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Portal to 'Red White and Blue'
The internationally acclaimed and festival winning Red White and Blue (2010) isn't the patriotic film that you would expect from such a title...No, it's a story peppered with symbolism about deprivation, love, passion and gore. Red, White and Blue is a heart-palpitating thought-provoking thriller story about nymph-ess Erica and 'three lives bound together by blood'.
I had the fortunate opportunity to meet with producer Bob Portal to speak about his film Red White and Blue as well as his upcoming film ventures.
ME: So, Bob, please tell us...When and how did you first get involved with this project? Were you involved from the start? What inspired you about the story that made you feel it had to get made?
BOB: I met Simon Rumley, writer/director of RED WHITE & BLUE, in London through a recommendation in 2007, and we discussed doing a movie together then. When we met, Simon had directed four features in the UK,including the award-winning genre pic THE LIVING AND THE DEAD - and onegood US-based short, called THE HANDYMAN with Greta Scacchi. He'd got fantastic reviews for all his films, and yet very little recognition from the UK industry. When we met, Simon had an idea for a pared-down chase thriller, and we had an idea of where best to shoot it, so - one quick research trip to China later - we hatched the idea of STRANGER, which is now in the latter stages of financing. Meanwhile, Simon had various other projects he had written or was writing, which he would show me for comment and interest. He wrote RED WHITE & BLUE in late 2008, and I read the first draft, finding it interesting but "not quite there" as a script. Simon had always intended the film to be shot in Austin, Texas, where Tim League (who programs Fantastic Fest and sections of SXSW, and operates the town's famous Alamo Drafthouse cinemas) is based: and Tim became our invaluable Exec Producer on RED WHITE & BLUE, offering up all his local contacts and resources. The draft of the script that Simon showed me in 2009, after a research trip to Austin, was a great improvement. Suddenly, for me, it seemed to gel, with all the plot elements tied together by a new revelation about the character Nate (played by Noah Taylor in the film) which really lifted the material. It was also a much tighter read, while retaining a very bold and unusual story structure. Simon asked me if I would come on board as producer at that stage. We shot the film in 18 days in a blisteringly hot Austin summer (110 degrees) with UK equity money, but aprimarily US crew, and had a very good experience out there.
ME: Wow! So interesting! So, Red White and Blue is really a UK and USA production then! I guess that makes it a verifiable 'red, white and blue' film! What do you think this film says about the culture in America and the world today? Is there a particular message you'd like toshare? Or, hint at some deeper symbolism in the story?
BOB: The film's called RED WHITE & BLUE, which has obvious American references. The title came late, as the script had different names to begin with. We've dubbed it a "slacker revenge" movie, in that it startsin Larry Clark territory and ends up in early Wes Craven territory. It's a very deliberate meshing of drama with horror - and as a result itfeels very real. Without spoiling the movie - it revolves around three characters who are living on the margins in Austin: in a way, they're almost archetypal American characters: the waif/femme-fatale, the wannabe rock star, the damaged guy just back from a nasty war abroad.... So, while the film isn't meant to be a critique of US culture, it's certainly steeped in it, and (by all accounts) feels very authentic to US audiences, even though written by a Brit. But not everyone is quite as screwed up as our characters, thankfully! The RED WHITE & BLUE flag is seen clearly in the film at certain points, but we also wanted the title to reflect that the film is a triptych - three distinct acts, three characters, all connected in the end by one event, which sets things in motion for the very dark conclusion. Without being too arch about it, Simon often says that red, white and blue as words all have strong metaphoric connotations in everyday use, and those connotations are very much in evidence in the picture...!
ME: I love the triptych symbolism. Very cool! How has the film been received internationally?
BOB: We've played a lot of festivals, premiering at Rotterdam in January, and then at SXSW in March. Frankly, for a film which is in no way an easy watch, and which many have found very disturbing, we've received almost uniformly stunning reviews (including a good few "masterpiece" quotes to stroke our egos! - see www.redwhitebluemovie.comfor some collated reviews). As Simon's last film, THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, also played many festivals, won quite a few, and was showered withpraise, it wasn't entirely unexpected that the same fan base - particularly genre fans - would react well to the new film. But we've also had fantastic notices from mainstream press, including Screen International, IndieWIRE, Ain't It Cool News etc. RED WHITE & BLUE is very much a hybrid movie, which makes it interesting to a wider audience than would normally see "horror" films. In fact, there's very little horror in the traditional sense on show in the movie. It's more acharacter piece, which becomes sustained build of unease - and then an unnerving climax. So yes, we've had the odd walk-out from unsuspecting members of the public at screenings where perhaps the festival program synopsis didn't entirely let folk know what they were in for - especially as the first half of the film plays out as gritty but conventional drama. Midway, there's a twist and soon after a scene which many have difficulty watching, and audience's reactions are quite predictable at that moment. But we think it's earned, it's ultimately tragic and it comes from character and emotion, which is somewhat unusual in conventional horror movies - really this is anything but, andwe've had a lot of favourable comparisons to ANTICHRIST or Gaspar Noe'swork, if you want a point of reference for the type of film it is.
