Razor-Sharp Suburbia: Excision

Excision (2012)Michele Galgana interviews Richard Bates, Jr, & AnnaLynne McCord

Excision (USA, 81 min.)
Director: Richard Bates, Jr.
Cast: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter

Mix part black comedy, part teen angst drama, and part shocking art house cinema, throw them in a blender with assorted viscera, and you have Excision, the first feature directed by NYU Tisch School alum Richard Bates, Jr. His hopeful yet hapless protagonist, Pauline, is played by a most-undecidedly 90210 AnnaLynne McCord in full, serious actress mode: awkward gait, no makeup but for fake zits, and what looks to be unwashed hair. Her daytime character contrasts starkly with her blood-soaked dreams and fantasies, in which she envisions herself as a dominatrix of the crimson kind, nearly to a Bathorian extreme. These fetishistic scenes feature McCord writhing around in elaborate hair, makeup and costumes, and are highly reminiscent of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle series.

MG: I used to assist with programming at the Boston Underground Film Festival. In 2009, we showed your award-winning short Excision, and the film’s dark nature resonated with us. Your new feature of the same name won the Director’s Choice Award at the festival this year. So now that you’ve made the feature version, can you tell us how you fleshed out the story from short to feature?I recently caught up with the up-and-coming director of Excision and auteur of the strange, Richard Bates, Jr. and the star of his film, the talented AnnaLynne McCord, at Fantasia inMontreal, where the Canadian premiere of the film was held, to discuss evil, social taboos, and teenage hormones.

Richard Bateman, Jr, and AnnaLynne McCord

RB: There’s a lot more room for developing. With the basics of the short, I had to hit my marks, develop my characters, and it’s an eighteen-minute short, which is sort of a long short. I’m proud of it, but if I had to do it again, I’d make it ten minutes. The wonderful thing about a feature is you can actually develop your characters and develop a style. I was slowly developing my filmmaking style with that short; it walked a fine line between a dark, dark comedy and a horror film. My favorite review said that this film is what would happen if John Waters and David Cronenberg fucked.

MG: Indeed. I imagine that making the short helped you get funding for the feature. How easy or difficult was it to get your film green lit?

RB: It was not easy at all! You don’t know my misery. I was quite confident at a certain point because of the success of the short; we won a bunch of awards and played a lot of festivals in 2008 – 2009. I moved out toL.A. and I thought, ‘Goodness, someone thinks I’m good at something! I’m gonna to get to do this, I’m gonna get to make a feature version!’ I got a bunch of meetings, and everyone said, ‘This is crazy. There’s no way we’ll make this, it’s terrible.’ Whatever. I stuck by it for four or five years, and that’s how long it took to get this movie made. Any financing, any interest, it was all funded by my friends. Thirty of my friends from growing up inVirginia and a friend of mine from college inNew York. No one else would touch it.

MG: Those are some great friends!

RB: I was the movie geek in high school. I went to movie camp every summer, since middle school, and I would walk around high school with a video camera. So everyone knew where I grew up in my hometown, that this was my dream forever.

ALM: At the premiere at Sundance, Ricky’s mother actually told me a story that is so amazing and it kinda sums it up. She and Ricky were flying and he was about five, and the plane was going through serious turbulence. She was like, ‘It’s okay, it’s going to be fine.’ And he said, ‘I’m just really scared that I’m not going to be able to make my movie!’ He didn’t want to die because he wanted to make his movie!

MG: And that’s at five years old?

ALM: He knew for a long time.

RB: I think that I was ten. She might have said five.

MG: How in the hell did you come up with a story like this, and is there any basis in truth behind it? Did it come from nightmares or was it inspired by a particularly gruesome headline? What’s the genesis of it?

RB: It’s funny, because I keep saying that it’s autobiographical, and everyone’s like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ The movie is about growing up in a conservative family and environment, and wanting to do something odd with your life — for me, filmmaking — and wanting the love and acceptance of your parents. That’s what the hug is about at the end. That’s what all of that is. And I remember feeling this way growing up — it’s also an indictment on entitlement. You know, everyone thinks they can do anything without taking the time to learn how to be good at it. That was something that always frustrated me. Even at 27, I just want to make movies, I love ‘em.

