Taking a strong and unwavering stance on an important issue, no matter what challenges you’re forced to endure as a result, is a crucial moment that powerfully defines your character and the rest of your life. Brothers Zeke and Simon Hawkins made such a critical decision when they rightfully decided to co-helm their first feature film together, the crime thriller ‘Bad Turn Worse,’ which is now playing in theaters and On Demand. The coming-of-age drama, which marks the feature film writing debut of scribe Dutch Southern, enthralling chronicles the life-altering decisions three young friends must make when they inadvertently find themselves involved in a crime. The story also entrancingly emphasizes how the choices the characters make under pressure will ultimately define their characters and lives.
‘Bad Turn Worse,’ which is set in a rural Texas cotton mill town, follows the final weeks of summer for college-bound teens Sue (Mackenzie Davis) and Bobby (Jeremy Allen White). Bobbby is the best friend of Sue’s overbearing boyfriend, BJ (Logan Huffman). He’s jealous of the fact that the two have found a way to leave their small town, while he’s forced to stay in a dead-end job. Hoping that Sue and Bobby won’t forget him, BJ steals $20,000 from the safe that his boss, Giff (Mark Pellegrino), keeps in his office. But once Giff, who oversees the mill, which doubles as a money-laundering operation, quickly discovers his cash is missing, he blames an innocent mill worker.
Not wanting the worker to pay for his friend’s crime, Bobby tells Giff he’s the one who stole his money. In an effort to get the cash back before Big Red (William Devane), the gangster who runs the money-laundering operation, Giff creates a plan in which the three teens steal money. Afraid of what will happen to him and his friends if they’re caught, Bobby goes to talk to Sheriff Shep (Jon Gries), but the corrupt officer insinuates that respectable people follow through with their promises, no matter how dangerous they can turn out to be. While BJ doesn’t appear to have any qualms about their upcoming heist, Sue and Bobby begin to grow closer. The two begin to ponder how they became involved in such a dangerous situation, and how they can save their once-promising futures.
The Hawkins generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Bad Turn Worse’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the directors discussed how with the help of their casting directors, Angela Demo and Barbara McCarthy, they found skilled actors, particularly White, Huffman and Davis, who showed their characters were capable of making bad decisions, but still relatable to the audience; how they found it valuable to be able to have some rehearsal time with the actors at the locations that were featured in the film, even before they began shooting, which helped the performers understand their characters’ backstories; and how they liked the fact that Southern’s script had strong thriller and actions genre elements, but also showcased the characters as human beings, so viewers could still care about them.
ShockYa (SY): You both made your feature directorial debuts with ‘Bad Turn Worse.’ What was it about the crime drama’s script that convinced you to make it the first feature you directed together?
Simon Hawkins (SH): It wasn’t just the script we were drawn to; it was the project in general. We knew the film’s producers, Brian Udovich and Justin Duprie, beforehand, and we knew we wanted to work with them. They showed us the script, and we loved the world Dutch had created, and the way he wrote the dialogue.
They already had plans to shoot the movie in South Texas, where Justin is from, which we were excited about. They also told us the movie was already financed, and were shooting five months after we were hired, which was really exciting. It’s so hard to get a movie off the ground these days, so the fact it was already going to happen was really exciting to us, too. So it was a lot of factors, and not just one script element.
SY: You directed ‘Bad Turn Worse’ after you co-helmed several short films together, including ‘It’s Telly Time!’ and ‘The Braveheart Musical: For England.’ What was the transition from the short films into the feature like overall? Were there any lessons you learned from the shorts that you brought to the feature?
SH: Well, I think when we first started together, it was really out of circumstance. Our parents had bought us a camera when we were teenagers, and we didn’t have anyone else to work with. So it made sense that we would work together. There are a bunch of other short films we made that aren’t on IMDb-
Zeke Hawkins (ZH): -There are a lot of short films.
SH: There was so much stuff we did over the years. I think during that process, we were developing a short hand that allowed us to communicate and work together. But we didn’t even realize we were doing it; it was just happening organically, out of the necessity of making things over a 15-year period. We were learning to get along and how to compromise, and how to support each other’s tastes.
