Creating an atmospheric setting that allows actors to truly delve into their characters’ emotions is a powerful motivator for any intriguing story. That’s certainly the case for writer-directors Nick Chakwin and David Guglielmo’s new movie, ‘Hospitality.’ The neo-noir thriller features damaged characters who are driven by their surroundings and circumstances to find something that will make their lives easier, even if they don’t deserve a break.
‘Hospitality’ marks the second collaboration between the duo, who thrive on crafting suffering characters who are driven by adversity. They made their feature film writing and directorial debuts together on the 2016 crime thriller, ‘No Way to Live.’
The filmmakers’ latest drama is now playing in select theaters and on VOD, including iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo and DirecTV, in the U.S. and Canada, courtesy of Kandoo Releasing. The movie is part of the distributor’s Emerging Filmmaker Slate.
‘Hospitality’ follows a former prostitute, Donna (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who turned her brothel into a legitimate bed and breakfast, following the birth of her cognitively deficit son Jimmy (Conner McVicker). Trouble comes knocking when ex-con Cam (Sam Trammell), arrives to collect what hes been hiding there for the past two decades. As it turns out, he’s not the only one looking for it. In a brutal fight for survival, Donna must protect Jimmy and her home from a crooked cop, Hirsch (JR Bourne), and a thug (Jim Beaver), who’s known as The Boss.
Chakwin and Guglielmo generously took the time recently to talk about writing and directing ‘Hospitality’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmakers discussed how they mutually directed on the set by approaching everything together with the same perspective. They also mentioned that they wanted Chriqui’s character to be a complex and strong protagonist, instead of a femme fatale, as they felt it was important for Donna to be fully fleshed out as possible.
ShockYa (SY): You both directed the new thriller, ‘Hospitality,’ together. What’s the process of working together on the set as co-helmers?
Nick Chakwin (NC): The way that we approached directing together on set was by trying to tackle everything together with the same perspective. So if an actor approached us with a question on set, we would both talk about it and give the same answer. Not only do we both enjoy working with actors, we also both love cinematography.
Outside of working together on films, we’re also best friends. We talk to each other constantly every day. We’re on the same page about filmmaking, and that’s really important in our creative partnership. That way, we act as one voice while we’re working with other people.
SY: Speaking of the actors, ‘Hospitality’ stars Emmanuelle Chriqui, Sam Trammell, JR Bourne, Jim Beaver and Conner McVicker. What was the casting process like for the drama?
David Guglielmo (DG): I was the casting director on the film, as that’s my day job. We’re always writing scripts when we’re not directing movies, but my day-to-day job is a casting director.
So it made sense for me to cast this film myself. There are only five roles, so we were really able to concentrate on making sure each actor was right for their respective role. We were very fortunate in that we got incredible, experienced actors with big credits under their belts. We were offering very little money, as it’s an ultra low-budget film.
So being able to cast these actors spoke to the quality of the script, as they were willing to take a pay cut. There aren’t that many dramatically satisfying movies out there in this current climate of superhero films. I think people really want to get back to acting. The cast said this script reminded them of a play, and I think they’re right.
SY: Once the actors were cast, what was the process like of collaborating with them to form their character arcs?
NC: We did have some good conversations with the cast before we started the production, but we didn’t have that much time. Rehearsals are really a luxury in the low-budget, indie world. But we liked to see what they came back with, as far as what they thought certain backstories were for the characters.
Like David said, working with a limited amount of actors-with this film, it was just five-at one location really allowed us to work with them one-on-one. We also worked with them as a group. When a new actor showed up on the set, it was very exciting and interesting. Everything just changed.
SY: You’ve both have said that you wanted to make a modern, yet timeless, thriller from within the same headspace as the old Hollywood B movie in the noir genre. Why were you drawn to the noir genre for this story, and how did the genre influence the development of the film?
DG: It’s second nature to me; I immerse myself in old movies and film noir, as well as literary noir. So choosing this genre wasn’t so much intentional as it just appealed to my sensibilities. Nick and I spoke about making it a noir, but not in terms of it being a thriller, per se…I think the term noir has been misunderstood, because it’s more thematic than anything, including the aesthetic…I think noir starts with the characters. To me, that trumps plot, as far as the genre’s concerned.
SY: Further speaking of the aesthetic, and Nick, you mentioned the cinematography earlier, what was the process of creating the overall visual aesthetic for the thriller?
DG: We wanted it to have a warm aesthetic. The film’s set in a log cabin, so that makes it feel timeless, and as though it can be set in any town, U.S.A. We’re also big Western fans, so we thought it would be cool to have this be a modern Western. If Hirsch came rolling up on a horse, instead of in a car, he could be the sheriff of an old Western town…We also looked at ‘No Country For Old Men,’ which is possibly my favorite modern noir.
SY: With the movie’s story taking place in Donna’s bed and breakfast, what was the process of finding the right place to film, and creating the look of the home?
NC: We really enjoy location scouting. Funny enough, this was the first location that we looked at. We were lucky to find it so quickly. This is someone’s real house, up in Antelope Valley (which is located in part in northern Los Angeles County). All of the houses there have little farms and dirt roads. It’s near a major highway, but it’s secluded. It’s one of those towns that you pass right by. That’s what we were looking for; a town that has its own life, but you could drive right by it.
The location goes hand-in-hand with what David was just saying about the visual look; we wanted something that was warm and had wooden walls. We liked having the bed and breakfast, because it’s a business/home space. It’s the right spot for drama, as you mix your work right next to where you sleep. Who knows who’s stopping in? That’s dramatic right there.
We got lucky with the location. You can’t pinpoint where exactly the characters are, and we wanted that. You don’t know exactly what city they’re in. So we got lucky with the location.
SY: While ‘Hospitality’ is a noir drama, you both also wanted Emmanuelle’s character to be front and center as the story’s complex and strong protagonist, instead of a femme fatale. Why was that also an important aspect for you both?
DG: It actually just came out of the writing; we didn’t really discuss that. We want all characters to be fully fleshed out as possible. For some reason, we do gravitate towards women; I like female protagonists…It’s nice to not have Donna be a typical femme fatale. We also did that in our first movie, and I’m happy that we did. It’s nice to have Donna be someone who’s not deceitful, and is just trying to do her best in her circumstances.
SY: Like you both mentioned earlier, you made ‘Hospitality’ independently. Did that process influence the creativity on the set?
NC: We always say that limitations spark our creativity. We had a limited amount of days-about a dozen-on set, as well as a very limited amount of money. So we had to think about what was most important to our story.
That started with the writing, and then went into the storyboarding. We spent a lot of time storyboarding, as David and I love planning out every detail of the movie, down to how it’s going to be edited. So we don’t get a lot of coverage on the set, as we know how a scene’s going to be pieced together. Of course, there are surprises, like with any film. But because we know what we’re trying to gather, we can explain that to the actors and crew, and just go to work. Having less money does have its limitations, but I think we would still work like that, even if we did have more money, as that process works for us.
SY: The film is now playing in select theaters and on VOD. Do you feel the dual distribution is beneficial for an indie movie like this one?
NC: Yes, it’s definitely helpful, especially since we get the premiere placement on the (digital) platforms because it’s also in theaters. But we still make movies for the big screen. I think if you’re watching it on your phone at home, you can get distracted by other things, so the experience isn’t going to be as rewarding.
This is a movie that we hope everybody watches on the big screen, if possible. It’s in select cities, including Chicago, Atlanta and L.A. We also (had) a special screening in Brooklyn. We encourage everybody to see it in theaters, because we still love sitting next to strangers, and seeing how everyone’s emotions are heightened.
I went to see the film in a theater (the night before the interview), just so that I could sit with a regular audience, and watch it with the general public. They were laughing and reacting, and that was the most rewarding part of all of this. If we have a premiere, everyone has to tell us they like it. But in the theater, they were enjoying it, and that felt good.