ME: I think your film definitely pushes the envelope and makes one think! What canyou say about UK indie cinema today? Every country has their sort of way to produce and I find the UK very separated from the rest of Europe which is doing a lot of co-country production.
BOB: UK cinema as ever is both vibrant and moribund. Many films are made, and with new technology more and more low budget features - most of dubious quality - are being completed. Distribution, as ever, remains the biggest headache, and young producers need to realize that distribution (reaching an audience) is really the only key to success. In the last few days, the cost-cutting government has announced the demise of the UK Film Council, the state-operated funding body responsible for part-financing any number of well known British movies over the last ten years. To be honest, most independent filmmakers will have mixed feelings about this. The UKFC was unwieldy and slow, and highly partisan. It seemed to swallow a lot of money on administration and salaries. I've been producing and co-producing films large and small inthe UK for over 12 years and have only once had UKFC finance in the picture. So it's demise is not wholly mourned, as the government has decided to keep the lottery funding the UKFC used to disburse, and try to get it to filmmakers in a more efficient way. The only trouble will be uncertainty in the period from the axe having been wielded to the establishment of a new mechanism. The UK tax credit also remains, though it's not particularly competitive with other countries' production incentives - especially as the UK is historicallyexpensive to shoot in. As you point out, we are particularly bad in the UK about doing co-productions, and since Section 48 and the Sale and Leaseback scheme was replaced by the tax credit, co-production with other countries has fallen off significantly. Our distributors and broadcasters are not very interested in foreign language product for onething, so finding advances for such projects is very very hard for UK producers (whereas producers in other European countries seem to have very little trouble accessing such essential funding, making them attractive co- producers). I personally used to be involved in a lot of big co-productions with UK elements, but they are fewer and far between now. Perhaps the demise of the UKFC, which lobbied for the tax credit and rather forgot about co- productions in the process, will allow a rethink of incentives and our attractiveness to foreign producers. RED WHITE & BLUE is a small, equity-funded film - perhapsthe smallest I've worked on - but I have to say the Texas shooting experience was refreshing and eye-opening. Perhaps that's why we're planning another film outside of the UK with Simon Rumley (this time in China).
ME: China! Cool! Thanks for the update on UK film industry. Fascinating news! I study film in London so Im aware of these things but many other aren't so its very interesting inside info. So, can you speak of your co-production projectMission London (2010)?
BOB: MISSION LONDON (which we shot in summer 2009, at the same time as RED WHITE & BLUE) is, ironically, a very involved co-production. It's a Bulgarian-UK-Swedish-Hungarian-Macedonian co-pro, in fact. Based on a well known Bulgarian novel, it's a black comedy about the Bulgarian ambassador to London, who is charged with the mission of organizing a big state banquet at the Bulgarian Embassy, to which the British Queen must be invited. Needless to say, the British establishment is not particularly interested, and the ambassador enters into dodgy deals with murky establishment figures to ensure that a lookalike queen attends....and that's only the start of his troubles... MISSION LONDON was released in Bulgaria recently to become the third highest grossing opener ever, according to Variety. The movie's half in English, half in Bulgarian, and it has become a very large hit in it's home country - and so is likely to do well in other local territories. How it will perform in the UK we will find out soon...
ME: And I cant believe how many locations you shot in! Fantastic! It's incredible to think of Bulgarian film industry. I know there aren't many films there but I know their industry is burgeoning. Will definitely look out for that one. And what are you future projects? Can you speak yet or is it too early?
BOB: Fidelity Films, my company, is hard at work on a number of projectsthat we hope are about to go into prep. One, as mentioned, is SimonRumley's STRANGER, a thriller about two American entrepreneurs who are in China to tame the "wild East" and doing a deal involving purchase of afactory in a remote area. On a visit to the deserted factory, they come across some young Chinese guys apparently murdering two hooded figures, and naturally try to back away and extricate themselves from a very nasty situation. But they are pursued and - when one is shot, the other has to make his way through unknown territory, lost and speaking no Mandarin, pursued by guys who want to kill him. It's a gritty,intense chase thriller along the lines of Spielberg's DUEL or Boorman's DELIVERANCE, and plays on US/China tensions in an interesting way. We hope to start production later in the year. Among other things, we're also working on ROCK PAPER SCISSORS, a clever comedy thriller about girls, guns and game theory, and on an adaptation of Stephen Fry's novelTHE LIAR, with director Tony Hagger.
ME: Bob, thank you! Im going to have to show everyone I know in the UK this interview as it is so full of dynamic information about the presentUK film industry as well as indie film in general. It's awesome. Thanksa million and hope to have you back soon to speak about Mission London!
Interview by Vanessa McMahon, August 4, 2010
read more about Red White and Blue here:
We're about to play a whole bunch of festivals from late August through the rest of the year -check www.redwhitebluemovie.comfor updates. There will also be distribution news on that site, and we're about to announce the US release there in the coming days.
view film trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OD-WVXCbkE
cast of Red White and Blue
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