Ian Sandwell talks to the US film-maker about his feature directorial debut.
What would you do for money? That’s the deceptively simple concept behind E.L. Katz’ entertainingly twisted Cheap Thrills which finally lands in UK cinemas this week after wowing audiences on the festival circuit since its premiere at SXSW 2013.
The origins of the film lie in a horror screenwriter dinner held by Katz, one guest of which challenged the film-maker to go out and find a good script on the edgier side of genre. “It was difficult because as much as a lot of horror screenwriters say we want to do something that advances the genre, there’s not a lot of material that does that,” recalls Katz.
One script did arrive though from Dead Girl writer Trent Haaga in the form of Money for Something and a few minor changes later, Katz had the script for his debut feature.
“We optioned the script and there was so much inherent conflict, drama and stakes that I thought this was hard-wired to work,” explains Katz of Cheap Thrills, which sees a rich couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) put a struggling family man (Pat Healy) and his old friend (Ethan Embry) through a series of increasingly disturbing dares over the course of an evening.
The biggest thing for Katz was getting the film’s tone right, eager to avoid Cheap Thrills playing like an offspring of Saw despite its frequent cruelty to its main protagonist. “I felt it would be interesting to play with how the audience are supposed to feel when these ugly things are going on,” notes Katz. “There’s essentially a really horrific thriller going on, but it’s got the trappings of a party movie.”
A time-constrained 14 day shoot meant that everything was shot with little room for spare footage, but Katz says it would have been “a lot more pleasant if I had more days,” despite the fact that, for him, “it’s hard to see another version”.
“You ultimately embrace the finished product because you have to so it becomes whole in your mind. Did I need more shots? I don’t think so. Sometimes you have the time you have and you use the resources you have and that’s it. But when I was doing it, I definitely wanted more.”
Fortunately for Katz, he had the actors on his side to make the shoot a successful one. “I think as a first-time director, no matter how much you prepare, you really don’t know shit about anything. So the only thing you can have on your side is actors who know how to act. I would have looked like an idiot if I casted people who didn’t know what they were doing.”
So were there any lessons learnt for Katz to take into his next directorial outings? “Effects take so much longer than you can ever plan for, so don’t over-plan. A guy gets beaten up and it takes forever to have him showing up looking like it. It’s worth it when he does, but effects are just so time consuming.”
Cheap Thrills is out in UK cinemas from June 6 through Koch Media.