MEET ME THERE: An Interview with Screenwriter Brandon Stroud by Matty Budrewicz

MEET ME THERE: An Interview with Screenwriter Brandon Stroud

meetmethere1New US indie Meet Me There has quickly become a real favourite here at UKHS towers.

The story of a young couple whose problems between the sheets leads them on a harrowing voyage of self-discovery through a weird little backwater town, Meet Me There blew both myself and Dave Wain away after we were privy to director Lex Lybrand’s early festival cut (you can read our thoughts on it HERE and HERE). Smart, scary and totally unique, it’s one of the absolute highlights of this year.

Continuing our coverage of this terrific flick, I recently caught up with Meet Me There’s scripter Brandon Stroud for a quick chinwag…

UKHS: So where did the movie come from? When I talked to Lex back in January he said you formed the screenplay from “a lifetime of stories”.

Brandon: I did. Destiny Talley gets our “based on stories by” credit because almost everything in the film is based on something horrible from her life. She grew up in a town called Atwood, Oklahoma, a town of 74 people that is nothing but a church, a few intersecting streets and a shit-ton of nightmares. She’ll just randomly drop stories about her hometown into conversation, like, “when I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to go into the woods because of druids having ceremonies,” or, “one day a guy in town killed a bunch of dogs and lined them up along the street.”

brandon1UKHS: That’s nuts. So there is stuff in there that has actually happened?!

Brandon: Yeah, a lot of it. I think the scariest thing in the world is real life.
Back in 2003 I wrote a novel called Seven Hill City, and I managed to get it optioned for a film twice. Both times it lingered in pre-production hell, so I got tired of not having a movie and decided to write something quick and easy I could just make with my friends on the cheap. Total throwaway horror movie. About fifteen pages into it I thought, “shit, wait, I could make this good,” and started throwing in all of Destiny’s stories. Eventually it became a story about her life, about our lives, and about the desperate effort to cope with that feeling like everything bad that’s ever happened to you has stuck around and started closing in for the kill.

I’m happy with where it went. It went from something I was going to shoot as easily as possible and throw up on YouTube into something I wrote from the bottom of my heart and all the best parts of my brain, made with people I love, admire and respect, playing film festivals. It’s crazy.

meetmethere2UKHS: I really think you can tell that there is a lot of thought and a lot of heart behind it. Meet Me There is just so rich in its characterisation, which is something that doesn’t happen all too often in the horror genre. From what you’ve said then, I take it it was important for you to give your characters as much depth as you did? Obviously after you decided it wasn’t just a goofy DIY shocker!

Brandon: I probably put too much thought into the characters I wrote! Ada and Calvin [the protagonists] have entire back stories in my brain that I didn’t come close to exploring in Meet Me There. Marlow has an entire life we don’t see her living. I think every character is an opportunity, you know? If you can make them matter, make them real, you should. Some just sorta breeze into the story and leave, but the ones you spend time with should be able to hold a conversation.

UKHS: So how much of you is in Meet Me There?

Brandon: There’s a lot of me in it. That Smurfs story in it is totally true, by the way. It happened in Virginia and not Ohio, but yeah, I’m that dude who misses out on an absolutely pointless amusement park opportunity and regrets it for the rest of his life. The way-too-many wrestling references are me, too.

meetmethere3UKHS: Are you a horror fan, Brandon?

Brandon: I am, but I got into it late in the game. I grew up in a video store. My mom managed a place called “Video USA” when I was little, so before and after school I’d sit on a stool behind the counter and watch VHS tapes all day. I stayed away from the horror because the box art scared the shit out of me, and my imagination would always take me somewhere darker than actually watching the films would. I got into horror as an adult, actually, when I realised there was an art to it beyond putting gross faces on a box. I’m a huge fan of older psychological horror. It’s almost therapeutic for me now that I’ve lived a chunk of life. You know, and I say that as someone who still totally owns the Friday the 13th blu-ray boxed set. I like it all.

UKHS: I ask because I said in my write up of Meet Me There something like how it was both familiar and completely different all at the same time. There’s the characters with a troubled past, a town with secrets… It’s a classic set up but executed in such an unexpected and almost anti-genre way.

Brandon: I think a lot of horror tropes are born from something real. The unknown, not being able to come to terms with the past… Towns full of people you’ll never understand, and the paranoia that comes from that. What makes them tropes is how people lean on them. It’s easy to put jock, cheerleader, black guy and a stoner into a crazy town where everyone’s trying to kill them, but I think it’s much more entertaining to put somebody like ME in there, explore how they’d naturally react to what was happening, and play with it.

