Chronicling how the dysfunctional psyche of an emotionally disturbed person who regularly loses themself in a daunting moment can be a challenging prospect for many filmmakers. But first-time feature film writer-director Charles de Lauzirika offers a passionate understanding into the inspirations of a seemingly normal man who’s struggling to cope with his self-professed unhealthy fantasies, in the new drama-thriller, ‘Crave.’ While the main character in the film, Aiden, realizes that his fantasy of eliminating evil from the world as he wins over his true love are at times morbid, his actions showcase how even the most evil thoughts and actions can be borne from the purest intentions
‘Crave’ follows Aiden (Josh Lawson), who craves a better life away from his gruesome job as a crime scene photographer, where he works alongside his detective friend Pete (Ron Perlman). Aiden longs for a meaningful life where he can escape the hard streets of Detroit, fall in love with the perfect woman and save the world from evil. But as Aiden’s dark fantasies begin to invade his reality, he meets Virginia (Emma Lung), a younger woman who also lives in his apartment complex, and is dealing with her own dilemmas and desires. After becoming estranged from her deadbeat boyfriend, Ravi (Edward Furlong), Virginia explores an uncertain relationship with Aiden, who becomes increasingly emboldened to live out his vigilante fantasies. But as Virginia is faced with the disturbing truth of Aiden’s inner life, he soon learns that he will pay a terrible price for his twisted imagination.
De Lauzirika generously took the time recently to talk about co-writing and direct ‘Crave’ over the phone. Among other things, the first-time feature film writer and director discussed how he worked on making his directorial debut for several years while also producing behind-the-scenes DVD documentaries for such directors as Ridley Scott and Sam Raimi, which helped prepare him for the challenges of helming his own movie; how Lawson’s own experience as a director helped him understand Aiden’s mindset and behavior; and how he initially chose to shoot ‘Crave’ in Detroit because it was more financially feasible than New York or Los Angeles, but he eventually came to love the city, as it has a lot of traits that apply to Aiden as a character.
ShockYa (SY): You made your feature film directorial debut with ‘Crave.’ What was your overall experience as a first-time helmer on the movie?
Charles de Lauzirika (CDL): Well, I had been looking to direct my first feature for many years. For my day job, I produce behind-the-scenes, making-of documentaries for bigger movies. So between that job, and my desire to make my own feature, it was a matter of finding the right film, the right time and the right budget.
For the past few years, I had been attached to a feature film adaptation of a science fiction short story written by Phillip K. Dick, called ‘I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon.’ I had been on that for a few years, and part of that development process was figuring out how I could prove that I could make an ambitious science-fiction film as my first feature. As the project got bigger and bigger, it was suggested to me that maybe I should make something smaller first, to prove that I could direct a feature.
That’s how ‘Crave’ came about. I basically asked my neighbor at the time, Robert Lawton, who had just finished his first feature, if he had any ideas. He pitched to me this idea of Travis Bickle meets Walter Mitty. We developed that idea for several months.
Then it was just the matter of getting a crew and cast together, and finding the time to do it. I have a pretty aggressive day job, in terms of working on the behind-the-scenes material for four, five or six movies a year. It was a pretty interesting challenge to fit it into my life, but it was an important priority in my life, so that’s what I did.
SY: Speaking of Robert, you co-wrote the script with him. How did you become involved in penning the screenplay with Robert? What was your overall working relationship with him like?
CDL: Well, since Rob had the original idea, he took the first couple cracks at the script. We certainly had very detailed, epic, passionate and spirited discussions about the direction of that core idea he originally had. Since he lived next door to me, it was very convenient for him to come over with 10, or even 30, pages of the script at a time. I’d read it and make notes, and say, “Maybe this would be the better direction to go in. Or maybe this would be more interesting to go into.” So we’d go back and forth, and bounce ideas off each other.
When he delivered the first half, it’s very different from what you see in the finished movie, other than the basic inner fantasy world of Aiden. So it was me directing through writing, and me telling him what I thought would be the better movie. The first draft was very much directly from his brain.
I then had to adapt that into a blueprint for the movie, and make it emotionally interesting, and create characters you could relate to. So that’s where it started to change from his original draft into my latter drafts. I would say it took a couple months of going back and forth over the writing. About mid-way through the process, we got closer to the finished version of the film that we have now. At that point, Rob respectively stepped down, and I took it on completely from there. Right now it’s definitely a 50-50 fusion between the two of us.
SY: Speaking of Aiden, Josh Lawson plays the main character in the film, while Emma Lung played the lead female character, Virginia. What was the casting process like for the two of them?
CDL: Well, I think when any director starts thinking about casting, the just put together their dream cast, including all the big names, no matter how much they cast, or their availability. It was the same for me; I went through this list, and I was like, “If I could have any actor on Earth, who would it be?” That was a pretty big list, but we started to shave it down, and you put reality to that list, including who’s available, who likes the script and if we could afford them.
