January 31, 2018 Interview – Blake Reigle
In today’s world of film, one must be able to wear many hats. Filmmakers must also possess a resilient spirit and be able to pick up the pieces when one project fails to gain momentum. Instead, they switch their creative juices toward the future, which presumably, is ever brighter. Blake Reigle is a modern filmmaker who has done just this: changing roles, evolving, and continuously searching for new inspirations that will bring about bigger and better projects.
A former intern at Laura Ziskin Productions who would go on to work with Adam Sandler and Happy Madison Productions, as well as Sean Cunningham and Crystal Lake Entertainment, Reigle has an extensive background throughout all facets of film. As a director, Reigle’s most recent offering, One of Us, is a truly entertaining film that tackles the hot-button issue of modern day cults. With so much experience under his belt and much insight to offer into filmmaking, we recently had the honor of sitting down with Reigle to discuss One of Us, filmmaking ups and downs, what it takes to be a convincing cult leader, and so much more!
CrypticRock.com – Becoming a film director has always been a bit of a crap-shoot, but in this day and age where there are two-hundred films released per week, it seems an especially difficult time to succeed at this form of art. What inspired you to become a filmmaker rather than, say, an actor?
Blake Reigle – I’ve had a great time acting on stage and screen, however, I feel being behind the lens is where my heart is most satisfied. Film-making provides me a catch-all outlet to feed my interest in psychology, writing, design, fashion, technology, photography, drama, and the supernatural. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, over-thought things, developed imaginative scenarios in my head, constantly pondered “what if” situations, and generally fixated on people, subjects, scenarios, slices of life, etc. I love a multitude of art forms and professions; so being a filmmaker is a way to placate all of those things swirling through me. I feel best built to lead and collaborate with the cast and crew, build worlds, and wrap my arms around the totality of the visual story. Also, it’s something that is just in my DNA; being a filmmaker is as simple as knowing I need to fill my lungs with oxygen.
CrypticRock. com – You have a diverse behind-the-scenes career in film and have worked as a crew member on such well-known flicks as 2009’s The Last House on the Left remake as well as The Longest Yard with Adam Sandler. What have been some of the ups and downs of your career that brought you to the here and now?
Blake Reigle – Being a film student at USC helped me land an internship with Laura Ziskin Productions, which eventually became a larger role. I got to work with some of my heroes on various projects, such as Spider-Man 2 (2004), the 79th Academy Awards, Stealth, and various projects in-development. I was working with a great group of aspiring filmmakers in the office and on the Sony lot. Laura was a titan in the industry; and every hot director, writer, actor, producer eventually walked into the office. We had every major property cross the desk and got to read, watch, and learn in an the ultimate environment. A lot of prominent people in Hollywood told me I had a dream gig and should hold onto it as tight as I could. Sadly, Laura was diagnosed with breast cancer (my mom was too and ended up receiving a helping hand from Laura). Around this time, I worked with her on the Oscars. Laura battled hard but eventually passed away due to the disease. Her office shut down and I was cast out into the unknown for the first time.
After Ziskin Productions, I connected with friends at Sony and landed a production assistant job on The Longest Yard (2005), essentially moving from creative development to production. The job was tough but very important in terms of learning the production ins and outs of a studio feature from beginning to end. I got to know and work with Sandler and the awesome folks at Happy Madison. Once the picture wrapped, I helped in production on a couple other Sony features.
I finished writing my first feature and was advised by several of the producers I’d worked with to go shoot it. After calling my friend and director of photography, Nate Tieman, to tell him we were making a movie in a couple months, I packed my stuff and moved back to Irvine. We shot Beneath The Surface (2007) on almost no budget in our hometown with friends and a mixed group of cast and crew I’d met on sets in Los Angeles, casting services, and from the Orange County scene. I ran the production no different than the studio films I’d worked on, just with no money. It was an absolute epic time making the film! We thought we’d end up with memories and a finished product that only we’d end up seeing; it was a mind-blowing thing to see the film go on to win awards and getting a big release through Well Go USA.
