Staci Layne Wilson / Horror.com: What kind of pressure did you have on you, with this remake of Kairo? Because this is a loved film…
Jim Sonzero: There was no pressure, really. I mean, like the original what we extrapolated from it was the essence of loneliness, the themes of loneliness and technology creating more loneliness. At the time I got handed the script it was already a couple of years old and Wes Craven had worked on it and it was actually really good but it was kind of about artificial intelligence which wasn't really what the original film was about either. But I felt like that theme was not really appropriate or timely anymore so at that time everything was wi-fi super wideband, you know entire cities going wi-fi. We kind of got this idea that what if the wi-fi environment is actually a vehicle for forces that we are unaware of, you know, and what if any malevolent force can come through and it's pure Lovecraft because these things can come out of thin air so there's no safe haven, there's no shelter, they can come out of thin air. So it's pretty much a departure from the original but the themes are there.
What appealed to me most about seeing the original was that in many ways our communication is technology in the way that it's marketed to us and the way it's so addictive to be texting and carrying virtual conversations with multiple people at any given time is that we have the illusion that we're communicating and interfacing, having fun, having conversations but what are we really doing? We're dropping bytes on each other's devices, we're leaving messages on each other's machines. we're communicating via email, we're keeping long dialogues going on with people but we're not really seeing them or touching them or looking in their eyes so in a way it's kind of creating a more detached loneliness to the way we interface with each other and I think that was what was really appealing, what I think we preserved.
Q: Well, you do mention Lovecraft and there is sort of a Lovecraftian scene in the laundry room with all these arms that are like the tentacles. So what are some of your references in the horror genre?
Jim Sonzero: Of films that I really love?
Q: Yeah. Are you a fan?
Jim Sonzero: I am a fan, definitely. My favorite of all time is The Exorcist. What I love about The Exorcist is that it's not just a bloody, gory splatter film and even though...what I love about it is set up like this exotic to most Americans lifestyle, this dysfunctional single mom and her daughter and the help and they live in this apartment in the upper east side and this horrible thing happens to them So you see it, you get a taste of their lives and you feel this is odd they're rich, they've got too much money, they're not really happy, they're arguing, they're having real conflict and then this totally ridiculous preposterous thing happens to them and they have to deal with it. So you become so emotionally invested in it, hooked into these characters, that when it does happen you're feeling for them, you're hurting, you feel like "wow that could happen to me". For that reason, I love The Exorcist, I think it's one of the ballsiest movies of it's time. I think that it went for an X rating was great.
Q: Ellen Burstyn is in the Wicker Man remake.
Jim Sonzero: Oh, is she?
Q: Yeah, she's a very malevolent mother. So in this movie, Pulse, speaking of interesting actors: I love the cameo with Brad Dourif. How did you finagle that?
Jim Sonzero: Um, we paid him. [laughter] No, he was interested in doing the story and he was wild, great to work with. He's a very unusual person. He's electrifying and he gets a laugh in the theater when he comes on everyone starts howling.
Q: Was he your first thought when you were casting?
Jim Sonzero: He was in the short list. I can't remember who else we were talking to, there were several. But he was definitely at the top of the list and we were all very happy when he went for it.
Q: You've got a lot of great little character parts, but you also have some terrific stars from tv that people obviously already love and they have a following. How important is that in the marketing and the presentation of the film, to have known actors?
Jim Sonzero: Oh, I think it's intrinsic. I think it's classic to have a vulnerable female as the person that gets preyed upon in most horror films and to have her rise to the occasion and fight this thing, which Kristin pulls off and she comes with the built-in audience of inequity of her market which is the whole entire Veronica Mars market. Which I think is great, I think that's why the studio was really attracted to having her be Mattie. Then we have Christina Milian who is a huge and rising star in the hiphop world. And Ian Somerhalder with his huge fanbase from Lost. And he's a looker.
Q: Yes, he is. He's really good looking. In fact when I talked to Kristin earlier today, she said the producers told her "We were going to like scruff him up and stuff so he won't be prettier than you," but she said it didn't work. [laughter] So what's it like to work with the two of them?
Jim Sonzero: They are great. Kristin is an amazing actress and she's technically superb. I mean hits her marks, can achieve her match from the camera angles, the same emotion that she hit in the wide shot as in the medium shot as in any angle, you're never waiting for her, she's on it. She's also, in close-ups, her face... I mean her eyes are, she can give several emotions at one time and she has a vulnerable side to her that really engages you and I think what she goes through after the suicide, when she sees Josh hanging is when you really hook the audience.
But the biggest hook comes for me in the film when she gets her armor gets penetrated or perforated by Waterson, the psychiatrist, and he gets her to break down and that's when I think I put my viewer hat on when I really hooked in empathy to her as a character and made a psychological transaction that I'm going to ride with her through the movie. I think that's the most important thing in any film is you have to have the audience hooked into your character in empathy. If you fail at that, then you're just watching scenes and effects. It seems like she's able to do that too good.