Calvin and Ada could exist in any film, and that’s what I love about them. I care about them because they were around before the film, and could be around after it. The genre is one that provides endless possibilities for creativity and interpretation, and damn, if I had forty million dollars and a franchise opening every October I’d sure as shit be swimming in the freedom. If something worked before, make it work again, but make it work differently. Make it work like your brain wants it to work, not like you think it has to. Even if you fail miserably.

MEET 001UKHS: Looking at the film, was Lex’s visual take on the material close to how you saw it whilst writing?

Brandon: It’s hard to say. Lex’s visuals are something I can’t understate the importance of. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to work with him… He can take something from my brain, filter it through his and make it truly beautiful. That’s an incredible talent. In a perfect world, I get to filter my stuff through his brain a few more times before he’s too famous to talk to me.

UKHS: How do you think actors Lisa Friedrich and Micheal Foulk took to their parts? Were they what you envisioned when you wrote Ada and Calvin? What did they bring to it? Considering their backgrounds in improv, did they and Lex do much improvising or did they stick pretty rigidly to what you wrote?

Brandon: Micheal and Lisa are amazing. They’re both great actors and talented comedians and improvisers, so they basically took fictional versions of me and Destiny and brought them to life. They’re not “versions” of anyone now, they’re unique, fully-formed characters, and that’s largely thanks to their input and thoughts on the story. I’ve made sure to ask their opinions throughout every stage of the film, and it’s helped tremendously. The best part of working with talented people is utilising those talents… Why work with a genius if you don’t want to learn from them and make yourself better? I feel like I’m a better writer now having worked with these people. Lisa, Mike, Megan, Dustin, Jill, Lex, all of them.

There are a few scenes in the movie that are totally improvised, yes, but they stuck to the voice we set up in the script, so it’s hard to tell which ones. That’s killer. I fully expected Lex and the actors to take the script and say, “okay, we’re gonna throw out pages two through forty and do this,” but they didn’t. The respect they gave the story was tremendous, and tremendously flattering. I couldn’t have worked with a more constructive crew.

mmtnew2UKHS: You said earlier about the wrestling connections, so let’s touch on them a bit. You and Lex are both big wrestling buffs, right?

Brandon: Oh man, wrestling… I write about it for a living and work in the wrestling business now. I do a column called ‘The Best And Worst Of WWE Raw’ over at WithLeather.com – my day job, unbelievably – and ring announce for Inspire Pro Wrestling in Austin. Everything I write, EVERYTHING is full of wrestling references. When I wrote this, I challenged myself to not put any wrestling references in, and in the script, there are none. Then we thought, “Oh, we should cast Dustin Runnels for this,” and suddenly Goldust was in the movie. And when we cast roles, we ended up with Jack Jameson. He’s the guy in the cold open with the beard. He’s a pro wrestler.

And then when it was time to cast extras for the druid scenes we were like, “Who do we know?” And we ended up with a woods full of pro wrestlers. Folks like Leva Bates, Evan Gelistico, Addy Starr, Thomas Shire… These are all people who wrestle, all around the world, and they’re also people we know who are free to put on robes and mess around with blood and goats. Oh, and when it came time to pick wardrobe, whoops, suddenly Lisa’s in a Daniel Bryan shirt, or an UltraMantis Black shirt. I have a sickness, I think!

goldustUKHS: Completely! So what was Dustin “Goldust” Runnels like to work with?

Brandon: Working with Dustin was… I still haven’t totally been able to put it into words! This guy’s been a favourite of mine since I was eleven. He’s legitimately one of my five favourite pro wrestlers ever, and somehow he read a thing I wrote and liked it enough to want to be in it. It was serendipitous for us, too, because he’d shown up in the previous January’s Royal Rumble, but he didn’t have a WWE contract.

He shot our film, and then a few months later got his WWE job back. He’s forty-five and seemingly entering the prime of his career. He’s as good in the ring as he’s ever been, doing hurricanranas and Yoshi Tonics to guys and I get to say, “I made that guy wade around in a cow piss pond for a scene in our movie.” It’s unreal. Dustin’s an artist, man; he came in prepared and blew everybody away. His talent is absurd. We didn’t start writing Woodward with him in mind, but when he was sitting in that church saying the lines, we couldn’t imagine Woodward being anyone else.

UKHS: You said that Meet Me There is a project you’re passionate about. You must be thrilled then that now it’s starting to get out there it’s connecting with people in such a way. It’s got some real buzz behind it.

Brandon: I’m very happy with it. I had a moment during the New Orleans première about ten minutes in when people were laughing and reacting where I went, “Oh my God, this is real.” I don’t think I’d let my brain process it before then. One day I’m in a field outside of a church getting eaten up by chiggers, the next I’m in a theatre wearing a bow-tie, watching a movie I helped make. It’s my guts, and now you can see them!

mmtnew1UKHS: What’s your plan for it now?

