INTERVIEW: Adam Stilwell – director, producer of The Triangle
– By Chris Barnes
To coincide with the pleasantly-surprising, intense found footage flick THE TRIANGLE’s UK release (reviewed right HERE), I was lucky enough to catch up with one of the 5 main men behind its creation, ADAM STILWELL.
Adam! Thanks a lot for sparing some time to talk to us UK folk! Pretty good timing, I hear… 😉
Yes! Thank you so much!
Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m a filmmaker born and raised in the woods of Montana, who now lives in Los Angeles and works in between the two states. I’ve dedicated my life to creating things that my friends and I are dying to see, hear and experience.
It’s fair to say we loved THE TRIANGLE here at The Slaughtered Bird! I’ve gone pretty cold on ‘found footage’ recently (and had a few rants!), but your film has restored my faith in the sub-genre (for the time being!). 😉
That was one of our goals!
Is there a spoiler-free way you could tell everyone what THE TRIANGLE is all about?
THE TRIANGLE is about the unknown and how even though we are afraid of it, we are hopelessly drawn to it.
Where did the concept come from?
One of the filmmakers’ girlfriends had mentioned that there was an interesting cult in Montana and she thought that a cult would be interesting subject matter for us to delve into. I went to Burning Man with a wonderful group of artists who were game to make something. One of our friends had 30 square miles of untouched land in Eastern Montana. We could have scripted something, but we decided to try and make something real.
I must admit, early on I found myself thinking “This is just gonna be The Sacrament”: a run-of-the-mill, crazy cult scenario – devoid of plot – but I was wrong. Did you take specific influence from any particular film or filmmaker?
THE SACRAMENT!!! We filmed THE TRIANGLE in the summer of 2012 which was long before THE SACRAMENT came about. When we saw that a Ti West film, that was coming out before us, had a similar set up, it gave us that sick feeling. It’s something that starts to happen a lot when you begin edging your visions/dreams/artwork into reality. You find that similar things pop up out of nowhere. We’ve had many talks about this happening to many of our friends. It’s a bit of a phenomena. Hell! The original title of the film was “Ragnarok”, which was a word I had never even heard before in my life prior to making this film. Then, as we’re rounding the corner towards distribution, a giant production called RAGNAROK is released. The word was all of a sudden everywhere. Super weird. We’ve taken it as a positive pat on the back. “We must be in the river” which to us means, we’re in the zeitgeist. Which is cool. We want to make things that other people will be excited about.
As far as specific influence? Yes. The split screen comes from what probably is my favorite film of all time, WOODSTOCK. Other than that, there are many influences from John Cassavettes films to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT to Laurent Cantet’s THE CLASS, the free wheeling spirit of EASY RIDER/RAGING BULL and on and on. Specifically, it was our subjects who drove us…and what I said earlier about the unknown.
Why ‘found footage’ style? Was it a cost thing?
Absolutely. When you have no money, you’ve got to get smart quick. We were either going to try and make something small look big (aka film a narrative), or we were going to be honest about what we had and push a big idea into play (make an experimental documentary). I’m a fan of big ideas.
Were the actors given a specific script to work from? One of the things that stood out for me (and Sooz, our reviewer) was how natural it all seemed – which is where a lot of ‘found footage’ efforts fall short, for me personally.
No script. Co-Directors Nathaniel Peterson and Andrew Rizzo told them to “Go where you want with it, but be honest”.
I notice you worked with David Blair and Adam Pitman on The Sighting – “the scariest Bigfoot movie ever” – which you also produced and starred in. Are these lifelong friends or fellas you’ve met because of similar interests?
I graduated high school with Adam Pitman, best of buds. Same with Nathaniel Peterson. I met David Blair in college and we quickly became friends, roommates, all of the above. Andrew Rizzo is a man that I would proudly call my brother. I’m lucky to say that they are all still some of my best friends…even after the war that is making a movie. Especially a movie such as this, where most of the rules have to go out the window.
5 directors on one production is pretty unheard of, aside from anthology films. How did that work?
