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SXSW '09 Interview: "The Horseman" Director Steven Kastrissios

by Erik Childress

“The Horseman" Pitch: Explosive and uncompromised tale of revenge.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.

STEVEN: I’ve been seriously planning to do a feature film ever since I left high school. At 23 years-old I wrote the script in a month, made an award-winning short film out of it which helped me secure a fantastic cast/crew and then we shot the hell out of it. Ever since I’ve been locked in my room finishing the damn thing with the help of some key people working on the sound and music. Now I’m 27 and finally premiering the film to America.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?

STEVEN: The evolution was – football player, doctor, novelist, screenwriter then finally director.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?

STEVEN: Michael Mann & Ridley Scott and a few actor-turned directors are my favourites. And of course the original Star Wars trilogy.

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?

STEVEN: I liked The Limey and Dean Man’s Shoes, but in terms of style, I’ve mainly been developing my own tastes through short films etc and learning to let the style evolve from the story, balanced with the natural compromises of any production.

This year has already seen the U.S. release of the Liam Neeson thriller, Taken, which also deals with a scorned father trying to pay back those who have violated his daughter. Do you worry about the comparisons potentially made to that film so close to your premiere at SXSW?

STEVEN: Not at all – the films are as similar as Goodfellas is to The Godfather. Taken is a kidnapping film anyway and The Horseman is purely about revenge.

Who’s an actor you’d kill to work with?

STEVEN: Geoffrey Rush

There's a very entertaining documentary making the festival rounds called Not Quite Hollywood, about the Australian film scene and the way it has pushed boundaries in levels of sex and violence compared to other film markets. The Horseman certainly fits within the tradition of that mold. Were you ever consciously trying to up the levels of violence in your film to push limits or just trying to deliver audiences the best comuppances possible?

STEVEN: I knew I had to present scenes that would get people talking, but I went for originality in the methods of violence over excessive and high-level onscreen graphic imagery.

What would you say is the primary difference between Australian and American cinema for the uninitiated?

STEVEN: Most modern Aussie films seem to be more European influenced then American and often downbeat. Some work better then others and certainly I’d include The Horseman in this style too with the addition of a genre-concept.

How much of the retribution scenes were calculated and setup on the day of shooting? Anyone have any specific acts of vengeance that you didn't get to film?

STEVEN: It was all in the script, except one scene that the stunt co-ordinator (Chris Anderson - King Kong & Mad Max) came up with, as he had special equipment that allowed us to do something freaking awesome that was only alluded to in the script.

You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?

STEVEN: Trim the sex scene down and do a Director’s Cut for DVD – they always sell better anyway and ultimately theatrical versions are quickly forgotten compared to DVD.

Do you have any favorite (or least favorite) film critics? And how important do you believe film critics are nowadays?

STEVEN: I like the Scene Unseen podcast with Chris and Jimmy. Roger Ebert, Peter Travers & AO Scott I agree with 70% of the time, although I strongly feel that many films need to be viewed more then once before some cynical intellectual destroys what somebody has lost years of their life trying to make. And it’s amazing how little the filmmaker’s intention is considered. Different films are for different tastes and critics often seem to ignore that. That said, The Horseman has received mostly high praise so far, so I’m quite thankful to those critics who have written about it intelligently.

What would mean more to you? A full-on rave from an anonymous junketeer or an average, but critically constructive review from a respected print or online journalist?

STEVEN: Whoever writes the more thoughtful and enlightening review will get my vote and I personally go by the trailer, not what some big-name critic has written.

Any films on the docket at SXSW that you're hoping to get a chance to see?

STEVEN: Lake Mungo, Observe & Report, Black.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?

STEVEN: They have never seen a film like this. Equally haunting, shocking and kick-ass, this is a revenge tale that will not be forgotten easily.

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originally posted: 03/24/09 05:17:05
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