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Q&A: Filmmakers and Cast Talk “POD,” Paranoia and Performance

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Martin (Brian Morvant), a veteran with PTSD, may have a trapped a monster in the cellar of his family’s remote lake house. His siblings Ed and Lyla (Dean Cates and Lauren Ashley Carter) try to talk him out of it: There’s no creature down there; these conspiracies are part of your madness; you need help, please come with us.

In POD, hitting select theaters and VOD tomorrow from Vertical Entertainment, the dialogue is layered; the characters speak over each other. A stranger (Larry Fessenden) arrives to further complicate the situation by trying to eradicate what may or may not be one man’s paranoid delusion, but undercover government activity. Writer/director Mickey Keating explores these edges of madness: Does the man yelling on the sidewalk know more about what is happening then we? For the truth is out there. FANGORIA interviewed Keating, actors Morvant and Cates and music composer Gina Ostinelli at SXSW.

FANGORIA: How did POD come about?

MICKEY KEATING: I wanted to do a family-adventure movie gone really, really out of control and into strong genre territory—an intimate drama with this overwhelming idea of government conspiracy and otherworldly activity. That was the core idea, and as soon as I found out that we had a cool location to shoot at in Maine, in the middle of nowhere, it all came together quickly. I feel really justified, in that so few people had shot there, we were on the front page of the small-town newspaper because they were thrilled that this “Hollywood production” came there [laughs]!

DEAN CATES: I think a few people did film there, they just died doing it [laughs]!

FANG: What is your interest in ex-military vets, conspiracies, interventions, etc.?

CATES: I’m fascinated by films of the ’70s about vets returning home and trying to reintegrate back into society, so when Brian and I were talking about the character of Martin, I pitched it to him as, “It’s as if [TAXI DRIVER’s] Travis Bickle caught a creature.” The idea of watching someone return home, having their issues and trying to integrate back, and also being overwhelmed by something so genre, was very interesting to me.

FANG: How did you find Martin, your Travis Bickle?

KEATING: I was extremely fortunate. POD’s a co-production with a Brooklyn-based company called Ilium, and I called them up and said, “Look, I need a guy who gets it.” And as soon as I did, it was like, “Here’s the guy.” When I talked to Brian, we immediately hit it off, and it became clear that he was a guy who got it. During our first phone call, he was like, “Yeah, I’ll shave my head for it!” I hadn’t even written that in the script, but when he said that I was like, “Really? Well, that’s a verbal commitment.” And we went from there.

PODGROUP1FANG: Dean, how was it to play a guy with that wonderful ’70s look?

CATES: It’s the reason I did the movie.

FANG: To have sideburns?

CATES: Yeah! When we worked on [Keating’s previous film] RITUAL, it was a terrible experience. I was like, “I will never work with Mickey again!” And then we sat down and had drinks, and he was like “Grow a mustache.” And I was like, “Done!” [Laughs]

KEATING: ’Cause there’s not a lot of positive representation out there of people with mustaches. We spent a lot of time just sculpting that.

CATES: Ninety percent of my process always starts with facial hair—Am I gonna have it? Am I not?—and then 10 percent is “What does the director want? What’s his vision?” [Keating laughs] No, it was great. Like I said, we worked on RITUAL. We always talk, starting with a visual representation. On RITUAL, we started with [his character] Tom and said, “Let’s make him like Ray in BLOOD SIMPLE,” so we put him in a Canadian jumpsuit. And then I was always like, “Why doesn’t Tom just leave the motel, and leave this horrible wife of his alone?” I was like, OK, he has these sweet boots that are worn to the ground because he’s a man of the earth and he just cannot move. There are weird things like that I can do in a Mickey movie that other people won’t let me do. Like, who else is gonna dress me in a sweet Donald Sutherland coat from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS?

We pulled like the rest of the clothes from Dustin Hoffman in STRAW DOGS, and with the mustache I kind of went with Hoffman in STRAIGHT TIME ’cause it was super-sweet. And then I just dug into things like, as in many horror films, why don’t they just leave? What compels them to stay? What compels them to solve this thing? With Mickey’s movies, you’re not just trying to get laid, which is great. Ed had already made the mistake of leaving his brother alone once, and had a falling-out with his sister, so he’s trying to overcome and repair those bridges. He doesn’t want to leave Martin alone, but he has a hard time seeing the truth of the situation and getting outside his own worldview. So I focused on Ed’s glasses—you’ll notice that once he goes down to the basement, they come off.

FANG: How did Larry Fessenden’s look come about?

