Lives are left in pieces after a white cop responds to a violent hostage call and kills an innocent Black man in the new crime drama, ‘Blindfire.’ The film, which is inspired by actual events, explores the aftermath of the tragedy, during which the officer is accused of wrongfully shooting and killing the victim, who the majority of the public believes shouldn’t have been targeted. The repercussions of the officer’s actions are now being chronicled on screen, as the thriller is now playing in select theaters and virtual cinemas, as well as on Digital and VOD, courtesy of Kandoo Films.
Brian Geraghty, Sharon Leal, Bethany Joy Lenz, Edwina Findley Dickerson, Jim Beaver, Chiké Okonkwo and Wayne Brady round out ‘Blindfire’s cast. The movie was written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker, Michael Nell.
‘Blindfire’ follows Will Bishop (Geraghty), a white cop who responds to a violent hostage call and unjustifiably kills the Black man (Okonkwo) in his own home. After Bishop learns of the victim’s innocence and is suddenly facing repercussions for his actions, he’s forced to confront extremely difficult conversations with his partner (Leal), as well as the family of the victim, and must examine his own accountability while attempting to find the person who he feels is actually responsible for the tragic chain of events. The story echoes much of the conversation taking place in society today and offers a unique exploration of this timely issue from both sides.
Nell and Geraghty generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and starring in ‘Blindfire’ recently during exclusive phone interviews. Among other things, the filmmaker and actor discussed why it’s so important to showcase the timely subject matter of racial tensions involving the police in a piece of art. The scribe-belmer and performer also mentioned how they embraced the process of working with not only each other, but also the rest of the cast, while building the characters’ backstories, in order to make their arcs more realistic.
The conversation with Nell began with him describing what inspired him pen the screenplay, and what the overall writing process was like on the script. The scribe became involved in filmmaking when he served as an associate producer on the 2016 documentary, ’13th,’ which was directed by ‘Selma‘ helmer, Ava DuVernay, and offers an in-depth look at America’s history of racial inequality in the prison system.
The experience of working on ’13th’ helped transform Nell “from being a privileged guy who was pretty ignorant to much of this system at play around me into a work in progress who was trying to do my part. When I wrote this film, it was for other men like me to start conversations about accountability,” he divulged. “That was a lot of what went into the script for me, and why I wanted to write it.”
The preparation process during ‘Blindfire’s pre-production stage was traumatic for Nell at times, because “a lot of it hit me like a ton of bricks,” he admitted. His research started while he was working on ’13th,’ like he previously mentioned. The SWAT incident that’s featured in ‘Blindfire’ is based on a true story that the writer became aware of during his research process.
The real-life incident “sadly happened in Wichita, Kansas. It happened between videogamers; there was a videogamer in Los Angeles was trying to call a prank SWAT team on someone else across the country. He called an address that the person used to live at, and unfortunately, when the police arrived, an unarmed man ended up being shot and killed in his mother’s doorway,” the scribe revealed.
“I didn’t want to tell that exact story, as it’s still an ongoing case. There weren’t any convictions or accountability held on the police, which is very sad to me,” Nell continued. “But I wanted to write a story that combines (elements from) many of these stories that I’ve seen on the news about these Black men who have died. Then the police officer gets to claim that he was in fear of the situation, which is kind of the job they signed up for.
“But while I was working on the script, I had to put myself in the shows of these officers. As I watched this process transpire over and over, as a white man and not the Black victim, I put myself in the situation. I was still blown away by how no officer finds themselves accountable, and how the situation would be different if they did. So I wanted to see that. I thought that I could show something through a piece of art, it might be able to make some kind of difference,” the writer added.
With the racially charged thriller being inspired by actual events, and exploring the aftermath of a tragedy involving a white cop who is accused of wrongfully shooting and killing a Black man, Geraghty agreed with Nell that it’s important to showcase the timely subject matter of racial tensions in movies. During his preparation for his portrayal of Will, he did his own research, in addition to reading the screenplay, to help him fully prepare for his role.
“Obviously, I learned a lot about Black Lives Matter, as well as police brutality and people being treated a certain way because of the way they look,” the actor shared. “Anytime I can learn about a subject matter on a project, I feel that means it’s a story worth exploring. This film was a real awakening, and I was enlightened in a lot of ways.
“I’m also proud to be a part of a project like this with the actors who I worked with, who also educated me. We all come from different places around the country and world, but this is a story that we all want to tell,” Geraghty further noted.
“There’s nothing gimmicky about the story, and we’re not trying to raise false awareness. I say this movie is timely, but we did make it a year-and-a-half ago, so it wasn’t when this fantastic movement was happening,” the performer revealed. “When I say it’s fantastic, it’s an awakening to the country and the world…This is a story that I wanted to tell, even before this current movement started.”
In telling a story with such an important social message, Nell felt it was important that he not only pen the script, but also make his feature film directorial debut on ‘Blindfire.’ He discussed how working on the screenplay influenced his helming style on the set.
