It’s been nearly seven years since Eric Stanze’s indie shocker Ratline was released, but his follow-up directorial effort, In Memory Of, recently made its debut on Blu-ray and is currently available for purchase HERE. Starring newcomer Jackie Kelly (who also helped co-write the script), In Memory Of is a hallucinatory trip straight into hell, when a young woman named Amber sets out to find out the truth behind a horrific experiment that left her suffering and unable to remember anything from her childhood. Confused and in search of a mysterious stranger who can answer all of her questions, Amber travels cross-country, looking to put the pieces of her shattered life back together.
Daily Dead recently caught up with Jason Christ, who co-wrote the script for In Memory Of with Stanze and Kelly, and he discussed their collaborative project, tackling the film’s ambitious scope and story, his experiences portraying the mysterious Simon, and more.
What was the process like for you in terms of writing this script with Eric?
Jason Christ: Eric and I first teamed up as screenwriters on his last film, Ratline, and I think it was such a mutually respectful and creatively satisfying collaboration that it made perfect sense for us to continue this working relationship on whatever project we decided to tackle next. A few years had passed since Ratline was unleashed and we were definitely itching to get a new film into production. I remember Eric initially approaching me about some ideas and goals that he wanted to tackle as a filmmaker, and from there I went away and came back a week or so later with a barebones outline that (very) loosely structured some basic story elements that both Eric and I felt were solid enough to expand upon.
When it came time to develop these ideas further, Eric threw a little curveball my way that I wasn’t expecting: a third writer in the form of newcomer Jackie Kelly. I must admit that I had some initial hesitations about three writers working on the screenplay. Films with multiple writers have a track record of turning into complete dumpster fires, but I trusted Eric’s judgment and remained open to whatever possibilities this new configuration could bring. I’m so glad that I did, because soon after meeting Jackie, I quickly realized what a truly genuine talent she was, and that really made me excited to see what crazy shit we could come up with.
From our first coffee-fueled story meetings, it was clear from the get-go that the three of us had a great creative dynamic that was mercifully free of any bullshit egos. That really helped to create this wonderful and robust microcosm, in which we were free to fully explore the potential of the material. Everyone was free to bring any and all ideas to the table, and everyone was respectful and encouraging of each other’s contributions.
Once we had a general skeleton of a story in place, Eric did something similar to what we did when we wrote Ratline: he assigned portions of the script to each of us to then go off and develop on our own. That certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster that would result in a clunky and unfocused mess of a script, but once we brought all of our developed story threads together and stitched them into one cohesive whole, we continuously polished the material through meeting after meeting to give the script a concise and singular voice that ultimately became the screenplay for In Memory Of. Everything came together so well that I sometimes have a hard time remembering all of the specific contributions that I personally made for the script. This writing collaboration worked out better than I ever could’ve imagined. It really set the stage for the amazing adventure that making In Memory Of would ultimately become.
Did you know at the time you were writing In Memory Of that you would be playing Simon? And if you did, how much does that affect your process as both a writer and then eventually as an actor? Are there advantages to being able to write characters for yourself?
Jason Christ: I had a general understanding in the early stages of development for In Memory Of that I’d be playing Simon, but I really tried not to let that influence me while we were working on the script. I know that temptation could be there for me to give Simon all the great scenes and dialog, but my methodology on writing In Memory Of was the same that I used for when I was writing Ratline: focus on telling a great story with strong, dynamic characters. I didn’t want anything, not even my own desires as an actor, to come at the expense of the story we’re trying to tell. The script for In Memory Of was going to be the foundation on which the film was going to be built, and for me, we were broaching subject matter that resonated deeply for me personally, so I definitely didn’t want to f--k that up by short-changing the potential of the material just so I could have a few cool moments for Simon. Having worked predominantly in independent films, I know that oftentimes you have to create your own opportunities. I wanted all the characters to be strong enough to create opportunities, not only for me, but for other actors searching to get their teeth into some challenging material. I think that mentality really brought out the best in our cast, which certainly helped to elevate the quality of the film as a whole.
I admit that I have certain proclivities in my writing that I tend to enjoy as an actor. For example, I have a particular distaste for firearms, so my characters tend to engage in some sort of primal fisticuffs (with the occasional axe or chainsaw thrown in for good measure) at some point in the story, as evidenced in Savage Harvest 2: October Blood, Ratline, and now in In Memory Of. At the end of the day, while I like to throw my personal quirks and experiences into the mix when developing new films for Wicked Pixel, they are always at the service of the story and the characters.
Can you discuss what the production process was like for you? This feels like a hugely ambitious project, considering the number of locales, setups, etc. that you guys utilize throughout the film.
Jason Christ: We routinely like to challenge ourselves by developing high-concept ideas with production values that far exceed the budgets we typically have to work with. It was a tendency in our filmmaking that really took shape when we made Deadwood Park. I heard many hilarious anecdotes from industry professionals who insisted we make that film with a far more inflated budget than what was actually the case. I will be the first to admit that In Memory Of was going to be our most ambitious project to date just from the script alone. It was another high-concept idea that lended itself quite nicely to a low-budget filmmaking aesthetic, while allowing us room for new ways to experiment and explore. I truly think the script set the standard for the amazingly creative, rebellious, and adventurous nature that would saturate every facet of this production, from the way it was shot, to how the soundscapes were designed, to the editing of the final film we now have today.
