Talking ‘Camp X-Ray’ with filmmaker Peter Sattler
When you cast Kristen Stewart in a movie, you know that there’s always going to be the specter of Twilight and that franchise hanging over the production. Camp X-Ray‘s writer/director Peter Sattler sure did, and in fact all but cultivated it, but that just comes with the territory. Luckily, Stewart also gives one of her best performances to date in the film. When I got a chance to sit down with Sattler a few weeks ago to talk about his new movie, it was just after coming from a screening of Clouds of Sils Maria, so the promising direction of Stewart’s career was at the forefront of my mind. Sattler and I didn’t speak for too long, but we hit on some interesting topics and below you can see the highlights. Camp X-Ray is in theaters now beginning its hopefully lucrative run, stars Stewart along with Payman Moaadi, and is quite good, so don’t miss it!
Here’s the best of my chat with Peter Sattler…
-On the genesis of this idea
Peter Sattler: You know, basically I saw a few documentaries and read a little bit and kind of realized that this situation existed. First of all, I realized that Guantanamo Bay is not what I thought it was. It’s not barbed wire and torture and dark shadows, you know? It’s very clean and institutional and boring. It might have been that in the beginning, but now it’s just a weird institution, like a hospital or something. I realized that these detainees and soldiers are just stuck down there, walking in circles, and they start talking. To me, I’m fascinated by that. As a director, you want to find interesting situations. Say you’re doing a break up movie, it’s like “that’s cool, but I’ve seen it”. How can I have that in another way that’s cooler, you know? The situation and the conversation between these two characters was so interesting and curious and weird to me, that I just started writing them, before I had any idea for a plot or a story, it was just what they were talking about. That was the impetus, you know? It was also just trying to be smart about how you make a film, especially an independent film. It’s a very contained piece, which I was very proud of. I love movies that have a very pure and simple idea but are done in a very complicated idea, so just two characters in a room, but it’s one of the most intense rooms on the planet.
-If he wrote the script with anyone in mind and how the film was cast
PS: I didn’t have anyone in mind actually, because I wasn’t sure what kind of a scale I could do this on. I was writing it and had no idea if I was going to get a big star or a great actor or what, and just luckily we got both in both of the roles…one an American star and one an Iranian star. They’re both really amazing actors, but it is this interesting thing where you have this thing in your head and this idea on the page, but once I thought about Kristen in the role I was lucky I got her because I couldn’t get her out of my head after that. She was exactly who should play this role because she’s a perfect mixture of tough and vulnerable. She’s one of the greatest actresses in the world at talking without speaking. She can do more with her face than almost anyone and that was essential here to make that role work. The same with Payman, I couldn’t get him out of my head. You’re right though, it’s the biggest decision in the film and it lives or dies based on that. If the relationship between the two characters doesn’t work then there’s no point in even making the movie.
-His thoughts on Stewart and the challenge of her Twilight stardom affecting perception of her current work
PS: Kristen runs into it a lot, or at least she used to. She certainly won’t now. It’s that thing of “oh really? You’re in a serious film?” And it’s “yeah, I’m a serious actor and I may have done some tentpoles, but I can actually do proper work.” Also, if you look back before those movies, she had some rad work.
-On how his film could bring in the audience that hasn’t yet followed Stewart from Twilight to independent projects
PS: I think Camp X-Ray is a perfect follow up for her demographic as it gets older. This is a film about a young woman going through a quarter life crisis and growing up, you know? Maybe some of her others haven’t related to kids in that same way, but I’m interested to see sort of what the broader reaction is to this, particularly from young women. After all, it’s about being a woman.
-What he has brewing next now that this journey is over
PS: I’m writing a script. I’m writing it! I started it right after Sundance. I took a week off (laughs) and then jumped right back in. Yeah, it was crazy! I told myself that I’d take more time off, but I just couldn’t. You learn so much on your first film that you just want to jump right back in and make another one. It’s like a drug man, you know? If you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t be doing it since making a film is one of the hardest things on Earth and I adore it. I love every second of it. I love being on set, I love directing a crew, I love figuring out a story, I love cracking it, I love writing. I mean, I love looking at trailers and looking at marketing, so you just want to get right back into it. So, I’m writing this thing now, it’s going to be kind of crazy, but it’s exciting. It’s not too dissimilar from what Camp X-Ray is, while also extremely different! (laughs) It’s the same and totally different.
There you have it folks, the best of my conversation with Peter Sattler. Camp X-Ray is out right now and is well worth your time. Be sure to check it out…
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!