Approaching Grimmfest: an interview with the Ten Minutes to Midnight team

September 12, 2020
Alix Turner 0

This interview may contain some spoilers for Ten Minutes to Midnight. We’ve done our best to avoid them, but if you want to go in completely clean, this is your warning.

I have been privileged to review films shown at Manchester’s Grimmfest for the last two years. This year, I have been given the opportunity to interview some of the filmmakers and cast involved in the films a few weeks before the festival, as part of a virtual press week. I carried out five interviews via video conference, and it’s been a fascinating experience. (Editor’s note: You can check these out by clicking here, here, here, and here

The last in this series of interviews was about the film Ten Minutes to Midnight, about Amy Marlowe (Caroline Williams), a late-night radio DJ who is delivering what could be her last show during a ferocious storm. I met with a panel of four this time, dialing in from various parts of the USA. Carson Bloomquist (co-writer and co-producer) joined first, followed by Caroline, both of them discussing who else would or would not be joining (“Nicole’s coming? She’s in Batwoman, but I think she should be Batwoman”). Then Erik Bloomquist (director and co-writer) arrived, followed by Thomson Nguyen (cinematography).

I opened with a question for the lead, Caroline Williams, who had played a DJ before in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I asked why are DJ’s so ripe for horror characters. “You know back in the old days, you’d hear Wolfman Jack across the border of Mexico, in Texas. Before television was so ubiquitous, radio stations and their music really defined the times. Part of the reason is that it acts as a plot pivot, such as a major story point in American Grafitti. I just think DJs, their powerful personalities, their song lists, naming those hits and so on, used to be something that people looked forward to a lot. And the movie, in a way, is a little bit reminiscent of that.”

Erik added: “there’s also the idea of knowing someone intimately without ever having seen them, and there’s a line that’s said in the movie too, to do with what it reveals about identity. Are we more ourselves when we’re disembodied voices, or less ourselves?”

Carson said “we wanted to play with the idea of identity, and what happens when you reach a certain point in your career when it falls apart. That’s what we play with for the first two thirds of the film and then turn it on its head in the last act, represent it in a strange fever-dreamesque way. There’s a key line between Caroline’s character and another about not knowing “who you are without this place” and not knowing anyone you thought you might have known, and how that plays into how she perceives the world that has become apathetic towards her.”

Erik had some prepared notes on the subject. “Our concept was to address the sometimes arbitrary nature of identity; i.e. everyone is wearing a ‘costume’. If the first two-thirds of the film are objective reality, augmented by Amy’s visions, the third act is entirely subjective. The audience inside Amy’s mind in a fugue-like dream state as she tries to reconcile who she is, who she thought she’d be, and what she ultimately will be.”

I asked the brothers about their writing collaboration. Erik: “We passed a laptop back and forth.” Carson: “Yeah, sort of tapping it out together, trading off here and there, but in sympathetico the whole way.” Caroline had clearly observed some of this: “They complete each others’ thoughts, like a married couple. It was fascinating to watch them troubleshooting, and talking about all kinds of things.” Erik added, “there are challenges and situations where you have to modify on the fly because we shot it so quickly. So we had to modify some script points and then loop Thomson in to modify shot lists. We had a lot of stuff shot listed too, based on the script, then sometimes we decided to throw it completely. That’s how it goes.”

The cast of Ten Minutes to Midnight is made up of a distinct mixture of new and established actors. Erik felt that “everybody was a great team player, an ensemble cast. I came up as an actor, so I’m sensitive to what needs are, generally for actors and then for specific individuals. Everyone was generous in terms of understanding our time constraints.”

Caroline commented that she had especially “wanted to avoid lapsing into any kind of actor habits, default positions. I didn’t want there to be any trace of Stretch from Chainsaw 2 in that film. I wanted to present a very clean character, someone that nobody had seen before. I’d gone through a hair change, my life’s changed a great deal in the last four years, and it does show. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of my life back, my vigor back, got my own place, my boys have grown and I’ve truly got a new life. The irony of that is that the character I’m playing is saying goodbye to everything that has been established for her life in the last thirty years. So in my true life, I was enjoying this spectacular rebirth and playing someone whose life was imploding a little bit. I spoke with Erik about this, and he was with me at the lens, by the monitor, crafting those moments. It’s probably the closest I’ve worked with a director in so many years, and it really changed everything for me. I came away from the experience feeling very different as an actor. Also the ensemble nature of the cast: I got so much from them, they drew so many responses from me. It was truly a unique moment in time.”

