For the release of the survival thriller, RUST CREEK, I had the pleasure of speaking with director Jen McGowan about her latest film. For me, RUST CREEK was a perfect example of the reality women face in regards to harassment, abuse, and misogyny at the hands of disturbed and dangerous men. During our chat, Jen and I discussed everything from survival horror, portraying a small town with dark secrets, and the introduction of an unlikely anti-hero.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Jen, thank you so much for speaking with me today. To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about your latest film RUST CREEK?
Jen McGowan: Yes! RUST CREEK is the story of a young woman in her last year of college in a small school in Kentucky. She gets a job interview in DC over Thanksgiving break but because she’s a bit type A she’s worried she won’t get the job so she doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going. To get to DC she has to drive through Appalachia. When she does, shit goes down.
Thematically, for me it’s about a young woman who thinks to be an adult she just has to find an apartment and get a job but she soon realizes she has to take down the whole damn system. As you do.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Survival horror seems to be gaining more and more traction (thank goodness!). What was it about Stu Pollard’s story and Julie Lipson’s script that made you want to direct this film? Where did you pull inspiration from?
JM: Whenever I read a script I think “can I make something with this audiences will enjoy?” and “is there something in this that will keep me engaged and interested for two years?” For me, with RUST CREEK the answers were yes!
As for survival horror, it’s a super fun genre. You can push your characters to extreme limits very quickly in ways that are highly possible & believable. Also, I think it speaks to our current times well in that we’re so dependent on technology that when you’re truly alone with nature you realize immediately how vulnerable you really are.
I loved the sounds of nature in DELIVERANCE. It’s completely detached and disinterested in the suffering of the humans. I spoke a lot to the sound designer Gabe Serrano, who I’ve worked with since film school, about this one moment when one of the guys is really suffering and there’s a sweet bird chirping in contrast to his pain. I frickin loved that!
For visuals Michelle Lawler, the DP and I, looked at THE WRESTLER, INTO THE WILD and the tv show FARGO. For stunts we looked at 127 HOURS, ROAD TO PERDITION, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. For pyro. DIE HARD. I mean, duh. But for a minute we looked at trying the pepper’s ghost effect and for reference I checked out LORD OF THE RINGS, HOME ALONE and SOLE SURVIVOR.
I do a lot of research. Nothing is ever exactly as you’d like but having visuals to be able to say “I like this about this image but not this about that” is extremely helpful is quickly defining your own film’s unique language.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Was the story always centered around a small town with dark secrets? How did you go about finding a town to shoot in and what challenges did you face?
JM: Yes. We shot the film in Kentucky in and around Louisville. With that came benefits and challenges. Incredible locations were very easy to find. But, because there’s a lot of ground covered in the film we needed a lot of them. And that took time. The community was very supportive and it’s always nice to make a movie in that kind of environment. The crew was great. But shooting in Kentucky in the winter means really difficult weather. We had rain, slow, sleet, we even had a tornado one day!
Nightmarish Conjurings: One of my favorite parts of the film was the story arc that took place with the anti-hero (played by Jay Paulson). I love the dynamics shown of someone who isn’t wholly good or wholly bad. I also loved our main character, Sawyer (played by Hermione Corfield) and the amount of strength and determination she possessed. How did you got about casting for this film and was it easy to find these two leads?
JM: Yay!!! I loved that too. Hermione Corfield and Jay Paulson are the BEST!!!! I love characters like that because they draw you in. You want to know more about them because they’re not immediately readable.
We did traditional casting. Jeremy Gordon & Caroline Liem were the Casting Directors. So it was pretty normal casting except for Jay. He’s my neighbor! He’s a really great actor and when I was casting I thought he might be really good for this so I texted his wife and said “I don’t know if he’d be interested but I’m casting this movie and if he's keen he should come in.” He auditioned and was amazing!
Nightmarish Conjurings: Last but not least, do you have any additional projects in the works that we should be keeping our eyes out for in the future?
JM: Yes! I’ve got a TV series called ANGELICA I created with my partner Eliza Lee about a small midwest American town that ends up being the last town in the state with an abortion clinic; the show is about how the people coming from outside effect the relationships of the women in that town. And a movie called BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS based on a memoir of the same title about a woman’s first steps on Wall Street in the 1960’s.
RUST CREEK is now available in theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight.