Roadside director drives home goals

Posted: March 22, 2013 at 2:50 a.m.

Mindy Summers (Katie Stegeman) is having a difficult night in Eric England’s Roadside, the closing night film in this year’s Little Rock Horror Show.

In a perfect world, one where newspapers had unlimited space and critics boundless energy, we’d be making more of the Little Rock Horror Picture Show that kicks off today in North Little Rock’s Argenta( venues are Argenta Community Theater and The Joint; you can see the schedule and buy tickets at lrff.eventbrite. com). But the reality is that I’ll be at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s second annual Film Forum on Petit Jean Mountain all weekend and a bunch of movies also have opened.

So while ideally we’d have reviews of all the films in this year’s Horror Show, I’ve been able to see only one, Roadside, the closing night feature directed by Eric England. He is the Arkansas native who wrote and directed Madison County, which won the Audience Award at last year’s show. Roadside is terrific, a taut, tense and deftly realized feature that makes the most of a limited budget and can fairly be characterized as Hitchcockian. I’d like to give it a complete review, but deadlines are looming and space is tight,so I sent England a few questions by e-mail.

I asked him about his Arkansas roots:

“I’m originally from Russellville. I was born and raised there and graduated from Russellville High. After high school, I moved to LA to attend film school at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood. While there, I graduated as the only student in my class to direct three thesis films and I couldn’t wait to get my first feature going. But then the daunting realization hit. I didn’t have any money … so I set out to try and raise financing for a couple of movies I wanted to do.They all kept falling through [giving money to a 21-yearold director to make his first movie isn’t always the safest investment in people’s eyes] and I grew tired and frustrated after several attempts.

“After a year, I went back to Russellville and worked at the nuclear power plant and saved up as much money as I could. I made my first experimental movie, Hostile Encounter, in 2009 with whatever money I had in my bank account. We shot in it in five days, across the country, on a road trip. It was a blast. The movie wasn’t groundbreaking - but it got the attention of producer Daniel Dunn, who said he could get some money to make a ‘real’ movie. We decided to do Madison County, a film he knew I was trying to get made for a while … that got the attention of several companies that contacted us, wanting to buy the film before we had ever shot it! It wasvery encouraging and inspirational to see people responding to what we had done for literally no money. So we shot the movie and we had the world premiere at the world famous Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood as part of Screamfest and were the only film to sell out that year andbe given an encore screening due to popular demand. It was amazing. A packed house of nearly 600 people. Some people sat in the aisle just to see the film.

“Due to the popularity of Madison County, we were approached by several people about what we were doing next. Rather than do a sequel or another straightforward horror film, I wanted to take a different approach and show some range and versatility. I had this idea kicking around in my head for a while and that was kind of the spark that started the flame, that would become Roadside. I reteamed with Ace Marrero [who was my co-producer on Madison] to produce and star and Katie Stegeman [who was also in Madison] to be the leading lady. We were working with a tight budget and schedule, so I knew I had to work with actors that I could trust. But even more than that, I neededthe right people for the job. These two are insanely talented - way beyond their years. Even though the reviews for the film are really great so far, I still don’t think people are giving enough credit to the amazing work on the screen by these two. They carried this film from front to back, which is a lot of pressure and work for an actor.”

I noted what I perceived as Hitchcock’s influences - initially signaled by the opening credits which echoed North by Northwest:

“Absolutely, I’m glad you picked up on that. For this film, I wanted to really stretch the mystery and suspense.With Madison County, the film was so obvious with its approach. So with Roadside, I wanted to really play with the aesthetic. I’m a huge Hitchcock fan, so that’s the first place I looked. It’s such an instantaneous response. The moment you see the opening titles, with that music - you get what kind of film Roadside is. We drop you right in the middle of the story and introduce you to these characters.So we had to lay the foundation with the titles.

“For the rest of the film, I wanted it to look/feel completely different from Madison County. There’s very little hand-held in the film and I tried to take a very smooth/ classic approach with the camera work. Madison County was very hand-held and all daylight. This was the total opposite. Very composed and fluid, taking place entirely at night. My director of photography on this, Dan Hertzog, was amazing at making this look gorgeous with barely any light. His grip and electric team was stellar. There were only about four guys on that team and they did the job of 10.

“My biggest influences are filmmakers that have a very distinct voice. Some directors, even from a still shot of their films, you can tell it’s one of theirs. From the way the frame is composed to what lens they’re using, it’s just covered in their style. Filmmakers like David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, Hitchcock,Tim Burton [at least his early stuff], Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and even Ben Affleck. I admire those that just tell compelling stories.”

England says the plans are for Roadside to have a limited theatrical release this summer before heading to home video. (Maybe I’ll review it then.) And he says his next film, Contracted, is “an intimate, dark drama about a girl that thinks she’s contracted an STD, but is actually something much worse.” It should hit the festival circuit this summer.


MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 03/22/2013