Director Jeff Ferrell answers a few questions about his latest project, Dead West, a crime thriller with an unusual twist.
Q: What was the creative impulse behind writing a serial killer story with no overt on-screen violence, and did you always intend to direct it?
Jeff Ferrell: I felt that most of the serial killer films I had seen before were either very gory, or were from the cop’s perspective. With this film, I didn’t want to do either of those things. I wanted to make it all about the characters and the psychology behind why they do what they do. That approach excited me as a filmmaker, because I felt like I didn’t see it very often. I always thought of the film as not being about the killings themselves, but about what happens before and after the killings. And I always intended to direct it. The directing and editing are the natural continuation of the screenwriting for me, so I always do all three jobs.
Q: The theme of the film seems to be more about rejecting grace (redemption) rather than embracing the insatiability of revenge; was that in the story initially or did that emerge during rewrites & shooting?
Jeff Ferrell: For me, it was more about the idea of really wanting something, but when you finally get it, it isn’t at all how you thought it would be. Like Tony wanting revenge for his sister’s death, or the Ladykiller finally finding love- neither of these characters were really prepared for these things to actually happen, even though they thought they were. I think we can all relate to that on some level. So that was a major theme of the film, as was the idea of desperately wanting to change your ways, but ultimately being unable to. Those themes were in the script from day one, but were reinforced during shooting and editing. I also didn’t want to glorify the violence, or the idea of revenge. It was more about presenting the moral conflict behind these acts, and showing the (often horrible) effects they have on the characters who commit them. Ultimately, violence perpetuates more violence. It’s a sad reality in this film, and in the world.
Q: What tone were you trying to set (creatively) in the music cues for each of the characters?
Jeff Ferrell: That was really the composer Semih Tareen who created all the musical cues. He developed musical themes for each main character, and they are woven throughout the film as the story progresses. I know he works very instinctually; once he sees the finished film, he can immediately feel what the music needs to do. So it’s really all him; but we collaborate beautifully, and are on the same page musically 99% of the time. There are also a lot of source music cues throughout the film from various musical artists, that range from rap, to rock, heavy metal, and country. Those were all provided by artists I am friends with, and I wanted it to be an eclectic soundtrack to reflect the eclectic style of the movie itself. You can’t pin the movie down to one genre, nor can you do that with the music.
Q: Many of the scenes are colorfully lit, sometimes in an oversaturated way, making them seem more like dream sequences or hallucinations. That storytelling effect reminded me in some ways of both TRUE ROMANCE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS. Was it done that way to intentionally make the audience question how much is real and how much could be a fantasy in the Ladykiller’s head?
I never like to tell an audience how to interpret a scene, as I think all interpretations are valid, and it’s up to them to make up their mind about what they see. But I will say that the somewhat unreal and heightened sense of colorful lighting was very intentional. When I make films, I like to use all the tools at my disposal to tell the story visually in the most effective way possible, and not feel bound to reality, as if I was making a documentary. So for me, it’s about creating the kind of visual style that conveys the proper emotional impact that I want each scene to have. Emotional realism is the only kind I am concerned with. Beyond that, it’s pure cinema.
Q: With the concept of revenge turned on its ear in this film, will there be sequel or a concluding chapter with a resolution for the villain’s journey and the story for the audience?
Yes. I am currently working on making a sequel, which I’ve already written. I’m actually planning a trilogy, with each film being very different from the previous entry. I like the idea of following the journey of these characters in sequels, but letting each one have its own unique style and story. That idea really excites me. So we are planning to shoot the sequel sometime this year. There will be a certain amount of resolution to the story, but still with that lingering sense that the cycle of violence will somehow continue, because that’s the cycle I see in the world around me every day. I don’t think it will ever be comfortably put to rest. These things have always happened, and they always will. It’s one of the great tragedies of our world.
A charismatic outlaw sets out on a murderous cross-country trip searching for true love. Each time he thinks he has found “the one,” he ends up disappointed – and she ends up dead. Managing to elude capture by traveling from one town to the next, his luck runs out when Tony, the brother of one of his victims, tracks him down. Suddenly the hunter becomes the hunted as Tony seeks vengeance by enforcing his own brand of vigilante justice.
STARRING: Brian Sutherland, Meagan Karimi-Naser, Jeffrey Arrington, Aurelio Voltaire, Michael Joseph Draper
DIRECTOR: Jeff Ferrell