Set to hit theaters in Los Angeles and New York tomorrow is Orson Oblowitz’s home invasion thriller Trespassers, which stars Angela Trimbur and Fairuza Balk (two of this writer’s favorite actresses), as well as Zach Avery, Janel Parrish,g and Jonathan Howard. The story follows two couples who Airbnb a house in the middle of the desert for a weekend to try to work out their respective issues, but things go horribly awry once they find themselves in a fight for their lives.
Daily Dead recently chatted with Trespassers director Orson Oblowitz about his initial interest in taking on the project, as well as the casting process, the challenges of creating the film’s visual style, how working on the project transformed him as an artist, and more.
Look for Trespassers in both LA and NYC this weekend, and for those of you in other cities around the country, the film hits various On Demand platforms this Friday as well.
I'd love to go back to the beginning and talk about how this project came together. Was this something that was brought to you, and what was it about this story where you knew that this was a film that you needed to make?
Orson Oblowitz: I had just finished my first film, The Queen of Hollywood Boulevard, and Julio Hallivis, the producer who had the script at the time, I went to him to show him the film and we were kind of in a similar place figuring out what was next. Julio and I actually had met years before; he was a line producer and I was a camera operator on a movie called The Ganzfeld Haunting, and I wanted to show him the film. Two weeks later he gave me a call and told me he had a script for me, which at the time was called In Camera. I read it and I really dug it.
I had been having discussions about what was the next type of film I wanted to try, because I love all different genres. To me, it's pretty fresh when you look at the home invasion premise here. What really stuck to me was that it had this whole dramatic side, and that really got to me because we're actually dealing with real human emotions here, not just cardboard cutout characters.
When it came time to put together your cast, you obviously have to make sure you've got the right folks in the right roles for this. What was that process like? The way this story plays out, it feels like you could take this film and put it up on a live stage and it would be just as compelling as watching a live theatrical performance.
Orson Oblowitz: Well, to the latter part of your point, the way I approached this film was like a chamber drama, and I saw it like that from the beginning, where it could be like a theater piece. I used the film Rope by Hitchcock to give me the basis of that, this idea of people just trapped in one place and keep it interesting. It was Jessica Sherman who was our casting director who did all the hard work, because she really manicured this cast in a special, beautiful way. I have to say that a lot of this came in trusting her and the talent that she brought in front of us, who were not necessarily people that were name talent, but they were just excellent actors and that's where it really started.
Angela was actually the last piece of the puzzle, though. We had a really hard time finding the person for the main character of Sarah. We were going down different lists and calling people and we had seen hundreds of people and I was so burned out with the audition process. I must have seen 200 people by that point. And this woman comes in and I was checked out, but she starts the audition [and] she really just went for it. That’s when I realized it was Angela Trimbur. I loved The Final Girls and Trash Fire because she stole the show in both of those. So we called Angela back in, and I remember it was the day of her birthday, too. She was the final piece of the puzzle.
When you're doing a show that is primarily a one-location show, it can always be a real challenge to keep it visually arresting for audiences. And I think you guys really rise to the occasion here. Can you discuss working with your cinematographer and how you guys approached the visual style to Trespassers?
Orson Oblowitz: Well, I think that one of the first things that interested me were the confines and restrictions of the single location. I think some people, when you hear that, everyone thinks of it as just a budgetary constraint, but it actually doesn't make your film that much cheaper or easier. What it does is it makes you be more creative. So, the first thing I did was a deep dive into the history of one-location films and contained thrillers. So, I was looking at everything from The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant from [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder to Don't Breathe, to Goodnight Mommy, and the amazing long history of the contained thriller and the home invasion genre. And we took it from there.
We decided we were going to make the film basically from the POV of the house. So, only at the beginning of the film do you see anything outside of the POV from the house. And then, working really closely with Noah Rosenthal, my DP, who's just awesome, we tried to craft a pretty intricate design that also allowed the actors to be free and improvise and allow spontaneity even within these sometimes complex camera setups or complex lighting setups, especially [since] I decided to choose a house that was all glass, which made things even harder at times. But that was the idea, where these characters were in a fishbowl, so it was like everyone could look in at them, and it was like they were under a magnifying glass.
And then Mike Conte, my production designer, and his team worked on the house itself. A lot of it was what's already there, but a lot of it involved us building a house within a house. So a lot of the rooms weren't there, and what we wanted to do was to create separate spaces. So even though we were at one location, we really had multiple locations in the house. The house was a big part of the process. The sad thing is that house is no longer there. It burnt down in the Malibu fires. But if you watch Velvet Buzzsaw or Nicholas Refn's Too Old to Die Young, you'll see it in those films as well.
I'm a big believer that whenever you do something creative, it becomes this transformative process for everyone, where you put a little bit of yourself into it and I think you take a little bit of something away within you as well. So, from your perspective, how did Trespassers transform you as an artist?
Orson Oblowitz: There was a lot. Doing this film was one of the biggest challenges I had ever come under. I'd only made one film before this, and that was a very different type of movie; a very personal, much more art house style of movie. So, this allowed me to totally get out of my comfort zone. In a way, I think I'm much more comfortable in a weird art house, anything goes environment. I tried to bring a little of that to this, but I was also trying to make something that had a little more breadth and width and scope to the project. As well, working under the challenges of I have to make this film interesting from the beginning to end and we can't really leave this house and we can't really leave these characters" and also taking on a genre that is so heavily loaded as the home invasion thriller and being like, "What can I bring as an artist?" So, I grew a lot from this film.
I had never worked with a crew this big, either, and it wasn't even that big a crew. Suddenly I was given a lot more responsibility than I had ever expected to get at that point, and it helped me grow as a storyteller and learn to get out of my comfort zone and learn to tell a different type of story and still keep my voice throughout it, but also allow everyone else to have their voice as well. That was a big thing to learn, was that even though you're the director of the film, your real job is to listen. So, the big lesson I learned as an artist was that you've got to trust the people around you and what they bring to the table.