In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.
This time out we’re chatting with Christopher Piñero, writer, director and producer of the suspenseful new film “A Dark Place” about riding the creative roller coaster, keeping on-set emotions in check, and embracing preparedness.
TrunkSpace: “A Dark Place” is your feature length directorial debut. Although audiences have already had a chance to view it at festivals, it will be released on VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on August 13. What emotions are you juggling with as you gear up to its release?
Piñero: It’s like that scared, excited feeling when you are approaching the drop on a roller coaster. More excited than scared, but still a bit of fear, which I’m okay with. I think, more than anything, I hope people connect with the characters and are moved on some level by the story.
TrunkSpace: As a director, what is more nerve-racking, waiting for a wide release like you’re on the eve of, or sitting in with a live audience during a screening?
Piñero: Without a doubt a live audience. There’s no place to hide, you’re stuck with a few hundred people for two hours praying they enjoy it. I remember our first screening for the movie – my heart was jumping in and out of my chest and my inner monologue was screaming, “They hate it!” But, there was a moment early on in the movie that the audience had a strong, positive reaction to and I knew I had them after that point. At least with a wide release like this I can go hide in my closet and turn off my phone.
TrunkSpace: Not only did you direct “A Dark Place,” but you also wrote, produced and edited the film. Was there ever a point throughout the production that you had wished you had taken on less? Did it ever get overwhelming?
Piñero: Absolutely. I went from doing a thirteen-page short to a hundred-plus-page feature and one thing I didn’t anticipate was how relentless the schedule was. We shot this in 12 days, and I remember on day six we were shooting the party sequence. There was at least 60 people on set – extras, crew and main cast included. After we broke for lunch I went into an empty bedroom and didn’t know if I was going to vomit or pass out. I hadn’t realized how overwhelmed I was and I couldn’t share with anyone, but my DP, because if the crew senses weakness, you’re done.
TrunkSpace: Did what writer Christopher wanted on the page ever contradict what director Christopher could achieve on set? Did the two creative yous ever butt heads?
Piñero: For the most part we were in sync. I had this story beat in the script that the director in me was never really happy with, but the writer side of me said, “No, this needs to happen.” When it came time to shoot that scene, we completely forgot to grab what was in the script. We were at the penultimate day of shooting when I had to rework that story beat on the fly and it wound up working so much better than what I had written.
TrunkSpace: What is a lesson you learned throughout the process of making “A Dark Place” that you’ll apply to future productions you involve yourself in? What will you do differently with your follow-up?
Piñero: I’ve learned preparedness in all facets is key to making a movie. A lot of the shots you see in the movie were decided on the day of shooting, because of the restrictions we had on the locations. Another thing I get better at every time I direct is communicating what I want concisely. And I get that way by painstakingly studying the script in pre-pro then throwing it all away when we start shooting!
TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the film?
Piñero: I’m most proud of the film we created under the circumstances we were shooting in. We made this with money from my family and friends and I couldn’t be prouder of the results. At times we shot 11 pages per day, which is a little insane, but we pulled it off. And that was down to the cast and crew going above and beyond for the movie.
TrunkSpace: Do you think that bringing “A Dark Place” to life has altered your path? Has making this film changed how you look at your career as a whole?
Piñero: Yes, absolutely. The wealth of experience I’ve gained from going through that shoot is going to help me tremendously for the rest of my career. It was like boot camp for me. My hope from the beginning with this was, we get distribution and that will afford me an opportunity to tell a story on a bigger scale. We’ve achieved half of that goal so far.
TrunkSpace: What would 12-year-old Christopher think about his future directorial debut? Would the boy who dreamed of making movies be surprised by the film or your choices in it?
Piñero: I grew up in a military town and the thought of being a director was so foreign to me. Although, movies were everything to me when I was a kid, almost a religion, I was completely ignorant to the film-making process. I believe 12-year-old me would be ecstatic that I even made a movie to begin with. I strive to make movies that I would want to see on screen so I think he would be happy.
TrunkSpace: If someone came to you tomorrow and said, “Christopher, here is a blank check, green light any project you want for yourself,” what kind of movie would you make and why?
Piñero: Funny you ask that. I’ve just completed my next script, “Rosemont Forest,” and I’ll be looking to shoot that next. It’s a coming-of-age thriller, with horror elements that’s set in the ‘90s.
TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Piñero: I wouldn’t. As much as I like to try to anticipate and visualize things, I don’t want any spoilers. It would be like cutting out the first and second act of a movie and missing out on what makes the adventure so special.
“A Dark Place” is now available on iTunes, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand.