Exploring how the mourning of the loss of a familiar and comfortable period in a person life, and how they become increasingly dependent on visual stimulation to overcome their pain to almost an addictive level, is a powerful journey that’s not often relatably explored in modern cinema. But the provocative new psycho-sexual thriller, ‘PVT Chat,’ is a stunning delve into how people’s increasing reliance on instant gratification can ultimately impacts every aspect of their life, from their personal relationships to their careers, to such a degree that they’re no longer able to reverse any negative effects.
Ben Hozie served as the writer, director, cinematographer and editor on the movie, which Dark Star Pictures is releasing in theaters today, and then On Demand and Digital this Tuesday, February 9. Tickets to watch the feature through Laemmle’s Virtual Cinema can be purchased on the theater chain’s official website. Audiences can also purchase the film’s soundtrack mixtape on its Bandcamp page. The drama’s official distribution comes after it had its World Premiere at last year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
‘PVT Chat’ follows Jack (Peter Vack), a lonely internet gambler who’s living in New York City. He quickly becomes fixated on Scarlet (Julia Fox), a cam girl from San Francisco. As Jack learns more about Scarlet, he discovers her unrealized talent as a painter, and begins to fall hard for her. His obsession reaches a boiling point when fantasy materializes in reality, and he thinks he sees Scarlet one night on a street in New York’s Chinatown.
While Scarlet is clearly hiding her whole truth, and is taking advantage of Jack’s willingness to pay her in the process, she also seems to develop genuine feelings for him. That leads Jack determine to find out if their emotional connection is real, or if he’s just being taken advantage of by his perceived dream girl.
Hozie generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing, shooting and editing ‘PVT Chat’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that even though he penned and helmed the film, he wasn’t tied to the exact lines he created, and encouraged the cast to bring their own experiences and ideas to their portrayals. He also mentioned how as the editor, he looked through all of the footage he shot as the director to see how he could best arrange the overall story, even if the finished product didn’t fit his original screenplay.
The conversation began with Hozie discussing what inspired him to scribe the script, and what was the overall process of writing the story was like. “I first got the idea back in 2014, and wrote the script in 2015, and the story morphed during that time. In the beginning, it was more of a genre piece, and it still has some echoes of that,” he shared.
“Once I started working with Peter and Julia, I changed a lot of the characters’ traits. I didn’t base (the characters) on them as people, but was inspired by Peter and Julia’s mannerisms,” the scribe added. “I was also inspired by the mumblecore movement, as this is a low-budget movie that’s based off of improvisation and neorealism. So that shifted the movie, and it became less of a genre piece, and more of a realism-based story.
“I also didn’t want to make this a nihilistic, down-deep story; I wanted it to morph into more of a romantic comedy, which it kind of does half-way through the movie,” Hozie added. “It starts off as a noir film, and then morphs into a platonic romance. There isn’t any violence in the movie, even though when it starts off, violence is implied. You then start to realize that most of the characters in the movie are good-natured people.”
The filmmaker then delved into how in addition to penning the screenplay, he also directed ‘PVT Chat.’ He described how working on the script influenced the way he approached helming the movie, and what his overall directorial style was like on the feature.
“As soon as you write the script, you kind of have to let go of it. I ended up (serving as the director of photography), too, and had the camera on my shoulder during the shoot,” Hozie shared.
“We shot about 95 percent of the movie on the same wide-angle lens, which I like for two reasons: it evokes what a webcam look like, and it also reminds me of the last couple of Terrence Malick movies,” the director continued. “You almost feel like you’re in a 3D movie, even though the lens is 2D, because things pop out at you. So it allowed me in a quasi-scientific way to study the space and objects in all of the scenes.
“I was interested in shooting Jack’s computer like it was its own character. With that lens, when I glide past Jack and reveal Scarlet on the laptop,” the viewers will feel like they’re seeing Scarlet through Jack’s perspective, Hozie added.
The process of casting the drama, especially the characters of Jack and Scarlet, was also something that the filmmaker cherished. He mentioned what the process of casting Vack and Fox as the two lead characters was like during the production.