“I think that after writing the first film that I also directed, I may now always want a hand in writing the script when I also direct them, especially when I’m making a statement like this. I want to have that closeness and confidence in making all of the choices, so that I can instill them in my cast and crew, and they can trust me in telling such a high stakes, important message,” the filmmaker divulged.
“As I discussed the roles in the film with the actors, I was actively making changes to the script, based on their feedback and experiences, because I only have one point-of-view,” Nell pointed out. “I really wanted the film to have the authenticity that it deserves.
“Chiké Okonkwo is a very talented filmmaker, as well as an actor. I had the privilege of knowing him before this project started. He was actively giving me great notes and feedback,” the director divulged.
“One of the directors of one of the previous films that our (production company and distributor,) Kandoo Films, made is a man named Adisa. He made the thriller, ‘Skin in the Game,’ which was our last film to come out. I relied on him to give me a lot of good insight, and help me find any blindspots that I had, and navigate parts of the story that weren’t part of my personal experience,” Nell also shared.
The filmmaker also relied on Kevin Ross, who played the judge in the drama, and is also “an actual judge in real life. He gave me insight that was so one-of-a-kind into the legal matters that are involved in a situation like this one. He’s been such a passionate supporter of the film showing the controversy on both sides, and really having an authentic picture of this situation.
“Brian was also great to work with. I’m a first-time director, and he has so much experience. From the first time we met, he was very open, and knew where I was coming from, and he was happy to collaborate with me,” Nell shared about ‘Blindfire’s lead actor. “It was a very great situation to work with him, and we had an open and honest relationship.
“We both knew, as two white guys, going into this film and telling this story that there was a chance for this to completely be a crash and burn situation, and we could really miss the mark. So there was a vulnerability that we both had to have and communicate with each other, so that we could know that we were going in the right direction. The last thing either of us wanted to do was make a film that wasn’t in service of the people we were trying to help the most,” the helmer added.
“So there was a lot of work back-and-forth with the cast. I was blessed to have such a great cast that was put together by David Guglielmo. I was very open with all of them in trying to write their characters, and make any changes that were needed to make their characters authentic people, and allow the actors to use their professional instincts on set,” Nell added. “So it was really important to me that each actor bought authenticity into who their characters were, and what they were saying and doing.
The actors were all so experienced that “there wasn’t much that I was going to be able to tell them to elevate their game. I had to be confident that I delivered the story to them, and they were understanding,” the filmmaker noted.
“They would just impress me every day with the things they would bring to it. I could never tell them how to feel their characters’ emotions, because I’m not them, and will never have their exact experiences…I’m grateful to all of them for believing in me and taking a risk on what they were making…I’m also grateful for this casting; first-time directors don’t always get this star treatment, and it was quite a blessing,” Nell admitted.
Also speaking about how he was cast in the film, Geraghty shared what interested him in playing Michael in ‘Blindfire.’ “I thought it was an interesting question over what led to the shooting, and how the story was going to be told. I wanted to find out why my character killed this guy,” he revealed. “Was it because of the way (the victim) looked, or because my character felt threatened?
“I thought that was a really great acting challenge, and it was something that had never been done before in this point-of-view,” the actor continued. He realized that with the thriller “being a small movie, it may not work, but at least I had the experience of telling this story.
“I then sat down with the director and producers, and after talking with them and raising some questions I had, I felt confident in our approach. But the execution on a small film changes from day-to-day, so you can never guarantee anything,” Geraghty emphasized.
Also speaking of the rest of the cast, the performer cherished the bonds they created during ‘Blindfire’s production, and enjoyed working with them to build their characters’ relationships. “I mainly worked with Sharon Leal and Bethany Joy Lenz. We rehearsed and talked a lot about what we were doing. Usually during the rehearsal process, you start to understand what kind of actors your co-stars are…and I was lucky to have people who wanted to be a part of this story. So we were able to discuss our ideas, and what we thought the story should be,” he shared. “We then showed up everyday and tried to tell the best story that we could. It was really a fun, collaborative process.
“Again, when you have a message like this that feels important…you get the idea that it’s more important than you are,” Geraghty continued. “When everyone shows up for that, it’s unexplainable. I’ve been fortunate enough to do several war films, and it’s hard to bring your actor/Hollywoodness into that; you have to let all that go, and just tell the story. I feel like we were all able to do that with ‘Blindfire,’ especially since we had a level of innate trust.”
In addition to working with his co-stars, the actor also cherished the opportunity to collaborate with Nell, as both the writer and director on the movie. “Working with Mike was something that was really fun for me. He’s a first-time film director, but he has also produced other films, and also has a film education. We were fully collaborating with each other, and it was a really fun process,” Geraghty shared.
“We met up at Mike’s house, and he explained why he thought the story worked. But there were times I’d also say, ‘I don’t know about this scene,’ and he’d say, ‘You’re right. What would work better? Maybe we can also improvise a little bit, and come up with a more cohesive way to tell this scene, in terms of the dialogue.’ So we had a great dialogue together, because we came from the same space of wanting to tell this important story,” the performer continued.
