Patrick Brice’s Dangerous Validation

Brice talks about having two movies premiere at the same time, plus the art of making audiences feel uncomfortable.

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Patrick Brice wants to make you squirm. Two features into his career as a filmmaker, Brice has made a found footage performance piece-cum-Craigslist nightmare (Creep), and a raunchy adult sex comedy bolstered by a healthy dollop of dangling male prostheses (The Overnight). Put bluntly, he’s out to test the limitations of his audience. But that’s not a bad thing: As viewers, the experiences of confronting our personal metrics for unease can be healthy, refreshing and informative. In the specific case of Brice’s films, it can even be entertaining.

By happy accident, both films make their commercial debuts within a week of each other, so it’s safe to say that it’s a great time to be Patrick Brice. Creep has done the rounds on the festival circuit for a little more than a year, premiering at 2014’s South by Southwest Film Festival and getting snapped up by RADiUS-TWC before the company changed their plans and dropped the film last October; it’s being released by both iTunes and Netflix over the course of the next month. The Overnight, meanwhile, has spent considerably less time on the market, having been purchased by The Orchard after playing at January’s Sundance soiree.

Two movies, two genres, two different plans for distribution. As much as Brice’s films don’t look alike, though, they share common themes and goals. Paste had the good fortune to talk to Brice about Creep and The Overnight—how his experiences making the former shaped his approach to making the latter—audience preconceptions (as well as his own), and the emotional side of having two movies available for public consumption at the same time.

Paste: You must be doing great—you’ve got two movies coming out, one on iTunes, one in theaters, and roughly within a week of each other. That’s pretty awesome.
Patrick Brice: Yeah, no, this was not the plan, for sure, but I will take it.
Paste: It’s a pretty good plan as far plan Bs go.
Brice: Totally.

Paste: It’s funny that you say this wasn’t the plan, because they’re coming out so close to each other and they’re also kind of about similar things. As you said, this wasn’t intentional, but do you feel like there’s some kismet going on there?
Brice: Absolutely! You know, both the movies have this kind of motif of trust and trusting people you just met. I think there’s so much—I don’t know—just inherent tension to be found in that. So it’s nice to be able to play with that both in the horror genre and then to be able to play with that in the comedy genre, you know?
Paste: Yeah!
Brice: I feel like I learned a lot making Creep that I was then able to further refine going into The Overnight.

Paste: So that was intentional? Were you trying to make a spiritual follow-up of sorts to Creep? They’re vastly different films, but they do have that thematic nugget there.
Brice: No, I think it just is something that maybe seeped in, you know? I was continuing to finish Creep while I was writing The Overnight, and the process of finishing Creep had a lot to do with screening the movie for friends, and for test groups. So it wasn’t the intention, but that definitely seeped in, you know? My mind was already kind of in that place, thinking about the give and release of tension, and when do you ratchet things up and when do you let the air out of the room?

Paste: Is finding out more about the stranger that you meet online or meet in person something that might interest you enough to seep into another film of yours?
Brice: For sure. I’m not going to rule it out. I feel like I was able to mine that as much as I could with these two movies, but I think it’s something that’s inherently interesting, you know?

Paste: I completely agree. I guess I’m curious, then, where Creep originated from as your starting point in features. Did you have a bad Craigslist experience yourself that inspired it?
Brice: First off, it came from Mark Duplass and I wanting to make a movie together. I had just come out of film school, a specific version of film school—I was at CalArts, which is kind of a film school inside of an art school. So my background was, you know, video arts, and documentary, and it wasn’t necessarily with narrative film. Mark had seen a documentary that I’d made as my thesis project and really liked it, and we started to kind of come up with something that we could make together, and it was out of those conversations that Creep came from. Like, it’s a found footage movie, but it’s a found footage movie because that was the only way we could make it where we wouldn’t have a crew with us, you know, where it could just be the two of us and a camera, and us improvising and discovering this movie as we made it.

