Interview – Adrienne Biddle

Interview – Adrienne Biddle

Through vision, dedication, and a lot of hard work, great things can be achieved. A path often difficult to take, the passionate few plunge in head first, seldom ever coming up for air. Such is the case with talented Film Producer Adrienne Biddle who has devoted her life to film and everything that comes with it. Initially working on the administrative end of the business, holding a high position with the now defunct Rogue Pictures, Biddle has gone on to big things as she builds Unbroken Pictures from the ground up with friend and partner, Bryan Bertino. Earning themselves a bit of a buzz around their film The Blackcoat’s Daughter, as of March 31st, the film finally received broad range release in theaters and now available On Demand. A long haul for all involved, yet no less redeeming, Biddle sits down to talk her working on The Blackcoat’s Daughter, the future of Unbroken Pictures, the art of creating tension on film, and more. – You have been involved in film now for nearly two decades. Recently coming on to produce full-length features in recent years, first, tell us, what inspired you to become involved in cinema?  

Adrienne Biddle – Thanks for making me feel old (laughs). I came to film a little bit later in life; my undergraduate degree was in economics and I took some time off to figure out what I was doing in my twenties. Then I sort of came around to… I was an avid reader and I always appreciated being around good storytellers. I am not a great storyteller, but I am around some of the best now, so I feel sort of shameful in comparison on that ability.

I came to Los Angeles to go to the Peter Stark program, which is the producing program at USC. That’s where I discovered the inner workings of filmmaking and how it all sort of fits together on a artistic level and on a business level. I took the approach that I wanted to produce; I like being close to material and the process. That’s the part of the job that I really love – both on a creative level sort of getting my hands dirty with the script as well as getting on the set and motivating the troops; I am well suited for that. I really also wanted to make sure that if I made that decision that I actually brought something for the table. I took awhile going through Hollywood trajectory of learning about different facets of the business. My first job was in Jersey Films, which was a fairly big production company that had a deal at Universal.

I left there and I went to a place called Summit Entertainment, which was a foreign film company at the time, so I learned about that part of the business. Then I was a studio executive, I was Senior Vice President of Production at Rogue Pictures. I had three distinct perspectives on how to put movies together and how it works. When Rogue was sold to Relativity in 2008, I reached a point where I actually know a little bit now, and I think I could be useful in this role. What I needed was inspiration, so Bryan Bertino and I had formed a professional relationship. It had morphed into a personal relationship. We became very good friends, just because we shared a very similar approach to genre movies; our love and respect for them as pieces of art as cinema as opposed to stuff that goes into the B-movie section of the video store.

When Rogue got sold, I thought, “What am I going to do?” Bryan’s work as a filmmaker and a screenwriter always inspired me. Artistically, I think he’s incredibly talented. I also worked on something that he came in to help me on a project that I already had. As a result, I knew that he had the same diligence, passion, and critical eye for other people’s work in the same way that he has on his own. I thought that would be a wonderful asset to a production company, to be able to work with screenwriters with two very different perspectives – one from the filmmaker/screenwriter perspective and the other from the executive producer perspective. This is also while sharing an intellectual creative love of the same genre and the same kind of vision for it.

That’s what brought me to where I am here; I wasn’t a cinephile, I was a reader. My love of story came from books rather than movies. Obviously I’ve watched a lot of movies and I am probably more educated than many, at the same time, I am around true cinephiles who are film historians where I feel a little diminished in those moments where I realize that I have decades of stuff that I just haven’t had time to see. That is what got me from point A to point B. – It is interesting how you started off on the business end of things and ended up where you are. From what you are saying, you have always worked within the genre of Horror and Thriller films. Do you like working in genre films? 

Adrienne Biddle – Yeah, what brought Bryan and I together, and what really shapes Unbroken Pictures, our company, is that we believe humanity is complicated. People are complicated, they are multifaceted, multilayered. Genre movies allow you to go to darker, more complicated, more difficult, more controversial places than some other genres do. I think that you can say a lot in a Horror film. Sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly, but you can really explore scenes and characters in a way that the best Oscar winning dramas do. For us, it’s never been a stepping stone, it’s always been something that we’ve gravitated towards just because there is an infinite variety of people out there and characters to dig under their skin.

Universal Pictures

A24 Films – Absolutely, there is a level of freedom in genre films that you perhaps do not have in a more reality based film. In a genre based film, you can say things you would not be able to say in a more reality based film.

