Anchor Bay recently released Excision to Blu-ray/DVD and I had a chance to catch up with director Richard Bates Jr. to talk about the making of the film. Continue reading to learn about the challenges of turning a short film into a full feature and what it took for AnnaLynne McCord to convince him to cast her in the movie:
Have you been happy with the response the film has received from critics and horror fans during Excision’s recent festival screenings?
Richard Bates Jr.- People seem to really love it or want me dead, so….
As far as our readers are concerned, I don’t think you have to worry about the dead part. I recently had a chance to check it out and really enjoyed it. I hope they do too. Excision started as a short film and I was wondering if you could tell me more about the process and challenges of it getting made as a full feature?
Richard Bates Jr.- In senior year of college, I went to New York University and made a short version of Excision. It ended up playing in 50 festivals and won 24 awards. I was pleasantly surprised and had no idea what to expect when I filmed it. I actually began writing the feature as soon as I started editing the short.
Based on the success of the short, I took all of these meetings out in Los Angeles and ended up moving there. Everyone said it was insane and that no one will ever make the movie. I got pretty bummed out, but this story is very personal to me, and I knew this had to be my first movie. About 30 or so of my friends raised the financing with me. So, basically, a bunch of 20 year old kids paid for this movie because no one else would.
We made it ourselves and got lucky enough to get accepted into Sundance. Then Anchor Bay bought it and now I get to go make another movie, so that’s really cool.
Without the backing of a major company, how were you able to reach out to and attract all of the actors/actresses you have in this movie? Not only do you have recognizable actors in the main roles, but the supporting roles as well.
Richard Bates Jr.- All I ever wanted to do was make a movie. I used to go to film camp, not baseball camp or anything like that. Most people don’t even know there is any such thing as a film camp. Once I knew this was a possibility, nothing was going to stop it.
I called every agency in Hollywood, having done nothing, until they at least let me come in. I was relentless. I probably burned a million bridges based on the hope that one agency would let me walk in their doors and take a meeting. I was calling agencies, telling them I was fully financed when we weren’t.
I was actually raising money for the actors I cast as I was casting. Had I not raised the financing, I don’t think I would ever be allowed to work in Hollywood again [laughs].
You’ll find that actors want to do interesting projects like this, but their agents would rather die than give them projects like this because they are not financially lucrative. This is a huge labor of love and the cast did it because they saw something in it. None of us really made anything on this [laughs].
With AnnaLynne McCord, you wouldn’t think that she’s want to jump into a project like this. Was she your first choice? How did you know that she would be perfect? This would really be make or break based on her performance.
Richard Bates Jr.- After Mr. Waters came on board and we had a certain amount of financing, people started calling me with interest in the film. I got a call saying that AnnaLynne had read the script and wanted to have lunch with me. I looked her up and said “hell no!”. How was I going to get teens to identify with this beauty queen? They told me she was interested, to just take the meeting, and I could always say no afterward.
I came to lunch and she was in character and nothing like I had imagined. She showed me pictures of her childhood. She grew up in a trailer park and ran away. She’s completely self made and has more in common with Pauline than I do.
I told her she’d have to shave her hair off at the end of the movie if she wanted to do it, and she grabbed a steak knife off the table and started cutting her hair off. By that point, I knew she was appropriately insane and that I had to make this movie with her. I called my producer after and said “We found Pauline!”
Was the shooting script pretty close to the original version you had written? Or did you make any changes based on feedback from the actors?
Richard Bates Jr.- After I got together with the cast, I personalized the script so that it’s ours and not just mine. A lot of Pauline’s insecurities are AnnaLynne’s insecurities. She hates her belly button, so I tweaked the scene. Traci Lords and her mother had a rocky relationship, so I personalized that.
**SPOILER** This is a film that will certainly leave people talking. Without going into major spoilers, what can you tell me about your decision to end it the way you did?
Richard Bates Jr.- [Hightlight Text to Read Answer] It’s funny because the short has the exact same ending. Everyone who watched it said that they can’t wait to see what happens, but I said “that’s my ending”. The entire film is a mother/daughter bonding story and about their relationship. I had to end it on a hug. The first time her mother touches her, it’s not a slap. Pauline does this heinous act, and her mother finally realizes how far gone her daughter is. Pauline finally has this moment of clarity and that’s the end of the story. That’s it, and I wouldn’t know where else to go with it.