Earlier this month, we shared the trailer for Brake, a new thriller starring Stephen Dorff as a secret service agent trapped in the trunk of a car.
Similar to the 2010 film Buried, which starred Ryan Reynolds as a man buried alive in the desert, Brake takes place entirely in one location. Unlike Buried, however, Dorff's character in Brake isn't just fighting for his survival. He's also fighting to keep his sanity as he is tortured by an anonymous tormentor obsessed with learning the location of Roulette: the place where the President is taken during an attack on Washington D.C.
It's a pretty interesting idea for a movie, and definitely a different take on the genre, so Screen Rant reached out to director Gabe Torres to learn more about the film.
In our interview, we talk to Torres about how he wanted to make not just a contained thriller, but a contained action film (or, as he puts it, "Die Hard in the trunk of a car.") We also talked about the difficulties of filming in one location, working with long-time friend Stephen Dorff, and the advantages of pre-releasing a film on Video On Demand.
Screen Rant: A film like Brake must be difficult, because you only have one location to work with. How do you keep things engaging and entertaining for the viewer over the entire 90 minutes of the film?
GT: There’s a couple of things I did when I took on the project. When I first read the script, I started to get into it and I was about at page 24 or 25 when I looked up and saw the page count and realized that we were still in the trunk of the car and I knew that this was going to be a challenge. But the good thing was that, even though the script needed some work, the concept was solid because I didn’t look up to see where I was on the page until I was at page 24. So 24 pages into it, I said, “You know what, I have to hook the audience the same way.”
So the first thing I set as a goal was that the point-of-view of the film was that the audience would always travel with Jeremy and I would never give the audience any more information from a story standpoint, a visual standpoint, or an auditory standpoint than the main character. My goal was to put the audience in that trunk with Jeremy. So you never see any shots that are from the outside looking in. Any time you look outside the trunk, it’s always what Jeremy sees. It’s always what Jeremy hears. And there’s never any more information given to the audience about what’s going on in the story than what our main character gets. So they’re left with all the same questions and concerns and fears that our main character has.
Taking that approach engages the audience and makes them travel along the same journey. It’s like, if he has no information, the audience is like “What’s going on here?” So I tried to reveal as little as possible in the beginning from a story standpoint and visually, and I designed the reveals to come out in increments, both visually and from a story standpoint so the audience would always be wondering what’s going to happen next.
So the reveal of Jeremy’s situation, when he wakes up in the beginning, he’s just a face in a red void. A red and black darkness. He has no idea where he is and neither do we. We don’t know it’s the trunk of a car until he does.
So I started out in darkness with just him and the clock – the two things that we know. He wants to find out why this clock is counting down. Then you add the layer of the Henry character that comes across the CV. Then, when the car pulls out of the garage and the bad guys get into it, light leaps in through the sides and we define the space of the trunk. Later, we turn on what we call the “torture lights” - which weren’t in the script, I added that in – and we reveal more about what this plexiglass containment is.
So visually, I take that one location and I turn it into almost three or four. I keep changing up the look of the interior with different kinds of lenses and different kinds of lighting. So you go from the black void, which is about nine minutes when we get into this trunk, which is still green and red. Then we get into the lit-up box. Then he turns around in there a couple of times and I messed with the look of that. When the car gets rammed, the lights start to flicker because they’re shorting out, so that gives the environment a different look. As his mind gets more and more chaotic, so does the environment. I tried to keep that one location evolving and changing as the story does, visually and from a coverage standpoint.
SR: Is it right that you filmed this movie in 11 days?
GT: 12 days. We did 11 days in the trunk set and 1 day outside. And I did a second-unit day in Washington D.C. to get some POVs.
SR: How was it for Stephen to film so much in that tight space for such a condensed period of time? I imagine you worked pretty long days.
GT: The days were pretty good; they actually weren’t that long. But any time you put an actor through that it feels long. On a normal film, when the actors are working, you might have two days of work then you have a day off. You might be able to go to your dressing room. There might be one scene in the morning before your scene. But with this piece, Stephen is the only one on camera so he’s working all day and is working at a level of intensity, because of the nature of the story and the nature of what Jeremy is going through, he has to maintain this intensity of performance across a full day. So it’s a very draining experience emotionally for him as an actor, but also physically.
I wanted it to be a very visceral and gritty film. I wanted it to feel like you were really in that trunk, so the set was built with half of a Crown Vic and mounted to supports. The box was built in practically into the trunk of the car - so it actually does fit, there’s no cheat there – and it could rock up and down like a teeter-totter. It took a team of about 10 people, who we called Team Trunk, to create the movement scenarios. These involved people who would work the handles all over the sides of this, so it could go up and down, side to side, twist and turn it to create the centrifugal forces of a moving car.
But then you have to imagine that as the car turns and goes down streets or comes up and accelerates onto on-ramps at different speeds, the sun is going to be moving around. So we had a lighting team that would move the key lights around so that the lights coming through the cracks of the car would shift as the car went around turns. All this had to be choreographed so that when the car turns left, the centrifugal force drives left, the sun has to move in another direction and light spills through in different ways - the light is spilling through the front of the car instead of the back of the car.
We kind of created the movie in 5 to 10 minute sequences. We would first put a stand-in in and we’d rehearse the entire movement of the car. So Team Trunk all had headphones on and the movement coordinator and I would coordinate certain things. I would give hand cues at certain points in the story when I wanted a slam to happen and they would fling the thing up like a teeter-totter and then the double or Stephen would be slammed, literally, into the top of this thing. Or the thing would be rolled to one side so he’d be driven to the left or the right, creating that centrifugal force of a car that was being spun. And cameras were mounted inside as well as out so they could experience the faint vibration and shakes of riding in a car.
So we do about an hour to get the movement down, rehearse it with a double. That would be the scene early in the morning and while we were rehearsing the movements, Stephen would be in make-up. He took more and more time as time went on as he got more beat up, with a broken nose and everything. So then he would come in and we’d do one quick run-through without much movement, just for the lines. I didn’t want him to know what was going to happen movement-wise because then we would roll. We’d roll A and B cameras and throw him through the scenario of movements and he wouldn’t know whether the car was going to slam into the top or to the sides or all around, and he would get beat up. We did probably two or three takes like that and then we would stop if we had it and reset and he’d go back to the dressing room and we’d rehearse the next movement scenario.
And all the other actors who play the other parts that he communicates with off-screen, who are on radio and cell phones and stuff, they were all there on set, but he would never see them. I had a little black booth built, like a tent, and they would be in there on a microphone. So he never got to see the actors who played all those other parts until the last day. He never met them and I would hide them from him so that I would only just be a voice until he saw them. We shot chronologically in order and storyboarded from beginning to end.
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