ALM: To add on to that and answer your question from a different standpoint, the film in itself — in its literal form — is a film. In its metaphoric state, I would say that it represents the mind of the repressed. What is that cliché? The more you tighten your grip, the more it slips through your fingers. I grew up in a similar childhood to Ricky, where the tighter my parents held onto me, the more I wanted to escape. My dream of going toHollywood was as evil to them as this movie might be to most people. My dream in my mind was accepted inNew York andL.A., but it wasn’t accepted where I grew up. So for Pauline, this is the same exact situation, but it’s a film. It’s art. It’s expanded upon. I feel like if you reflect it in that regard, it’s the perspective of what in fact IS evil and who the beholder is, because it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. The reason I connect with Pauline is — and I got in trouble so often — my mother told me that I could not go toHollywood because it was evil. And my response was, ’But aren’t we supposed to be the light to a dark world?’ I got in more trouble for that back-talking, but the truth is, I was representing logic. Pauline in her mind, is representing logic too, and it was completely allowed and intolerable by her parents. So I think there’s not so much to be taken literally, but taken metaphorically.

MG: There are some particularly strong performances here — by Traci Lords, especially in the finale — and by you, AnnaLynne. Your character Pauline is a pretty dark individual and perpetual outsider. How did you prepare for a role like this?

ALM: Well, I had a couple of days of ‘Oh my God, I can’t act! Why did I ever think I could do this?!’ Which preceded me finding exactly what Pauline needed to be. But a lot of it came from just choosing as a human being — I’m a very private person — and it was in making the choice to open myself up to be honest. Really, really honest. In my career, I’ve played a lot of characters who are completely opposite to who I am, and they reflect the sexual and the confident, on-top-of-the-world fantasy roles. To play Pauline was to play a little girl close to who I felt I was growing up, this little odd man out, who had a sense of confidence that wasn’t really justifiable. I was a total math nerd, and I will go to town on you with any kind of math equation if you wanna talk math with me, I love that stuff. But I did not fit in. I had two sisters who were all about dresses and that girly girl stuff. I was just weird and in my own world. I knew that my world would expand, and anyone who doubted me, I thought was a very odd individual. It was an interesting world to grow up in, inside my head, and Pauline with her belief that she can be a doctor without studying is kind of reflective of this trailer park girl who I was, dreaming of being an actress. That was never gonna happen! There’s something to the attraction of the ALM:ost naïve narcissism of believing you can. But I think that really, the toughest challenge was just choosing to be open and raw all day, every day. The idiosyncrasies that I enjoy as an actress to indulge myself that Ricky allowed for — obviously, the way Pauline speaks, her mannerisms, her way of walking — those are all things I had with fun as an actress, adding to the element of who Pauline is.

MG: Tell me how you got involved with the film, and what were your thoughts when you first read the script.

ALM: I didn’t get all the way through the script before I decided that I needed to do the movie. I was halfway through it, and my agent had send me the short film you and Ricky were speaking of, and I was like, ‘I have to do this movie! I have to do this film!’ My initial reason was very shallow. I just wanted an opportunity to prove myself. So many people, Ricky included, weren’t so certain that I could pull this off. And I was really, really looking — most of my career on 90210 definitely — for a role like this where I could have a chance to really challenge myself and prove myself. That was initially it. But once I fell in love with Pauline, it was over. I didn’t want anyone else to play her and possibly screw her up. I knew her, I knew how she had to be played, I knew the kind of humanity you have to bring to a character like this, where she’s written on paper like a raving bitch. And I really wanted to make her three dimensional, and I hope I’ve accomplished this. That’s what my hope was for her.

MG: How many people advised you not to take this role?

ALM: I definitely had some negativity initially. My agent, who is also my best friend, she said, ‘Hey, you gotta do this, you gotta make this happen—‘

RB: She also dated Marilyn Manson, so this lady is absolutely crazy.

ALM: She’s badass. Ricky loves that part of me. But there were agents in the office who said, ‘This is going to be very controversial.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, when has controversial ever been an issue for me?’ I got my opening kind of break on Nip/Tuck where I was an eighteen-year-old being controversial in a different way. So controversy excited me, and ultimately, my passion for the project won out with a bit of negativity towards it.