I was making money as a substitute teacher while at home. Beneath The Surface helped get me a rep that showed the film to Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th), who then brought me in as his assistant/creative executive at Crystal Lake Entertainment. I was young and naive at the time; I thought I’d quickly land a feature directing assignment. Reality happened and I needed a steady paycheck. Developing projects and working on the remakes of The Last House on the Left was great; Sean became like a film father figure. At the same time, I was working towards directing more.
I received the opportunity to help produce His Name Was Jason and exited full-time employment to become an independent contractor/artist. I had been attached to a couple projects as a director and put years into pushing them across the goal line. When the DVD market took a dive, so did the projects. After His Name Was Jason finished and the projects I was aiming to direct fell apart, I was left struggling to pay the rent and was close to packing my car and driving to North Carolina in order to shake things up. I’m an avid fan of stock car racing and thought I’d work in Charlotte for a bit, doing media stuff for NASCAR while writing new scripts, etc. Miraculously, a production company that knew my love for racing reached out with an opportunity to help produce a racing show in North Carolina. I went from paying my rent and bills with my Bank of America credit-card to producing a show about a subject I love in the place I thought I was going to escape to, and I ended up being able to scream for joy at the Bank of America headquarters the week I paid my card off. Gnarly how things can work out sometimes!
Once the show in NC was over and I returned to Los Angeles, I turned down offers to do more non-fiction TV because I wanted to get focused back on film endeavors. It was rough for a long time! I ended up slowly but surely piecing together various gigs. With Dan Farrands and Thommy Huston, we did the Crystal Lake Memories project, I started working on shows with Sean at Crystal Lake, helping friends with their projects, and developed several TV and film projects with various actors and producers. As a bass player, I even recorded music with The Brevet, which was placed in several films and TV shows. Eventually, I started piecing together clients for commercial work, writing feature-film material that was optioned, shooting my own shorts on the side, and I attached myself to other projects. As any artist can tell you, it’s feast or famine. Additionally, it’s brutal when you work countless days into building a project, pitching it, then getting it right at the goal line and having it dissolve into pages and pitch material that the world may never see. You’ve got to keep pushing onward though!
A couple years ago, my friend and colleague, Buz Wallick, reached out regarding One of Us. He had worked with the executive producers before and told them I’d be a perfect fit for the material. I pitched my take to the studio and landed the job; finally getting the follow-up I’d been working so hard for after Beneath The Surface. The shoot was awesome! I got to work with my Beneath The Surface cinematographer, Nate Tieman, Buz Wallick, my friend Brett Solem (editor), fantastic execs, Hannah Pillemer and Margret Huddleston, and a great group of cast and crew I can’t wait to work with again. The ultimate high is directing a feature, the ultimate low is not knowing when you get to do it again!
CrypticRock.com – The literal blood, sweat, and tears pay off though, and it is clear that you are a well-rounded and passionate director! Now to delve deeper into your most recent works, let’s discuss One of Us in some detail. With the 25th anniversary of the Branch Davidian/Waco, Texas siege approaching and that story returning to the news yet again, one of the hot-topics at the moment are modern day cults. One of Us tackles exactly this topic. What inspired you to want to step into that territory, film-wise?
Blake Reigle – Many people today are searching for happiness and meaning; cunning wolves lure them in. The greatest fear of modern people is not death but meaninglessness, that their pursuit of nothing but vanity completely hollows them out. Humans today are quick to cling to a solution in order to fill the void and struggle within themselves. Every week there’s a new click-bait solution to life’s problems, a new modern guru, technological innovation, campaign, etc., that exploits our souls and seeks to provide an answer. It’s important to remind us that there are wolves amongst the sheep and we’re now seeing wolves being shed of their sheepskin daily; the hunter is becoming the hunted. Stories about cults are cautionary tales; wicked people tend to pursue the afflicted.