Paste: I gotta say, I’ve got my list of questions in front of me and I’m just now realizing how tough it is to talk about Creep as a journalist, because I feel like that movie benefits from mystery.
Brice: I agree!
Paste: Going into that with as little knowledge as possible is really important.
Brice: I think so too. I also think that audience preconception can kind of help a movie in some ways, or I think it helps both of my movies. Both of these movies, I’m kind of playing in genres that I’m not that aware of as a viewer. I think Mark and I have maybe seen The Blair Witch Project, but other than that we hadn’t really watched found footage movies, you know? So I think that there are certain expectations that come from that that we’re subverting in that movie, whether we knew we were doing it or not at the time. So I mean, that’s one of the things that I think separates that movie from other movies in the genre, you know, and hopefully makes it a movie that, like, people who maybe don’t normally watch found footage movies could watch and enjoy.

Paste: One thing I’ll say in particular is that Creep is a lot more coherent than most found footage movies. You had a very meticulous approach to making this. Was that really important to you, to be really careful with each detail you put in the film?
Brice: Yeah. I mean, one of the things about making a found footage movie is, you know, even if you come up with a great idea for a scene, there’s this other layer where you’re having to create the justification for why the camera’s on and where the camera’s being placed.

It’s actually quite hard to make a movie like that, and unless you really love the genre and really know what you’re doing, I actually wouldn’t recommend making a movie in that way. It was great for me. It was a chance for me to strip away all my preconceptions about that kind of stuff, my preconceptions about what kind of movie my first movie would be, even, and just make something that was really immediate where we weren’t just thinking about aesthetics that much. We were just thinking about, you know, “What are these characters going through, do these moments feel real?”, and then sort of refining it from there. The question of, “Why is the camera on?” was coming into my head at any given moment while we were making that movie. That was something that we were trying to be as thoughtful about as possible, because you know, there’s a thin line of believability with a film like that, and especially playing in a genre where people have pretty much seen everything already. They’re coming to have fun, but they’re also ready to poke holes.

I’ve been delighted by the reaction from the horror community to this movie, because I was feeling pretty insecure going into it, just thinking, “There’s no blood, there’s not a lot of the normal stuff that people go to expecting in a horror movie, it’s sort of a different thing.” But it’s been sort of a nice treat having people get excited about the things that are different in this movie, you know?

Paste: I think for horror fans, you either need really great gore or magnetic characters, and you’ve got Josef. I would probably answer his ad, and I would probably go along with him, and, spoiler alert, we’ll stop there. Do you think that these characters are more interesting when they’re like him? I know you said you didn’t watch a lot of found footage type horror movies before making this, but do you feel like this character is more interesting when he has that magnetic appeal?
Brice: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the movie has such an intimacy to it because the whole film takes place in just the world of my character and Mark’s character. I knew that that could get claustrophobic, and having Mark be playing the kind of performance he’s doing…he’s playing a crazy guy, but he’s also kind of playing on the inherent likeability of Mark Duplass, and almost testing that to see how far that could go, you know? So it ended up feeling like, for me, especially coming from a conceptual art background, it felt like I was filming a piece of performance art or something in terms of how we made it. Like, we were doing six or seven minute takes to all those scenes where we would film the take, and then watch it back, and dial in the moments that needed to be dialed in. There’s a very organic way of making this kind of movie, and I think when you have a performance like that, it only helped us to have a kind of loose but also focused approach to it, where we didn’t really have any constraints being put on us besides what we were putting on ourselves.

