Michael Biehn’s sophomore directorial outing, The Victim, is pure grindhouse, through and through: a small budget, dirty cops, loads of violence, and tons of sex. FEARnet spoke to Michael and his lovely wife (who co-starred and produced) Jennifer Blanc-Biehn about shooting on a shoestring and those crazy sex scenes.
Where did the idea for The Victim come from?
Michael Biehn: I had read a script about three years ago called The Victim. Someone approached me and asked me if I would get involved with the project. It was a first time filmmaker, first time writer. It was written more like a novella than a screenplay, and it was kind of like Saw or Hostel - one of those “torture porn” kind of scripts. I didn’t want anything to do with something like that, so I passed.
When I was doing The Divide with Xavier Gens up in Canada, I saw a book that a kid was reading called Rebel Without a Crew. That reminded me of the grindhouse movies I had done with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Robert had told me at one point that I should go out and make my own grindhouse movie. It kind of clicked at that moment that if I were to raise a little bit of money, I could take that script, do a page one rewrite on it, and do a little grindhouse movie. What I consider a grindhouse movie is low-budget exploitation. We shot it in 12 days. I didn’t have enough money for zombies or vampires or any special effects. I didn’t have enough money for anything but sex. Jennifer was willing to help me out in that department, and her friend Danielle Harris was willing to help us out. I always thought dirty cops and drugs were nasty and good. I figured I would do a little bit of torture, a little bit of action, and I thought I’d throw in a serial killer.
We decided to make the movie when the first check cleared. A lot of people say they have the money to make a movie, and they don’t. So when [our investor’s] check cleared, I thought, “Uh-oh, I better get going on this.” We cast it, we did locations, we did all [the preproduction stuff] during the day, then at night, I would write it. Usually you want to do your pre-production with a script, but we didn’t have a script.
After those three weeks, we rolled into a 12-day shoot. That was The Victim. Then everything slowed down. I got to really enjoy myself, working in post. I’ve never cut a movie before. That was the most fun for me. So then we got a movie made and I had to go out and sell it. That became difficult because I couldn’t get anyone to see it. We ran around to every festival we could, and the more we showed it, the better reviews we got. Things came together. But the whole thing came as such a shock to me that it would turn into something that I would be doing interviews about. I figured it would just go straight to Netflix and not much would be made about it. It’s like a snowball. You keep pushing and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. I’m exhausted now. I had such low expectations on this film. I didn’t think it would be on any screens - I thought people would watch it on their phones. But now it has played on 60 or 80 screens. It is extraordinary that something I did almost on a whim is something that I am now talking to you about.
Jennifer, was this your first role as producer on a project?
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn: Yeah, it was. I had done some associate producing on a friend’s documentary, but that was mostly just introducing her to people, so she offered me the credit. This was really the first movie I produced, from beginning to end. I’m still producing it!
Michael, how did you balance all the different hats you wore on this project? Most specifically, directing and starring.
MB: Since I wrote the script, it just kind of meshed together for me. I was very focused on everyone else, on the shots and what they looked like, on the other performances. For me, as an actor, it just came naturally to me. I never questioned [myself]. Nothing was ever rehearsed. Like when Jennifer comes in [to the cabin] and falls down, I just went down there with her, seeing what happens. The acting part was the easy part. The rest of it was difficult because I didn’t want it to look silly. It was made on such a small budget. I told the financiers I would make the movie for them, but I wasn’t going to do Saw or a Saw-like “torture porn” movie. I was going to make my own movie. I had to have all the creative control and production control, so that made it easier.
There is a lot of sex in this movie. Do you guys find it easier to shoot sex scenes together, or does that somehow make it more awkward?
JBB: No, I think it is definitely easier to do it together. I am automatically comfortable - obviously - with Michael. We do have experience in that department! [Laughs.] When you are simulating sex with someone you aren’t intimate with, it is definitely different. You feel goofy and you are laughing and you are trying to cover everything up. With us, we were just naked. We weren’t really having sex, but we were naked, which is not the norm.
MB: The interesting thing about that scene was that was the very first scene we shot. Jen and I came out of our trailers, dropped our robes, and said, “Okay, we are going to shoot this.” And we went from there. We shot the scene naked. Jennifer would demurely cover up, but I was at the monitor naked, I was running around setting shots naked. Every once in a while I would throw on some shorts.