The poster for director-executive producer-editor Alastair Orr’s thriller, ‘Triggered,’ which stars Liesl Ahlers, Reine Swart and Sean Cameron Michael.

Many teenagers and young adults in modern culture are embracing the ideals that are driving the political correctness that’s changing the way humanity as a whole is interacting with each other. That’s certainly the case for the sensitive and socially conscious millennials who make up the ensemble protagonist group in the upcoming horror movie, ‘Triggered.’ However, when they’re turned against each by the very society they’re trying to protect, they soon become more concerned about their own superficial feelings and lives than the friends they previously claimed they would do anything to protect.

The unique, but ultimately timely and relatable, action thriller was written by David D. Jones, and directed, executive produced and edited by ‘House on Willow Street‘ filmmaker, Alastair Orr. ‘Triggered,’ which stars Liesl Ahlers, Reine Swart and Sean Cameron Michael, is being released today On Demand and Digital, courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

‘Triggered’ follows nine young friends, who are all harboring a dark secret, as they go camping in the woods. After a wild night of partying, they wake up with suicide bombs strapped to their chests, all of which have varying times on their countdown clocks. The friends decide to work out how to disarm the bombs or find help, until they discover they can take one another’s time by killing each other.

Orr, Ahler, Swart and Michael generously took the time last week to talk about directing, executive producing and starring in ‘Triggered’ during individual exclusive phone interviews. Among other things, the filmmaker, actresses and actor discussed how they embraced the experience of working together to build their characters’ arcs, and showcase how millennials can quickly overturn their feelings of acting political correct towards their friends in order to save themselves. They also mentioned how the experience of shooting the drama on location in Johannesburg helped them build both their characters’ mindsets and physicalities.

Orr began his conversation by explaining what drew him to direct ‘Triggered.’ “I wanted to do something different from my past films, which were straight-up horror. So I put it out in the universe that I was looking for something different,” he shared.

“We came across this screenwriter (Jones) online, and he was living in Arizona, and we’re in South Africa. He delivered something to us that my producing partner and I found to be very personal, and it connected with us,” the helmer shared.

“We thought that this was a movie that was going to struggle to get made anywhere else, and that was the reason why we wanted to make it. It really spoke to us and what we were feeling at the moment. We’re getting to that age where we don’t have as much time as we used to, which is why the story spoke to us,” Orr continued.

The filmmaker also delved into what the casting process was like for the movie. “We started off with an actor who I’ve worked with before, Steven Ward. We got lucky with him; he was working at a casting agency when we were casting the film. So we were able to piggyback off of his resources, and he cast a lot of his friends and people he knew,” he shared. “That worked out, because all of the characters are supposed to be friends.

“With the more mature actors, like Sean Cameron Michael, who are more established in the industry, I just reached out to them and was honest about the project and what I wanted to do with it. They responded and agreed to do it,” Orr added.

The interview with Ahlers began with the performer explaining why she wanted to star in the film as Erin. “I wanted to work with Alastair Orr, who’s the director of ‘Triggered,’ after I saw his last film, ‘House on Willow Street,’ which I thought was amazing. Then it so happened that he contacted me and said, ‘I have this script; would you like to read for one of the characters, particularly Erin?,'” she shared.

“I remember reading the script and laughing, because I thought it was so funny and witty,” Ahlers added with a laugh. “I immediately fell in love with Erin, so I said, ‘Yes, I would love to audition for Erin; I want to be a part of it.’ So I sent in a self tape, and that’s how I became a part of the film.

“It was an incredible experience to be a part of something that I think is such a unique concept. The vests being strapped to people is awesome. The fact that we’re all friends, and not strangers, changed the stakes of the film, and put it on a new level,” the actress added.

Swart began her conversation by sharing what drew her to play her character of Rian, and how she became involved in starring, in ‘Triggered.’ “I received a message, but didn’t see it at first, so I’m really lucky I didn’t miss it. I’m not the best at always reading messages,” she admitted.