“Oliver (David), the film’s producer, was old friends with Peter. At one point, I was going to have Peter make a cameo in a smaller role, as he’s almost been typecast as a heartthrob in a lot of the TV shows he’s been on, so I was like, I don’t know if he’s right for Jack,” Hozie admitted. “But the more I got to know him, the more I realized that he could be Jack.
“It took a little bit longer to cast Scarlet,” the helmer admitted. “I met Julia before her career blew up when she starred in ‘Uncut Gems’ with (writer-directors) the Safdie brothers and Adam Sandler. We lucked out and got her about nine months before she starred in that film.
“Julia had never acted before starring in (‘PVT Chat’), but she wanted to get into acting. She was a famous downtown personality who has done art shows, and a lot of people knew who she was. She even did a little bit of dominatrix work when she was younger, so she was perfect for the role,” Hozie revealed.
“It’s difficult for actors to do their first-ever role, especially when you have to do something in which you’re totally transforming…from your own natural state. Julia wasn’t exactly playing herself (now), but I think she was playing a younger, more naive version of herself,” the director shared.
“So I met up with her, and it went great, and she tested with Peter, and it went well…I really lucked out with the two of them; they truly carry the whole movie,” Hozie added.
After Vack and Fox were cast in ‘PVT Chat,’ the filmmaker enjoyed the process of working with them to build the relationship between their characters, and allowing them to improv during the shoot, like he previously mentioned. “When they’re talking over the chats, they were in two separate rooms, and they would talk up to 30 minutes each time we filmed. They followed the script and knew the things they had to say, but I gave them permission to not say their lines exactly as I had written them,” he revealed.
“When they went on for 30 minutes, it became a game. They would lose themselves in a trance-like state and forgot the camera was even there as their friendship was developing,” Hozie divulged
“There were certain things they brought to the table. For example, one of my favorite moments from Julia was when Jack asks Scarlet how she became a dominatrix. She was like, I’ve been a dominatrix since I was four-years-old, as I would be in charge of the boys on the playground,” the helmer shared.
“That was something that Julia told me the first day that we met. I asked her how she became a dominatrix, and she said, “It’s a natural sate; I’ve been bossing people since I was four-years-old,” and I thought that was so funny,” Hozie revealed. “So when we were shooting, I told her to tell Jack that story. I also told her that she could embellish it with fiction, but basically tell her story, so things like that made their on-screen relationship special.”
Besides penning, helming and shooting the film, Hozie also embraced editing the feature. He delved into what the process of editing the final version of the thriller was like during post-production.
“When I edit my own films, I don’t look to connect the same dots that I did when I first started writing the script. I watch all of the footage and see what stands out as the most interesting parts,” the director shared. “I then look to see how I can arrange everything that stands out…I’m a process filmmaker, so I like to figure out things as I go. So the finished movie is very different than the script. We even went back and shot a bunch of extra scenes a year” after principal photography wrapped on the movie.
With Dark Star Pictures distributing ‘PVT Chat’ in theaters today, and then on VOD and Digital HD on Tuesday, Hozie expressed his appreciation that the feature received the dual distribution, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m really excited about it, and happy to be working with Dark Star. It’s unfortunate, though, because we could have had more arthouse theaters involved in the theatrical release, but now there are only a few theaters that are showing it,” he noted.
“I even booked a theater here in New York City, where I live and we shot the movie, just so that I would be able to show it on a big screen to mainly the cast and crew and our friends. This was about a year ago, last March, right before the pandemic and lock down started, so obviously that didn’t end up happening. That was right when we finished post-production.,” the filmmaker shared.
“So I’ve never had the experience of watching the movie in a theater with people. But that’s okay; maybe we can have a screening in repertoire theaters one day,” Hozie added.
“But this release works out because this is the type of movie that I think will play well if people watch it on their laptops alone. Due to the sexual and psychological nature of the story, it may be more comforting for people to watch it alone,” the helmer admitted. “That way, you can feel the things that the movie wants you to feel.
“We’ll see what happens to the film world, but what’s going on in the film world right now is tough. But I’m a film purist; cinema is moving pictures and sounds that illicit feelings and channel ideas, no matter how films are viewed. Filmmakers and audiences will find a way to continue being cineaphiles any way they can,” Hozie concluded.