[EDITORS NOTE: This interview was originally published in January as part of indieWIRE's coverage of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.]
No stranger to filmmaking, writer and director George Ratliff makes his transition into narrative film with "Joshua," which is described by Sundance as "a horror story disguised as a sophisticated family drama." The film portrays a seemingly normal New York City family as they welcome their second child into the world. However, the addition to their family seems to throw everything off balance, but "is it just the rigors of caring for a newborn and a little sibling rivalry... or is it something much more sinister? ...'Joshua' transcends the genre to create a modern horror story that demonstrates how the potential for evil exists in the everyday." The film is screening in the the Sundance Film Festival's Independent Film Competition: Dramatic section. George Ratliff also directed the documentary "Hell House," which won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and "Plutonium Circus," which won best documentary at SXSW Film Festival.
"Joshua," which recently screened as the centerpiece premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, was acquired by Fox Searchlight during the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and is opening in U.S. theaters on Friday, July 6, 2007.
Please tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up, and where do you live?
I grew up in Amarillo, Texas and went to film school at the University of Texas. I lived in Austin on and off for ten years and was part of the film scene there before moving to New York where I still live with my wife and two sons.
How did you learn about filmmaking?
I went to film school at UT and I knew I couldn't get work straight out of school, so I hatched a plan to make a feature documentary about the nuclear bomb plant in the town where I grew up: Amarillo, TX. I and a few friends who didn't know any better went and lived with my parents for half a year to make "The Plutonium Circus." The film ended up coming out pretty well and I've ended up collaborating with cinematographer Jawad Metni on every other documentary I've done since and my sound guy, Charles Burmeister, went on make films of his own and even has one in this year's Sundance Festival as well. "Plutonium Circus" ended up being a modest success and opened the door for me to become a regular contributor to Split Screen on IFC which led to other TV work and eventually my second feature documentary "Hell House."
Please tell us about "Joshua", and how the initial idea come about.
The idea for Joshua (an adult thriller about a Hannibal Lector-type at age nine) was entirely David Gilbert's who is my writing partner, and I was not at all interested in pursuing it with him, because my wife and I had just had our first child. But we kept talking about it and casually developing it, and it got too good to ignore, so we finally holed up and wrote the thing.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
I didn't want there to be anything supernatural about the movie - I loved the idea of being scared, legitimately scared and it's all because of some little kid.
How did the financing and casting for the film come together?
ATO Pictures read the script and within four months I was in pre- production on the film. We then went to work casting with a financed picture which is vastly easier than attacking it the other way around.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making the movie?
The fact that I was unproven as a feature narrative director was a big hurdle but the producers at ATO had amazing confidence in me. Johnathan Dorfman (Producer) and I have very similar taste in movies and I was very lucky with the fact that he wanted to make the exact same movie which made script rewrites and the editing a great experience.
Casting was tumultuous of course, David and I envisioned Sam Rockwell when we were writing the script and Johnathan Dorfman loved the idea, but he's not the easiest guy to get an answer from. We all loved Vera Farmiga based solely on her incredible performance in Down To The Bone, and she too was hard to get a commitment from, but they both were so enamored with the idea of working together that they took the leap to work on Joshua at the same time.
Casting the kid for the Joshua character was the linchpin decision and we all knew the film would live or die on the decision. We auditioned 75 kids, but a friend of mine created the MTV2 show WonderShowzen and I knew he had worked with every kid actor in the five boroughs. He put me onto Jacob Kogan - who is not only the leanest method actor I've come across but was the smartest guy on set. He's a major talent.
What do you hope to get out of the festival?
I want distribution, real distribution. This film deserves it.
What are some of your favorite films right now, and why?
I'm a big fan of the thrillers coming out of France right now, I think there's something important happening there right now. Films like "Read My Lips" and "The Beat My Heart Skipped," "With A Friend Like Harry" and "Cache."