BR: I’m glad you asked that, and you’re the first ever to do so. I guess the answer is that I would LOVE to believe in alien life. Before “The X Files” was on the air, I was a voracious reader of books like Whitley Streiber’s “Communion” and Budd Hopkins’ books “Missing Time” and “Intruders.” I even went so far as to go to a UFO convention in Gulf Breeze, FL at one point. I subscribe to the magazine “Fortean Times,” which covers a lot about UFO’s and aliens all the time, and I find that stuff fascinating but the more I know about all that stuff, the less and less I think we have Aliens visiting us here on earth. But do I believe in alien life? I think it’s something nobody really knows for sure at this point in time, but it seems rather inevitable that SOMETHING we’d call “life” exists on another planet in its own ecosystem. The universe is a big place, or so I’m told, so it seems like there are many opportunities for life to exist out there. The theory of “panspermia,” where you have life traveling from world to world and evolving independently everywhere is sort of the basis of “Alien Raiders.” So why not? I hope so!
BR: Quite simply, it’s similarities to John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” That’s one of my favorite movies of all time, and when I read the script which had obvious inspirations without feeling derivative of Carpenter’s film, I insatiably wanted onboard.
MJ: I love the fact that the movie was filmed in a supermarket, but was it a functional supermarket and if so, did that give you guys filming limitations?
BR: We considered filming in a functioning store, but honestly that would have killed us. We had fifteen days to make this film, and if we were in a real supermarket we’d have had, at best, twelve hours per day which would include loading in and loading out all of our gear. Then on top of that we’d have to kill the refrigerators for every take, then power them back up. There’d be hums and buzzes, and the product wouldn’t really be consistent from day to day so there’d be continuity issues.
What we got wasn’t cheap, but it was the next-best thing to a real store. We found a closed supermarket that we could take over. They had the aisles, the register lanes, everything really except product on the shelves. But at the end of the day, we just locked up the place and went home — all our gear could stay. It was a great arrangement, really.
MJ: Now that it’s finished, looking back, do you have a favorite scene that you enjoyed the most?
BR: I love Tarkey’s interrogation scene. Joel McCrary (Tarkey) did such a great job of being afraid in that scene, and Carlos Bernard (Ritter) Courtney Ford (Sterling) and Tom Kiesche are inscrutable yet threatening. The tension rises as Seth (Mathew St. Patrick) calls in. I learned a lot about building suspense both shooting and editing that sequence.
I also love the scene where the boozy woman (Roberta Bassin) turns out to be infected. As an audience, we’ve been waiting for that the whole movie and I think it’s fun to have a character who isn’t particularly physically imposing go on a rampage and kick three people’s asses.
MJ: I think every director approaches a project differently. Do you have a philosophy when it comes to your craft?
BR: I started in the theater, in high school and college and beyond. I still do a lot of theater, and with theater the project is allowed to evolve and change in rehearsals. No matter how strong your vision is going in, you let the process of making the project define it. That doesn’t mean that you don’t start with strong ideas — you have to have strong ideas going in, but the process of making the film tests those ideas and you have to be ready to throw them away when they don’t work or when a more appropriate idea comes up. I tend to think that ethos goes through everything from script to casting to production to post, and it tends to keep you in check, preventing the end product from ringing false.
MJ: Did the film budget take you where you wanted to go with the storyline or did you want to do more?
BR: No director in history will tell you that they couldn’t have used more money! In the case of this film, I was told up front what the budget would be ($2.25M), what the schedule would be (fifteen days), and when we had to start shooting (six weeks from that call). All of these were limiting in certain ways, but we knew what those limitations would be and tried to steer into the skid as it were. Before more money, I would have taken more shooting time — although that ultimately costs more money.
Also, as a former special effects makeup artist, I wish we had more FX throughout the film but again that was subject to the time we had to shoot everything.
MJ: How long did it take to shoot “Alien Raiders” ?
BR: Fifteen days. We started shooting in early December and our last day of shooting was the day before Christmas Eve. So going over even by a day wasn’t an option. It was pure insanity.
MJ: Are there any movies that inspire you as a director?
BR: Absolutely. As I said, I’m a big fan of “The Thing,” as well as a lot of other Carpenter movies like “Halloween,” “Escape from New York,” “Assault on Precinct 13,” etc. I’m a big fan of horror movies throughout the years, but I grew up on the horror films of the 70’s and 80’s, like the “Evil Dead” films and everything Cronnenberg ever made. I’m also a big fan of the Coen Brothers, David Fincher, Guillermo Del Toro, etc. All the usual suspects I suppose, but my big vice in life is watching too much television and too many movies. I would go see a movie every day if I could. Right now I’m in love with Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In.” It’s just a perfect film in my opinion.
BR: I wish I had lots of colorful stories and pranks that got pulled, but we were so balls-to-the-wall during the whole shoot that most of my stories are about how hard the cast and crew worked, which isn’t the most entertaining thing in the world. So moments tended to drift by too quickly as we flew by the seats of our pants to plow through 94 pages in 15 days.
MJ: What’s next for Ben Rock?
BR: I have a few projects that I’m trying to get off the ground. The most prominent is a mistaken-identity serial killer film written by Mark Patton called “World Famous.” We’ve made some serious headway with that one, but we still have a ways to go before we can shoot it. I wish I could say that I had a film coming out in a few months, but the hard truth about the economy and the glut of indie films out there means that the industry has slowed a bit. I hope it picks up soon!
Interview: Ben Rock – Director (Alien Raiders)