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Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers #7: Craig Zobel, 'Compliance'

Indiewire By Indiewire Staff | Indiewire January 5, 2012 at 11:30AM

"George Washington" producer Craig Zobel is back in Park City with his second directorial effort, "Compliance," after premiering his debut, "The Great World of Sound," to great acclaim at the 2007 edition of the event. That film netted Zobel the Breakthrough Director award at the 2008 Gotham Awards, making Zobel a director to watch. With "Compliance," Zobel makes the move from comedy to thriller territory. What's it about: "Compliance" tells the chilling true story of people's willing obedience to authority, eventually asking- what would you do in this situation?
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"Compliance" director Craig Zobel

"George Washington" producer Craig Zobel is back in Park City with his second directorial effort, "Compliance," after premiering his debut, "The Great World of Sound," to great acclaim at the 2007 edition of the event. That film netted Zobel the Breakthrough Director award at the 2008 Gotham Awards, making Zobel a director to watch. With "Compliance," Zobel makes the move from comedy to thriller territory.

What's it about: "Compliance" tells the chilling true story of people's willing obedience to authority, eventually asking- what would you do in this situation?

Says director Zobel: "The film's based on a crazy true event that I stumbled upon and immediately saw as a unique vehicle for asking questions I was curious about. It explores something we can all relate to in some degree: it's about being talked into doing something. The film looks at how honest, moral people can rationalize committing unethical acts, especially when convinced by others. Kinda like that Voltaire quote, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

"I can’t remember a specific time when I personally have been convinced to do something that turned out to be bad for other people. I don’t think we’re wired to recognize this in ourselves very often; we usually cast ourselves in the role of the hero who could never be duped. However, while reading this true story I recognized that sometime, somewhere in my life - in a much smaller, much less consequential way - I’d thrown someone under a bus at another person’s command. That's unsettling to recognize, but ultimately pretty startling. I discovered that it also makes for a very intense, thrilling movie.

"This film was in many ways me putting filmmaking challenges in front of myself and seeing whether or not I could figure them out. The film revolves around a premise that is somewhat hard to believe, so the biggest challenge that my actors and I had was finding the specific beats to make it read as real. There aren't a ton of locations in the story, so my photographer, Adam Stone, and my designer, Matt Munn and I had to find ways to use them effectively. I also had to deal with nudity and frank sexual situations, something I've never dealt with in directing a film before. I would like to think I overcame most of the challenges, but just making this movie that seemed daunting at first, taught me a lot and was reason enough to be doing it.

"When I jumped into this, while writing I initially started watching that sub-genre of thrillers: The Real-Time Hostage Movie. 'Dog Day Afternoon,' 'Bus 174,' the little seen 1967 Larry Peerce film, 'The Incident' – where Martin Sheen takes control of a subway car – were inspirations as far as plot structure. The realism of 'United 93' has always resonated with me, and I saw an opportunity to build extreme tension out of completely naturalistic performances as Greengrass was able to accomplish in that movie. With the photography, we were looking at things as random and different as William Eggleston and Carl Dreyer's 'Passion of Joan of Arc.' Ultimately, my film's tone came out a bit different than any of those however- there's probably someone I am totally borrowing from without being conscious of the influence."

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.

Keep checking here every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.

This article is related to: Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers, Sundance Film Festival, Compliance