While at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, Daily Dead had the opportunity to catch up with the cast and crew from co-writer/director Jenn Wexler’s punk slasher The Ranger, which follows a group of rebellious teens into the woods as they square off against a murderous forest ranger who doesn’t take kindly to folks who don’t like to follow the rules of his wooded domain.
Wexler is no stranger to the realm of indie filmmaking, as she’s been a producer on numerous movies at Glass Eye Pix, and we heard from her about making the transition to director for her newest project and putting the film together with the cast and crew that were also in attendance for the press day for The Ranger, including her co-writer Giaco Furino, producers Heather Buckley, Andrew van den Houten, Ashleigh Snead, Chad Ghiron, and Darryl Gariglio, as well as cast members Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, Amanda Grace Benitez, Jeremy Pope, and Bubba Weiler.
Jenn, I'm going to start with you, because I know you've been kicking ass for Glass Eye for years now. Can you talk about making that transition from producing to directing, and what inspired you for the idea of The Ranger?
Jenn Wexler: Thank you. Yeah, I've always wanted to direct. I've made a couple of shorts before. I started at Glass Eye, and I think on my first day, in my first meeting with Larry Fessenden and Peter Phok, I kind of warned them. I told them I was really interested in producing, and I really want to do your marketing and social media, but someday, it'd be cool to direct, so they kind of had that in the back of their minds, that that might be a thing. But I didn't really know how to make movies yet when I started there.
So, Peter Phok, who produced lots of movies, including The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, and Stake Land, he took me under his wing, and really taught me everything about producing. I made a couple of movies as a producer, and when you're in there and getting your hands dirty, that's the best way to learn how to make movies: to really make movies.
After I felt like I had a handle on things, I thought about directing. I worked with Giaco on the script for The Ranger for a while, while I was producing other things. And then soon enough, the time came where we were able to move forward with making it.
For the producers in the room, what was it that you saw in this project where you were like, “Yes, I want to get involved, and I want to help Jenn make this film”?
Heather Buckley: Well, I'm friends with Jenn, so anything Jenn wants to do, I wanted to help her make it come to life. It's a strange journey on my end. Jenn asked me to read the script, but it took me forever to read the script. Then I finally had a chance to read it at Fantasia and I started to think about things like the kind of music that I thought maybe should be in it. But I really liked this movie, I thought it was really cool. And because of our friendship, I would send her pictures of punk rockers and pictures of the sort of world she wanted to create over and over and over again. And at some point, she asked me to be her co-producer. So, I kind of stumbled into producing this film at the beginning, and that's when I reached out to Andrew.
Andrew van den Houten: Yeah, we basically had lunch, and Heather said that we have to make this movie. I had actually been a juror for the Viscera Film Festival in LA, so I knew of her short film that I was a huge fan of. It was pretty easy for me to say "yes" when I saw the trailer and the script a few months later at the Frontières Film Market. I immediately reached out to Ashleigh Snead, who was my producing partner.
Ashleigh Snead: Yeah, Andrew called me and told me that he was sending me something right now, and of course it was in my inbox at that same moment because that's how Andrew works. It was the teaser trailer, and all he said was, “I think we should do this." And I watched the teaser trailer and I said, “Yeah, let me read the script.” He sent it over, I read it, and we agreed pretty much immediately that we were going to do this.
Andrew van den Houten: I hadn't even read the script, and I told her we were doing this [laughs]. And with Darryl, he had spoken to me about a film that he asked me for some advice on a few months earlier. So, I just threw the ball in his court and asked him to take a look at this script, and I told him that I thought it could be interesting, and he read it.
Darryl Gariglio: Yeah, Andrew sent me the teaser and the screenplay, and I read that, but I just thought the teaser trailer was awesome. I have a background in national parks and work with national park rangers, so that hit home with me right away. But the screenplay was phenomenal, and I was immediately on board.
Chad Ghiron: I read it in two hours and met up with Ashley the next morning. I signed on board that very moment. I could see where it was going, and I love what they did with the script. It's fun, it's exciting, it's thrilling—it's a perfect midnight movie.
Giaco Furino: I co-wrote this script with Jenn. As a writer, you always put some of yourself into whatever you’re writing, and I have this deep-seated fear of guns. I always have, and that's in the conversation a lot these days in very big and important ways. But even in the very early drafts of this, I always thought slasher movies are so scary, but what if Jason just had a gun? How much scarier is that? How much more frightening is that? There's a quickness, a realness, a disassociation of the act that was super important to me and it still freaks me out every day. So that was really important to get that in there, that the ranger is all of these things, but at the end of the day, he's also a guy with a gun. And that's terrifying to me.