“But when I saw this message, I saw that Alastair Orr was attached, and he’s a fantastic director. So I really wanted to audition for him. I initially auditioned for the roles of Erin and Rian, but after the audition, I was cast as Rian,” the performer shared.

“Alastair then sent the whole script, and I thought it was really fun to work on, because it’s a suspense film. It has a lot of uptight millennials, but Rian is very brainy and smart. So it was something that I wanted to be a part of,” Swart added.

The interview with Michael began with him explaining what it was about his character of Mr. Peterson, as well as the overall story and project, that drew him to take on the role. “I’ve been a South African-based actor for the past 30-something years. I’ve mainly worked in South Africa, but about five years ago, I moved to Los Angeles,” he shared.

“Alastair Orr is a really exciting director in the indie world in South Africa, so I had my eye on someday working with him. He had done ‘House on Willow Street,’ which helped make him one of the most exciting directors in South Africa,” the actor added.

Michael also shared, “It was a funny story; I was on my way back to Los Angeles for pilot season last year. Just as I was about to jump on a plane, I got a call from Alastair, and he said, ‘I’m doing a film called ‘Triggered’ and it starts shooting in two weeks; do you want to come on board and play a small role?’ I was like, ‘I’m about to jump on a plane.

“So he said, ‘I’m going to send you the script; read it anyway, and let’s figure it out. So I read the script…and thought it was a really funny, crazy, scary and very commercial movie,” the performer continued. “Over the years, I’ve done quite a bit of film and TV work, and a lot of indie projects.

“But ‘Triggered’ seemed liked a commercially appealing and entertaining movie…and it pays tribute to a bunch of different genres. It is crazy and scary, but it also has a lot of humor in it. There a lot of crazy one-liners, and I loved that…I love that the characters, and the overall film, don’t take themselves too seriously, which allows the audience to breathe during crazy and intense moments,” Michael divulged.

“So when I got back to Los Angeles, Alastair contacted me back and asked, ‘Do you want to fly another 26 hours back to South Africa and shoot for two days?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, okay,'” the actor added with a laugh. “So I jumped on a plane back to Johannesburg, and worked on the film for a couple of days, and had a lot of fun while I was there.

The process of working with Orr on the thriller was an experience that Ahlers also enjoyed. “Alastair is such an awesome person. He has such a great sense of humor, and he definitely brought that to set. So there was a lot of laughing on set. A lot of that humor is in the script, too.

“Working with Alastair was awesome, because he definitely had a clear vision of what he wanted,” the actress continued. “He was inspired by video games from the ’80s and ’90s, so he wanted to bring that into the film. So as an actress, it was so easy to work with him as a director, because he knew what he wanted. He’ll tell you if he’s not happy with what you’re doing, which created a safe space. So I had a great time working with him; he’s an exceptional director.”

Swart also shared her enthusiasm over working with the director on the set. “Alastair’s very nurturing and intelligent. With everything he does, he does very well, and I think he did an incredible job, especially with this being an independent film. With this being an independent film, you don’t have all the resources that a studio film has. But he knows how to collaborate with people and make the best of everything. He’s one of the best filmmakers in South Africa.

“On set, he had a lot of humor and sarcasm, which made it very fun to work with him; he made the shot enjoyable. I would do a scene, and then he would say, ‘Reine, that was great, but just do it a thousand times better.’ He would always laugh about things, and didn’t criticize, and was kind and wonderful about everything,” the performer added.

While the casting and crew had a good time working together on the film, once principal photography began, helming ‘Triggered’ became a difficult experience, Orr admitted. “We shot on location on a horse farm in the south of Johannesburg. Two days (into the shoot), we were flooded out by torrential rain. So with all of the moving parts, it was difficult to put together, but it’s something we’re very proud of,” he proclaimed.