SY: What was the casting process like for the movie, particularly with the three main actors, Jeremy Allen White, Logan Huffman and Mackenzie Davis, who play the teens?
ZH: Well, we weren’t aware of our three leads before we began working on the film. So that was a true testament to our casting directors, Angela Demo and Barbara McCarthy. They did a great job of showing us every actor they thought were interesting in Hollywood. So we had a long casting process where we saw a lot of people over about a three month period.
I think the trick with (the characters of) Sue and B.J. was that they had to have a real duality to them. B.J., for example, had to make you feel uncomfortable, and show he was capable of making some really bad decisions. But at the same time, he had to be someone you really felt for, and could root for, despite the bad decisions he was making. When we met Logan, it was so clear that he was the right person for the role.
It was the same thing with Mackenzie. It was important that we have someone you could believe that as the Sue character, both Bobby and BJ would be in love with. It was also important that we had someone who was intelligent and aspired to be a professional writer, and could have a career as a professional novelist. Then you also had to believe she was someone who grew up in a total rural environment, but could also function later in life in a city environment.
We saw a lot of people for the role, but when Mackenzie walked in, we were like, “Thank you to the movie gods for introducing us to this girl.” She was so talented and right for the role of Sue right off the bat.
With some of the older actors, our producer, Brian, had worked with Jon Gries before, so he was on our minds for the sheriff. I had worked with Mark Pellegrino before, on the movie ‘Capote’ (where Hawkins served as director Bennett Miller’s assistant), so I had him on my mind for Giff.
SY: Were you able to have any rehearsal time with the cast before you began filming ‘Bad Turn Worse’ to help develop their relationships? Did you allow them to offer any suggestions on their characters’ backstories and history, while you were shooting?
SH: Well, we met a few times in L.A., and spoke to each actor individually about their characters. I think the thing we did was really encourage them to spend as much time together as possible, especially the three younger actors, because you have to believe they’ve been friends forever. I think that was the most important thing, even more so than working on specific scenes.
Once we got down to Texas, the three kids all arrived about four or five days before we began filming. That’s when we began really going through the entire script together.
ZH: One thing we found really valuable was that we did have some rehearsal time together. It was really great was that many of our locations were houses and property that were owned by family friends. We had access to our locations before we began shooting there, and the most valuable time was when we were able to film at those actual locations.
SY: Like you mentioned, you mainly shot the film on location where the story’s set in South Texas. How filming on location influence the movie’s aesthetics and tone? Do you both enjoy working on location while filming?
SH: Yes, I think that shooting on location is so exciting. Not only can they compliment your movie, the locations can also really inform the story. When we found the perfect locations, they would help inform the script, and change the blocking and the way we set the scenes. So the locations can give us all sorts of ideas, too. But if you’re on a set, all you have are your own initial ideas. So I think a good location can play a huge, important role.
ZH: We were also having the boys, Jeremy and Logan especially, go out and use the farming equipment during pre-production, as well as during the rehearsals and their free time. That way they could really get the lay of the land. Then you could really believe they’re kids who are actually from that environment, and could really use all the equipment.
SY: ‘Bad Turn Worse’ is a coming-of-age story that focuses on what the teens want to do with the rest of their lives, and their struggles to achieve their goals. But it’s also a crime genre film fueled by action and stunt sequences. How did you balance showing both sides of the story?
ZH: I think we just really trusted our own instincts of what we like to see in a movie. But I think you’re touching on what was really important to us. When we first read the script, it already had all the strong genre elements we liked. So our focus turned into making everyone into a human being, so you’re really caring about them. Even when they make bad decisions, you still care about them. Since the genre elements were already in the script, the focus was really on bringing a real point-of-view to the characters.
SH: I think from the script stage, that’s what really got us excited about this project. Often when you read crime noir-type scripts, the characters tend to be older men. The fact that the three leads in this film were all teenagers was something that really excited us.
SY: What was the process like of creating the stunts, and approaching the characters’ physicality, like overall?