Adrienne Biddle – Right, I love it when audiences leave a genre movie and there are multiple interpretations of what is under the surface. You don’t want audiences to be confused, and our hope is that they aren’t. At the same time, one of the things about the script of The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I always called it a kind of stick to your ribs screenplay, it stays with you. The movies that have inspired both Bryan and I artistically have been all the great genre movies of the ’70s. For him, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was really influential. For me, it was a movie like The Shining (1980). They are just movies that stick around with you that leave you with a feeling or a taste in your mouth.

While there are excellent genre movies being made that are “fun,” for us, the idea of someone leaving a theatre silent or slightly disturbed is a victory in my opinion, at least for the kind of stuff that we like to do and the scenes that we like to explore. We work a lot, most of our movies actually have very complex women at their center. Bryan’s movie, The Monster, which A24 released not long ago, and the Blackcoat’s Daughter also both deal with women who are not easily pigeonholed. They have different flaws, they are human, but they are also empathetic. That’s a really fun thing for us.  If we can pull it off, if we can pull a character that does awful things that you still feel for, that’s all a victory. Genre movies let you explore that. – Agreed. In genre films, labels can often be limiting in art, but sometimes necessary for consumption. That said, The Blackcoat’s Daughter can be depicted in various ways. Do you view this as a Horror story of demonic possession or a psychologically ill girl?

Adrienne Biddle – I was always a little bit more literal with it. I always saw the themes of the movies being metaphorical, but the actual experience of our characters being literal. In terms of classification – I think a dark, psychological exploration of someone’s journey can still be a Horror movie. I have no problems with gore, I love a good kill, who doesn’t, but I feel like it should be earned. If the character’s journey is less about that visceral experience, but more about what is going on in their head and the dark things that are rattling around in there, that can be just as frightening or horrific as a good stabbing. It’s always nice when you have both (laughs).

For me, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I’m never going to say it defies categorization, but I do, I look at it as a Horror film. There are so many sub genres in Horror, I guess you could say it would be a religious or demonic story, but you always run into trouble with classifications there.

A24 Films – It is interesting what you say about Horror because it has grown, it is not just monsters and zombies anymore. It is a very varied genre, you can actually work within it which is great like that. The film’s two lead actresses, Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts, do a fantastic job with their roles. What was it like working with them?  

Adrienne Biddle – Kiernan is just a revelation, she was thirteen at the time when she made the movie. We all saw her grow up as Sally Draper on Madmen. You never really know, we knew she was a good performer, but you didn’t know how far she’d be willing to go. The minute I had met her for the first time, she was fearless, she understood the character instinctively and was willing to go anyplace it was willing to take her. An interesting story about Kiernan is that we had actually created a prosthetic to put on her face, to mark her transformation. Her performance was so good that we just threw it out, we didn’t use it. Every dream for a director or for a producer is to have a performer put everything on their face, and she did that in spades. She was extraordinary and just a wonderful human, a delight on set. She was fun and friendly. It was great, she is extremely gifted and a really great person.

Emma, was also a revelation to me because she has done a lot of work. She is a really talented actor, but at the same time, you haven’t really seen her to kind of go here. There’s not a ton of dialogue in this movie, so our actors had to really communicate emotional states and thoughts with using nothing other than their faces. She had a couple of really big moments in the movie. When it came time to let all of that out, she went there. She dug deep and really nailed those moments. It was terrific to see her in a different way. It was such a great experience to work with such a professional and someone who really understood the material of the character. This production was really a dream, everybody from the crew, to the actors, to Bryan. It really was a magical experience that everybody believed in the story, believed in what we were doing, and gave it everything they had. – It certainly translated well on film and it is interesting you talk about the prosthetic for Keiran’s face because both actress, while different in real life, bear a striking resemblance in film. Was this done intentionally?   

Adrienne Biddle – I think that they both understood where the story was going. The truth of the matter is, both of them, that they felt connected. There was some work that they had done just on their own bringing it to the table to say – we want to make sure that this feels natural, like something that isn’t implausible. You don’t see it coming, but at the same time, when it does, you are not thinking, “What?” That is a testament to their performance; hair color and all that is always really helpful, but for the most part, it really was in kind of having a consistency of tone in these characters. That was really something they brought to the table.

Still from The Blackcoat’s Daughter – The Blackcoat’s Daughter was released in theaters on Friday, March 31st. Prior to that, it was on DirecTV briefly. As you have said, this has been a long journey for this film.

Adrienne Biddle – Yes, we were one of the best reviewed Horror films in 2015 (laughs). It’s just insane that it’s taken so long. We ran into behind the scenes, not that fun procedural issue about some paperwork, so we had to deal with getting the rights in order and cleaned up, that is why we were delayed by a year. We had a release date set for 2016, then this issue came up that prevented that from happening. – That is unfortunate, but it is finally here, so it has to be very redeeming to see it finally out. 