“Mike had a lot of people help him on the film, to help make sure that this story was told in a more sophisticated way, and handled with care. He wanted to make sure that we weren’t illicitness something that was false, just to get people to see it,” Geraghty added. “But there were challenges in making a film in 15 days in L.A., so we all had to show up and work very hard.
Following up on the fact that ‘Blindfire’ was shot on location in L.A., the actor expressed his appreciation of being able to film the drama in his hometown. “It’s always great to work where you live. I also felt like the film is really about L.A., and captures the urban parts of it…We also had a really professional crew, so it felt good that we were able to do what we needed to do, and didn’t need to sacrifice. It can be difficult to move around L.A. with trailers, but the film was written for L.A., so it was great to be able to shoot there,” he shared.
Nell also spoke about the experience of shooting ‘Blindfire’ on location. “This is a low-budget film, and we shot in 15 days all over town. We moved 11 different times in 15 days, so we were always on the run. We had to take advantage of the little places the city has to offer, like Echo Park Lake; it’s a beautiful little place that I always try to incorporate into projects I work on.
“Our production designer, Christina Eunji Kim, did an amazing job; she brought so many places to life as she worked with our DP (director of photography), Halyna Hutchins,” the director added. “They were able to take courtrooms that I had already used, and suddenly transform them into a completely different courtroom. It was an amazing feeling to watch our team do with what little we had.
“I love what I can get from Los Angeles because I live here. I had friends support me. It helped that we were making a film with such an important message to it,” Nell divulged.
“We built one of the sets in one of my friends’ garage. My dad came out to help, and we drywalled it together. That was one of the sets we used for the gamers’ room,” the filmmaker added. “We also used part of his house for Joy and Brian’s house, and we also found some hotels throughout Los Angeles.
“I love Los Angeles; it can be a town that can be easily recognized. There are little things that can be shown to people who don’t live here, and they’ll still know it’s Los Angeles,” Nell continued. “A lot of the film industry has such a history here, so I love shooting here.”
After production on the thriller wrapped, it went on to be named Best Crime Drama at the Houston International Film Festival. The helmer expressed his appreciation that ‘Blindfire’ was recognized at the festival, but he also admitted that “this is a bit of the sad part. As everyone already knows with COVID in 2020, we didn’t actually get to have a real festival run. The whole country started to shut down in February, so we wanted to make sure everyone stayed safe.
“The Houston International Film Festival didn’t put together any in-person screenings. So at this moment, I still haven’t gotten to sit with a live audience to watch my film, which is something that I’d love to be able to do. I may just have to rent out a theater one day next year, when we’re hopefully in safe times, and invite people off the street. It’s a real tough scenario to do anything out here in Los Angeles at this moment,” Nell admitted. “I had a few sneak peaks with a few friends on big screen televisions over the summer, but I haven’t gotten to see the film in an actual theater with an audience yet.
“I’m glad to see that a lot of festivals went on to have events virtually. The Houston International Film Festival did give out awards, and helped publicize the indie films that were taking part in their festival,” the filmmaker added. “It was so great to get that support, because for an indie film like ours, it’s hard to get on the map.
“All of these film festivals had to work hard to promote these indie films. It was great to see all the different routes they took to do that, through Zoom conferences and panels to virtual screenings,” Nell continued to praise the virtual festivals. “I hope people pay attention these types of things, because it’s a way for them to see these films way in advance, and help support the filmmakers.”
Geraghty also expressed his appreciation that the movie was honored at the Houston International Film Festival. “It’s always great to be included in festivals because there’s a climate there of artists supporting other artists, filmmakers and actors. You want to tell stories that are important, and also be a part of something that’s creative, and film festivals are the places where these stories are celebrated. So to be a part of that is great, and to be awarded is the icing on the cake. I love film festivals because they’re a celebration of all filmmakers and the artists who help tell the story, from the set decorator to the prop master and camera department.”
With ‘Blindfire’ now playing in Virtual Cinemas, as well as on Digital and VOD, Nell appreciates the fact that Kandoo Films decided to release the drama in a way that allows viewers to watch it safely from their homes. “The virtual cinemas are helping the independent theaters stay alive and keep business going. They’re also helping independent films gain an audience,” he noted.
“I also have an organization in my hometown called The Equality Pact that’s working on many social injustice initiatives. We partnered with them for the film’s distribution, so they’re releasing our film. They have their own link that people can watch the film at,” the director shared. “Proceeds will go towards the organization.
“I will always miss the cinema, and want to see films on the big screen. But when we’re in this situation, people have to get creative. It’s interesting to see some of these movies be on the same scale as” bigger studio films, Nell added. “We’re all competing on the same platform now…and are being seen on the same screens. It’s an interesting new playing field in that way. Hopefully, with word of mouth, we can get our movie seen by everybody, too.”
Geraghty also expressed his support of the drama’s Digital release. “I feel like I’ve been watching more films now than before the pandemic. I’m in Vancouver shooting a TV show right now, luckily, but for the most part, there aren’t a lot of productions going on right now, so I’ve been spending more time at home. I feel like it’s helpful to have all these options to watch movies at home. You can watch the trailer for a film, and decide if you want to watch it right away,” he concluded.