Filmmaker David Brooks’ debut film, ATM, has been making the rounds on Video-On-Demand via the Independent Film Channel before its theatrical release Friday, April 6th. ATM follows young professionals David (Brian Geraghty), Emily (Alice Eve), and Corey (Josh Peck) on a late-night run into an ATM vestibule in the middle of a desolate parking lot. What seems like a mundane errand quickly becomes anything but, as they fall prey to a mysterious figure lurking outside. In celebration of a successful VOD run and in anticipation of the film’s theatrical release, I recently sat down with the very impassioned and animated Brooks, for an in-depth look into the making of the film. Here’s what Brooks shared with me about establishing the aesthetic of his film while skirting tried-and-true elements of the horror genre, working with award-winning writer Chris Sparling (Buried) and crafting ATM.
Jackson Truax: How did you come to read Chris Sparling’s screenplay for ATM? Had you known about his screenplay for Buried when you read it?
David Brooks: It was all very fortunate… I knew Peter Safran, who produced Buried. He’s been a long, good family friend… He was actually in post [production] on Buried [when] I graduated NYU Film School in May of ’09, and shot my final short that summer. Around late summer…he had seen my short and really liked it. We were talking…I was…making fun of him…for making a film set in a coffin, “What are you doing man?” Then I read the script and [said] “Oh. Okay. I get it.” Then I saw the film and I thought, “Wow.” That was exciting. He talked about how Chris was writing this other film. I pretty much just hammered him to get me the script. Because I thought it sounded really interesting… Then I spent, probably a month over the Christmas of that year…working [with Chris] on little tweaks to the script… We again got very lucky in that we week that Buried sold to Lionsgate at Sundance was the week that we sent the script out to the talent. So we got to really ride the wave of excitement of that film. Then people really responded to this script as well.
JT: When you were tweaking the script with Chris, what was that process like and what did you tweak?
DB: The script was really there when we started working on it… It was…just having another mind on it…going through the beats, [asking] “Would they really do this here? Or maybe a little earlier? Maybe we need to address this in this scene to explain that.” It was really just a process of…going back and forth… Basically, it was me throwing out bad ideas, and Chris coming up with good ones.
JT: In any horror film, there’s always a question of “the rules.” In ATM, the movie begins and ends outside of the ATM vestibule, and during the main section of the movie, the camera and the action leave the inside of the vestibule at certain times. How did you decide what “the rules” would be, and then how to execute them?
DB: Largely, my approach in terms of the visuals was to play with the shifting perspectives. So, we have the perspective of them inside. We have the man outside. Then [there’s] an omniscient element, a larger perspective. Then within, playing with it. I very deliberately wanted to play with moments where we think the shot is the man’s [point-of-view] and then he walks through the frame. It’s just unsettles in that way, of not quite knowing, “Where is he?” “Maybe there are more of them out there?” Playing with that was really my approach… How can we use that to pump up the tension?
JT: You have three characters trapped in a location for the duration of the film, and one of the characters comes under suspicion, by virtue of being asked some very basic questions he’s unable to answer. What was your barometer for first going that route, and then knowing how far to take it?
DB: Ultimately, it was in the service of creating the tension. We wanted to have the audience hopefully asking questions of what the characters motivations really were. So I think it’s a good thing if they’re wondering “Is Corey involved in this somehow? Why did they really end up there?” I think that all just helps in the fabric of the tension, really. In terms of where it goes, from my first conversation with Chris, it was a very clear intention of what he wanted, that I appreciated…of where we wanted to go with it, as far as maybe resisting some of the temptations to wrap things up neatly.
JT: You also approach your antagonist in a way that’s unique. Audiences might go into a film like this expecting a third act where everything’s revealed and explained in an obvious way. But you leave things with your antagonist more ambiguous. What made you decide to go that route?
DB: What excited me about the script was that it took me somewhere unexpected. That’s the biggest challenge for me in reading anything is, “Do I see the beats coming?” Truthfully, in most of the movies I see, I think that’s what I [value]. If you’re not wondering what’s going to happen next, that’s a problem. It just took me somewhere that I really didn’t expect. Aside from the specific beats of the story, and some of the great moments that I thought would really play, where it went to me was unexpected. So that was exciting. Particularly to play with…the genre in that way, [in terms of] maybe what the expectations are. I always saw it as a thriller, as opposed to more of a horror-thriller, if you will. And an intimate character piece going on inside while this madness is going on outside. There was certainly a lot to play with. That was something that was deliberate from the beginning, of trying to go in an unexpected route.