We set out to make a movie for ourselves as artists. We decided that we weren’t going to pander or somehow dilute our filmmaking to impress anyone. It was a wonderfully refreshing reminder of the freedom we all felt when making Ice From The Sun, back when we were a bunch of naive, punk kids in our 20s that blindly set out to make a Super 8mm-lensed, acid-trip grindhouse feature, with a middle finger proudly raised to the established ideals of what filmmaking was supposed to be. We had to find our own way and figure it all out for ourselves, and the end result was Ice From The Sun, which despite its faults, will always be an incredible milestone in my life. Cut to twenty years later, working on In Memory Of was just this insanely wonderful blending of taking what we’ve learned professionally from our more recent films, like Deadwood Park and Ratline, and truly throwing caution to the wind to open ourselves up to the possible life experiences this film could offer us, not only professionally, but personally as well. In the end, it reminded me why I continue to make movies in the first place.
Having said all that, the production was by no means stress-free. Every film you do is going to have its own unique set of difficulties and near-disasters that have to be faced down and dealt with if that film is to have any chance of reaching the finish line. In Memory Of most certainly was no different in that regard. In fact, there were a few production hiccups at the beginning of production that really kicked me in the dick and sent my stress levels through the roof to the point where I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to both executive produce the film and play Simon. I tended to keep that shit away from the cast and crew because I didn’t want my initial struggles getting the production going to in any way affect the positive attitudes that were on display by every single person on the production, and I truly mean everyone. If I ever had any initial doubts about whether or not we’d be able to pull this epic film off, they were quickly glossed over by all the amazing energy and graciousness that everyone brought to the production.
I’ve never before encountered a film production where every single person on the cast and crew were so excited to be there. It really opened up the potential for creativity and steadfast determination to make this film the best that it could possibly be. Any production snag we encountered became an opportunity for us as filmmakers to solve those issues in a creatively satisfying way that ultimately created many wonderful and exciting new opportunities for storytelling that reached way beyond what we had written in the script. In Memory Of was definitely a strange animal of a film, where overcoming production issues seemed effortless, and every day on set was filled with exciting possibilities. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, and I really think that rebellious spirit of freedom and unbridled creative expression translated perfectly to the final film, which will hopefully now find its own place in the world, to inspire other artists to get out there, take some risks, and create some art of their own.
How was it collaborating with Jackie, especially since your characters share this intriguing connection?
Jason Christ: Certainly one of the best experiences I had on In Memory Of was meeting Jackie. It wasn’t long after I met her that I knew I had found a new kindred spirit. In a lot of ways, Jackie reminded me of myself when I was her age, even right down to attending the same film school I went to in St. Louis. I could tell very early on that she was a young woman of tremendous talents and passions, and I think I really latched on to her, functioning as a sort of a mentor to Jackie as she set out to have her first foray into filmmaking with us. I really wanted to make sure that she felt like she was in a safe environment to express herself as an artist, to give her the same opportunities that I had when I made my film debut in Ice From The Sun.
I think that mentor connection I had with Jackie can be seen within the context of Simon’s relationship to her character of Amber. With very few exceptions, Amber is the only character that Simon interacts with, and even though his intentions may seem dubious throughout the course of the film, he’s basically her guide through this wonderland of chaos she is having to navigate through. He’s a reflection of sorts of the needs of her character’s arc throughout the story, both consciously and subconsciously. That’s a pretty vital connection in the film, and I like to think that because we bonded so closely with each other in real life, we were able to translate that bond to our characters pretty succinctly. We knew we had each other’s back, which was important, especially when the narrative takes a decidedly darker turn in the film’s final act. I was reminded of my wonderful experience working with Emily Haack on Ratline. To me, I was working with a woman of incalculable talent and generosity who became not only an incredible collaborator, but a lifelong friend. I will always have mad love for Jackie. I’m so excited for what the future holds in store for her.
What was your biggest takeaway from your experiences working on In Memory Of, whether it was something that challenged you personally, professionally, or maybe it was a little of both?
Jason Christ: I believe it's been said that films that deal with dark subject matter are the most rewarding films to make when you’re on the set. That was definitely true of In Memory Of, a film that is definitely a brutal, almost downright nihilistic experience at times, but one that was truly a labor of love, as bizarre as that may sound. I was in the presence of some amazing human beings that came together to make a work of art, and while I was grateful to really get the chance to expand myself both as an actor and as a screenwriter, I was pretty humbled by how the film affected me personally once production wrapped and I finally saw the finished film. It got me reacquainted with that naive fella from Hillsboro, Missouri, that got some crazy notion in his head that he could chase down this crazy dream of somehow making movies of his own. It allowed me safe haven to lay bare some of my own deep-rooted fears in hopes of telling a story that would find some common ground with an audience that would speak to their own humanity.
Since the film was so personal in some of the themes it addressed, I admit it kinda scares me that the film is now out there, where anyone and everyone can throw their critiques at it, but hey, isn’t that the point of doing what we do? We’re certainly not making fat bank on these films, so why not take some chances and take some risks that may broaden our own life experiences? It was filmmaking at its purest for me, and the results of all the hard work and determination from the cast and crew came together in a film that I will be proud of for the rest of my days.
I’m a pretty lucky bastard when you get right down to it. I’ve had so many wonderful life experiences making movies with some incredibly talented artists over the years, from Ice From The Sun, to Ratline, and everything that falls in between, but In Memory Of really took things to a whole new level for me. I guess after you’ve been doing something like this for as long as I have, it’s easy, perhaps even expected, to fall into some sort of business-as-usual form of artistic complacency, but my experiences while making In Memory Of really reminded me of how far I’m come as both an artist and as a human being, and it’s renewed my enthusiasm and passions for what creative endeavors are still in store for me. Simply put, In Memory Of was the best filmmaking experience of my life, and I’m truly grateful and humbled that I got to be a small part of it.