With casting Josh Lawson as Aiden, we knew he comes from Australia, and has a strong comedic background, which he does with this improv show down there, called ‘Thank God You’re Here.’ That was all I really knew of Josh. So we talked on the phone, and I saw he’s incredibly smart and sharp
Lawson’s a filmmaker himself; besides being an actor, he’s also he’s a writer-director. It’s not that he just understood the performance side of it; he also understood the writing and directing sides I was going for. So I thought that made him a really smart partner with me in this movie. Then he put himself on tape, and he did three or four scenes, and that was pretty much all the convincing I needed.
So he was on board as Aiden, and brought a unique twist to the character; he made him less dark and strange than how I originally envisioned him. Josh made him more likable and charming, which interestingly enough, makes him more of a dangerous character. It’s almost like we like him, so it’s more painful when he goes through the dark chapters in the film.
With Emma Lung, it was very similar. Again, you cast a wide net and see who’s right for the part. We talked to her on the phone, and we figured it out from there.
What’s interesting is that both Josh and Emma are Australian, and knew each other previously. So that was nice that they had a familiarity with each other already, which helped with the more romantic scenes in the film. That made it more comfortable for everyone, since they already knew each other. It was coincidental that we had two Aussies playing Americans in the film, as that was completely not planned.
SY: Ron Perlman and Edward Furlong play two of the supporting characters in ‘Crave,’ Pete and Ravi. What was the casting process like for them as well? Were you able to have a rehearsal period with the actors before you began filming?
CDL: It was the same process for them like I just described. You just put together your wish list, and see who’s available and who you could afford. With the character of Pete, who Ron Perlman plays, we always knew that was going to be the marquee anchor to the cast. We knew that was the role we were going to get a bigger name for, since it was a supporting role, and we probably weren’t going to need the actor on set as long. But it turns out Ron was out there in Detroit with us for 16 days, which was most of the shoot.
Ron’s so great to work with, and so no-nonsense. You don’t spend a lot of time debating the character’s backstory or motivation with him on set, so therefore you don’t waste a lot of time. He’s a total pro, and definitely nails it. He also gives you a little bit of a fun spice along the way that you can experiment with during editing, and even there on the set. You can do multiple takes, and he will add little twists to everything. So you get the basics that you need, but then he gives you a little bit more.
It was the same with Eddie Furlong. Eddie completely nailed everything he needed to nail to satisfy the requirements of the scene. But everything else he gave was very personal and traditional to Edward Furlong, in terms of strange and unpredictable and wild. That’s why I loved working with Eddie; he would nail it, and then give you a little bit more to work with.
SY: You shot ‘Crave’ independently in Detroit, after initially looking into filming in New York and Los Angeles. What was your overall experience of shooting in Detroit on a lower budget?
CDL: Well, to be perfectly honest, the first reason Detroit came up as a viable location was because it’s affordable. They used to have a pretty great tax incentive that was attracting a lot of film production. But I believe that incentive is no longer in place. But it was really boosting Detroit and the economy, and also created a robust film industry there. We were part of that with ‘Crave,’ and that was the first practical reason we were filmed in Detroit.
But more importantly to me, Detroit is a city that has fallen on hard times, and has a lot of ruins in it that apply to Aiden as a character. Aiden is sort of a ruined man and an eroding figure. So Detroit is a nice reflection of that character and the world he’s in, and it’s very consistent between the two. So it was the perfect fit. Ultimately, we started there for the money, but ended there because it was right for the movie and character.
SY: Like you mentioned, you also produce DVD special editions of films from such directors as Ridley Scott, David Lynch, Sam Raimi, James Cameron, the Coen Brothers, Michael Bay, David Fincher and the late Tony Scott. How did producing the DVDs for those directors influence the way you shot ‘Crave?’
CDL: Well, it showed me how they deal with day-to-day logistics, not just with the production, but also with the actors, the studio and the politics, which is all the stuff you don’t hear about when you go to film school, or when you start making films. They’re working at such a high level, it’s almost like a bunch of friends playing baseball in their backyard, and they’re suddenly dropped into the major leagues to see how it really works. That’s how it was with me; I was dropped into this situation where I got to see how these major films are made, including the behind closed doors work that has to get done. That to me was completely invaluable, as I learned so much from that.
When I did face problems on the film, or I did find myself without a quick answer to certain questions, I could fall back on that virtual experience. I would say, “This is probably what Ridley Scott would do in this type of situation, but in a small way.” Obviously, this is a much smaller film than he has ever done. But I thought that experience helped me.
Of course, I had to get my own scars and burns and wounds, and make my own mistakes, which I did; I made tons of my own mistakes on this film. That is my own experience, so next time, it will be more about what I would do, based on what I have gone through myself, and less about what the other filmmakers would do. That DVD experience was like training wheels for me, and now I feel like the training wheels are off for the next one.
Written by: Karen Benardello