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Confessions of a Working Director - 3/3/2009

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One of the most interesting parts of shooting RATLINE was working with Ryan Bax, Amanda Pemberton, Paul Lancia, and Jessie Seitz, who played a group of real scumbag characters.

Ryan Bax plays "Howard" the head-honcho of the scumbag squad.  Ryan was originally cast to play a much smaller part.  Due to an eleventh-hour casting problem, Ryan agreed to play this much bigger part on about 48 hours notice...

He is a very nice guy, and he was extremely easy to work with.  I enjoyed every second of directing Ryan in RATLINE - and because he is such an intelligent and likable person in real life, watching him play such a vile character was a blast.

Ryan has never acted in anything before.  RATLINE was a brand new experience for him.  At first, I was nervous, having a green actor take on a rather large and important role.  Ryan nailed it though, delivering an excellent performance.  Like just about everyone else on the RATLINE cast and crew, Ryan had to endure freezing temperatures on this shoot - and still maintain his concentration in playing his part.  Not an easy task for even the most experienced actors - so to see Ryan execute his performance so well under those conditions was pretty damn cool.

Amanda "Apnea" Pemberton plays "Anna" in RATLINE.  If Ryan's character was King Scumbag, Mandy's character would be the Queen.  In real life, Mandy is soft-spoken and very sweet, so again, watching her play a sadistic villain was fun.

Mandy, an alternative model (who models under the name "Apnea") is only in her mid-twenties, but her career is already quite impressive.  She gathered a massive fan base as one of the most popular ladies on SuicideGirls.com back in the website's hey-day.  She's been photographed by some of the hottest photographers in the world, and she's graced the pages of more than 70 print magazines around the globe, appearing on the cover of many.  Mandy's appearance on Playboy.com expanded her fan base substantially - so much so that she was invited to appear in a Playboy Channel program called "E-rotic" a few months ago.  Her most recent accomplishment is being featured in, and appearing on the cover of, the new book "Bizarre Girls" published by England's popular counter-culture and fetish zine, Bizarre Magazine.  The book spotlights the most popular photos of beautiful women that have appeared in the zine, including, of course, Mandy.

One night on RATLINE production, we were shooting a scene that included Ryan Bax, Paul Lancia, Jessie Seitz, and Mandy, all out in the woods around a fire, in the middle of the night.  It was (I'm sounding like a broken record here) freezing cold out there. 

In the scene, Mandy creates one of her character's works of demented art by stripping naked, covering herself in body paint and blood, and then writhing against a white sheet wrapped around a tree.  For the shots of her covering herself in paint, Mandy is nude in the freezing night air, spreading a cold mixture of paint and fake blood all over herself, and kneeling in an uncomfortable position on the hard, rocky forest floor.  And here is one of the most vivid memories I have of working with Mandy on RATLINE.  Just before cameras rolled on Mandy's incredibly uncomfortable (more accurately, painful) body paint shots, Mandy cleared the misery from her expression and whispered encouragement to herself: "Just suck it up - deal with it."

Mandy did not complain once throughout her entire time shooting with us.  But that one moment stands out because this quiet, petit, rather frail looking girl became tough as nails to get those very difficult shots.  For the rest of the shoot, anytime I felt uncomfortable outside in the cold and wind, I'd remember Mandy saying, "Just suck it up - deal with it." ...and my discomfort suddenly didn't seem like such a big deal.

Paul Lancia plays "Billy," another of the scumbag characters in RATLINE.  Again, the contrast between Paul's real personality and the character he plays was fascinating.  Paul's character is overjoyed at the thought of doing evil deeds and killing, but he cringes upon actually witnessing death (a character trait I decided to lift from real-life madman, Heinrich Himmler, head of Hitler's SS).  I enjoyed watching Paul play this conflicted character - one who is eager to feel powerful by crushing someone else, but who also detests the actual act.

In real life, Paul is a very nice and extremely upbeat person.  He immediately lifted the mood on the set the moment he appeared.  Though he knew when to be serious and do his job, he also took every opportunity to crack a joke or do something goofy to make the cast and crew laugh.  Shooting fifteen-hour days in a cold and filthy boiler room, I think we were lucky to have Paul there keeping spirits high. 

I try very hard to make sure my shoots are as efficient as possible.  Making a movie does involve a lot of hurry up and wait, but I try to minimize the waiting-to-shoot time for my actors.  Showing up to set and having to wait for an hour or two is normal.  But actors waiting seven, or eight, or ten hours between call time and their first shot isn't cool at all.  Still, despite my best efforts, sometimes it happens.  It happened only once on RATLINE, and it happened to Paul.

Paul showed up for his last night of shooting and he was told we only needed him for one shot that night.  Paul's single shot required him to do nothing but lay dead on the ground, covered in blood.  The whole night of shooting involved special effects, so it was hectic and very difficult to determine exactly when we would be shooting Paul's shot.  In the end, Paul waited around for eight hours, then we finally plopped him down on the ground for the shot of him dead, and splashed the fake blood all over him.  Then:  "Cut.  That's a wrap on Paul - clean him up!"  It was over in a blink.  Paul never got angry or impatient.  He never complained.  He simply spent eight hours keeping the mood light for an exhausted cast and crew before we got to his one and only shot. 

Jessie Seitz plays "Darlene" in RATLINE, the quiet and weird one in this band of misfits.  Originally, "Darlene" was named "Adam" and was to be played by Ryan Bax.  When Ryan took over the part of "Howard" on 48 hours notice, we suddenly had 48 hours to re-cast "Adam."  Jessie, already working her ass off on this movie as a producer, stepped in to fill the role.  I changed "Adam" to "Darlene" and Jessie and I quickly worked up some interesting character attributes to make "Darlene" memorable, despite having only one line in the movie.

Not only did Jessie become a hero of the shoot by acting this part for me at the last second, she also did a great job in the role.  Impressive, especially given the limited amount of time she had to prepare.  I know this was not easy for Jessie to do, but just like the others, she never complained.

Thanks for reading.

Eric Stanze

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