Further speaking of shooting the drama on location in the woods in South Africa, the filmmaker noted that he had “shot previous projects on this farm, so we knew we could get it and what it would look like. But we were in the middle of nowhere during the middle of the night, so it was very difficult when things went wrong, like if the vests broke; we couldn’t just go to a shop to get them fixed,” he pointed out.

“Getting food out to the location was also difficult, especially when it was raining, as cars would get stuck in the mud…One of the crew members also slipped and broke one of his knees during shooting…The environment took years off my life,” Orr divulged.

Despite the challenges that arose while shooting ‘Triggered’ on location in Johannesburg, Ahlers embraced the experience of filming the movie in South Africa. “It was crazy!…We shot in the actual woods. We were stumbling over tree trunks and covered in bugs. We were dirty from getting mud all over us. But that definitely added to the experience; I love jobs where I get to get my hands dirty.

“It would have been more difficult for me if we hadn’t filmed in the woods, even though it was strenuous. I think that added to, and really translated into, the film,” the actress added.

Swart also expressed her enjoyment of filming ‘Triggered’ in South Africa. “I’ve mainly filmed on location, as I’ve mainly starred in the independent film industry, so I’m more used to that. But I have also done some green screen work, which you definitely have to use your imagination for, which is also fun,” she revealed.

“But I find it to be easier to shoot in real locations, where you can see the trees and everything in front of you. That definitely helps,” the performer added. “Having filmed in different countries has been great; it’s wonderful to see how things work in different areas…It’s also nice to see the different locations when you have a break. It’s an absolute privilege to get to do that…But in the end, we all make films generally in the same way”

Michael also chimed in on the experience of shooting the thriller on location in Johannesburg. “It was an amazing set. The art department and everybody did great work to make the (setting) as believable as possible. With something like ‘Triggered,’ which is set in the woods, and you’re in the middle of a forest and it’s pouring rain, there’s not a lot of acting required,” he mentioned with a laugh. “You’re really running through the mud in the forest in the rain.

“With this being an indie film, we had a hectic schedule, as we didn’t have a lot of time or money to get everything in the can. So that had its own challenges,” the actor admitted. “But being out in the forest really helped. All the actors and filmmakers wanted to make a good movie that’s entertaining, and offers a sense of escapism for the audience, so we had a good time.”

Like Michael mentioned, once production on ‘Triggered’ began, there wasn’t much time for the cast and the director to truly rehearse with each other to build the characters’ relationships, as the thriller was made on a short shooting schedule. So the “main priority of the casting was to cast actors who could just become their characters. They didn’t have to think too deep into their characters, as we tried to incorporate a bit of their personalities,” Orr revealed.

“We did do some workshops, during which we’d sit and discuss things. We’d discuss things like, ‘This isn’t the moment for this character to do that. They need something else in between these moments.’ They were mainly a young cast, but they knew what they were doing,” the helmer noted. “They had a lot of passion, and really gave it their all. They gave the characters a lot more thought than I would have,” he admitted. “They took ownership of their characters, and I trusted them with the script.”

Being able to work with the rest of the cast was a process that Swart also enjoyed on the set. “We didn’t know each other beforehand, but we needed to play friends. (Rian’s boyfriend) PJ is played by Cameron Scott, and he was really good at organizing us actors to spend time together. He’d say, ‘Let’s all go for drinks and play laser tag.’ That was quite suiting, because it was similar to the game in ‘Triggered.’ So doing all of those things were really helpful,” she shared.

“What’s great was that we all became friends, and we’re all still friends. That helped us imagine that it would be very difficult to hurt someone that we know and care for,” the performer added.

Working with his co-stars was an experience that Michael also embraced. “I’m a big fan of Liesl Ahlers and Reine Swart; they’ve done some great indie projects. So it was cool for me to get to work with Liesl and Reine, who’s a friend of mine; we previously worked on a film together a few years ago called ‘Broken Darkness,’ so I was excited to get to work with her again.

