One of my favorite films out of Fantastic Fest 2017 was Kevin Phillips' Super Dark Times (read our review here), a haunting gut-punch thriller about two friends (Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan) who must wrestle with their own inner demons after a tragic accident causes a rift in their long-standing friendship and begins to take its toll on their respective psyches. While in Austin, Daily Dead was excited to speak with Phillips, Tahan, and Campbell about their experiences collaborating together on the project, tapping into their characters, and how their experiences on set were anything but Super Dark Times.
Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, Super Dark Times is currently playing in select theaters and will be available on VOD today, courtesy of The Orchard.
This film is something else, guys. We've seen coming-of-age stories before, but not like this. From your perspective as the director, Kevin, what did you feel like you needed to do to make Super Dark Times feel like something we haven't seen before, and tap into something different but still make it wholly relatable, too?
Kevin Phillips: We always wanted to bring a uniqueness to the movie. Naturally, all of us filmmakers, we set out to do that in anything. The project in a certain sense became very personal because we wanted it to feel that way to viewers. We did want to mine our childhood experiences, having grown up in the ’90s as well, and bring a sense of authenticity to that by reflecting our own lives. I always wanted to make a beautiful film in every respect.
This movie could have gone a few different directions, but for me, the thematic qualities of this movie, at the end of the day, were the most important things. And in order to do right by that, I wanted to make them fully realized and conventional, so with that, I wanted to be very expressive with the filmmaking, and hopefully create a sense of vocabulary cinematically that an audience could relate to.
And for you guys, was there something particular about your characters when you read the scripts and saw them as people that you really wanted to dive into here?
Charlie Tahan: I just couldn't put the script down. I think I had a different idea of what it was about when I read the script, but Kevin made these look books, mostly to use to pitch to investors. But it had the lighting and reference pictures and music references, too, and Kevin did a beautiful job, I thought. It helped me a lot.
Owen Campbell: I had the same experience, where I started reading the script and couldn't put the script down. There wasn't anything specifically where I was like, "Oh, I can't wait to do that," but I do remember thinking that the dream sequences were going to be really fascinating and very difficult. They were very different when I read them in the script versus what you see in the film. They changed. But I just remember being really intrigued by the dream sequences, and intimidated by this part, but it was also really exciting, and I was energized by the project as a whole.
Everything about your characters' relationship in this feels so authentic, and there’s this great dynamic that we get to watch shift throughout the film. Did you guys work on that ahead of time? Or did that happen more organically?
Kevin Phillips: When it came time to actually go into production on the film, casting butted up right next to that in terms of the scheduling. So we landed these guys quite close to the showdown of shooting. We weren't able to do a chemistry read when casting, which was terrifying for me. Because here I knew that I cast two wonderful individual talents, and I was very excited about them, but of course I went in there thinking, "Are they going to get along?"
Are we going to be able to communicate and create together in the way that I want to? We had allowed space when you guys were up in Hudson Valley, ready to shoot, where we had a four-hour meeting which was just Charlie, Owen, and I. We all talked about the film itself, this basically get-to-know-you type of thing, where you guys could get to know each other, and also get to know the characters and get to know the story, too. What do you guys think?
Charlie Tahan: That’s exactly how I remember it happening.
Owen Campbell: And then, we were all living together, so you get very close because of that. Plus, Charlie's not an asshole, so it was easy to love him because he’s wonderful. So you develop a relationship that way, too.
Kevin Phillips: That's the thing. At the end of the day, one of the more rewarding things is that when we came into this film, the crew was comprised of very close friends of mine. A lot being from college, a lot that I've met over my years working in the industry, and so we all came together as this family unit. And then in the casting process, we were able to cast talent that was not only exceptionally skilled, but just wonderful people as well. So we all kind of created a space where everybody felt comfortable. And at the end of the day, I think not only Charlie and Owen found friendship, a natural friendship between them, but so did all the other cast members as well.
Charlie Tahan: And the crew.
Kevin Phillips: And the crew too, exactly.
Because you guys were able to bond as well as you did, did that heighten what you were able to create with this story?
Owen Campbell: 100 percent.
Kevin Phillips: Exactly. That's the juice that keeps projects at this level going. We always wanted to dive deep. The power behind this film and behind the themes in this film are within the relationships of the characters, and there was a desire early on to go as deep as possible, to create a feeling that an audience can relate to, but also that these actors can channel through their characters. They did everything they needed to do, and so much more. It all went way beyond my expectations in bringing these characters to life, if that makes sense at all.
Oh, definitely. You've been able to enjoy some success already on the festival circuit, so how cool is it to put yourselves out there like that and then see how receptive people have been to this story so far?
Charlie Tahan: It’s been more than just being a part of these festivals that has been the exciting part for me. The exciting part is when you walk out of a screening, and people really feel that they have to tell you how much they liked the film, or their theory about something in the movie, or just a question. It’s amazing to see the audience be so engaged that they can't let the experience just end when the credits roll. I love that.
Kevin Phillips: This is a humble film. And we went in there wanting to make a piece of art at the end of the day, but we also wanted to make something that's important to us, too. Even us just being given the chance to make this movie will forever be crazy in my mind. We put a lot of passion into it, and to see that it's being received, and to see that people are responding to it, is mind-blowing. I will forever be grateful.
In case you missed it, check here to read more of our Fantastic Fest 2017 reviews and interviews, and stay tuned to Daily Dead for more of our coverage of the festival.