Paste: Yeah. And the other great thing about Josef is that layer of reliability. I’ve seen the movie a couple of times now, and watching it the second time really benefits from the first viewing because you’re thinking about literally every word that comes out of his mouth. Is this a lie? Is that a lie? Is that based in any truth? Is literally everything about this guy, up until the final sequence, just terrifying bullshit? So that was interesting for me.
PB: Yeah! Yeah, absolutely! That’s great.
Paste: I also like that you use the word “intimacy.” I had a note on that because there is intimacy to Creep, and there’s also intimacy to The Overnight, but again we’re talking about different concepts of intimacy.
PB: [laughs] Yeah.
Paste: I take it that was something interesting for you to explore, something you wanted to explore?
Brice: Yeah. I mean, I’m interested in anything that makes you uncomfortable, and I’m interested in the tension that lies in, you know, kind of what can be everyday experiences, whether it’s meeting someone new, whether it’s feeling lonely, how you react to that, whether it’s you putting yourself out there in the world trying to make friends, or even just a simple thing like a Craigslist interaction. There’s tension to be found in all this stuff, and so with both of these films, not only was it fun to be able to explore those themes, but it was also fun to just try and make both these movies as entertaining as possible.

There’s so much content out there right now. When I watch a movie I want to be moved in some way, or caught up in some way, and so a lot of what I was trying to find in my choices were, “How can I ratchet this up? How can I make this a surprise?”, and also feel true to the characters, and true to the story. I feel like both of these movies are somewhat testing audiences in terms of their willingness to go with the story, to go with how awkward, or weird, or scary things are getting. A lot of the nice responses that we’ve had have made me realize what masochists filmgoing audiences are.
Paste: [laughs]
Brice: Like, they love that feeling, you know?

Paste: I imagine you’ll keep on pushing the boundaries of audience discomfort with whatever movie you have planned next on your slate.
Brice: Oh yeah, no, it’s almost dangerous how validated I feel by the response to these movies. For me, I don’t like to break the rules, but then when I find out that I’ve broken the rules and it’s okay, it’s like, “Okay, I’m just gonna do that again but do a bigger version of that.” You know?
Paste: Yeah, why not?
Brice: So I’m excited. Obviously, I feel very lucky and validated with both of these films and both of them were learning experiences, both of them informed each other, and the fact that they’re both coming out the same weekend, that’s great for a couple reasons, but the biggest reason for me is that I can now clean off my desk and take stock a little bit, and start to focus on the next project.
Paste: Someday, I think that’ll be the name of your biography: Patrick Brice: Dangerous Validation. That sounds like a good title.
Brice: [laughs] I love it! I love it. Yeah, I’ll be careful!

Paste: So, The Overnight: for me, the final punchline for that is that kids ruin everything. Do you see your movies as children? Do you have a favorite between Creep and The Overnight in terms of the experience or the outcome?
Brice: It’s funny, I hear musicians talk about that, and how their songs are their children. Will Oldham is one of my favorite singers, and he talks about how his songs are almost his babies, and each song is its own thing, and once you write it, it has its own life. I definitely feel that way about these movies. And you don’t really feel that way until they’re done. Once they’re done, they’re this thing that’s been just a part of your life for the last two years, and it’s something you’ve been poring over every inch of, and then you let it go and then it just has this other life where people react to it however they’re going to react to it, whether they accept it or they don’t…

So, it is like my older, a-little-more-maybe-damaged kid, and young kid who I was able to give a lot more attention to because I knew a little better in terms of having to raise him … It’s like both are leaving the house, or leaving for college at the same time or something, you know?
Paste: [laughs] That’s brutal!
Brice: Yeah, and I love them equally for sure, and for me they both represent the learning experience. They both represent fear and anxiety that I had to get over in order to make the next thing. They both represent challenges that I hadn’t had to face before, and then I did, and now I’m not scared to do that again, and it’s a feeling of, “Well, the next step is equally scary, but I just did that thing, and that wasn’t so hard, that ended up being okay.” So, you know, I feel very grateful and lucky, and it’s hard to have hindsight or to really kind of take a step back, especially when you’re in the middle of it, especially now when all I’m doing is talking about these movies, that’s my life. [laughs] But yeah, once I am able to take a step back, it’s a real treat and it’s an illuminating thing to be able to see them go off on their own now, and hopefully entertain people. That was the goal.

Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% Vermont craft brews.