Caroline and I digressed a little into the subject of Blind, which I had reviewed as part of my FrightFest coverage recently. I was impressed to see two such different roles in a very recent period. “What was great about that film was I’d never played that sort of character before, but I had a sort of easy cheat. I was wearing those lenses, so literally my vision was obscured. I was not able to move about with any facility at all. I also worked opposite an amazing Jamaican actor who is blind, he played my husband and he was as funny as he could be. It was a very unique experience. I don’t really know from the end result, but I greatly enjoyed exploring something like that.”

I asked Thomson if there were any difficulties inherent with filming through the night. “There were moments, but it wasn’t that bad. It was mostly tungsten-based in that we were shooting at night. I think the tough parts were we were limited with the amount of time we could have shooting because we were shooting in an active location, where radio DJs were coming in by 6 am, so we were obliged to finish by then. So it was a little tough for pushing those time limits and fighting the sunrise. And as the sun came up, we had to choose our coverage carefully and not point towards certain directions or have to block certain environments out in order to keep the scene dark or lit the way we intended to throughout the night.”

I asked if the film was finished before the lockdown, or if there were finishing touches to be done since then. Erik responded “we’ve been generally OK. The film was actually very close end of last year and then the effects were trickling in over a couple of months. But I think it’s been ready to go since about springtime. We were lucky we had it in the can since last summer. The production world is tricky right now, but we edited everything ourselves, so it wasn’t much of an issue. A lot of the other work can be done remotely, which is helpful. But I do sympathize with filmmakers who’ve been caught out.”

I was surprised when I got to the end of the film to notice how short it was, and I asked if there was a particular reason; maybe that much chaos can be condensed into 75 minutes. Carson stepped in: “I think the idea for us is we wanted to make it feel like an elongated anthology episode from a TV series. Erik likes to describe it as you’re up past your bedtime and seeing what’s on when your parents have gone to bed. And I think it’s suitable for that run time. We tell what we want to tell and we leave it to the audience to make their own reflections.” Erik added “there was a version of this movie that had a whole other big section where you leave the radio station and something happens, but I think logistically that wasn’t practical, and I think creatively it made sense to keep it inside the radio station. So the movie ended up as long as it naturally wanted to be and was logistically practical to shoot as quickly as we did. And it’s funny: you look at that new Shudder movie Host; we’re The Godfather compared to that.”

Erik said they have a number of projects waiting to go “when the world is ready, some bigger projects, and some with a small group, like Ten Minutes to Midnight. In the meantime, we’re doing something very small for ourselves, very different from the brand, just for ourselves.”

Caroline has some interesting plans too: “I have a project that I’ve developed with a wonderful writer-director here in LA that is absolutely ready to go. But we were going to shoot on location in Canada, and production insurance there is very different than production insurance here, I suppose. The lockdowns seemed to vary and we’re just waiting to get the green light so we can do it. But we’re heading into winter and I don’t want to shoot in winter. So I don’t know.”

Erik and Caroline agreed that they’ll make another movie together again sometime; as Caroline said “this was a remarkable experience, easily one of the highest quality films I’ve done in years.” Carson said “we’re very happy to have Caroline involved in this project. There was a poetic fit with her persona, from Texas 2 to this reflection on time, it has a sort of meta angle to it.”

We had just enough time to touch on the prospect of the coming festival being a virtual one. Erik said “it will be strange and we’re a bit disappointed. But the horror community is still excited around it, and we’re excited for our Q&A and to participate in all the ways we can.”

The European premiere of Ten Minutes to Midnight will be screened on 11 October at Grimmfest… at three hours before midnight.

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