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SxSW 2017 Interview: THE ARCHER director Valerie Weiss

by Jason Whyte

"THE ARCHER is a coming-of-age action film kind of like THELMA AND LOUISE meets FIRST BLOOD. High school archery champion Lauren Pierce has just landed in Paradise Trails, a brutal juvenile correctional facility in the wilderness, after hospitalizing a boy in self-defense. But when Lauren learns how deep corruption runs at Paradise Trails under the pernicious rule of warden and bow-hunter Bob Patrice, she makes her escape, traversing the wilderness with rebellious inmate Rebecca Rolinski, with the warden's stolen bow enough and evidence to close the doors at Paradise Trails for good." Director Valerie Weiss on THE ARCHER which screens at the 2017 South By Southwest Film Conference.

Congratulations on your film playing in Austin at SxSW this year! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

Thank you, YES! This is my first time attending or screening at SXSW and I am thrilled to be here. I will be attending my first two screenings but have to get back to LA to finish my Director's Cut of a television show I just directed before coming to the festival.

So how did you get into this filmmaking business?

I was a scientist before becoming a filmmaker. I got a Ph.D. in Biophysics and a Masters in Medical Sciences at Harvard Medical School before deciding I wanted to fully plunge into directing. I have directed three features (LOSING CONTROL, A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET and now THE ARCHER), an American Girl Special: Maryellen 1955: Extraordinary Christmas for Amazon and an episode of NBC's Chicago Med.

Very prolific! How did THE ARCHER come together for you?

I met with the executives at Mar Vista Entertainment on a general meeting after they saw my last film, A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET, and they said they were fans of my directing style and wanted to find something to do together. A month or two later they sent me the script for THE ARCHER and asked if I would be interested in directing it. I told them that with some development, I would be excited to do so and the writer, Casey Schroen, was gracious about incorporating my notes and reworking the script. We attached Bailey Noble to play the lead and it all went quickly from there. Bailey started archery training with an Olympic Level 3 coach months before we started shooting and was excellent by the time we did. I find having extra time with a lead actor in a film has a tremendous outcome on the final product and I am grateful that Bailey was down to do the work so far in advance.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

I love what I do and I gave up a career in science to be here so I don't take anything for granted. I am fueled by working with actors and prepping with a great DP collaborator, so while it is hard work, it is the kind that energizes me. When I directed THE ARCHER, I gave up coffee and alcohol for seven months and did a ton of yoga. I was very centered and in great shape to trek up and down the mountain we shot on. On other shoots, 2 espressos a day are the key. It all depends on what the project is and what I have time for.

That is very inspirational to hear. What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

We only had 15 days to shoot a whole action feature, which is insanely fast. I also only had five weeks for my director's cut. I had never had to work so quickly before but it was an excellent lesson in over-prepping and trusting my instincts to get just one or two takes before moving on.

I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie and how you achieved the look!

I was fortunate to work with DP, Adam Santelli, on THE ARCHER. We had one of my most rewarding collaborations and the luxury of about 8 weeks of solid prep together. Adam was totally willing to drive two hours to our location in Idyllwild and spend the day scouting and shooting digital storyboards with me. We did this for all our big scenes and ended up shooting many of them exactly like we'd boarded, which was a huge timesaver with such a tight schedule. We created a 20 page lookbook with reference shots for every scene and really had our look nailed down specifically before we shot, which allowed us to concentrate on being spontaneous and open to happy accidents on set. We shot on the Red Dragon with Superspeed lenses.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing THE ARCHER here in Austin?

I have never been to Austin and my husband and I have always wanted to go. I think audiences will be really receptive to this film and I can't wait to see how they respond.

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

The Grove movie theater in LA because I can walk to it!

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?


We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Make stuff, and make stuff that really speaks to you and has a voice.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

KRISHA. I saw it at the Chicago International Film Festival a couple years ago; chilling and unforgettable.


- Saturday (3/11), 4:45pm, Alamo Lamar A
- Sunday (3/12), 10:00pm, Alamo Lamar B
- Thursday (3/16), 8:30pm, Alamo Ritz 2

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview as part of our coverage of SxSW 2017. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas taking place March 10-18. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 03/10/17 05:47:08
last updated: 03/12/17 02:10:23
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