One Fright in Bangkok: Horror Veteran Joel Soisson Talks His On-Line Chiller “CAM2CAM”
In his three-plus-decade career as a producer, writer and occasional director, Joel Soisson has wrangled everything from an angelic Christopher Walken to man-eating fish. This Friday, August 22, he explores the dark side of the Internet as scripter and helmer of CAM2CAM, which IFC Films releases on VOD and in select theaters under its IFC Midnight banner.
CAM2CAM is set in Bangkok, where a young woman meets an unpleasant fate after logging onto the eponymous website. When vacationing Allie (Tammin Sursok) rents the same room and finds her way to the same site, she becomes enmeshed in an on-line community of voyeurism and death. It’s a return to Net-centric terror for Soisson, who previously directed a pair of better-than-expected sequels to the American remake of PULSE among others, and whose many producing credits include 1986’s TRICK OR TREAT, THE PROPHECY and its follow-ups (two of which he also helmed), DRACULA 2000 and the ensuing franchise, FEAST and PIRANHA 3DD.
FANGORIA: Was CAM2CAM a project you initiated, or were you brought on board after it started development?
JOEL SOISSON: It was based on a short film by a French filmmaker named Davy Sihali, about a 20-minute piece that became the spine of the first act of our film. Our producer, Raimund Huber, had seen it at Cannes or somewhere, and he bought the rights and went looking for somebody to make the film with him. He met me through a guy named Aki Komine, with whom I had done about 10 films in the ‘90s and the early ’00s, so the three of us hooked up and decided to make the feature, and I wrote the screenplay.
FANG: Is the film’s story of Internet-spawned danger intended to be a kind of cautionary tale, or is it just intended as pure entertainment?
SOISSON: You know, you can’t help dialing in a little bit of that “Beware!” aspect. You’ve seen a lot of movies and heard a lot of stories about how predatory the Internet is—that’s kind of the new suspense medium of the age—but what I found intriguing about this idea was how much it mirrored the situation of kids in Bangkok, the students and the backpackers who go there to reinvent themselves, and the anonymity they have there to do anything they want. Coupling that with the Internet, I thought, would be a very potent mix.
FANG: So Bangkok was always an intrinsic part of the storyline?
SOISSON: It was for me. The original story took place in France, and Rai and Aki, the producers, said, “Look, you can set this anywhere you want.” Rai was headquartered in Bangkok, making most of his films there, and I’m an American who has worked all over the U.S. and parts of Europe, but had never been to Asia. So that really intrigued me, because I felt the movie needed something else to go along with the Internet story. You couldn’t just have a story about LA or New York kids sitting around a computer punking each other, you know? There’s something about the foreignness of being in a strange place, especially Bangkok, that I thought was necessary.
FANG: Have you ever had any bad on-line experiences yourself that might have informed the storyline?
SOISSON: Just the sort of generic phishing and hacking situations where you realize that that e-mail you clicked on, which you thought was from your friend, ended up being a Trojan horse that completely messed up your computer. That feeling of violation when you discover you’ve been had is universal, though fortunately, it’s only your computer that dies in the real world. Those e-mails have kind of replaced the white windowless van that used to come by offering kids candy, and sometimes that sucker was just a sucker and other times, the kid was never seen again. That’s kind of what the Internet feels like to me now.
FANG: How did you coordinate all the on-line chat sessions that appear on screen?
SOISSON: That was pretty much the brainchild of Raimund Huber, who’s a lot more tech-savvy than I am. I knew what I wanted, but I had no idea how to get that synched up, and there was a lot of trial and error. It was deceptively hard to capture the video we needed to pre-shoot, that the real-time actors had to react to, and synching all the chats up. It could be mind-numbing, the kind of details we had to get into, and that was something I didn’t really bargain on. I was excited about all the potential of the streets of Bangkok and the crazy nightlife and the cloak-and-dagger stuff; I didn’t realize that I’d be spending half my life figuring out how to get emoticons to be scary [laughs].
FANG: What was the casting process like? CAM2CAM has gotten quite a bit of attention for having PRETTY LITTLE LIARS’ Tammin Sursok in the lead.
SOISSON: You know, Tammin and Jade Tailor, who plays the girl in the opening scene, were the only two actors in the entire movie who I had met before we started filming. It was a real adventure for me, because the whole thing was cast over the Internet. It was pretty much like the theme of the movie—I met everyone first through web videos, these auditions that came in from all around the world; hundreds and hundreds of them that our casting director sorted through. Then I had to take it on faith that these people were not psychotic, and they were who they said they were, and they could actually act. And we all met in Bangkok and shook hands, and I said hi to four of them and “Please take off your clothes” to the fifth, and we started shooting.
FANG: Were there any kind of cultural or language difficulties involved in shooting in Bangkok?
SOISSON: Yes, but it was really interesting for me. I’ve made a few films in Romania, where pretty much all the cast and crew, except for a few we brought over from the States, were speaking a foreign language. I had to either learn that or learn to communicate with sign language, essentially, and while I learned a little bit of Romanian, I could not grasp Thai at all. It’s such a tonal language, based on principles I couldn’t grasp, so basically, since most of the crew did not speak English, it was really a case of using sign language. Every once in a while, I would manage these universal words that everybody knows. Like, if I wanted somebody to stand there and look tough, I just said, “John Wayne,” and they got it. It was a wonderful exercise in adaptation, because I couldn’t communicate with them the way we’re doing right now.