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Interview with Jenn Wexler, director, producer, editor, and co-writer of The Ranger.
By James Whittington, Thursday 23rd August 2018
Finally FrightFest 2018 is here and its starting with a real bang with the UK premiere of Jenn Wexler's outstanding shocker, The Ranger.
We chatted to Jenn about this incredible piece of cinema and how she managed to have Larry Fessenden star in it.
HC: Where did the idea for The Ranger come from?
JW: I studied screenwriting at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and The Ranger was my classmate Giaco Furino's senior screenplay. I always thought punks versus a park ranger was such a cool concept. It brought to mind this heightened world, these EC Comics-esque visuals, and, right there in the concept, there was drama built in between youthful rebellion and traditional authority. When we graduated we were really focused on finding jobs that would allow us to pay our rent, but the concept stuck with me. Years later, after I started producing for Glass Eye Pix, I was thinking about what I wanted to direct as my first feature, and I remembered Giaco's script. I called him and asked if he could find it and if we could work on it together.
HC: How long did it take to write, and did the script change much over time?
JW: I believe that phone call was early fall 2014, and we worked on the script on-and-off while doing other projects until about March 2016 when we felt the script was ready to share. Then we embarked on creating all of the materials to support it, including a lookbook and preliminary budget. Giaco's original script from when we were in school together was a little more of a straight body count slasher movie, but when we re-connected to work on it in 2014 we decided we really wanted to focus on developing the characters, especially Chelsea, her backstory, and her relationship to both the punks and the ranger.
HC: Was it written with a cast in mind as Chloe Levine is perfect as the main character, Chelsea who has more than just her own demons to contend with?
JW: We wrote it with Jeremy Holm in mind to play The Ranger. At some point during the writing process, Giaco suggested him to me; Giaco and Jeremy were friends, and I was a fan, having seen him in House Of Cards and Mr. Robot. We were delighted when we finally shared the script with him, and he was excited to do the role. In terms of Chelsea, we worked with casting director Lois Drabkin, who suggested I check out Chloe in The Transfiguration when I was at SXSW in 2017. I was totally mesmerized by her in that film. She read The Ranger, we had a meeting while we were both at the festival, and we totally bonded over the character of Chelsea. I knew she would bring so many nuances to the role.
HC: Which sequence (without giving too much away) was the hardest to shoot?
JW: There's a sequence with a fire tower, and the fire tower of my dreams is located on top of this huge mountain. It's too steep for roads, so to get there you need to hike pretty vertically for about two hours. We shot at this location on one of our final days of the shoot. The crew had to carry the equipment up the mountain, and the actors had to do the climb. And I was slightly scared we would run into a bear. But everyone had a great time (and no bears showed up!). It felt like summer camp.
HC: This is your first feature as a director what did you learn from the experience?
JW: When we were first raising financing for the film, we were selected to pitch at the Frontieres Co-Production Market, an awesome program where filmmakers pitch their genre projects to industry and financiers. During the market, they set you up with meeting after meeting, so you get used to constantly talking about your project. And this was just the beginning. I knew this in theory from producing, but learned it on a much more intimate level from directing: you're going to talk about your project all the time, so you better get used to doing it. You're going to talk about your vision with financiers, all members of your crew, your cast, every collaborator you work with over the course of the process. And you need to have a clear perspective on the vision-all angles of it, while still keeping an open mind to opportunities-so you can make sure that new ideas suggested by your teammates are aligned with the overall mission.
HC: The soundtrack is outstanding, will there be a release of this?
JW: Yes! We're working on the details of that right now!
HC: How did the legend that is Larry Fessenden get involved?
JW: I produce on behalf of Larry's company, Glass Eye Pix, and we've worked very closely together on several films over the past few years. I approached him with the concept and a draft of The Ranger, and he was so supportive. When the project was selected for Frontieres, we went up to Canada and pitched the film together. Glass Eye ended up teaming up with Andrew van den Houten's Hood River Entertainment, which is how the producing team came together. In terms of Larry's role as Uncle Pete in The Ranger, I felt from producing for Glass Eye and seeing Larry act in so many horror films (he's killed in so many movies that he has a death reel he releases every year on his birthday) that it was a rite of passage to have Larry die in my first film. He was the first person I mentally cast while we were writing; my little eureka moment... and Larry will play the uncle!
HC: How nervous do you get when your work is shown on the big screen?
JW: It's not so much nervousness as it is excitement. It's so cool to be in a dark room with audiences and hear them engage emotionally with your work. Making a film is a long journey, so when you're finally in the part of it where people are watching the film, it feels a little surreal.
HC: You're a director, producer, editor, writer to name just four things, which one are you happiest at doing?
JW: I love all of these roles but I'm definitely happiest directing. I've found no greater pleasure than working with a script, discovering its aesthetic world and working with collaborators to bring it to life.
HC: What's your favourite slasher movie?
JW: Nightmare on Elm Street! Nancy's a great final girl, and I just love the magic inherent to the concept of a killer who hunts kids in their dreams. Some of the kills in the series still freak me out (ugh, the puppet walk in part 3) and as you might tell from The Ranger, I'm really into villains with snappy one-liners.
HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?
JW: I'm a producer on Larry's new film, Depraved, which we're in post-production on, and I-m writing a few new projects.
HC: Jenn Wexler, thank you very much.
JW: Thank you!
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