“I was blown away by all the young actors, especially with their American accents, and the homework and prep they had done. They were really ready to go and give it everything,” the actor added. “As an ensemble cast collaborating, it was a really fun and fulfilling experience.

“Alastair gave us a lot of freedom in how we wanted to play these characters. So creatively and artistically, it was a pleasure to work on the film,” Michael then revealed as he further praised the filmmaker.

“I tried to really figure out my character of Peterson, who’s a science teacher. His son died from a drug overdose, and his wife committed suicide. So he’s a very damaged man who wanted to take revenge. He blamed these nine ex-students of his for his son’s drug overdose,” the actor revealed. “He’s a very deranged individual, so it was challenging to climb into his headspace. Luckily, I’ve played lots of psychopaths and baddies before,” he added with a laugh. “But I wanted to make Peterson as relatable and honest as possible.

“When I arrived on set, Alastair said to me, ‘I’m sure you made your own choices on how you want to play this character, so let’s have a go of it. Use the script as a guide, and if you want to change anything, you’re absolutely welcome to.’ He also asked me, ‘Is there anything you need from me as the director?’ I told him that I had made a couple of choices, and to let me know if he wanted me to go bigger, or to give less,” Michael added.

“Alastair was really accommodating and open to what I brought to the character. He loves working with actors, so we all felt very supported by his leadership, and the freedom he gave us to bring these characters to life,” the performer also shared.

Collaborating with the actors on creating the stunts and physicality for their characters was also an experience that Orr embraced during the shoot. “We did our best to make sure those scenes were safe, because we didn’t want anyone to get hurt. The actors were up for anything, but there was some stuff that we said they had to sit out, and have their stunt (doubles) step in. So none of the actors got hurt,” he shared.

Working on the stuntwork was also an experience that Ahlers embraced during the film’s production. But she “didn’t think about it too much, because we only had 11 days to shoot the movie. So we didn’t have proper time to really prep for any of the action scenes. But I think we all did a pretty good job of bringing the action in the moment,” she revealed.

“I personally do martial arts, so I was really excited about this scene where I get to throw (actress Paige Bonnin’s character of) Amber off of me when she wants to stab me with a knife. We quickly worked that out on set a couple of minutes before we shot it,” the actress continued.

“It was guerilla style, but luckily, it added to this type of horror film. That’s what I really like about this genre…The whole process was gritty, but I feel like that added to the film,” Ahlers added.

Creating the physicality for ‘Triggered’s action scenes was also an experience that Swart enjoyed during the shoot. “I got a lot of bruises, which I was proud of! I ran a lot, jumped over things and fell. But I liked doing that for myself. Luckily, I didn’t break anything,” she shared. “There were great stunt people, as well. They made sure that we understood when things were slippery and muddy, so the safety precautions were great on set…It was a great experience to be able to do the stunts by myself.”

Michael also chimed in on the experience of creating the physicality for his role of Peterson. “I was lucky, because I was only on set for two days. But I’m sure the younger actors went to some kind of bootcamp,” he assumed with a laugh. “They had to do a lot of running and screaming in the forest for a couple of weeks.

“But for Peterson, I didn’t have too much physicality or too many action sequences. So my focus was on making the character as believable as possible. I had to develop a psychological understanding of who the character was, more so than the physicality of what the other actors had to endear,” the performer added.

“But as an actor, it’s important to be supportive of all the other actors, and give them what they need. So if I had to be more violent, or scream at the top of my voice, to help them get to where they needed to go, that was important o me, especially in an ensemble piece,” Michael also shared.

In addition to serving as the director, Orr also served as an executive producer on the drama. He also delved into why he decided to also produce ‘Triggered,’ and how he balanced his helming and producing duties on the set.

“It’s difficult doing both. As a director, you have a particular creative vision for the film. But as a producer, you’re also involved in the financial responsibilities of it. So all of a sudden, you’re caught in the middle of wanting the film to look good, while also having a budget that you have to follow,” the producer pointed out.

