Excision tells the story of Pauline, an awkward teenage outcast with delusional aspirations towards a career as a surgeon, who watches her sister, Grace, battle cystic fibrosis. Isolated from her peers and loathed by her domineering Mother, Pauline straddles a disturbing line of reality and fantasy in the hope that she can perform the potentially life saving surgery on her sister in an attempt to mend her waning relationship with her family.
Excision is Richard Bates Jr’s directorial debut adapted from his highly praised short film of the same name.
What prompted the idea for the the film and how did it evolve?
I have been in love with Horror films ever since I discovered an unmarked VHS tape of Hellraiser in my parent’s basement as a little kid. Before that, I used to get these horrible nightmares. I would literally wake my parents up at night and ask them to take me to the hospital to make them go away. But, when I discovered horror movies it was different. I could watch them over again, acclimate myself to the nightmarish realities they presented and confront my fears head on. I stopped having nightmares and, for the first time, discovered the transformative power of film.
As far as Excision is concerned, I wanted to make a film that would have had a profound impact on me had I seen it as a teenager. In a lot of ways it’s a film I wish I’d made in high school but didn’t have the guts to.
Excision is a feature length version of a short I made [in] my undergraduate year at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, which went on to win 24 awards and screen at nearly 50 festivals worldwide. Despite the success of the short, the feature script was passed on by every studio in LA considerate enough to give it the time of day. The financiers of the feature length version are the best group of friends in the world, a bunch of kids from Virginia and New York who their savings on the line to give me a shot of realising my dream.
How did you end up choosing the cast?
The first person I cast was Traci Lords (who plays Pauline’s prim and proper mother, Phyllis). She’s smart, doesn’t bullshit and is an extremely gifted actress. She deserves to be offered better roles in Hollywood. At the end of the day, she was willing to take a chance on me and I was willing to take a chance on her. It paid off.
I will never forget the first time I met AnnaLynne McCord (Pauline). It took about a minute for every preconceived notion I’d had about her to go flying out the window. She was thoughtful, passionate, had a deep understanding of human nature and cursed like a sailor. I instantly liked her. When I asked her about the prospect of shaving her head for the part, she removed the steak knife from the table and took it to her hair. She had something to prove. We all did. And just wait till you see her in this movie. She’s going to blow your mind.
Roger Bart (Pauline’s relaxed and well spoken Father, Bob) is an absolute genius. The guy can deliver a line 100 different ways. I know he’s won a Tony award but I’m partial to his performance in Hostel 2.
Then there’s Ariel Winter (Pauline’s sister, Grace), [who is] not only one of the most talented young actresses in out there, but certainly one of the most well adjusted. She and her incredibly cool mother responded to the script and we hit it off. They’re from Virginia too, so we had that connection as well.
The rest of the cast is an amazing collection of favourite performers of mine, from rising stars to all-time greats. Not least of which is John Waters, my childhood hero. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I’d have an opportunity to meet him in person, much less direct him in a film. To get his stamp of approval and have him participate in the movie is the greatest honour of my life.
What surprised you most about making the film?
The support from the cast and crew was amazing. This was by no means an easy shoot but we all became one big, dysfunctional family. New friends from LA pitched in and friends from literally all over the world flew to town to see this thing through. My entire living room, to this day, is cluttered with bunk beds and futons. We essentially converted the place into a youth hostel for film makers.
When I first moved to LA, I worked as a production assistant for Yvonne Valdez, Steve Ansell and Mark Goldblatt, three of the smartest most talented people in the world. They’re like serious Hollywood editors, you know? We all shared a mutual love of horror films and when I wasn’t getting them coffee we’d trade various DVDs from our collections and hang out. Well, when the time came for me to make my first movie they offered to edit it and it was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. You don’t hear too many stories about people doing stuff like that for you out here. They are amazing editors, human beings, and drinkers.
And last but not least, Dylan Hale Lewis, the producer who saved the movie. Dylan’s a friend of mine from college who literally learned to produce overnight in order to get this movie to the finish line. Most people in his shoes would have buckled under the pressure. He has such a great mind for business it almost makes up for his sense of humour.
The amazing support and strength we all for from each other on this movie was the biggest, best surprise of them all.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Sure, there were production delays and money issues and arguments here and there. That’s par for the course. In the end, I think those challenges forced us all to think a little more creatively about the process and ultimately resulted in us delivering a more interesting product.
The biggest challenge that I faced was the fear of letting my friends down and not delivering the kind of movie they believed I was capable of. But that fear drove me to work my ass off, not make compromises and really push myself harder than I’ve ever had to.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
As a child growing up in the suburbs of Virginia, films not only acted as a gateway to the outside world but as an outlet for a lot of teenage angst. Without access to so many unique and provocative films by talented film makers from the world, I would have felt very alone with my own thoughts. My hopes are that the themes resonate and that teenagers respond to the characters, and ultimately feel more comfortable in their own skin. While some of Pauline’s actions are appalling and reprehensible, at its core, the film is about family and the inseparable bond between parent and child.
Excision is released in selected cinemas on the 2nd of November and on DVD and Blu-Ray ten days later on the 12th.
Keep your eyes on battleroyalewithcheese.com for the review that will be up soon!
Interview source: Monster Pictures Press Release.