Pictured: Filmmaker Christopher Denham. Photo Credit: Katrina Marcinowski.

Pictured: Filmmaker Christopher Denham. Photo Credit: Katrina Marcinowski.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Christopher Denham, the director of Preservation, a suspenseful horror/thriller that is a current entry in the Midnight category of the Tribeca Film Festival’s 2014 season. The film places two brothers, Sean and Mike Neary, and Mike’s wife Wit, together on a hunting trip that will soon turn the three into the hunted and beg the question: can one survive alone? Also present at the interview was one of his co-stars, Wrenn Schmidt (Boardwalk Empire). Mr. Denham’s debut film, Home Movie, won the Citizen Kane award for Best New Director at the Sitges International Film Festival, among other accolades. He is also a playwright and actor, having recently appeared in Argo, for which he received a 2013 SAG award for Best Ensemble Performance.

Tall, reed-thin, and possessed of an impish handsomeness, there’s a warmth and openness in Denham that is immediately apparent. His quiet and gentle receptiveness almost belies the dark themes in his work. As for Wrenn, her pale luminosity suggests a perfect ingénue radiance that could, with the right quick change of costume, fit in any time period. In this film, her survival instincts are pushed to the limit and we can be grateful that before she is submerged in the encroaching mud of her environment, we have an opportunity to appreciate that natural beauty.

GALO: First off, let’s talk about what got you into the writing and directing, going the way of your own vision. Not everybody takes the walk into their dark side. It can be risky. How did this all begin?

Christopher Denham: I guess the common denominator in my work is a contained atmosphere.  In my play (Cagelove) it was all inside one place. There’s a sense of claustrophobia.

GALO: Like Sartre’s No Exit, for instance?

CD: Yes, that kind of dynamic.

GALO: And that contained space could be outdoors as well, like when your film characters go into the preserve, the woods…

CD: Yes. I grew up in the Midwest and some of my first images were of that borderline between the shopping mall and then that space beyond. There was a wolf, for instance, that just walked right into the mall.

GALO: What was the genesis of Preservation?

CD: The idea of the main characters going there to hunt and then they become the hunted — a sort of numbness that takes over. (We talked briefly about books that had an early influence on that theme, for instance, The Lord of the Flies as well as the stories of Jack London.) He [London] could be brutal but there’s that power of suggestion.

GALO: So who were some of the filmmakers that inspired you?

CD: Walter Hill is one, his film Southern Comfort. And Jack Carpenter, he did Halloween. There’s a restraint there.

GALO: He also did The Thing…those men inside their barracks in that frozen atmosphere.

CD: Real paranoia.

GALO: Did your theatre background lead you to assemble this cast? Had any of you worked together before? 

CD: With Pablo [Schreiber]. We’d known each other for 10 years and we always wanted to find something we could do together.

GALO: And Wrenn? Did you know each other before?

CD:  No. But we had coffee and it came together.

GALO: With your current passion of man and the environment, the connection or disconnection in a high-tech world, do you think that will lead you in any political direction, like Sean Penn and Haiti, Matt Damon and his clean water project, or flying around the world like George Clooney?

CD: If I do, I’ll have to go coach. [Laughter]

GALO: But do you think you’ll continue with this theme — creatively?

CD: I’m more interested in films about violence in the world, not violent movies.

GALO: [To Wrenn Schmidt] And how did you feel about being thrown into such a dangerous situation in the story, physically and psychologically? Had any previous work prepared you for that?

WS: I think I was more excited than deterred.

GALO: You wanted the challenge. 

WS: I didn’t want to think about what was going to happen while I was doing it. I wanted at the end to be surprised.

GALO: You were in the moment.

WS: Yes.

GALO: There were physical difficulties in this film, Chris. Can you describe something of that for me?

CD: It was very cold at night when we were shooting.

GALO: Where was it done?

CD: In Santa Clarita, California, on a small budget. And Wrenn was in this mud bath.

GALO: Real mud?

CD: Yes. And we had to shoot that from different angles.

GALO: When you had finished the screenplay and were ready to go into pre-production, how long did it take before you could do the actual filming?

CD: Two years. And then one day there was one woman, and one check. It was like someone saying, “Go make your movie.”

GALO: And what’s currently in the works for you?

CD: I’m acting in a new series called Manhattan. It’s about the Manhattan Project.

GALO: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the building of the atom bomb.

CD: Yes. It premieres in August on the WGN network.

GALO: [To WS] And what about you?

WS: I’m guest-starring in Unforgettable on TV and auditioning. That’s part of the game.

GALO: Well, it’s been great being able to share this time with you.

CD:  And you.

GALO: Thank you.

“Preservation” had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this past week. Stay tuned for our upcoming review of the film!

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