Notorious snapper Tyler Shields has made his directorial debut with horror film Final Girl. It’s safe to say when Shields puts his name to something it isn’t going to be run of the mill, and that’s certainly the case here.
A tense, atmospheric and above all strange tale of revenge, it stars Abigail Breslin as a young assassin charged with wiping out a group of teen psychopaths and Wes Bentley as her grizzled mentor. I got on the Fifties-style phone for a look past the movie’s Americana exterior and into the bloody, beating heart beneath…
The film is arguably quite unusual. What drew you to this story?
Oh Steve, I wouldn’t say it’s arguably unusual, I’d say it’s very unusual! (Laughs) I don’t think anything necessarily drew me to the story. I came up with this world, and the movie came to be very different. Part of my idea is I don’t want to make the same old movie that we’ve seen a bunch of times, nobody wants to do that, nobody wants to be in it. Let me make something unique, let me make something people will say is unusual, and let me do it with no CGI. Let me have this whole world, and create something different and they said ‘Okay’!
The central relationship is between Abigail Breslin and Wes Bentley. How did you end up casting them and what work did you do together on their characters? They’re supposed to have a twelve year association…
Abigail was the first choice for the movie and once she signed on her and I had a conversation about it, and we both had Wes Bentley as our idea. She was a big fan of his and he’s someone who I wanted to work with, and so we reached out to Wes and he said ‘I’d love to do it. I love the idea, love doing something different…’ So he signed on. He was doing another movie at the time… I want to say he was coming from that Terrence Malick movie, the name escapes me (Knight Of Cups)… he finished that movie two or three days before, then came straight to this, so we had to get them together quickly. The first thing we shot with them was her shaving his head… in real life. So that was their first bonding experience!
What led to you taking the very stylized, almost theatrical approach to the material? I’m thinking particularly in terms of the lighting…
The lighting is something that is translated from my photography, and the idea with that was I wanted to use it as almost a character. The lighting creates this tone for you, so a certain character is onscreen, they’re lit a certain way, and it gives you a certain feeling and I wanted to try to carry that for the whole film.
And what was your thinking behind the more distinctive imagery? The powder scene for example (Breslin’s character dreams that she and Bentley are hit with a red dust)…
These are all… a lot of this movie is about how your mind works. What you’re afraid of, what you might dream, what might happen if you’re tapped into your deep subconscious. That to me is an interesting dream, a lot of people dream in only black and white but I dream in Technicolor. So I would have these vivid dreams where there would be these colour explosions, and that’s part of your mind opening in a different way. I wanted to include that in the film, so when she’s having this really intense moment within her own mind, this explosion hits. That’s why we put that in there.
You mentioned Wes Bentley’s head actually being shaved, which was quite spontaneous I imagine! Did much improvisation happen during the shoot?
Oh yes! Every day we did at least one hour of improv’ing. I would encourage the boys and Wes and Abigail to create little things here and there for their characters. We would just add things as we went, and that was part of the fun.
How did you assemble that cast of young men? Did you audition them together, was it a gradual process, or…?
Logan Huffman I had worked with a bunch. Alexander Ludwig I had shot when he was sixteen, so I knew I wanted those two. Then I had two of my other friends who were supposed to do the movie, but they were both on TV shows and the shows wouldn’t let them out. So we had to recast their parts a week before shooting.
You wouldn’t know it was a last minute thing, as they all complement each other quite well…
Yeah, and one of the things is, as soon as we cast Cameron Bright and Reece Thompson, and we got all the boys together, they took their wardrobe – they stole their wardrobe! – from set and started going out in character, in costume on the streets of Vancouver. What was really great was that by the time we were done shooting the movie, if somebody was done shooting and it was their day off they would still come to set. Logan had wrapped but everyone just loved having him on set, so he kept coming. And then the same thing with Reese and the same thing with Cameron. Everyone wanted to be there, it was this great environment.
Did any other movies inspire you when you were putting the project together?
You know, there isn’t a movie where I was like ‘Let’s make it look like this movie’, but there’s certain movies throughout history where you look at them and they have such a distinct visual style. Tony Scott… you can watch a Tony Scott movie and you think ‘Oh this is Tony Scott!’ That was kind of the idea for this. Not to copy these things, but to basically make a colour version of a Thirties or Forties noir movie.
It’s your first film. What would you say you learned from the experience?
Obviously you learn a lot. You learn when you do anything. I think one of the things for me was the improv stuff that we did worked really well. I would continue that, because we used a lot of it in the movie. One of the most important things is creating that environment on set, because people were really happy and really comfortable, and they all wanted to be there. If we didn’t do that I think it would have been a big failure.
This interview appeared on The Hollywood News. Final Girl is out now on DVD.