Brandon: Lex handles a lot of the promotional stuff, but I’m happy to talk to anyone I can about the film. Getting it out there, getting it into festivals. We’ve even talked to distributors already, which is amazing seeing as we’ve had one official screening. Probably two by the time this goes up. I’m going to try to make sure I make it to as many of our festival screenings as I can. We’ve got one in Austin on the 20th that is kicking my ass, I can’t wait to show the film in the town it was born.

UKHS: Finally, how’re you going to follow up Meet Me There? Do you have any other film projects on the horizon, specifically any genre-friendly ones?

Brandon: The goal I’ve always had in mind is to make a movie, and have it do well enough for me to make another one, and just keep that going. There’s so much I’d love to do. The Seven Hill City adaptation will happen one day. If Meet Me There blows up and we sell out, I’ve got at least three great sequels in the tank before we’re doing a half-assed 3D reboot with Dustin throwing spears at the camera or whatever! There’s a really great part two in my head I want to get out. I’ve also talked to Lex about us collaborating on a sci-fi project, so that could be fun. Lots of stuff waiting to exist. I couldn’t be more excited.
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Follow all the news about Meet Me There on their Facebook page HERE
Read the UKHS Lex Lybrand interview HERE
Follow UKHS’ Matty Budrewicz on twitter @mattybudrewicz

 

Meet Me There (2013) Director’s Cut Screener Review

MEET 001MEET ME THERE (2013) Director’s Cut Screener

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Lisa Friedrich, Micheal Foulk, Dustin Runnels

Written by: Brandon Stroud, Destiny D. Talley (story)

UK Certification: n/a

Runtime: 93 minutes

Directed by: Lex Lybrand

UK Release Date: n/a

I didn’t expect for fate and film criticism integrity to be part of the first line of one of this week’s reviews, but from time to time a jigsaw will fall into place that has you scratching your head and wondering “what are the odds?”. Lex Lybrand – I’m not familiar with the name, but my friend and fellow UKHS scribe Matty Budrewicz is. He told me last week that he has exchanged the occasional email with Lex and of course also had the privilege of interviewing him for UKHS back in January. Matty had been lucky enough to catch Lex’s new movie ‘Meet Me There’, described as “an art film set in a horror universe”, but was reluctant to review it as he felt a fresh pair of eyes could offer perhaps a more critical perspective to this intriguing indie picture. So here we are, and those crow’s feet lined eyes belong to me…

A five minute prologue begins the film, and it’s one that grabs you by the throat and then pokes you in the eye with its stark originality. Lybrand stated in his interview with Matty that despite having an appreciation of horror, he really isn’t an aficionado, and with Meet Me There that level of ‘naivety’ with the genre enables him to deliver a level of sustained ingenuity. With a pumping soundtrack over the opening credits, we’re introduced to Ada (Lisa Friedrich) and Calvin (Micheal Foulk), a regular couple in their late twenties who we find kissing passionately on their bed and are well on the way to having sex. Before they do so, we find Ada recoiling and suddenly going off the idea of intimacy for as yet undisclosed reasons.

MEET 002Their ongoing sexual dysfunction has lead them to seek the help of a psychiatrist who manages to glean that while Calvin had a pretty regular childhood to which he has vivid memories of, Ada struggles to recall even the most basic of memories from her early years. The psychiatrist suggests that a very likely cause of Ada’s reluctance to engage in intercourse could well stem from her childhood, specifically certain experiences that her memory is deliberately trying to protect her from. Later on the couple discuss the events of the day while Ada goes through some old photographs. They decide that the only way to combat this situation is to visit Ada’s home state of Oklahoma with the hope of unearthing the root of her issues, but once there they find her old house no longer exists and a brief stay with her aunt only sets about a chain of unnerving situations.

Meet Me There is an absolute treat for anyone that has any kind of affection for good, honest independent horror. With a lot of indie movies you tend to be a little apologetic when recommending them – “yeah, the acting is a little cringe, but…” or “yeah, the photography is a little uneven, but…” – however, with Lybrand’s feature the difficulty lies with trying to keep your praise in check when the initial response would be to exalt it with a feverish level of excitement. The two lead actors (Friedrich and Foulk) are absolutely magnificent… why? because they’re normal, everyday people. In a break from the norm of casting a jock and a cheerleader in seemingly every horror movie with a couple as its focal point, this movie spends time in allowing us to get to know Ada and Calvin. Not only that, but they have a relationship that exudes realism. For example, at the start of the film when Calvin feels rejected by Ada for spurning his advances he doesn’t reject her or treat her with disdain – he supports her. A simple moment like this enables the characters to grow immeasurably, and the empathy and feeling you have towards them is established with aplomb.

