Exclusive interview with director Matt Eskandari
Q: I heard that the writer Brandon [Stiefer],used to work in [the Department of] National security. How much did their input help you make this film? What things did you find fascinating about Homeland Security?
ME: It’s actually true that the writer used to work in Homeland Security, so he has a lot of real-life experience in the wire room. That really gave the story and the script a lot of authenticity and made it feel real and genuine. That, honestly, was one of the things that made me want to direct the movie.
Q: What fascinated you about Homeland Security itself?
ME: Obviously, it’s this whole idea that Homeland Security can watch and listen and watch people while [they] I don’t know about that. I don’t know if I like the idea, but it’s an interesting hook for a story.
One thing about the script that really drew me in was the character chemistry between Justin and Eddie, and the way that, over the course of 90 minutes, they start off. They do not know each other or share a real scene together where they are in the room together. But you see them slowly go from animosity to trust and respect, and at the end you see them cheering each other on. I thought that was a really cool character dynamic that I personally hadn’t made a movie about before. So that was really something that attracted me.
Q: You did “12 Feet Down” with two sisters trapped under a fiberglass cover in an Olympic size pool. In this movie, you also have a very small and confined space to shoot. How did you plan it to engage the audience to feel the tension?
ME: It’s funny. It’s not by choice, but for some reason in my career I’ve been doing thrillers. “12 Feet Down” was a difficult movie to shoot because he was in the water for 90 minutes. That is much more challenging.
But this? Obviously going into this I knew it would have its limitations and I really needed to tap into my experience as a filmmaker and make it as cinematic as possible. A lot of that comes down to finding the right angles, finding some cinematic angles, keeping the camera moving, the right kind of lenses, anamorphic.
Then I work with the actors so that the blocking in the scenes actually uses as much space as possible. Instead of Kevin sitting in front of the monitor for 90 minutes, he gets up, runs and grabs things. He does a lot of movement within the space so that the audience constantly sees that visual variety and it makes it feel bigger and more cinematic.
Q: You have worked with Bruce Willis on “Trauma Center”, “Survive the Night” and “Hard Kill” and now this will be the fourth movie you do with him. How did your relationship develop throughout those four films?
ME: Yes, it has been a pleasure. It’s one of those things that, if you had told me 10 years ago when I was in film school that, “You will be directing four movies with Bruce Willis in 10 years.” I’d be like, “What? That’s crazy, man.” But it’s just one of those things.
I had this script that I took to Lionsgate. They really liked it, and credited it to Bruce. I worked with him at the “Trauma Center” and it was a great experience. Working with someone of that level, you see why he is a legend. He’s an A-list star because every time he’s on camera there’s something behind the eyes: there’s depth there. You’re just drawn to him, I don’t know what it is, that magical movie star quality that some actors have.
So, it’s been a pleasure, it’s been great. Every movie I did with him was different, which I found interesting. I never did the same film twice with him, there was always something different. [First] It was this detective thriller set in a hospital, and then a home invasion where he plays a grandfather, which is my personal favorite. And so [we” did] Hard Kill,” which was this heist movie. And now, it’s this wire room surveillance story.
That’s what’s been great, being able to put him in these different movies and see him play very different characters.
Q: What conversations did you have with the actors to make the action scenes feel so real?
ME: I love working with real effects, explosions and fights as much as possible, well choreographed. For me, it’s about how much we can do on camera. And how much can I make the actors really there in the moment, in the day?
A lot of that is I talk to the actors. I let them know, “Hey, are you open to doing as many stunts as you can? We will give you the training, we will teach you how to use weapons and how to fight.” A lot of times, they’re excited about it, they’re having fun too. They are actors for a reason. They want to get in there, get dirty and get a little bruised.
It’s a lot of fun, and I feel like it gives the movies a bit more of a grittiness rather than doing it all. [CGI].
Q: The relationship between Justin [Kevin Dillon] and Shane [Bruce Willis] [is at the film’s core]. Justin is the rookie who comes in and wants some action. Shane is about to retire and wants to go quietly. He has an interesting and wonderful dynamic. How did you create that and did you do it? [it an intriguing] relationship at the beginning, and at the end, which works well?
ME: That was on the page, luckily. The writer, when he wrote the script, he really nailed that relationship between Shane and Justin. How one of them is just this rookie, he’s excited, he came here to get some action. And then we have Shane, who’s burned out and done, he’s tired, he doesn’t want to deal with the cable room anymore. He’s probably done it for 20 years and nothing exciting ever happens to him.
It was a fun dynamic, and I thought it was breaking the third or fourth wall in a way. But it was great to see that dynamic. For me it was fun because Kevin, who is playing [Justin]is trying to get Shane’s approval, and [Bruce] he is simply firing it. [Justin is] like, “What, man? Come on, help me get out of here. Y [Shane] it just takes your breath away. I thought it was fun.
