[Interview] Kurtis David Harder for INFLUENCER

[Interview] Kurtis David Harder for INFLUENCER

In Kurtis David Harder’s INFLUENCER, we meet Madison (Emily Tennant, “Riverdale”), a popular social media influencer who is having a lonely and uneventful trip to Thailand despite what she tells her followers on Instagram. While reflecting on her boyfriend canceling the trip, she meets CW (Cassandra Naud, “See“), a fearless and enigmatic traveler who offers to take her to some of the most Instagram-worthy locations.

Together they share authentic meals and drinks with locals, discussing the differences between Madison’s online presence and CW’s lack of one. After showing Madison all of the amazing sights, things take a different turn when CW brings her to a surprise location – a deserted island that is completely off the grid.

For the release of INFLUENCER, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with co-writer/director Kurtis David Harder. During their interview, they discussed everything from how a trip to Thailand influenced – no pun intended – the story, how Cassandra Naud made the role her own, and why the topic of influencer culture continues to inspire.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today! Can you talk about your experience working on INFLUENCER as both a co-writer and director? What made you want to do both?

Kurtis David Harder: I’ve always had this weird affinity to go to Southeast Asia. I hadn’t been before 2019. There’s just something mysterious about it, especially Thailand, and just the landscapes and the culture there. I had a trip planned in 2019 and Tesh Guttikonda, who I co-wrote the script with, we had been bouncing around this idea of trying to misconstrue the idea of trusting familiarity. Part of the idea is [as an example] you travel around the world but only eat food from home. That inspired the thread of the start of the idea. I went over there [Thailand] on a solo trip and the story kind of just evolved. It was a cool experience.

Cassandra Naud’s performance was outstanding. What qualities and/or characteristics did she have that made her the perfect fit for the character of CW?

Kurtis David Harder: This was her first lead in a feature which was really cool. She came as a recommendation from another actor friend. Something about the energy she put out…she’s so different in real life but when we had coffee and started chatting she brought her own take to the character and we really kind of built it together. It was really cool to see her do so much. She had never ridden a motorcycle before, she’d never driven a boat, [and] she had never been overseas. It was really cool to see her kind of embrace how physical and challenging the role was.

The film is very contained, only taking place in a few select locations. In what ways do you think that working within those contained, intimate settings allowed the viewer to have a deeper exploration of the characters?

Kurtis David Harder: When we were writing it there was a kind of moral ambiguity of each one with the whole idea of judging familiarity and judging who you can trust. We really wanted to subvert these characters in their own way so you can kind of get behind their motives. We try to play with your expectations of how far along will you go with each of them. So that was kind of a big thing. The film is more of a character piece with a big backdrop but it is very much just interactions between a handful of people.

Courtesy Shudder

I love that the film was shot on location. What were some of the challenges you faced during the production, especially when it came to working in such an unfamiliar environment?

Kurtis David Harder: I think the biggest challenge that we had to figure out was we were originally supposed to shoot the movie in 2020 and it got pushed back for a year and a half. So figuring out all the COVID for traveling with that many people. That was kind of the biggest thing. But it was a bit of a blessing in disguise because the movie does tackle a lot of isolation in social environments. So it kinda added this whole thing where so many of these locations were empty, desolate beaches. In 2019, all of the beaches that we shot at were packed. It added an interesting thing where it’s just like…you just never see Thailand without tourism. So there were some benefits and some fallbacks on how challenging it was to get over there.

Influencer culture is so huge right now and it can be both a good and bad thing. Do you believe that influencer culture has an impact on the authenticity of storytelling? What are your hopes for the future of this culture?

Kurtis David Harder: What is driving so many young people to look at that as kind of the highest aspiration of…you’re not really accomplishing anything other than promoting yourself. So, how do we steer influencers into some substance as opposed to just photos on a beach? How can we actually inspire these people to actually do something with it? It’s not going away anytime soon, but can we get away from a bit of the narcissistic side of it? The big thing with this film is we don’t reject individuals. The big thing is exploring the medium and not the individual person coming entrapped by it.

INFLUENCER is now available to stream on Shudder. For more on the film, check out our review.

Shannon McGrew
Follow Me

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *