People are often driven to find moments of both humor and clarity during otherwise terrifying, unprecedented times. That’s certainly the case for the ensemble group of characters in the newly released thriller, ‘Tar,’ as well as for viewers watching the movie. Amidst the frightening, uncertain times of the current COVID-19 pandemic, genre audiences can appreciate the unique blend of comedy and scares in the ominous creature feature.
Aaron Wolf, who co-wrote the drama with Timothy Nuttall, also directed, executive produced and starred in ‘Tar.’ The horror film is now playing in Drive-Ins and theaters, as well on Digital and On Demand, courtesy of 1091 Pictures.
‘Tar’ chronicles how for 40,000 years, a long forgotten wetland has been filled with ancient creatures. But now all that’s left of the area is a pit of hot, sticky tar, which is surrounded by the vast urban landscape of Los Angeles. For Barry Greenwood (Timothy Bottoms) and his son Zach (Wolf), there’s not much left of their family business, either.
With the city planning on expanding the subway under their office, the building is slated to be demolished, which forces Barry, Zach and their employees to shut down their shop, which has been in their family for three generations. A homeless man who lives near the office, Carl (Graham Greene), cautions Zach and one his employees about the danger that’s lurking under their building, but Zach initially brushes off the warning as just a legend. But he quickly realizes Carl was right, as something primal is awoken in the title La Brea Tar Pit by the underground construction, which leaves the group to forgo their last night of packing to instead fight for survival.
Wolf and Greene generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing, executive producing and starring in ‘Tar’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker and actor discussed that the scribe-helmer was driven to make the thriller because he wanted to create a fun throwback adventure horror movie, and he realized that a feature has never been made about the tar pits that are near where he lives in Los Angeles. The performer also noted that he agreed to star in the drama because he found Wolf’s story to be intriguing and unique.
The conversation began with Wolf describing what inspired him to pen the script for ‘Tar.’ “It’s based on true events. As a kid, I always went to the tar pits in Los Angeles, and it was the class trip that we’d always take. I thought it was so crazy and weird. I also loved movies like ‘Indiana Jones,’ so I thought it was so cool that this spot was like a real-life ‘Indiana Jones’ archeological dig,” he shared.
“I had an idea for some kind of fun throwback adventure horror movie, and I thought, the tar pits are right down the street. A movie’s never been made about them, so let’s use them,” the writer continued. “We also found a real Native American legend about what goes on underneath the tar pits, so we incorporated that into the script, too.”
Greene, who’s an Oneida born on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Canada, then delved into how he became involved in playing Carl in the thriller, and what it was about the character, as well as the overall screenplay, that convinced him to take on the role. “Well, I’ve worked with one of the producers before. I also thought the script was great, because I’ve never heard of a movie about the tar pits, either. I’ve been in this business for almost 45 years, so I found this story to be intriguing,” the ‘Twilight Saga: New Moon’ star revealed.
Wolf then spoke about how in addition to scribing the script, he also directed ‘Tar,’ and how he appreciates that he’s able to tell stories in both jobs. “To me, whether it’s writing, directing or acting, it’s all about storytelling. Graham is also an actor and writer. For me, it was all about bringing this fun story to life, and make it a fun adventure movie with horror and laughs, which is something we don’t see enough of in films right now. Everything’s just gory and disgusting,” he pointed out.
“So I wanted to bring all of that to life, and bring people like Graham on board. He was the only person I talked to about his role; I never pictured another person playing the part,” the director revealed. “So I’m glad he agreed.”
“I agree with Aaron; every film you see are the same. There aren’t any good horror films anymore,” Greene proclaimed. “With a lot of movies now, you only get about 10 minutes in until there’s an explosion or car chase, or someone gets shot.”
“I agree with that, too. Also, everything know is CG and digital, so with this movie, we wanted to use practical effects as much as possible,” Wolf added. “That way, we could make everything feel as real and gross as possible. That’s what I loved when I was growing up and watching movies, as well as in film school. I loved watching things that weren’t just all digital, so I wanted that in this movie, too.”
The helmer also discussed how besides writing and directing ‘Tar,’ he also played Zach, and why he decided to also star in the film. “Directing and acting are just two different pieces to the storytelling. So when Graham and I were working together, one of the other actors, Timothy Bottoms, would help us work out the scene. I’d be thinking about how it would work from a director’s perspective, so that we could pull off the scene.
“But once I was in character, and we’d be going back and forth, we’d find some of the best momentum in the scene, and we’d do some improv. I’d go into my training from The Groundlings, which is an improv group, and go into acting and reacting,” Wolf explained. “There are moments in the film that weren’t in the script. The script had the action and a piece of a line, and then Graham, for instance, would add something. That would make me react, because he threw something differently at me than I expected, and then we ran with that.”
Helming and acting in a movie “are two different tools, but once you’re in character mode, it’s all about delivering that performance. You also have to make sure you’re giving the other actors what they need.”
“Aaron seamlessly walked from one side of the camera to the other, and that’s hard,” Greene admitted as he praised his co-star and director.
“But people like Graham make it easier,” the filmmaker revealed. “They’ll throw a bunch of tricks at you. He taught me a lot of things…It’s a constant learning experience…I had to figure out what I could learn, and jump off of, from what he gave me in a scene, so that it becomes so much better.
Wolf added that “As the director, I knew in my head what I wanted the scenes to look like, but I also knew the limitations we had. So we had to think about how we could pull things off as an independent film.”
Serving as an executive producer on ‘Tar’ was also an experience that Wolf appreciated having during production. But he still felt it was important to “give credit to the other producers because of financial raising purposes. The other producers include Timothy Nuttall and Andrew Kappel. They’re the ones who did all the work, so I don’t want to take any of their credit. They’re the ones who organized everything, and made sure all the creative and logistical producing happened…even with all the limitations we had.”
With the movie now playing in select Drive-Ins and theaters, as well as on Digital and On Demand, the filmmaker admitted that this release “was the only choice, due to what’s going on in the country right now…We felt that we had to get the movie to Drive-Ins and theaters by Halloween, since it’s a Halloween film. There have been a lot of obstacles getting it out, due to the pandemic. I’m so excited that we’re playing in the biggest Drive-In out here in Los Angeles.
“It’s all about allowing people to see it how they feel the most comfortable. If they want to go to a theater, they can go to a theater; if they want to go to a Drive-In, they can go to a Drive-In. But if they don’t feel comfortable doing that, and want to watch it at home, since we’re in unprecedented times, they can watch it On Demand,” Wolf noted.
Distributing films during the current COVID-19 pandemic “is tough for everybody. I think I have three other films that are waiting to be released. It’s hard on the producers, because they put all their love into making their projects,” Greene added.
“Graham’s absolutely right. There are times when movies just have to come out. We felt that since this is a Halloween movie, and Halloween is pretty much cancelled around the country, it’s important, now more than ever, to see a fun horror adventure film. It seems like this is the perfect time to release this movie, even though it’s a weird time otherwise,” Wolf concluded.