel as a villain, but as a guy who believes in his convictions. Therefore, when he carries out an act of kindness, he sees it as kindness, But when he commits a heinous act, he believes in it. On the first day of shooting, Ethan was standing at the foot of an elevator and delivered a line of scripture. He said it and looked right into the lens. Ethan has the kindest eyes, as anyone who has seen “Can’t Hardly Wait” knows. In the shot, he turned those kind eyes into something evil. It was just insane, as you can see in his performance. Unfortunately, the shot was out of focus, or we would have had it on the first take. The next time, he did it even more. Ethan is insanely brilliant, he’s just so good.
GS: I’m a huge Ethan Embry fan, and I’m shocked he never got bigger than he is.
DH: As far as I’m concerned, he just needs the right role. He’s the sort of person who will eventually pop in some sort of bigger Award-type scenario. His raw talent is just insanely good. And he’s a nice guy. Humble, sweet, fun-loving. He was so much fun on set and just a pleasure to be around. We would shoot a tense scene, then pause, and he would come out of it and crack a joke to make the room happy again.
GS: Most of the film is set in a hospital. Was that the original intent, or did it end up working that way?
DH: That hospital is in Mobile, and I drove by it a bunch of times when visiting family. I saw it getting emptier and emptier until one day it was closed. There were a few people who still went in and out because one office remained open. I fired off an inquiry while writing the script, and asked them if the location was available. “Well, it’s closed to the public, but we still maintain it.” That hospital is maintained in pristine working order. I took the story in a different direction. Originally I had it set in a warehouse because we have a lot of warehouses here. But that’s so much open space, it would be boring. My favorite horror film is “The Shining”, and I wanted to put a little bit of that into the movie. No matter where he goes, he’s walking impossible paths.
GS: it didn’t occur to me when I saw the film, but I can see the parallel between the hospital and the Overlook Hotel.
DH: If you looked at the map, I had floor plans for the entire hospital. I would draw the connection lines and say “this hallway now goes here”. I wanted a world with an endless loop. A couple times we hung up some exit signs, because I wanted an exit sign in almost every scene. Some were coincidental because they were already there, and others we put there on purpose. The idea being, of course, that while the exit signs were everywhere, there was no exit, at least not in a traditional sense.
GS: As someone who is not a fan of “Ghost Hunters”, I loved the new and innovative way you incorporated the paranormal investigators.
DH: The one thing about “Convergence” is that I was originally overly ambitious. I wrote two drafts, with the second one being entirely from the ghost hunters’ perspective. What I wanted to do to be all fancy was release two versions of the film in two different places. One film would go to Netflix, and the other would go to the theater, but they would come out on the same day. You could watch the movie twice from two different perspectives and they would “converge” at the 57-minute mark. That was my original intent, but financially it was too challenging to sell that. But we did shoot a lot of that, and have the “found footage” from the ghost hunting TV show. We’re going to release those in a few weeks, probably on the film’s website. And that way you get to know the ghost hunters better, and pick up on their jokes and stories. You’ll notice the ghost hunters are called GAPS. This is Georgia Atlantic Paranormal Society. But it was also an inside joke that these characters fill in the gaps. In the other version, we see them with a whole history.
GS: Just to wind down, let’s touch on an upcoming project – “Nigel and Oscar vs. the Sasquatch”, starring Paul Brittain and Tim Meadows. On its name alone, that was to be a winner.
DH: Thank you. Movies are tough, but comedies are the most brutal. It is a straight comedy and the cast is hilarious. Adam Herschman is a delight and we have Neil Flynn from “The Middle”. It’s a quirky comedy about two brothers looking for Bigfoot, and that’s it. Watch where it goes.
GS: I hope we get to talk again when that comes out, because it looks to be a lot of fun.
DH: You have my number. We’ll make it happen.