Q: Although this is primarily an action movie, it does have some comedic elements. Was there any improvisation with Kevin? How did you work with him on set?
ME: Kevin is obviously a talented actor. He has great improvisational comedy skills, so that was definitely one of the things I told him when we cast him in the role. I said, “Hey, Kevin, anytime you find a fun little moment where you can improvise, or play with a little line, or throw a look, or just do something, do it. We’ll have fun with that. Either it will work or it won’t. Seven times out of 10, it might not. But those three times he does it, it will be fun. It will be comic gold.”
There were a lot of those little moments where he just threw things in there. I don’t know if you remember, but at the end of the movie, the whole “There’s no parking here” thing. That was just Kevin improvising something about never finding a parking space. It was just him doing fun things. I thought that was definitely something intentional that we wanted to bring into the story.
Q: This movie was shot during Covid and there was a lot of tight space during the shoot. How do you work with the circumstances of the Covid?
ME: Obviously, this was my first time shooting with Covid restrictions, and it definitely wasn’t easy. You are dealing with masks, quarantine and everyone needs to be tested for Covid. That is a waste of time. But ultimately it’s just to keep everyone safe, and we find ways around that. Hopefully, very soon in the future, we can all put this behind us and move on, and just get back to shooting movies the normal way. I am optimistic.
Q: Oliver Trevena, as Eddie Flynn, gave an incredible performance. He was on set and interacted with Kevin on the phone even though they were in different places. What was involved in the casting process and acting?
ME: I feel like casting Oliver was a stroke of genius because, in the script, the character was written as a Mexican cartel boss. I felt like we’d seen that character so many times before that I thought it was interesting to pick something completely different.
Oliver is actually the one who came to me and said, “What if he’s an Irish arms dealer?” and I was like, “Wow, that’s interesting. Can you do an Irish accent? and he says, “I can do it.” So he basically created that character from scratch. He was watching videos with Conor MacGregor, you know, he has that style and swagger, he was trying to bring some of that swagger to the character. He is one of those actors who wanted to play that role as much as he could. He was choosing exactly what he was going to wear, how he was going to walk and all that. So it was really fun creating that character with him.
And even though he never shares a scene in the actual bedroom with Kevin’s character, with Justin, he said, “Okay, I’m going to go on set and read the lines off-camera with him, just to give him something to work with.” . with and I will know how he is playing it.” I thought that was a great idea. It helped them both develop that chemistry throughout the story that is critical to making it work.
Q: Justin seems to have a history as to why he worked in the Secret Service. Later, Shane revealed it by talking about his past. Was it a conscious choice not to go into detail because you just wanted to focus on this wire room story?
ME: There was more on the page, and I was struggling because of how much we wanted to dig into that. It’s just one of those things that you pick up in the cutting room when you’re making a movie and say, “Okay, we’ve got 90 minutes to tell this story.” What do we want to focus on and what not?
It’s kind of intriguing to me about just leaving the breadcrumbs there for the audience and giving them enough that they’re like, “Oh, this guy has a history, he has a past. Obviously, there is something that happened and there is more to this story. There is something that is obviously motivating him. What is it?” There’s an ambiguity to it. That was definitely an intention to give it something there, but at the same time let the audience fill in that blank for themselves. Maybe if there’s a sequel, we’ll be able to tell that story.
Q: What other challenging things did you face on set?
ME: I feel like in every movie there are different challenges, things that you have to tackle. For this we had a very tight schedule, we did not have many days [or] time for a lot of preparation. I was coming to him with a tough challenge to make this movie work on a very short notice.
And then there’s the whole idea of the limited location, and trying to make it feel cinematic and visually interesting. That is always a difficult challenge for a filmmaker. The last movie I did was “Hard Kill” and I felt like it had a lot more production value. It wasn’t just one guy in a room, there was a lot going on.
So to go from that to, “Okay, now I’m going to intentionally limit my production values. However, how am I going to keep making this intriguing for the audience? How do I keep them engaged for 90 minutes? How do I give them enough to keep them nervous, but at the same time, wanting more?
It was definitely like all the movies. It offered me difficult challenges as a director. Hopefully we were able to conquer them.
Q: What do you want the audience to take away from this interesting film?
ME: It’s one of those things where, as a director, I never want to hit the audience over the head with a message or something. I want you to have fun, be entertained, enjoy the experience and take some things home. The importance of being exposed to this interesting world of the wire room and knowing what the government, which has this kind of control, can do. [raises] interesting questions to ask. And to [get someone to] say, “Wow, is this real? What are these things that are happening like this? Do these things exist? I feel like as long as they can walk away with it, [and be] entertained, so I did my job.
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Here is the trailer for the movie..