The film does take time in establishing a level of menace that would normally be attributed to a horror movie. Nearly the first half of the movie is comprised of dialogue which could well frustrate people who have been conditioned towards ADHD genre movies. For me though this level of pacing was welcome, and the gradual increase in tension and atmosphere in the latter stages is expertly handled. The photography in the film belies the film’s presumed budget and the director’s use of black and white is incorporated appropriately. A deep nod of respect for the music in the film also, which manages to blend traditional hymns with some great contemporary bands – with a fist pump of respect for the use of the track ‘Passing Through a Screen Door’ from The Wonder Years album ‘The Greatest Generation’. Tune.

MEET 003Lex Lybrand told Matty that he was pretty confident that the film would be able to secure some worldwide distribution deals, and I really hope that will be the case. We were only speaking the other day about the cynical excuses for horror movies that dominate the release schedules in the UK and shared an air of despondency over the lack of solid indie titles that are able infiltrate the market place. THIS though, is what we need, and it should serve as a template for what independent horror filmmakers should seek to create.

8 out of 10

Follow all the news about Meet Me There on their Facebook page HERE

MEET ME THERE (2014) Thoughts on the Festival Cut by Matty Budrewicz

meetmethere1MEET ME THERE (2014)

Thoughts on the Festival Cut by Matty Budrewicz

Back in January, I had the pleasure of engaging in a little online back and forth with director Lex Lybrand, the focus of which being his sophomore feature Meet Me There. In the subsequent article I pieced together from it (which you can read HITHER), I tipped Meet Me There to be one of best up n’ coming American indies of this year. Now, having just been one of the first British scare flick scribes to witness Lybrand’s currently on-the-rounds festival cut, I can very happily say it is. It really, really is.

I must say, I was a little hesitant to write any sort of critique or response to the film for you guys, truth be told. Based upon my pre-existing relationship with Lybrand, because of said interview, and because I do, in fact, firmly believe in the idea of journalistic integrity (for now anyway. I’m sure I can be bought if the price is right though. Best offers, people!), I felt anything of the sort would be improper.

I don’t want to misguide or- even worse- be accused of being anymore gushy and sycophantic than I probably already am. I guess what it is that I’m trying to say is, well, this is NOT a review; this piece you are perusing is merely my immediate response to a neat little picture I feel very passionately about. If you want the full critical sha-boodle, get your arses back here in a few days when UKHS’ human reviewing machine, the right honourable Dave Wain casts his analytical gaze upon it.

meetmethere2Meet Me There is imbued with an eerie and hypnotic power. It’s the kind of power that has made me want to write, scream or do whatever the hell I could to get my thoughts out straight away. It’s a sexually charged Gothic by way of mumblecore; a creepy, dream-like yet all too human character driven horror drama. Think Phantasm as seen through the artistic eye of John Cassavetes, or The Wicker Man by way of Two Lane Black Top. It is both familiar in its use of genre lore and convention, yet completely unlike anything else all at the same time. It’s a bizarre paradox for sure, yet one that somehow makes perfect sense within the confines of the films own inner logic and rich, but only hinted at, mythology.

Meet Me There draws you in, slowly piling on the dread and a near hallucinatory haze with long, lingering handheld shots. It’s gorgeous to look at and study; weirdly steady but prone to the staccato bursts of violent juddering as per the verite-ish technique. It’s an uncomfortable blend that seems to make the whole damn movie feel like something you’d see during your last dying moments. It’s apt really, considering how much death hangs over the film.

Meet Me There is anchored by a trio of strong performances: Lisa Friedrich and Micheal Foulk shine as Ada and Calvin, the young couple whose sexual dysfunction leads them to the weird Oklahoma town of Sheol. They’re the heart, and it’s wonderful to see such a genuine and naturalistic couple. Meanwhile, Dustin Runnels- aka Dustin Rhodes, pro wrestler Goldust by trade- exudes a captivating presence every second he is on screen. Towering but hang-dog; his complex and important turn is a real highlight.

meetmethere3Sure, there’s a few minor quibbles. Meet Me There is not perfect. The mid point, after a nice measured build up, is a little slap-dash and the music is, for my tastes anyway, a little too on the nose at times; as if it were screaming “Be scared! You’re watching a horror movie!”. Frankly, such boo-type cues aren’t needed in this type of slowburn skincrawler. Meet Me There is a state of mind, a feeling, an emotion; not a quick, jolt n’ giggle, tease n’ jump kind of thing. There’s images and moods contained within- lovingly sewn into the movies fabric- that’ll linger long after the credits roll. It’s the same disquieting and goose-pimpling squeeze I got when I watched Strange Behaviour and the original Carnival of Souls for the first time.

There’s something special about Meet Me There, I think.
I can’t wait to see it again.
And I hope you lot can’t wait to check it out either.

 

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Follow Matty on twitter @mattybudrewicz

AND WATCH THE TRAILER BELOW

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