Director Dennis Iliadis first made his impact in the world of horror with the 2009 re-imagining of the cult classic, ‘The Last House on the Left.’ His vision for the film allowed it to take on a life of it’s own and outshine most of the reboots we have seen over the past decade. It seemed Iliadis was destined to continue blazing his directorial trail as his name was quickly attached to numerous Hollywood projects. However, as often is the case, the Hollywood machine wasn’t firing on all cylinders and left the director to seek his on venues to express himself. Undaunted, that is exactly what Iliadis has done with his latest independent flick, ‘+1,’ which debuted earlier this year at SXSW 2013. This supernatural thriller focuses three college friends go to the biggest party of the year, each looking for something different: love, sex and a simple human connection. When a mysterious phenomenon disrupts the party, it lights a fuse on what will become the strangest night anyone has ever seen. As the three friends struggle to find what they’re looking for, the party quickly descends into a chaos that challenges if they can stay friends or if they can even stay alive. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon caught up with Dennis Iliadis to discuss the inspirations for the film, the challenges of bringing it from script to screen, his evolution as a director and more!
What originally intrigued you about the world of filmmaking?
I was born in Greece and I was from a quite conservative and strict family. I would always think of everything in images. I was very visual early on. It was also an interesting revolution to just leave everything behind and do filmmaking.
Was there a catalyst that made you pursue filmmaking as a career?
I would literally process stories visually and I was quite a good visual storyteller. The short films I did very well quickly. From there, I got into commercials and those were doing very well too, so pursing filmmaking seemed like the right thing to do.
What were some of the influences that affected you as a director?
I love movies. I have watched tons of them through the years and it has been more of an aggregate than specific people.
You latest project is a film called ‘Plus One’. It is different than many things you have done in the past. What inspired the story for the film?
First of all, it is the idea of what would happen if you could meet yourself. It is very interesting science-fiction and philosophical idea. Then you take it to the next level of what would happen if this were to happen in a very compressed time frame and you were in a very charged environment where you were planning the same things and had the exact same desires. It is taking something that is very interesting intellectually and philosophically and then grafting it on a very compressed time frame in a very extreme environment.
What can you tell us about you approach to the writing process for this film?
I came up with the idea and then I wrote a very detailed treatment. At that point, we found this great New York writer, Bill Gullo, who took it from there. He wrote it into a full script. My producer, Tim Perell, were super involved the whole way.
What were you thoughts on approaching this film stylistically?
The plan was to start off and have the movie feel very familiar, where you think you are watching something similar to a classic American teen movie, like ‘Super Bad’ or something similar. Then you arrive at the party where everything became slightly larger than life. Those movies have always been about one special night and the characters will do everything to get it. I wanted to the look to be very, very heightened and to exude this overflow of desire and hedonism. We started off visually quite classic and then as we arrive at the party, things got more visual, more charged and more saturated. When the phenomena happens and the doubles showed up, it became very much a thriller which is a bit like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” where you don’t know what direction it would go, both cinematically and stylistically. As the doubles start closing in with every blackout, the movie explores the different possible outcomes and the reaction to that. One thread becomes very horror, while another becomes very tender. That was our visual and stylistic grid.
A big element for any film is its cast and you assembled a terrific group. What can you tell us about the process of finding these young actors and what you feel they brought to the project?
We were very lucky to work with them because they are really great actors. In casting the movie, our goal was to get really great actors who could initially fit into teen movie stereotypes and then transgress in a very big way. This is a night where these kids will do absolutely anything to be special. We were very happy to work with Rhys [Wakefield], Logan [Miller], Ashley [Hinshaw] and Natalie [Hall] because they are super talented. Their performances pulled you in and you are always thinking about what they might do next. Rhys starts as a nerdy, John Cusack-ian character but then goes to a very dark place, discovering what he would do for love. Eddie, who is played by Logan Miller, starts out very insecure and angry, which is your typical teen movie character. Then he becomes the strangest kind of leader. Jill, played by Ashley Hinshaw, explores both her sweet and toxic side to great extremes. Melanie, played by Natalie Hall, starts as your typical blonde bombshell and then goes to very unexpected places!
There are some many elements to balance in this film from sci-fi to horror to comedy to drama. Looking back on putting the film together, what do you consider the biggest challenge in bringing this film to the screen?
The biggest challenge was shooting it, the post-production and all of the VFX. There were huge technical challenges but at the same time we had to keep a crazy energy because we were grafting these very technical challenges on a crazy canvas. We needed to have a lot of people, very high energy in a very saturated and hedonistic state. That combination was super hard. When you make movies like that, everything is quite contained and structured. We were doing something very technical with huge continuity challenges on a very charged canvas.
As a director, when you took on this project, was there a specific goal you hoped to achieve that may have differed from your earlier work?
Yes. When you do an independent movie like this, you want to try something different. I really wanted to do a movie that was fun but at the same time allowed me to go to the dark places I like to visit. I really wanted to do a fun movie but at the same time combine different genres to take it to very unexpected places.
You certainly succeed in doing so, Dennis. There are plenty of unexpected turns in the film. Looking back at your work so far, how do you feel you have evolved as a director along the way?
It is about trying to develop all of your different layers. I started by doing a very dark movie in Greece called “Hardcore,” which got a lot of international attention. That film was very dark but at the same time had lapses into fantasy that were unexpected and often quite humorous. For example, it is about two very young prostitutes, who in a moment of extreme abuse fantasize about being in an American sitcom. Doing my first Hollywood film, which was a thriller/horror movie but I tried to do things in an unexpected way. I love genre but I always try to elevate it and bring some unexpected elements to it. “Last House on the Left” was shot in a very interesting way. It didn’t follow all the different genre conventions. Now, with this film, I wanted to do a fun movie with a love story that would allow me to flex my filmmaking in that direction. We definitely as filmmakers like things that are present in all of our movies. I like character movies that put characters in extreme situations and watch them get to their most extreme limits. This film allowed me to do it in a more fun way and to play with very philosophical ideas but also take it to very extreme places.
Is there a place you are looking forward to exploring as a director in the years to come?
I like genre and I like actors, so I very much enjoy these extreme character stories. I could explore comedy. Comedies are sometimes like that where the characters are put in extreme situations. I don’t want to be pigeon holed in a specific genre but most of the movies I am offered are in the thriller area. It looks my next movie will be a more conventional thriller. I like character and genre movies, so I try to do both!
In following the theme of “Plus One,” if you were to encounter another version of yourself, what is the best piece of advice you would pass along as a filmmaker?
[laughs] That is a great question! The biggest advice I could give is to always try to combine the smaller projects with the bigger ones. It is always important to always have a realizable project up your sleeve. Work very hard and always have a Plan B. Always have a script that is easier to make when the bigger movies get stuck. Of course, none of my scripts are easier to make. This one was a complete nightmare and very difficult to do! Always keep your options open and try to have your own projects to realize when bigger movies are slower.
Thank you again for your time today, Dennis. It has been a pleasure. Best of luck to you!
Thank you very much! Take care!
Be sure to check out ‘Plus One’ when opens in select theaters and becomes available on-demand on September 20th, 2013.