CrypticRock.com – This is sadly too true: everyone these days is chasing something and much of society is too quick to jump on whatever click-bait is offered to them as the latest “answer.” This talk of sheeps and wolves segues beautifully into the bones of One of Us, which has a wonderful cast. However, Derek Smith is an exceptional stand-out and is eerily convincing as the suave and charismatic cult leader Brent. Did you audition other actors in that role or was Smith a shoe-in from the get-go? What qualities does it take from an actor to make a convincing cult leader?
Blake Reigle – Thank you. Cult leaders have to work like a tractor beam: lure you in by addressing your pain, take down your defenses with compassion, and then gradually increase their strength like killing a frog in a slow boiling water. I think we looked at only a couple actors before Derek and then we were set. Derek did his homework for the audition and came ready to convince us like the real Brent would! Cult leaders need to be able to show deep comforting sympathy, have confidence in their solutions, and a larger than life presence that can elicit fear.
CrypticRock.com – Derek was a magnificent choice: he truly embodied the character in an alluring and haunting manner. Now there are quite a few lines in One of Us that focus on hot-button issues like GMOs and sustainability, as well as the apathetic pall falling over our modern society due to technology. These are very intriguing topics to pepper into this particular script. What was the inspiration behind including these discussions in the film and are these topics that you might explore further in other productions?
Blake Reigle – I made Brent’s hypothetical targets disillusioned women that he could lure within a modern setting, such as the Coachella music festival; a place where these issues are utilized by artists and companies (mostly) for their own gain. Dialogue involved what he would say to susceptible women at Coachella in order to take them to his compound a couple hours away and provide them the sense of purpose and answers they seek.
Some people, or companies, use topics like these as motivators to get people to fall in line or to make them seem extra virtuous and provide a sense of absolution. These discussions stir some very tribal emotions in people. Hot button issues can be cult-like and cause people to take them to extreme levels; this is so prevalent today due to social media. I’m writing a script that does further explore some of these topics and takes them in a very dark direction.
CrypticRock.com – The fact that you specifically focused on creating a believable, modern situation that would stand to lure in young women plays into the success of the film, obviously. Clearly, this was not your first rodeo! In fact, as a filmmaker, you have already tackled the topic of modern-day cults in One of Us, created comedy out of hugs (Hugs with Hank), explored the truth Beneath the Surface, and celebrated 30 years of Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th. What is next on your agenda?
Blake Reigle – I’ve been pitching a fun Horror film I wrote with a friend. I’m attached to a few projects. I’m currently writing a script that I hope to have done by spring in order to put together on my own. I direct commercials on the side, edit for clients, etc. I’m waiting for the call to direct another feature, but I’m also going back to my roots and aim to set up another feature on my own to make sure the gaps between features aren’t too lengthy. I’d love to direct episodic television.
CrypticRock.com – You have such a bevy of experience, do you have any advice for would-be filmmakers who are reading this?
Blake Reigle – I think the entrepreneurial spirit in filmmaking is better than ever! Before, we could make features on our own, but how they were released controlled their life outside our hands. Now that the world has gone totally digital, anyone can make a movie and release it through the same means as the studios and networks. The absolute best advice I ever got and I will provide today is just go make your movie. Then make another, and another, and another. Don’t give up! Life is short. Be seen, not heard.
CrypticRock.com – All very solid advice! Last question. At CrypticRock.com, we cover music and films, especially those in the Horror and Sci-Fi genres. Are you a fan of either of these genres and, if so, what are some of your favorite Horror and/or Sci-Fi films?
Blake Reigle – I have a deep love for Horror and Sci-Fi. Some of my favorites are Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Dracula (1931), Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), Alien (1979), The Last House on the Left (1972), Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Omen (1976), The Exorcist (1973), The Conjuring (2013), Blood and Black Lace (1964), Deep Red (1975), Tenebre (1982), Deadly Friend (1986), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Children of Men (2006), Gattaca (1997), Prometheus (2012), Total Recall (1990), A Scanner Darkly (2006), Back to the Future (1985), Dracula Untold (2014), The Brood (1979), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Psycho (1960), Scream for Help (1984), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), The Craft (1996), The Neon Demon (2016), The Mephisto Waltz (1971), Autopsy (1975); and I could go on and on but will end it here.