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Confessions Of A Working Director: 12/28/2008


Actress Emily Haack didn't sneak up on the indie movie scene - she kicked the door down and came in all guns blazing with her first-ever film performance as Clara in a movie I directed called SCRAPBOOK.  She immediately started to build an impressive world wide fan base.

In SCRAPBOOK, Emily plays the victim of a serial rapist and murderer.  She spends most of the movie naked and filthy, being terrorized and tortured.  The broiling Summer heat made shooting SCRAPBOOK uncomfortable from the onset, and all of the rotting food you see in the movie was real rotting food, placed on the set by actor and production designer Tommy Biondo, to add to the realism of the set and to enhance the experience for the actors.  The experience, for all of us, was a miserably hot and nauseatingly pungent shoot.  Emily had it worse than anyone, as she had to endure several scenes of being brutalized and humiliated, in addition to suffering the heat and rotting food stink.

I did not want SCRAPBOOK to fall into the typical b-movie traps and become pure exploitation.  I wanted SCRAPBOOK to be a grim, gritty, intense drama.  I think we pulled it off - and it couldn't have been done if Emily Haack was not the skilled actress that she is.

SCRAPBOOK went on to win a bunch of awards and an avalanche of film critics' praise.  This did a lot of good for my career, and it made Emily pretty well known amongst indie/underground film fans.

Of course, a movie like SCRAPBOOK is going to stir up as much controversy as acclaim.  Emily has weathered that storm like a champ.  Instead of letting negativity drain her enthusiasm, she continued appearing in more indie movies, gaining more experience and growing her substantial fan base.  The variety of films she's been in nicely exhibit her impressive range of talent.  She's done jarring exploitation movies and dramatic character-driven films.  She appeared in the narratively and visually experimental CHINA WHITE SERPENTINE.  She played a lead part in SAVAGE HARVEST 2: OCTOBER BLOOD.  She was the memorable "Nurse Martel" in DEADWOOD PARK.

And now she plays "Crystal" - one of the main characters in RATLINE.

Like the rest of the cast, Emily put up with a lot of physical torment on the RATLINE shoot.  She did stunt work for fight scenes (that left her scraped and bruised afterward).  She worked long, exhausting hours deep into the night.  And every exterior location Emily had to act in was cold.  Always cold, cold, cold.  Sometimes just annoyingly chilly.  But usually "I can't feel my hands or feet" bitterly cold.  Acting ain't easy to begin with, and when you add these distracting elements of discomfort, the task becomes a hundred times more difficult.

Still, Emily delivered one of her finest performances for RATLINE.  And when some other actors were starting to fray at the edges due to the long hours and dropping temperatures, Emily stayed tough, did her job, and did not complain at all.

Emily truly dedicated herself to this movie and to presenting a believable character within the narrative.  With each new scene we shot together, it became more apparent how prepared Em was.  She knew her character well, and she understood how her character would react to each new situation in the story.  Em also understood her character's arc through the story, and how that would color her performance in each scene.  Emily Haack was amazing on this shoot and I enjoyed every minute of working with her.

I have a lot of respect for her on a professional level, and I also have a close friendship with Emily (both of which are a bit stronger thanks to RATLINE), so I am eager to work with her again.

If you are an Emily Haack fan, you're gonna love RATLINE.  If you're not familiar with her work, be sure to check out her past films.  I'm confident you'll agree that she is a standout actor in the current landscape of indie films.

Now that the production of RATLINE is coming to a close, my brain is starting to focus on editing.  It has been a great shoot, but definitely one of the most challenging and exhausting of my career.

On DEADWOOD PARK, my previous feature, the shoot and post-production seemed to stretch on forever.  The shoot was spread out over nine months and DEADWOOD PARK's post production was my full-time, 60 to 80 hour a week job for a year.  For the first time ever, I was collapsing from exhaustion by the end of DEADWOOD PARK's edit.  Twice I blacked out cold - once at home and once out in public (very embarrassing). 

RATLINE is all the stress and physical/emotional exhaustion of DEADWOOD PARK, crammed into a tighter span of time.  I was shooting a scene for RATLINE with Jason Christ and Joseph R. Engel (who played the drive-in theater owner in DEADWOOD PARK) and I felt one of those damn black-outs coming on - right in the middle of shooting a take!  I was at the camera, shooting Jason over Joe's shoulder.  I knew if I didn't do something quick, I'd collapse onto the camera, and then camera and I would fall, crashing into Joe.  So I cut camera, informed my baffled actors that I had to stop, and I quickly sat down to avoid a full black-out collapse.

I am actually a very healthy person.  I exercise every day and I try to watch what I eat.  I don't have any medical problems.  But I'm not as young as I used to be, and I push myself very hard.  Now that I'm an old man in my late 30's, the stress of an intense shoot, combined with lack of sleep, just catches up to me from time to time.

Small price to pay for pursuing what you are passionate about.

Thanks for reading.

Eric Stanze