MG: One of the themes that sets this film apart is its risky and bizarre take on a teenage girl’s sexuality, combining fetishistic costumes and sets mixed with an amazing amount of blood. Were those scenes that Pauline imagines as her hormones race wildly out of control filmed on a closed set?

RB: No. In fact, I invited the public to witness all of this. AnnaLynne was furious — I actually shipped in a middle school to watch it, and it qualified as their sexual education — no, I’m lying — but I wish. A lot of kids inLos Angeles would be up to some crazy shit right now.

ALM: It should have been a more closed set than it was. Fortunately for Ricky, and his how do I say this — maybe slightly amateurish crew, I’m not that inhibited, so it was all right.

RB: We couldn’t really pay for anyone, so I had freshmen as crew, showing them how to set up C-stands. But the sexuality stuff, yeah that’s taboo, but a girl on her period, that’s natural. It’s strange that a period is still a social taboo, that’s very bizarre to me.

MG: And as a male filmmaker, you’re in the minority. It’s refreshing to have that attitude come from a male filmmaker.

RB: Well, I didn’t even think this movie was that weird until people started telling me it was. The period thing — when I was a freshman in high school, I was going out with this girl and I ended up going down on her… I had the exact same scene when Jeremy is in the mirror. I looked in the mirror and I had this fuckin’ blood all over my face — I was shocked and I wanted to cry. I was like, ‘I’m gonna die tomorrow, what the fuck!’ So, I mean, literally all my shit’s in there. So I use this for therapy. You have to.

MG: How did you get such high profile actors like Malcom McDowell, Traci Lords, Marlee Matlin, and Ray Wise?

RB: Lord knows. I begged them all, really. It ended up being so hard to get this movie made, I thought, ‘If this is all I ever make, my entire life, I want my childhood heroes in it. I want to look back on it when I’m fifty, and know I gave it my all. I got John Waters, one of my favorite directors, Malcom McDowell from Clockwork Orange, Ray Wise from my favorite tv show ever, Twin Peaks. It was important to me that if I was going down, I was going down swinging.

MG: Were there any alternate endings or scenes you had to cut out that you can speak about?

RB: It’s funny you say that, because everyone who saw the short says that they can’t wait to see the feature to see what happens. Well, you are gonna be sorely fucking disappointed, because the entire film is about that hug, that’s all there is to it. The film is about getting that acceptance, and in the most obscure moment, she gets it.

MG: What’s next for both of you? Is there any chance of an Excision prequel or sequel?

RB: Oh yeah, she’s pregnant, actually! Let’s bang out six of seven Excisions. No, there won’t be a second Excision. If it makes a shitload of money, maybe Anchor Bay will ask me to do it. I’m making a movie called The South Will Rise Again and I’ll be asking AnnaLynne to do something in it, but yeah, I’m making another movie, hopefully in January. It’s a hipster Ghostbusters kind of thing.

ALM: I just wrapped filming on a project called Scorned, which is —

RB: The director directed Leprechaun, I’m so fuckin’ psyched! Can you get me an autograph?

ALM: He wants to give you a poster.

RB: Dude, this movie’s going to be fucking sweet, you need to see this movie.

MG: Any chance that either of these films will play the festival circuit?

ALM: Scorned is actually Anchor Bay, which is really cool, and I feel like Excision laid the ground for me to play this role. It’s a modern take on Misery. The Kathy Bates role is the role that I play, very sadistic, the anti-heroine, yet ‘Do I love her, do I hate her?’ I play with Billy Zane and Viva Bianca, an actress from Spartacus, my new best friend. Billy plays my boyfriend, Viva plays my best friend, and they cheat on me. I find out and torture them to death. So, it might go along with Fantasia’s ideal film and I might be back to the festival in the coming years.

RB: I would be psyched to be back at fests.

Photo:  AnnaLynn McCord  & Richard Bateman, Jr
(by  Isabelle Stephen)

Excision was released Anchor Bay on Blu-Ray and DVD earlier this month, just in time for Halloween. For more information, visit www.excisionmovie.com.

 

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