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FrightFest: Interview With Riley Stearns Director Of Faults
By James Whittington, Sunday 24th August 2014

FaultsOne of the stand out movies for me this year has been Faults. This superb movie comes from Riley Stearns so we had a quick chat to this incredibly talented man.

HC: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work in the movie industry?

RS: I was actually late to the party when it comes to film. When I was younger it was music. I played bass and was convinced I’d be a musician when I grew up. It wasn’t until I met my wife, Mary, in high school that I really began to fall in love with film. I’d always had a respect for the art but visiting her on set I got to see the craft that went into making a movie. I’d always enjoyed writing so the logical thing for me was to try screenwriting. Mary and I are up in Vancouver right now where she did Final Destination 3 almost ten years ago and I told her that it was Jim Wong who told me I’d make a good director. I was like, “Nah, I just want to write.” He wouldn’t back down though. His confidence in me was what sort of gave me that little push I needed to think of myself beyond being a writer. It took a few more years before I actually directed anything but I’m glad he planted that seed in my young stupid brain.

HC: How did you get your big break?

RS: I’m not exactly sure I’ve really had a big break. Everything so far has sort of led to the next thing. I was working at a horrible clothing store chain that “outfits” its customers in an “urban” sense, if you know what I mean, when Glen Morgan offered me a job on NBC’s Bionic Woman as a writer’s PA. He’d been nice enough to read a bad script I wrote when I was 18 and for some reason he saw something in it/me. When that show ended, one of the producers on Bionic, Jason Smilovic, brought me on board his show as a writer’s assistant. That lead to me being his personal assistant for a while. Then Glen hired me on Tower Prep as a staff writer. All of these jobs lead to the next because I proved myself as a hard worker and nice person, I guess. Once Tower finished I realized I was never going to have a directing job just handed to me so I did a few shorts, the last one being The Cub which played Sundance and led to the meeting with the producers who ended up making Faults. It’s all connected!

HC: Where did the plot for Faults come from?

RS: Even before I made The Cub I’d had the idea that I wanted to make a film about a cult deprogramming. I sit with ideas for a while before I actually commit anything to the page so as the year went on and the short got into some festivals I knew I had this deprogramming story I wanted to tell, I just didn’t have the version I was excited about telling yet. Once I found the hook I was searching for the outline came together quite fast. I read one book on leaving cults that was written back in the 80’s just to familiarize myself with the language and thought process behind the techniques at the time but Faults is set in a slightly hyper-real world where weird shit can happen. I didn’t want to be too tied down to what would really happen during an actual deprogramming. It was more about the characters and what they would do in this situation than what would actually happen, if that makes sense.

HC: For the first hour of the movie there’s a delicious streak of dark comedy running through it before it turns a corner, was it difficult to balance the tone of the movie?

RS: Thank you so much! It’s funny, Mary was the first person to read the outline for the film and I remember telling her, “The outline makes it feel really dark but I promise it’ll be funny!” She knows me and my style so she could go along with it but tone can be a hard thing tackle. I love that people seem to have gone into the film thinking it was going to be this really gritty cult film and then leave saying it’s actually pretty funny. I guess I like subverting expectations. For me the shift that you’re talking about never really felt like that much of a shift to me. It was just the natural evolution of the story. Even in the later parts of the film it’s still funny to me, just maybe not in the traditional sense. There are people who need something to be either funny or not funny who will never like a film like this but most people have been really receptive to the tone of the film, which is nice. I don’t need a film or a director to hold my hand and I’m glad a lot of the people who have seen it so far seem to feel the same way. They can roll with it.

HC: The cast is superb; did you get your first choice for each character?

RS: Our cast is incredible. I’ve got enough distance now that when I see it at a festival I’m able to actually just sit there and take in the performances in a way that I wasn’t able to do during the filming, editing and first screenings. Now every time I watch it I notice things that they’re doing that I never noticed before. I’m so lucky to have the cast we have. As far as casting goes, the only actor who I specifically wrote for was Mary. For every other character I pictured them as sort of faceless entities while I was writing. That way instead of writing the character the character can sort of write themselves. I can let them do what they would do instead of forcing something on them. It probably sounds like a dumb artsy explanation but it’s absolutely how I work. Not only do I find it easier to write that way but for an indie like us I don’t think it’s healthy to have preconceived notions of who or who can’t play what character because chances are you’re not going to get them. Or even worse you have your mind set on someone and in turn you aren’t able to recognize when another person is actually better for the part. In our case Keith and Jess happened to be working with Leland Orser on their other film The Guest while we were casting Faults. I met him for coffee one morning and we talked about our families and film and life. By the end of the conversation I asked him if he’d be our ‘Ansel’. Same goes for every actor in our film. It was about being open enough when they came along to know they could be great for the film and not getting too attached to specific names.

HC: What was the shoot like?

RS: Our shoot was fairly quick. We were scheduled for 20 days, with one of those being a prelight day for the motel set. In the end we were ahead of schedule so we moved a few things up and used the last day to pick up any little things we felt like we’d missed. Our crew was phenomenal. It was a very young crew and for most of them it was their first feature. I’d work with any of them again in a heartbeat.

HC: This was your first feature, how much have you learned from it and what would you change if you did it all again?

RS: It’s easy to sit back and say I’d change this or do that differently but I’m beyond proud of it and it’s exactly the film I wanted to make. As far as learning from the experience I’d say the biggest thing is just knowing now that I can do it. Before Faults the longest shoot I’d done was two days. I think leading up to this I started getting worried about whether or not I’d be able to keep it together physically and mentally over the weeks. But I did, and not only that, I thrived. As tired as I was, and I was indeed tired, I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun than while making Faults. One thing I would definitely do next time around is record myself at night because I sleepwalked, sleep-talked and annoyed sleeping wife for 4 weeks straight and I have nothing to show for it.

HC: Are you nervous about it showing at FrightFest?

RS: The film just played Fantasia Fest in Montreal and prior to that festival I was nervous to see how the genre fans would react to a weird little film like ours. Thing is though genre audiences are really intelligent viewers and seem almost giddy to embrace something different. My pre festival nerves turned out to be unwarranted and I’m ecstatic with the response out of Montreal. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the FrightFest audiences and I’m beyond excited to see what they think of the film!

HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?

RS: Right now I’m working on something that’s still in the percolation stage. I feel really good about it though and hopefully it’ll be something that continues to move forward. Mainly though, I’m still just supporting Faults. We’re playing some great festivals coming up in addition to FrightFest so even if you’re not in London hopefully you’ll be able to see it closer to home in the near future.

HC: Riley Stearns, thank you very much.

RS: Thanks for having me!


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