For their directorial debut, brothers Zeke and Simon Hawkins pull out all the stops and offer up an impressive Texas-set neo-noir from a script by Dutch Southern. ‘Bad Turn Worse’ focuses on three Texas teens (Jeremy Allen White, Logan Huffman, and Mackenzie Davis) who find themselves indebted to a sociopathic criminal named Giff (Mark Pellegrino in a breakout performance) after a weekend of partying with stolen money. To pay their debt, Giff forces the teens to steal from his boss, a money-laundering gangster named Big Red (William Devane). Things go from bad to worse when betrayal, distrust, and corruption complicate an already dangerous plan. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with the brothers to discuss the the challenges involved in bringing their stylish and emotional crime thriller to life. In addition, the pair discuss their childhood love of film, the casting process for ‘Bad Turn Worse’ and much more.
What intrigued you about the world of filmmaking early on and made you want to pursue it as a career?
Zeke: We grew up in Connecticut and our parents would take us to the movies, literally, four times a week just to have something to do with us. We fell in love with movies and, as kids, there were so many movies that meant so much to us. It was our way of learning about the world. I think we fell in love with movies pretty early on. I think it was in our late teens that we started thinking that this was what we wanted to try to do for a living.
Was it always a no-brainer that the two of you would work together?
Zeke: Early on, I don’t think it was a decision, so much as it being out of necessity! [laughs] Our parents bought us a camera and it was like, “Okay. Now who are we going to work with?” Obviously, our parents and friends became the actors. It totally made sense out of the circumstance.
Who were some of the directorial influences impacting you early on who we might see come through in what you do today?
Zeke: In our formative years, we didn’t think much about the directors. We didn’t live in a world where we knew people in the film industry. We loved movies like “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and Tim Burton’s “Batman” but we didn’t know who Tim Burton was. We loved movies like “K9.” I remember one of the first directors I was aware of was, because he so clearly has a point of view, was David Lynch. I remember, when I was maybe 10 years old, “Twin Peaks” was on. He was one of the first filmmakers I was aware of because he was so weird and different than everything else. It was later on, when we got into high school and college, when we really started pursuing filmmakers.
Simon: Yeah, I would say the first director I was really aware of was Michael Mann. I was pretty young when “The Last of The Mohicans” came out but then having “Heat” and “The Insider” is when I became aware of him and really started to love his work.
Your directorial debut is “Bad Turn Worse.” What sparked the idea for this film and made you want to pursue this as your first film?
Zeke: The original idea for the movie was formed by the two producers, Brian Udovich and Justin Duprie. Justin is from South Texas and from the kind of farming community where we made the film. The original idea for the movie came from them trying to come up with an idea for a movie with all the locations they already had access to for free. They worked with the writer, Dutch Southern, on the script before we became involved. I knew Brian from the American Film Institute where we had both gone to grad school. When they approached us, there were a few things that excited us. One was that Dutch has a really amazing talent for writing dialog. It was really obvious, even in the first draft of the script. Two was that they were going to be shooting in South Texas, which was really exciting to us. Three was that they were self-financing and the money was already there and the movie was going to happen. There is a whole world of filmmakers in LA who are trying to get their first film made and it never happens. The idea that this was actually going to happen was also incredibly exciting.
Simon: I also think there is something to be said to when you read a script and your mind immediately starts coming up with ideas for scenes. I think that was the first thing that came to me when reading it. I had so many ideas for it and it got me really excited to be part of the script.
What were your expectations for the film when taking on the project? Was there anything you wanted to attempt with this film?
Zeke: I think, as a whole, we met all of our expectations. There wasn’t any one specific thing. It was to go and make a good movie and get it out there. We were working on a really small budget, so we knew that was going to be a struggle. Generally speaking, we fulfilled those expectations and are really proud of the movie. Earlier on, it was like, “Oh, I need to try my hand at a crime movie.” I think it was much more general. We saw that there was an opportunity to make a good movie with the producers involved and the script that they had. Whenever you see an opportunity like that it is in your best interest to go for it!
Simon: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think we had creative aspirations as a whole. Once we were in pre-production, or actually making the movie, you get into the scenes and start to think, “Oh, here is an opportunity to try something different or something we haven’t done before.” In those situations, I think we really took it and tried to do something different. In terms of the whole product, I don’t think we were thinking like that.
Zeke: It was really that we just saw an opportunity to actually make a really good movie more than anything.
Looking back on the process of bringing the film to life, what were the biggest challenges you faced?
Zeke: More than anything else, working on a small budget, you are not able to do things in the big movie way. You are constantly trying to figure out alternative solutions. Everyone you are working with aren’t getting paid the normal amount, so you are dealing with the emotional issues of that. I think more than anything else, by far, it is simply trying to make a movie that can compete with much bigger movies without the resources. You have to figure out alternative solutions to compete to address that. That is the biggest struggle.
