2013 SXSW Interview: CHEAP THRILLS

By Mark Saldana

NOTE: This is a reposting of an interview conducted at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, and not at the 2014 SXSW Festival.

It was with great pleasure and anticipation that I sat down with director E.L. Katz, producer Travis Stevens and star Pat Healy from this film. Friday night I watched the film at midnight and had no idea what was in store for me. Because of comedic actor David Koechner’s involvement in the movie, I expected something much goofier and light hearted. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As the film progressed to some very dark places, I sat watching in awe, shock, disgust, and even amusement. The movie has a slow build up, but then jet packs its way into some disturbing and sometimes nauseating areas.  Because of this roller coaster effect on my emotions, the outstanding writing by Trent Haaga, David Chichirillo, the sublime directing by Katz, and the incredible performances by every lead cast member, I loved this movie.  Now for this interview, I have to admit that I came unprepared, as far as questions were concerned, and I couldn’t help but gush over their movie, but the exuberant enthusiasm about their film, and their warm personalities made this interview/conversation a most enjoyable one.

Mark Saldana: What was the main inspiration for this movie?

E.L. Katz: I found the script by Trent Haaga a while back and I showed Travis (Stevens, producer).  I think conceptually, it made sense as a contained movie at first. We can do this in a primal way.  Then we started developing it more. Some of the crazier sh*t started to develop. Initially, we were drawn to this basic idea of these people who were stuck together debasing themselves in increasingly psychotic ways. It evolved after two years of work. Travis and I tried to keep it based in reality, no matter how crazy things would get.

Pat Healy: I looked at it like The Hangover, but if The Hangover had real consequences, like if those guys had paid for what they did in the end.

Travis Stevens: Evan (Katz) and I would have these conversations about the different scenarios in the film.  We were living together for a while and we know that struggle to have a sustainable career in independent film.  We’d feel that and know that. We’d look at this script about these two guys trying to make some money.  I mean. We got that. So we’d discuss how much money we’d want for some of the challenges in the movie.

Pat Healy: I think even Trent said to me, when he was writing this, he has a son that is like ten or eleven, and he came up with this idea when his son was a baby.

EK: He has real perspective. He has a blue collar background and has to support his kid. The core for the story was all there. The struggle to survive, make money, and raise a family. And we just played off of this.

I asked Katz, Stevens, and Healy about some of the more disturbing scenes in the movie. I won’t reveal, exactly so as not to spoil the film.

Pat Healy:  When I first read the script, doing those scenes, and then seeing it last night (at the screening), it’s interesting how logically everything falls, as crazy as that sounds. In that environment, it all makes sense. There is nothing where someone can say, “oh that’ll never happen.”

E.L Katz: The one thing we tried to avoid was like the Saw crazy escalation in terms of like “now put a bear trap on.” (laughs)

Mark Saldana: As I watched the film, at first I thought maybe one of the intentions of this story was to satirize reality shows, but last night at the Q&A, this idea was disavowed.

E.K. I think that reality shows can be informative, but we never sat down and said, “These are our targets.” I never set out to make a movie about reality shows, per se.

P.H. : Reality shows are just a mirror of what’s going on. Reality shows reflect what people are doing to each other. It’s hard to avoid that.  It’s hard not to make that connection.

T.S.  The movie is not commenting on reality shows. Reality shows are an exemplification of life. We’re (people) disgusting! We’re willing to chug bull semen for money and fame! And this movie has something to say about real life.

A few days after this interview, Cheap Thrills was picked up by Drafthouse Films for distribution. I am so happy for these filmmakers. It is a well deserved triumph for a great movie and a great group of people. Cheers!


*Additional Note (03/20/2014)  Drafthouse Films brought Cheap Thrills to the 2013 Fantastic Fest and astounded and disgusted even more audiences . Cheap Thrills is now available on Video On Demand and is opening at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter in Austin and in other select cities

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