Acclaimed director Steve Balderson has proven time and time again that great films can be made outside of the Hollywood system, which is refreshing for appreciative movie fanatics. I had the pleasure of getting a behind-the-scenes account on what makes audiences receive two of his most recent movies so well. In this interview, Balderson gets us to understand why the explicit “Watch Out” is not your typical narrative film and how “Stuck” pays homage to female inmates, with a modern twist.
Madlab Post: Why does "Watch Out" and "Stuck" open with end credits before the movie starts?
Steve Balderson: I always liked that about classic Hollywood films. They would always have all the credits at the beginning, and simply end with a “The End” title card. I do that in all of my films now, but what really gave me the idea was my documentary “Underbelly.” It was the last of my films to have the complete end credits at the ending. I was screening it at the Boston Underground Film Festival, and planned to do a Q&A afterwards. The end credits were about 5 minutes long, and by the time they were over, half the audience had left because they didn’t know we were doing a Q&A.
In “Watch Out” and “Stuck!” by the time the movie ends, the lights come up right away, we immediately walk to the front of the room, and the audience stays put. I also like the feeling it creates for the audience to be catapulted back into reality, while they continue to think about the film. So the film lingers inside them.
MP: Watching a father beat his daughter with an umbrella in "Watch Out" quickly let me know that this movie is not for the squeamish or faint at heart. Were you strictly going after Joseph Suglia's readers when making this movie? If so, why? If not, what portion of moviegoing audiences would enjoy "Watch Out"?
SB: My challenge with “Watch Out” was to create a cinematic interpretation of the novel, by still being true to the novel, yet bringing a cinematic air to it. That’s an incredibly difficult challenge for anyone to do, with any book. I can’t say I was thinking about Dr. Joseph Suglia’s audience at all… I think I was focused more on capturing aspects of the novel that were distinctive. Also, the whole project was an experiment in a way.
In film studies they tell you to never do a narrative like that, with his constant inner monologue. I wanted to see if I could break that rule—and I think I did. For some reason, and maybe it’s just that particular story, the film wouldn’t have worked without it. I was surprised at the critical acclaim the film received, and surprised that audiences seemed to love it so much. When we were nominated for Best International Film at Raindance, I was literally shocked.
MP: What other films would you compare "Watch Out" to when addressing general movie fanatics who are not familiar with Suglia's work or your work but wanted to see it?
SB: I’m not sure. That’s a tough one. Because I really think it’s one of a kind. It’s such a bizarre story. I’d say that if a person watched “American Psycho” and thought it was tame, or thought it didn’t go as far as the original book, those people would love “Watch Out.” But, I think that if someone’s expecting a traditional narrative, of, say, “The Social Network,” they are likely not going to like it.
MP: Why does the prison guard in "Stuck" wear platform heels?
SB: The stylistic elements of “Stuck!” were important for me to create that feeling of films like “Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill” – with tall amazon goddesses and high heels on the inmates, and lots of make-up. And yet, on the flipside, I wanted to remain true to the original women in prison films from the 50s like “Caged!” And “I Want To Live!” which were made decades before people started making exploitation women in prison films (like “Caged Heat” etc).
MP: Daisy appears to have done a 180, becoming an arrogant wench following her first brush with death. Was this an intentional part of the storyline to show how the guilty corrupt the innocent?
SB: That’s just how it was written, and I always thought if I were going to be hanged for a crime I didn’t commit, and then I somehow managed to live, I would be a changed person afterward. Knowing you’re still going to be hanged to death would be awful.
MP: Is the Warden in "Stuck" a sadist? Also, why are her scenes silent?
SB: I think the Warden is just like anyone in power who abuses that power. I think she revels in the idea of putting other people down to feel better about herself. She never speaks because she’s so powerful she doesn’t need to. It was written that way, and I liked the feeling of it, when we just had that deep bass drone sound and no other noise.
MP: What made you decide to do a cameo in "Stuck"?
SB: I’ve done cameos in all my films up until my most recent film, “The Casserole Club.” I thought it would be fun. Hitchcock was my favorite director, and he did it, so I thought I should, too. But then, I changed my mind. I thought, oh, I don’t need to appear in every movie. Hahaha.
MP: Why do some of the same actors from the "Watch Out" cast also appear in "Stuck"?
SB: They were so incredible to work with, I knew I wanted to have them in another movie. When you find a person who is as brilliant on screen as they are humble, and easy to work with, you’re incredibly lucky. So when I meet those kinds of performers, I try to find roles for them in future projects on purpose.
SB: I agree! Pleasant Gehman’s performance as “Dutch” in “Stuck!” is riveting. People went nuts over the “sex scene” where all we see is their hands, mouths, and they stay totally dressed. After it premiered at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, several people commented to me that they thought it was the most erotic sex scene they’ve ever seen. Even though it wasn’t even a sex scene!
MP: Stuck appears to have more intimacy than blatant sex despite it's gang rape and masturbation scenes. Was this intentional and why does "Watch Out" lack the same amount of subtlety regarding sexual activities in its scenes?
SB: Totally intentional. I see all of my films differently, different stories. “Watch Out” is meant to be in-your-face and outrageous. “Stuck!” isn’t. When we were filming the sex scenes in my newest, “The Casserole Club,” the actors were concerned because they all watched “Watch Out.” Kevin Richardson (from the Backstreet Boys) plays the lead (in his debut dramatic role), and I remember “Watch Out” was the first film of mine he saw. I was so thankful he still wanted to work with me! Hahaha! I told him, “Don’t worry. Just because that film was explicit, doesn’t mean this one will.” In fact, it would be overkill if I kept doing explicit stuff again and again.
MP: How do you select the films that you decide to work on? What is your criteria for deciding whether you will or won't do a project?
SB: I really boils down to whether or not it’s something I can really dive into and explore, something that is challenging, or exciting, or just something I’m interested in. Making a movie takes about a year and a half (from the moment of developing the script to the end result of watching it in a theatre). I try and make sure that the subject is interesting enough that it remains interesting throughout the whole process. I see my movies as my children, and to do one haphazardly and to not care about it that deeply would be irresponsible.
If you still haven't seen "Watch Out" starring Matt Riddlehoover,
"Stuck" featuring Karen Black,
....I'd suggest you check out these movies ASAP and be on the lookout for "Casserole Club" from Steve Balderson!
Question for Readers:
What are the most bizarre movies that YOU have seen?
Also, what are your favorite film noir movies featuring women in leading roles?
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