What is the biggest lesson you learned with this film that you will carry over to future projects?
Zeke: I had worked as a director’s assistant on a couple of features, so I had a general idea of what to expect as far as production. This was our first time editing a feature and compared to commercials, short films or music videos, the editing process is much more of a marathon than a sprint. I think that the next time around we will both try to pace ourselves a little bit better both physically and emotionally. On a movie like this, early on in the editing process, we were working so hard and had such long hours. We really kept pushing and pushing. I think we were emotionally beating ourselves up more than was healthy for a really long term project. That is just a matter of perspective. It was our first time and we were really going for it full force. I think now that we have been through it, we realize you can’t cut the whole movie in one day. It takes time.
The cast for the film was really terrific and really breathed a lot of life into an already interesting story. What can you tell us about finding the right people to embody these characters?
Simon: We had two really great casting directors in LA, Barbara McCarthy and Angela Demo. For the three kids, Zeke and I sat through auditions for a couple months looking at people for the B.J., Bobby and Sue roles. That was by no means a short process! Each of them had something very specific that we were looking for. One example in particular with Mackenzie, who played Sue, is that you are looking for a character who can be funny, smart, beautiful and everyone has to fall in love with her but you always have to believe she is intelligent enough to get out of the town and is going to go on to bigger things. It was really tricky to find people who could capture all of those qualities we were looking for. Honestly, that was the case with all three of the characters but I remember very vividly Mackenzie walking out of the room and Zeke and I knew instantly that was the person we were looking for. With B.J., we needed someone who could play tough and menacing but incredibly vulnerable and someone you want to look after and want to take care of. With Bobby, it’s a character who is smart but can be taken advantage of at times. You really want to cheer for him too. I think it was tricky to find people who could encapsulate all of those qualities.
Zeke: With Jon Gries, WIlliam Devane and Mark Pellegrino, those parts were all done by offers. I don’t think we would have anticipated how it played out but all three ended up coming through lucky connections. For instance, Brian Udovich, our producer, had worked with Jon Gries before. I had worked with Mark Pellegrino on “Capote,” where I was an assistant. With William Devane, we just made an offer. It was a complete shot in the dark and we thought we had no chance at it. As it turns out, one of Simon’s college friends, Joey DePaolo, worked as part of Devane’s management team. Not that it ensured he would do it but it at least ensured that the project would get to him and we wouldn’t get stonewalled by his representation. In all three cases, it was a lucky break for the movie.
“Bad Turn Worse” is being released this Friday (November 15th, 2014). It is a pretty big milestone for you. What are you doing to celebrate?
Zeke: We are going to be screening the movie on Friday and Saturday in New York. Since we are from Connecticut, we have a lot of family and friends in the New York area. I’m sure we are going to have some fun Q&A type things on Friday and Saturday at The Village East in New York and then we will probably hit the town! I think we are going to try to head down to Philadelphia for one of the screenings next week.
What is next for you guys? Is there anything you have your eye on at the moment? Is there a particular genre you are interested in tackling next?
Zeke: We are interested in any and all genres! [laughs] In terms of specific projects, we have a couple of things we are working on but nothing is close to saying, “This is actually happening.” Sorry to give you a non-answer but it is really tough to say.
You both worked in different capacities in the film industry over the past few years and now have made your first feature. Many people can look to you as an inspiration. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to those looking to make their career in the industry in its current climate?
Simon: I would say keep going. That was the biggest thing with us, finding different things to do. I was a web video director/editor for a long time. Zeke was making short films and going to grad school. Find a way to make a feature film. I can’t stress enough how once you get that first feature, things can really change. I have so many friends that have made them for pretty small budgets. If you can just find a way to do it, opportunities will come out of that.
Zeke: I also think there is a value to focusing on a specific position. If you want to be a gaffer, go 100% for being a gaffer. If you want to be a writer, go 100% for being a writer. I think that people are sometimes like, “Well, I am a cinematographer but I am also an actor and a producer.” I think that can dilute things a little bit. I think there is a value for whatever that position is, whether you want to be part of the sound team, a writer, a cinematographer or whatever it is, I think there is a value to really going after it and getting really good at one thing.
Thanks so much for your time today guys. I really enjoyed “Bad Turn Worse” and I will definitely follow your work in the years to come!
Zeke: Thanks, Jason!
Simon: Thank you! We appreciate it!
‘Bad Turn Worse’ opens in theaters and VOD from Starz Digital Media on November 14th. Be sure to like the film on Facebook at this location.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.