Adrienne Biddle – It is, and it is funny, because Oz Perkins made and released a second movie after this in the time it’s taken this movie to get seen. I am still so exciting because I feel like this is a wonderful film. It was so gratifying to us after four years of slaving away of trying to get other people to believe, and they finally all did. We premiered the movie in Toronto, then A24 acquired it. It really was this journey that was so amazing, and to finally have it able to be seen publically is very gratifying. It really was one of the best production experiences I’ve ever had. It’s nice when you put in so much work, so much time, and to have the end result be this, I couldn’t be happier.

Still from The Blackcoat’s Daughter – Absolutely, it certainly has been a long road, but the hard work has paid off. Since you have continuously worked while waiting for the release of The Blackcoat’s Daughter, what can you tell us about your other projects? 

Adrienne Biddle – We made a movie for Screen Gems that we are still in post on, I am not sure when that is going to be finished and released. It’s called He’s Out There. We made The Blackcoat’s Daughter, we made Brian’s movie The Monster, which is out, and then right into the Screen Gems movie. Now that we are a little bit freer, we’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline.

Bryan and I feel strongly about the brand that we are trying to create Unbroken Pictures, which is this take some chances and to gravitate towards stuff that has a feeling of originality as well as maybe cross genres. Those movies are always challenging, all movies are, but we take some risks in that way, and risks unfortunately take time (laughs). Bryan has a movie at Fox that we are really hopeful about, but nothing concrete at the moment. We have stuff in the hopper, so stay tuned. – Fantastic, Unbroken Pictures is growing. This has to be inspiring as well because you have worked for others, and now you have your own company. 

Adrienne Biddle – Contrary to popular belief, knowledge, or opinion, this is not the business to get rich in (laughs). It is always one of those things, but the truth is I am doing something that I love and something that I am creatively fulfilled by. It’s worth all the struggle to get that stuff done. This is what I came to Hollywood to do, to finally be doing it feels great. Every movie is a tremendous learning experience for both of us. That keeps everything fresh, interesting, and lively. I am happy to be doing this, I feel very lucky and hope to keep doing it. – Well the future looks bright, so congratulations. Since you do have a love for genre films, what are some of your favorite Horror and Sci-Fi films? 

Adrienne Biddle – I probably have seen The Shining like a million times, it’s just a movie I can’t look away from if I find it. The Exorcist (1973) is an extraordinary movie; we all remember the pea soup, but the character work in that movie is just unreal. It’s a phenomenal film that I can watch over and over again.

I loved It Follows (2014). Actually, one of the movies other than The Strangers (2008) that scared me sort of deeply and resonated with me was The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), that movie scared the shit out of me. There’s a lot of interesting work being done all over the place in the genre, some of it big commercial stuff, some of it a little lesser known. It’s exciting to see people explore. I also loved The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), it was amazing, it was beautiful, well performed, really scary. There is good work all around. – That is a nice selection of films. The Exorcist, in particular, really breathed well, and while having a slow pace, was effective. That is something modern films do not have, patience. A good Horror film requires patience. 

Adrienne Biddle – I can say this as a fan, because I was instrumental in getting Bryan to be able to direct The Strangers, but I wasn’t the executive on the film. At the end of the day, I looked at that movie finished, not having much to do with its actual making, the word that came to mind, which I see coming back, is patience. With Insidious, James Wan has a real instinctive notion for how to be patient. With Insidious, he had really great moments where he was just patient. 

That is the stuff I really love, because what it is creating is tension. The real secret is, how much can you inflate the balloon before you need to pop it? The longer you can ride that tightrope of tension, I think the more gratifying and fearful it is for the viewer. That is the stuff I love and I go back to.

Warner Bros.

Rogue Pictures – No question at all. That is really a unique artwork to be able to do that.

Adrienne Biddle – It is, it is not easy to do. Just like Comedy, directing a Horror sequence is a real gift, and very hard to do. I remember I worked for someone who said, “I don’t know what is happening.” I said that is the point! The point is, you are in the shoes of the victim and the victim doesn’t know what is happening either. That anticipation, that fear, is what makes movies frightening. If I give you all that stuff right out of the gate, you have sort of lost the experience. At least in my opinion. 

Purchase The Blackcoat’s Daughter: Amazon | iTunes 

Follow Adrienne Biddle on Twitter 

For more on Unbroken Pictures: Facebook | Twitter 

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