Ian is a really hard worker and cares a lot, and rehearses and rehearses. He's good. He's more than... it's funny when someone is that good-looking people tend to try to discount their ability but he's good, he carries the role. In the testing, girls loved the shit out of him. [laughter]
Q: How well do you think Pulse will appeal to the international audience?
Jim Sonzero: I think it will. I don't know any reason why it wouldn't. I think what's really cool is that the European market is getting the R version because they don't have the same rating system as we do. So I think there's more teeth in it, more savory, scary horrific scenes so I think hopefully they'll like it.
Q: So will we Yanks get the R-rated version on DVD?
Jim Sonzero: You'll get the unrated on DVD. There'll be even more! [laughter]
Q: How much do you think ahead with what extras are going to go on the DVD and how much input do you have?
Jim Sonzero: I pretty much can create the list of what my 'druthers are, what i want to put on it and it just has to get past Bob Weinstein and he seems pretty cool. Especially if he knows...the psychology is, you know, if it didn't make it in the theaters...the more cool stuff that ends up on the DVD that didn't make it in, the better the DVD sells.
Q: Absolutely. So have you done your director's commentary yet?
Jim Sonzero: No that's happening next week.
Q: So as a first time director are you kind of thinking like "Oh, what am I going to talk about?" or are you going to wing it?
Jim Sonzero: No. I like to just go to the craft and what we try to do, what we're up against and you know what was successful what should have been better. When I watch DVDs and listen to commentaries those are the ones I find most informative is when the directors...I hate when the director is glad-handing the producer and they're eating popcorn and acting stupid. Who cares? Why waste my time? I want to hear what they went through and how they made the shots. So that's my approach to it.
Q: So you won't be censored? Will you be able to talk about some dirt?
Jim Sonzero: Of course. I won't be like naming any names. [laughter]
Q: You mentioned Wes Craven had written this script a while ago. Did you get any input from him while you were working on it?
Jim Sonzero: No, no we didn't. We never interfaced. When the script came in, when I read it, it was about artificial intelligence
Q: Were you able to put some of your own thoughts into the script?
Jim Sonzero: Yeah, absolutely. I worked closely with Ray Wright, subsequently worked with John Johnstone, [and a couple of others].
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the red tape? It's supposed to keep them out, but it didn't seem to work very well.
Jim Sonzero: Oh, in the film?
Q: Yeah, its like they were still getting through there. What is redtape.exe and can you talk about the significance?
Jim Sonzero: Red tape was something that came from the original film and in the original film it was used to... it was kind of hard to figure out what it was used for but I think it was used to attract the creatures, the people from the other side. In our film we used it as a temporary barrier but it was penetrable, they were able to get through it.
Q: It was kind of temporary! [laughing]
Jim Sonzero: It was kind of like one of those things that starts out in one direction and slowly gets eroded through multiple edits and then stops making sense but you already have it in the scenes.
Q: I absolutely love the part where Samm Levine runs out and goes 'ahhh'. Its really funny. He's a great guy too, he's very funny. How did you reign him in on the set?
Jim Sonzero: He's fun, I mean he's always cracking jokes. The hardest part of Samm Levine is getting him to shut up and focus on the movie. To get him to stop the standup routine. He was good at conveying fear in the scene, and his panic attack was great.
Q: Now this movie has been kind of bounced around date-wise. How aware are you of that, or are you are finished with the movie and figure it's out of your hands?
Jim Sonzero: No, no, I'm aware of it. You know part of it was the first date got moved because it was supposed to be March 7, I think, or March 14 we moved it because we weren't ready yet. Some films, especially when you're going to production and you don't have your script fully together and you're still figuring things out but you have this start date, which happens a lot, you shoot with multiple eventual outcomes and endings.
You know, so there's a script and in my head I'm shooting 4 movies. You know like if we go this way I gotta cover this. So I kind of annoyed the actors a little bit because it was like "I need a version, I need a version, I need a version" because if I'm going with this idea, you have to go down this road. So it took a long time for the film to bake and to figure out what was the best, what was the real essence that was working and there were so many combinations, it was so much footage and so many different options.
We pushed it the first time and then we identified July 14 as our second date. I guess the studio felt there was too much competition on that date and it wouldn't perform the way they wanted to, so they moved it to August 11. And now it's moved again. [Note: It wasn't moved to August 25, after all.]
Q: So, do you pay attention to the online message boards where people are talking about the date changes?
Jim Sonzero: Yeah. I have no control over it. It's their movie, they will do what they want. Ultimately I think they know what they're doing in terms of when it will perform best. On the message boards people are carrying a lot of negative stuff because they moved the date. The last moving of the date was because of the MPAA. We wanted that rating and they kept forcing us to make cuts, censoring us.
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Exclusive Interview by Staci Layne Wilson