It’s one of the most collaborative and amazing things I’ve ever witnessed. We had Nathaniel Peterson and Andrew Rizzo on the inside, building the camp and shaping the “playground”. Adam Pitman and David Blair gathered all film equipment and prepared to go in blind, not knowing anything they were walking into. I was the middle man. We walked in and experimented for 5 days, making a true documentary. Then, we met in the middle and built out from there. Being the one lucky enough to know all camps the best before entering into the field, all I can say is that everyone brought their A-game and we made the film that we set out to make. On the damn nose.
Speaking of anthology films, how was working on the ‘Valentine’s Day’ segment of Holidays?
At the end of filming Co-Director of “Valentine’s Day” Dennis Widmyer came up to us and said that he couldn’t thank us enough and that he was “actually moved” that we, as friends, stepped up to the plate and surpassed his expectations. Those guys (Dennis and Co-Director Kevin Kolsch) are the real deal. We met at Eerie Horror Film Festival in 2007 and ever since we’ve kept up with each other. Like the best relationships in this town, we’ve encouraged each other, inspired one another and supported whenever we could. This is not a glamorous business and they don’t complain, just like we don’t. We’re here to dream, but more importantly we’re here to put in the work. I’d do anything for those dudes. To answer your question, it was a pleasure. Fun as hell. Met some great people. Learned a lot. Made a movie with our friends. It doesn’t get better.
I absolutely loved Dennis Widmyer’s Starry Eyes!
Don’t forget that crazy Kevin Kolsch! Hahaha! Dennis and Kevin were actually shooting STARRY EYES in our house, while we were editing THE TRIANGLE. My room is where we were editing and it was the only room that they didn’t shoot in. Although, stars Fabianne Therese and Alex Essoe would hang in there with us while they waited for blood to be cleaned off the kitchen floor in between takes. Co-Director Nathaniel Peterson was living in the van you see in the film! Yes, the house where the slaughter happens, that was ours. We were in the other room editing THE TRIANGLE. But, they lapped us. We were basically making a documentary and didn’t have a distributor. They were finished up and released while we were still locking in our sound design. It was a blessing in disguise though because since they’d already released a film, we’d hit them up when we needed advice. They answered the call every time and their help was priceless. So proud and happy for them. Starry Eyes was one of my favorite movies that year.
Same here! And I was lucky enough to chat to star Maria Olsen immediately after watching it, and I’m proud to say she’s remained a friend.
I read somewhere the editing process for THE TRIANGLE took 3 years?!!
It was more like post production took 3 years. We had over 200 hours of footage. We all had day jobs. We had no budget. For the first year, half of us were in Montana and the other half in LA, so it’s not like we were clocking in every day. We were doing all we could. With what we know now, we could do in 3 months what took 3 years. It was an amazing learning experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I also the hear the postcard (the movie’s foundation) is real?! What the fuck?!!
There are so many “what the fuck’s” in the making of this film. That would actually be an excellent alternative title.
POTENTIAL SPOILERS: Your ending is all kinds of ambiguous, which I absolutely love! Does ambiguity play a part in your favourite horror films? And what are they?
Ambiguity plays a part in many of my favorite films. I think art in general is at its most exciting when it leaves you with wonder. We’ve always said that we’d love for people to leave the theater completely split. At the end of the day, this film is aimed right at you. Will you like it? I’m not sure. But, you will likely have a strong opinion. And the puzzle is there for you to piece together…if you want it.
As far as ambiguous films…I’ve watched Donnie Darko as many times as anyone, but our true inspiration was Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War Of The Worlds”. We wondered if that could be done on film?
What’s next for THE TRIANGLE gang, and you in particular?
As you know the film was just released in the UK (grab it HERE)! It also gets a DVD Release in the states in October. Keep an eye on our Twitter and Instagram @thetrianglefilm for clues and passwords to secret information and bonus content.
We are currently gearing up to make our next film. Maybe not 5 directors this time, but we all have projects we’re working on. There are a couple big opportunities floating around for a couple of scripts, but boiling beneath the surface is the next Triangle-like film. Something special that I don’t believe anyone else on the planet will be able to make. If you see THE TRIANGLE, you might know what I mean.
Where can we buy hallucinogenic tea?
You don’t buy it. You make it.
UK readers, buy The Triangle RIGHT HERE!
Read our review RIGHT HERE!
Follow Adam on Twitter RIGHT HERE!