I'd love to hear from the cast on what was it that you saw in this script that made you want to be a part of this, and your experiences of coming together and becoming this punk family?
Jeremy Pope: What was special about Jenn and this project was that, as an actor, you get sent a bunch of scripts and a lot of times you're like, “Where do I fit in? What do I connect with?” This was something that initially on paper, I didn’t think I could play punk in a movie. It just felt strange, but I knew it was interesting, it seemed fun, and it felt fresh.
But then I met Jenn, and saw how easy and outgoing she was, and the world that she wanted to create. She allowed me to create something, versus telling me who exactly this character was or how exactly he should be. She was allowing me to bring myself, and that was great for me personally, not having experience with the punk community or necessarily seeing black people in the community in that way.
Granit Lahu: So, I'll be honest. Initially, when I saw the description and saw Glass Eye Pix, when I researched the company and found the website, I could have sworn it was Jack Nicholson who owns it [laughs]. I swear, I saw Larry's picture and I was like, “Yeah, I'm doing this.” Then I found out when I read the script that I had it all wrong [laughs]. In all seriousness, though, the script is amazing, and Jenn had this great energy, too. When you see someone else who is so invested in a project, it's like, "All right, I want to invest myself in this, too."
Bubba Weiler: What you said about family was really key to me and what drew me to this script. What I think is most moving about this movie is how these kids have created a family, sort of like the “Lost Boys” finding each other. They're all each other has, and we had to portray that. If you look closely at the movie, there's little hints of just how down and out these kids are, layered in there by Jenn and Giaco. I was really drawn to that.
And when we got to the set, we had to become a family really fast, and being stuck in the woods for two weeks as well as having a very strange Best Western hotel really does make you bond that much quicker.
Amanda Grace Benitez: Andrew sent me this script, and I fell in love with it immediately because it really hit home for me. I was a punk kid growing up and I listened to all of that type of music and I never thought in a million years that I'd be able to actually portray myself when I was 13 or 14 years old. I had a complete blast and I felt the script was just so thrilling and exciting. I jumped on a Skype call once I booked it with Jenn, and just from speaking with her that first time, I knew this was going to be an incredible experience. I just want to thank you guys again for giving me that opportunity to be a part of this.
Chloe Levine: When I first read the script, I was really drawn to the complexity of this young female character, which unfortunately we don't see all that often. Her arc was mind-blowing to me and reading the script, I could just draw a line through her whole journey, and for me, that's something that's really exciting as an actor. It was definitely like a catharsis, because I relate to things that Chelsea was going through. She was definitely influenced by her friends, influenced by this older man—everyone was trying to tell her what she needs to be, and that's a pretty common theme. It was cool to be this character who just ends up owning herself.
I'd just also like to say that something that I really enjoyed thinking about when we were making the movie was that it's kind of a love triangle between Chelsea, her friends, and the ranger. That was really different.
Yeah, and with the ranger, you get a sense that there's a lot more going on with him than we get on the screen in the film, which I’m always good with because I like a little mystery to my villains. Jeremy, did you work out some of those details, in terms of what makes this guy tick, and what he's been up to during the times we don’t actively see the ranger as a character?
Jeremy Holm: Well, I read the script every morning for about six weeks, because that's how I prepared to do the film, because I'm a Type A kind of person when it comes to acting. I want to know what I'm doing, and I want to have it all imagined in my head, even though it never turns out like you're imagining it. I had a lot of questions for Jenn, some of which she answered, a lot of which she didn't answer on purpose. As an actor, it was such a sumptuous field of play to be on—all the possibilities were just out there. I did make some specific and un-revealable choices in this moment about who he is, who the ranger is to Chelsea, even beyond what's in the film. And to the piece of land, too, because it's also a movie about land. It's also a movie about how mankind relates to this Earth at a time in our history when that's really important.
The film is about so many things. It's a horror movie, but it's about so many different, really important issues that are going on right now: women having the voice they should have, and being given the opportunity they should have. Young people having a voice. Outsiders being let inside. It’s about all those things, and I think that’s great.
Missed out on our previous SXSW 2018 coverage? Check here to catch up on all of our live coverage from Austin!