Enjoying its world premiere later today at the 2017 Dances With Films festival in Los Angeles, writer/director Justin Reinsilber’s Central Park is an ambitious slasher hybrid that interweaves several different storylines which all coincide on one fateful night in the titular, iconic New York City location. During our interview, Reinsilber chatted about what inspired his unusual approach to his ambitious story, the challenges of shooting in New York and creating a compelling masked killer for modern audiences, and why it was important to him to go all practical with Central Park’s effects.

Great to speak with you, Justin. You really took an ambitious route with this film, because it's common to follow a group of kids, but you take it to the next level with the various storylines that all come together. It almost feels in a way like it's a Paul Thomas Anderson-esque approach to horror, because you have all these different storylines that intersect at the end. Was there something in particular that inspired you to take this approach, and also using Central Park as that hub for everything that happens in this film?

Justin Reinsilber: Yeah, the first thing you said about Paul Thomas Anderson and the idea of storytelling as a bigger thing was really prominent in my approach and how I came up with and crafted the story. I grew up on those heavily storied plot themes and films, a lot of the stuff from the ’70s is what really influences my mind in terms of my writing. Those kinds of films really make you think about what you're seeing, as opposed to showing you what you're seeing. That is something that I've always been attracted to.

The way Central Park itself became a character to me was because I live in New York. I live across the street from the park, and it's just always been such an incredible place for me. One night I was just thinking to myself, There's never been a movie that's really taken place in the park where the park is a character in and of itself. I just thought that that was a pretty solid idea, a really good place to start, and everything kind of came from there. I'm basically in the park every day and it just kind of came like that. It was pretty organic, actually.

The core kids in your cast all feel like they've been friends for a very long time. Did you give them time ahead of production to come together as a group of friends, or did that just sort of grow organically during production?

Justin Reinsilber: It's an interesting question, Heather. First of all, I got really lucky with casting. I was pretty insistent that we hire this woman named Kathleen Chopin, who is absolutely fantastic. She brought me the kids, everybody except for Ruby Modine, who plays Sessa. I found her out in LA.

But when the kids got together, and I brought them to our production office, it was kind of loose. I just really wanted everybody to meet. I took the six kids to the park myself. I walked them around where the actual story would take place. Then, we were going to do a table read, but I was like, "You know what? Forget the table read.” So I gave the kids 100 bucks and told them, "Go out, grab some food, and just hang out and get to know each other," because that was what was important to me. I wanted them to have that experience getting to know one another in life so then when we're working on the film, it feels more authentic, and they did. They all became really fast and good friends.

Can you discuss shooting in New York, because I know it's got to be kind of a pain to get stuff shot there. How challenging was it to navigate around Central Park, but also be out on the streets and things like that?

Justin Reinsilber: Yeah, it was challenging. Shooting anything in New York, whether you have a small budget like we did or you're a huge $100 million thing, it's still a challenge. I know the city well and I just factored in what we would be able to do. For example, Central Park, when we really started rolling in pre-production, I had a lot of people who I knew, like friends in my life who were in film but weren't working with another film, who were like, "You're going to have a hard time shooting in Central Park."

Honestly, it ended up being one of the easiest places that we shot in. They were incredible. The Central Park Foundation was amazing, and they pretty much let us do whatever we wanted, other than sort of the hardcore stuff we do in the movie. They were amazing.

And back when I first moved to New York, I didn't want to wait tables, so I took a job where I was working locations on films and TV shows, so I could really learn that side of it. That's a lot of producing. I really learned how to get around and navigate certain things that may or may not be a problem. When we shot at the World Trade Center, I was like, "We need to rent a room right here so we can have this shot if we need it." Plus, we had a great crew, and my location guys, Bruce [Goldman] and Kat [Dedicova], they were amazing. Any problems that we encountered, we were pretty much quick to solve, especially the park stuff. That was the whole movie, so I was very happy about that.

In terms of the horror aspects of the film, it's so hard to create a masked killer these days because we've had several decades of masked killers, but you give the concept a really fun twist in this. I also have to commend you on your kills, too, because they were really fun and ingenious.

Justin Reinsilber: Thanks. Well, with respect to the mask, the scripts, as most scripts do, had a bunch of iterations. The killer sort of went through a bit of a process with me in terms of what he's going to be, who he was going to be. Then, the way it came about with the mask and the face from the paper and who he represents, he was always going to be the major victim of the fraud at the heart of this story, and it just kind of hit me one day.

We created what the newspaper was going to look like, in terms of how we got that information across, and when I saw it, I was like, "That's the mask." It just kind of came like that. So we figured out how to do it a few different ways, but it all came together in the end in terms of a bunch of us having a lot of ideas about it and throwing a bunch of basically spaghetti on a wall and seeing what stuck.

Then, in terms of the kills, I wanted it all to be practical. I didn't want to have to rely on any CGI. Some of the stuff I'd been watching with my producer beforehand, she's really into South Korean cinema, so we watched a lot of these South Korean films for inspiration. And it struck me how they make you think about what you're seeing versus what you're actually seeing, and in my estimation that’s way worse than anything someone can put in front of a camera. To me, what the mind can create is much more telling than what I could show, so I really strived to have it all practical, and have some fun with them.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.