JT: The other thing you did in your execution that was unique was you put some revealing scenes either after or interspersed with the closing credits. How did you decide to include the scenes that way?
DB: Honestly, we thought we’d have a bit of fun with those… I think the final scene gave, hopefully, what [we] needed to as far as understanding the motivations or not. Then we thought, “Maybe we can take it a step further and have a bit of fun with that.” It’s interesting to see who stayed and who didn’t. And maybe how that affects their experience. It wasn’t intended to have a significant effect on the experience… Maybe it does. It’s interesting. It was just a way to expand the mythology… But really have a bit of fun as well.
JT: In getting the script to actors in January 2010, obviously Brian Geraghty was in the middle of a lot of praise for The Hurt Locker. In contrast, Alice Eve is best known for projects that have released since then, and Josh Peck had been a child actor who was transitioning into more adult roles. What was the process of casting the three of them?
DB: The casting process was interesting… The script was really well-received. So I got to meet a lot of really talented, young actors. So for me, it was really just trying to figure out who I thought was going to be the best… With Brian obviously coming off The Hurt Locker, and also Easier with Practice…a smaller film, which I just thought was really interesting, and his performance in that was great… He’s such a sweet, nice guy. He has this intensity to him that I think is exciting, that you saw in The Hurt Locker and you see in other films… He was one of the people at the top of my list. Then after meeting him, [I said], “That’s the guy. For sure…” With Josh it was really great. Because I love The Wackness. I just thought the range he showed in that film [was] pretty extraordinary… We’re both at [United Talent Agency]. UTA had obviously sent the script around to some of their clients. Initially, we thought Josh might be interested in the David role, Brian’s role. But he actually came back and said, “I’d love to meet about Corey.” I thought, “Wow. Fantastic…” He’s so funny…on-screen as well, he’s great at comedy… He really had…the range I thought that character needed… Alice was sort of the last piece to come together… I was a fan of her work. For awhile we didn’t know scheduling-wise…she went right on to do The Raven. Literally, I think flew and had a costume fitting the next day, and then went on to shooting in. So she ended up coming on [about] a week before… It worked out really well… We shot September/October of 2010.
JT: Obviously a bit of time has passed since you filmed the movie. What has the film’s journey been since then, leading to its current theatrical and VOD release?
DB: I [edited] the film myself… For me…the filming, particularly a movie in twenty days…you’ve got your adrenaline pumping, it’s just fun. Filming is just so much fun and so exciting. Then when you get to the editing room…you go from being on a set with fifty people to just yourself in a room. It’s definitely a big transition. For me, it was that process of cutting the film. Then the color and the mix and all the rest of it… Particularly now for me, because it’s been at least three-four months since the film’s been done… It’s weird. Because you finish it, and then there’s that gap. Basically, we screened the film for IFC. We thought they’d be a great place. They said, “We love it. We want to do it.” Obviously…for a smaller film, it’s fascinating, what’s happening with theatrical and the VOD… I think it’s been a great home for the movie. It’s doing really well on VOD… It reaches 40 million homes… So obviously people who would never get a chance to see the film are going to see it. And we come out in theaters next week.
JT: When you have a film that sitting on the proverbial shelf for so long, is there ever a temptation to keep re-editing it or working on it more in post? Or is the feeling more an urge to get it out to make it easier to move onto other things?
DB: You definitely could keep working on it forever… The adage of, “The film’s only done when you run out of time and money” is true… But you get to a point where you can’t do more than you’ve done. So you have to say, “Okay, this is the film.” In five years I’ll probably look back and say, “What the hell was I doing with that scene?”
JT: There’s so much horror available to audiences, new and old, in theaters and on VOD and streaming. Why should audiences seek out ATM? What can they get from it that’s unique?
DB: The set-up is something that’s really accessible. It’s something we can all relate to. I think the fear, it’s inherent in us. If you visit the ATM late at night. It’s something that people seem to latch onto… What I hope…is that they’ll go on a journey that’s unexpected. For a contained film…I tried to give it a scope…that is hopefully a bigger experience than purely a thriller-horror kind of thing. Hopefully they go on an interesting ride
Filed under: LiC Interview