‘Reaver’ dir. Len LoBiondo

A brother and sister are confronted by the malevolent, supernatural entity responsible for their father’s mysterious disappearance.

Director: Len LoBiondo
Writers: Len LoBiondo & Molo Alcocer
Producer: Molo Alcocer
DOP: Conor O’Brien
Key Cast: Kelly Blatz, Cassidy Boyd, Richard Burgi

C8: You co-wrote the script with Molo Alcocer. How did the idea for ‘Reaver’ initially develop?

LL: The initial script was written by my producer Molo. He had this idea of doing a psychological horror film about a brother trying to protect his sister from a supernatural antagonist. I suppose something more overtly commercial than the average student film. I had my own student thesis script at the time, but when I read this bizarre supernatural thriller that Molo was working on, I saw an opportunity to do something much more challenging. It was also a chance to attempt something that wasn’t particularly common at AFI, which was exciting and drew people to our cause. When I approached Molo about directing his script, I essentially pitched a rewrite that focused more intently on the brother/sister relationship, and an overhaul of the supernatural concept. It was actually my editor, Oliver Harwood, who saw the connection to H.P. Lovecraft in our early drafts and inspired us to push more heavily toward a ‘Lovecraftian’ narrative.

C8: How did you find the collaborative process of co-writing?

LL: Writing can be a very lonely process, so I find co-writing to be a welcome relief from that. I have a tendency to think everything I write is absolutely terrible two days later, so having someone who can look at your work objectively is helpful. That same person can also tell you when you have actually made a mistake. Sometimes two heads are just better than one when trying to solve a problem. I think it’s also important that your individual styles marry well. My fear is always that there will be a loss of ‘voice’ with more than one writer on a piece, so we spent a lot of time together, and just talked at length, making sure we were in sync about what we were making. It’s good to have conflict and disagreement, but you can’t be trying to create two different films. Of course, there are no set rules. I’m sure you can create a great film out of total chaos as well.

C8: Excluding the visual effects what was the biggest obstacle you faced during the shoot and how did you overcome it?

LL: By far the biggest problem we faced is a common one, especially on student shoots. A week before production, we lost the one and only location in our film. The film had been entirely written around this location, and we, somewhat naively, thought we had it completely locked down. It was also a very specific location, which made it difficult to replace. We were forced to scout in the week leading up to the shoot, while rewriting the script to fit the new house, and doing all the remaining preproduction work. Essentially, months of work went out the window, and we had to re-design the whole film in a week. I wouldn’t say it was fun, but it is the kind of problem you face in production all the time. It was a good exercise in problem solving, and working under intense pressure with a looming deadline. At its core, filmmaking involves trying to tell a story, while confronting a never ending series of problems as quickly as possible. So, it was good practice for that. We definitely learned from our mistake though.

C8: Prior to filming had you shot anything with visual effects before?

LL: Very minor stuff, like muzzle flashes. I have always enjoyed practical effects more. It’s just a lot more fun throwing a golden retriever through a window than compositing a VFX shot. There is nothing very complicated VFX wise in our film. Some composites for video screens, painting out wires, and obviously the storm shot. It took a lot of trial in error to get the storm to look right, though. In the end we decided to use real footage of a cell storm, rather than build the entire storm ourselves in 3-D. It just looked more real. Granted we weren’t working with a VFX house or anything like that. Building a realistic looking supernatural storm from scratch was a bit out of our league. In the end, I actually have more fun with the stupid practical stuff, like making the pencil move on it’s own, or having Julie’s necklace float.  They look easy, and the solutions are obvious, but they are fun to do.

C8: Looking back at the film what would you change if you had the opportunity?

LL: The ending. The cliffhanger is a bit of a cop out. I have some ideas where the father re-enters the story, but we are looking at a much longer film. I may also do something about the river bed sequence in the beginning. Doesn’t really work for me. Maybe I could steal some time from that and put it on the end.

C8: You received an MFA in Filmmaking from the American Film Institute. How instrumental to developing your aesthetic and narrative style was studying at the AFI?

LL: Completely instrumental. I made six films at AFI with fully staffed crews. Before that, I had made a two with a DVX camera and ZERO crew. Just my friends as actors and me doing everything else. AFI is where I learned how to direct, and I learned by doing. The best way.

AFI does not teach you aesthetic or narrative style, though. They just give you the tools to find it on your own. I wouldn’t even say I have found it yet. I’m still experimenting and finding things. I wouldn’t consider myself fully developed.

C8: ‘Reaver’ was your thesis film at the AFI. How much support did they provide you with?

LL: We got access to a lot of equipment, and they provided months of nagging. Also, more notes than you can handle. We threw a lot of those out. We were fairly confident about what we were trying to do. Most of the support came from my AFI team and crew. I’m not being critical by the way. If AFI held our hand the entire time, we would learn less. I’m sure they were immensely helpful to the producers who are putting these films together, however. They have a lot of experience and knowledge when it comes to planning and completing a film. The rest was on us.

C8: Prior to the AFI you had worked on a several of independent features in a variety of roles. How did this prepare you for your Masters and entry into the film industry?

LL: I worked primarily as a production assistant on low budget features. I can’t really think of a better way to start for an aspiring director. I paid close attention to everything happening around me, talked to the crew and asked questions at the right times, and watched how everyone did their job intensely. It also got me comfortable living on a set. I was also assigned to the actors a lot, so I got comfortable with them as people, and saw what their life on set was like as well. Good experience for directing.

When I showed up to AFI I found I had more set experience than many of the other fellows, and I was able to focus purely on directing. I didn’t need to learn any of the basics, I knew them already. I also think it’s important to start at the bottom. It makes you stronger, hungrier, and very appreciative of those that work beneath you. Not everyone has that and I think it’s essential. I thank my PAs more than anyone else on my crew. Their job sucks and they do it all for the love of movies.

C8: What, in your opinion, makes for a good collaboration?

LL: I like to always work with people who are better than me. My collaborative process is very simple. Surround myself with talented people. And listen to them. They are able to bring you choices and possibilities that you couldn’t have conceived on your own. It’s what they are there for. I’m not saying always do what they suggest. Ultimately, you need to know when to trust your collaborator, and when to push for your own ideas. Also, mutual respect and loyalty go a long way, obviously. I also prefer to work with people I like personally. I know that’s not essential to some people, but I prefer it that way.

C8: What’s next for you? Do you have any exciting projects lined up?

LL: Writing, writing, and more writing. I’ve started a new writing partnership and we are beginning to churn out some new possibilities. Hope to be back in the directing chair this year with something a bit more substantial.