KEATING: It was so funny with Larry; he was like, “Should I have [his false] tooth in or should I not?” I was like, “Man, do whatever you want, ’cause you’re Larry Fessenden and I won’t tell you to do anything you don’t want to do!” There are so many winks and nods to ’50s sci-fi films in THE POD, and I wanted the climax to collide with this very tropey old-school character. I was fascinated by this idea of a Man in Black, one of these government guys just riding through the woods in the middle of nowhere, who has no business being there, and then when he arrives he f**ks everything up!

FANG: But he’s not styled as a Man In Black, which is interesting.

KEATING: True, true. It would have been easy to give him a black jacket and everything, but I think the fedora and the weirdo trenchcoat are at least a little bit different. I didn’t want people to see him and be like, “OK, he’s every single government agent we’e ever seen.” I like Larry as the antagonist; he’s one of the greatest actors ever, and I love being able to give him the opportunity to be a casual dude who’s also vicious and psychopathic.

FANG: The art direction in Martin’s room is very thought-out.

KEATING: That was done by this amazing gal named Anna Henning. She read the script and totally got it. She did a tremendous amount of research on paranoid conspiracy people who basically board up their house with like scriptures and “Here’s my manifesto.” There was one day during preproduction, an entire day, devoted to sitting and writing a manifesto you’ll never read. She just plastered it all up on the wall. I can’t speak more highly of her.

FANG: Brian, how did that help your process while you were on set?

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BRIAN MORVANT: It was awesome. What’s funny is that that room was where I slept on set, which was funny. I really empathize with Martin… [Others react with alarm] I’m sorry, I really do! It was cool to see that physical manifestation of the details compounded in his head,leaking out. He’s got all these drawings of this potential creature in the thousand different ways he’s seen it. It’s very cool.

Mickey and I talked about PTSD and mental illness, and we didn’t specifically mean to comment on or trivialize the trauma real soldiers have. I definitely wanted to empathize with the level of emotions he’s experiencing. We talked a lot about making it a family drama in the first two acts, with Martin, who’s on this extreme, unhinged trip, and his brother, and about finally getting validation. All this time, his alpha-male brother is judging him, and he’s very black-and-white, right-and-wrong: “You’re a drunk and you’re crazy.” It’s about Martin, who has been stigmatized as crazy, saying, “I’m not, and here’s proof.” It’s the most extreme validation he’s ever felt, offset by the most extreme fear he’s ever experience. We meet him at his highest emotional state, which could potentially unhinge everything.

FANG: What went into composing the score? Were there specific notes you were given?

GIONA OSTINELLI: With me, it’s always specific. We started talking early on, and he sent me the script with all of his ideas. He sent me tons of scores to listen to and movies to watch.

KEATING: THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, THE TWILIGHT ZONE—

OSTINELLI: He sent me the whole soundtrack to that. I remember I spent a whole afternoon listening to it, and I was like, “That’s really cool!”

KEATING: And INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, the Philip Kaufman version. Giona took these ideas and built on them; he said, “We’re gonna put some strings in there, have it be really crazy.” Originally I was going to open the movie with this schlocky “Durn-durn-DUURRNN!”, almost like THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD or something, but then Giona wrote this amazing piece that we just played over black, and just kind of swells and builds.

FANG: How did you conceive of the monster design?

KEATING: I didn’t want to undermine what the creature is; I wanted to make it more about an encounter with a feral thing, as opposed to so many monster movies now, which are, “Look how much CGI we can throw out, look how many tentacles we can give it.” I feel it’s distinct enough that it’s its own thing—it could be an alien, or this unevolved mole creature that climbed up, or some weird demonic entity. I, of course, know the answer, but we left it a bit vague, so whoever watches it can perceive it in their own way. I definitely wanted to do a wink and a nod to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS; it is human enough that it possibly could be on its way there, but not yet. There’s something so horrific and unsettling about creatures that almost look like people, but they’re not, and you notice that immediately.

CATES: We talked about that whole BODY SNATCHERS idea of “Is it human? Is it a pod person?”—that whole hysteria where you’re not sure, and the fear of not knowing whether you’re yourself or not, much less what [other creature] actually exists.

MORVANT: And Martin’s watching a classic horror movie when Ed and Lyla walk in. He’s clearly a huge horror buff, and has a pretty rich imagination.

KEATING: We coordinated that Steadicam shot so we could capture that perfectly, and land on the TV at the moment they’re busting into the house.

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About the author
Heather Buckley
Heather has a dual career as a Producer (Red Shirt Pictures) and a film journalist. Raised on genre since the age of 13, she’s always been fascinated by extreme art cinema, monster movies and apocalyptic culture. Her first love was a Gorezone no. 9 bought at Frank's Stationary in Keyport, NJ. She has not looked back since. Follow her on Twitter @_heatherbuckley
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