ZH: I think without risking anyone ever getting hurt, we filmed the stunts for real. There wasn’t any cheating, and inserting moments during those scenes at a later time. We staged everything like you would for a play, where everything happens for real, and everyone perform stunts safely. When you do things for real, I think you’re going to get real emotions and real physicality, as opposed to breaking everything up into little pieces.
SH: I think generally speaking, in terms of our filmmaking process, I think that’s something Zeke and I really believed in. Shooting things in practical locations, and having actors do stunts practically, as much as humanly possible, really makes the final product look better.
SY: You made the film independently. How did that influence the way you approached filming not only the movie’s stunts and action sequences, but also the characters’ relationships and conflicts?
ZH: Well, it certainly gives you more freedom, in terms of not having to answer to a lot of people. At the end of the day, we answered to ourselves, our two producers, our actors and our cinematographer. I’ve never worked with a studio, so I don’t know how that process is different. (laughs) But we weren’t in a world where we were getting notes from people we’ve never met before, or try to appease many different people. We were able to really go after our own tastes.
SY: ‘Bad Turn Worse’ (opened this past Friday, November 14) in theaters, as well as on all major VOD outlets, in the US and Canada. Are you both fans of watching films On Demand, and do you think the platform is beneficial for smaller and independent films like this one?
SH: We’re still fans of going to the movie theater, but I think the distribution world is changing. Now, a lot of the most interesting cinema can only be found On Demand.
ZH: Yes, indie cinema really opens up the market to movies that in the past, might have only played in one theater in a city, and would be really difficult to see otherwise. (On Demand) totally expands the market for indie movies. So I think it’s exciting for us that anyone, anywhere can really find our movie, if they want to.
SH: With what we’re learning from modern distribution models is that the only movies that really make their money in theaters are the really big budget action ones. So for movies like ours, we’re going to play in theaters, but that’s not where we’re going to make money; we’re going to make money in the On Demand world. So the fact that the On Demand world is providing revenue for lower budget films is really great.
ZH: Yes, it really allows indie filmmakers to keep going and making movies, which is exciting.
SH: But we absolutely do want to see these (indie) movies to be seen in theaters. We want our movie to be in theaters, and we also want to see as many interesting indie films to be seen in theaters as possible. We’re still fighting as much as we can to get interesting movies into theaters, and not just have the big-budget, tent pole movies in cinemas.
SY: The drama won the Audience Award Winner at last year’s AFI Film Festival, and was also an official selection of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, the 2013 Fantastic Film Fest and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. What were your experiences at the festivals like overall, including the fact that it was honored by viewers at AFI?
SH: Well, we premiered at Toronto, and that was a super exciting process for both of us. We premiered to 850 people, and then had a bunch of other sold-out screenings there. It was the first time we had ever seen our movie with that size audience, so it was really exciting.
We then took the film to Fantastic Fest in Austin, where a lot of crew came from, so that was a really fun environment. That was really fun, because we were able to show it to a lot of people who were a part of the movie.
We then also took the movie to AFI Fest in L.A., and won the Audience Award. Most of our movie was made up of AFI students. Zeke and I were living in Los Angeles, so a lot of our friends were there. So that screening was very special, as we were able to bring it to everyone we knew. So it’s been a really fun festival run, in general.
SY: Before making your feature film directorial debut with ‘Bad Turn Worse,’ you both worked in various aspects of filmmaking, including writing, producing, editing, cinematography and acting. How did your experience in those fields influence the way you approached helming the crime drama?
ZH: I think with Simon, too, having all of that experience, including being an editor, cinematographer, writer and producer really, helped us value the people we had around us on the film. We know from our experience how important and hard those positions are overall. We’ve done just about every job on a film set, on a very low level. It really made us appreciate having really talented people in those positions while making the film.
SY: Do you both have any upcoming projects lined up, whether independently or together, that you can discuss?
SH: We’re still trying to work together, and we’re both writing some stuff. We’re sort of jokingly working on ‘Twin Peaks: The Musical,’ but we don’t have the rights to the show. But if we can get the rights, we’ll make ‘Twin Peaks: The Musical.’
Written by: Karen Benardello