“With this budget, we were worried that we were getting rained out, and that the vests weren’t working. So (directing and producing) isn’t something that I’d like to do again, because it was way too stressful,” Orr admitted. “I do have a producer who I trust fully, so I think I’ll hand over the reins to him next time. That way I can avoid the stresses of real life, and just focus on making the movie.”

Beside directing and producing ‘Triggered,’ the filmmaker also served as the editor. He then delved into what the process of editing the drama was like during the post-production process.

“I like editing, which is why I got into directing in the first place. I wasn’t getting the footage that I wanted to edit, so I figured the only way to do that is to direct (movies) myself. My first love is editing, and I look at projects from the eye of editing,” Orr disclosed.

“I didn’t get all the shots and scenes that I wanted, which was really hard for me to bring into the edit,” the editor also admitted. “Since I didn’t have an objective eye, it was difficult to go into the editing suite at times. Things I though were a disaster on set didn’t always end up being a disaster in post (production), and things I thought were great on set didn’t always end up being great during the edit.

“So I needed to reset my mind a bit and reframe things, and then the editing process became easier. I then had test screenings with friends and family members whose opinions I trusted. Not everyone was in the film industry, but everyone’s watched movies, and will always have an opinion,” the filmmaker pointed out. “That helped guide me and give me some perspective.”

With Samuel Goldwyn Films distributing ‘Triggered’ today On Demand, Orr supports the thriller’s digital release, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think it was always going to be a digital kind of film, and I don’t think COVID really changed that. But I do think we’re just in a better environment to distribute independent movies digitally,” he admitted. “Everyone’s stuck at home, and has the time to watch more films.

“I also feel like there’s less competition, and the playing field has leveled out. You don’t have the big blockbuster movies blasting advertising, and spending money on billboards. Everyone can now only really advertise on the internet…so I’m interested to see how that will play out with our film,” the helmer concluded.

Having ‘Triggered’ be released On Demand today is something that Ahlers alsosupports. “I think this virtual release really is beneficial. ‘Triggered’ was accepted into FrightFest and Grimmfest, and people who usually attend these festivals were obviously disappointed, because it’s usually an actual (in-person) event,” she shared.

“Now they had to buy a pass, and watch all of these films, online. I thought no one was going to watch (‘Triggered’) this way, but it turns out a lot of people did. That proved to me that maybe this is a good time” to watch films online, the actress divulged. “They want things to do, and take their attention away from everything else that’s happening at the moment.

“So I hope this is a really beneficial thing that’s are happening right now. Obviously, it’s disappointing that we couldn’t go to the premiere at FrightFest in the UK, or have a cast and crew screening like we wanted to in a cinema,” Ahlers added. “But overall, I think the On Demand release will be beneficial during this time.”

Swart also expressed her support of ‘Triggered’s digital distribution. “I think it’s great, because a lot of people are staying at home, due to the pandemic. Since a lot of the bigger studio films are being pushed back to next year, this is a great time for films with unknown casts.

“We’re from South Africa, so it’s a great opportunity and honor for us to have a film released in the U.S. I’m sure the whole team behind ‘Triggered’ is so thrilled and excited to have it being released in America; we all look up to America, in terms of distribution, especially when it comes to VOD,” the performer noted.

“But I truly hope that theaters will reopen soon, because I love watching movies in the theater; there’s nothing like watching a film on the big screen,” Swart divulged. “But for now, it’s such a great opportunity to release the movie through Video On Demand, because people have big screens on home.”

Michael agreed with Orr and his co-stars that the drama’s digital release “is vital. People are going through a difficult time, and are trying to figure out what’s going on. That’s where films and streaming services come in. It’s so fulfilling for me, as an actor, to work on a movie that are going to be on streaming services that serve as escapism from all the craziness of politics during these difficult times. It’s awesome that ‘Triggered’s coming out (today), and people can watch it from the comfort and safety of their own homes.”

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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