ADAM MACDONALD INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Karin Crighton
Backcountry terrified me away from camping, bears, and going outside my apartment in general. I interviewed director Adam MacDonald on the challenges and rewards of his first full length film.
Karin Crighton: Backcountry is a physically demanding shoot, for the actors and especially for the crew. Why did you decide to do such a challenging shoot for your first feature length?
Adam MacDonald I didn’t know if I would get another chance to make a film; if I’m going to make this, I’m going to make it as intense and brutal and as best I can. Not a lot of directors work with a bear on their first feature length; it was the most challenging part. I don’t want to say everything will be smoother or easier after the bears, but I’ve already done that part. So why not go for the demanding?
KC: How did you prepare the actors for an entirely outdoor (and cold weather) shoot?
AM: They knew going in it would be tough and they are troopers. They also knew I wouldn't ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do. When we shot the waterfall scene (in which Missy Peregrym climbs down a rock face to escape a bear), I went through what I wanted Missy to do myself, so by the time we were ready to film, she was fired up. We were shooting the scenes in which she was covered in blood and screaming for help on the second day, and she was tearing me up; I can’t say enough good things about Missy.
KC: What about the crew? Bringing equipment from camp every day?
AM: Northerners are tough cookies, and they were a Northern film crew. Once we got into filming, they really starting believing in the movie and what we were doing. There were some issues; one person didn’t want to go near the bears, and one person had a fear of heights and couldn’t go near the waterfall, but overall they all went the extra mile. We’re actually very lucky nothing went wrong; we hung lines from trees so Christian (Bielz, the director of photography) could hang over the waterfall.
KC: I was very impressed by Bielz’s work; how did you come to work with him?
AM: The producer Thomas Michael introduced me to him. His interview wasn’t very powerful, but his reel was very strong. I asked him, first question, what films the script brought to his mind and he said, “Place Among the Pines”. I knew this was the nail on the head. He brought his own influence to my shot list, and I explained it’s not a typical “schlocky” horror movie. With Christian, it came off as much more.
KC: How do you feel about Backcountry being classified as a horror?
AM: I don’t mind; it’s my favorite genre and what I wanted to do as a kid. It’s a thriller first and foremost, along the lines of 127 Hours and Wild perhaps, but you can’t deny it’s horrific. Horror movies define the places you don’t want to be; the nightmare scenarios. And bear attacks...in my research, reading accounts of survivors and what these people went through; I didn’t want to pull back at all. I wanted people to know what it felt like to be in a bear attack. So I’m all for a horror categorization.
KC: The tense dislike between Brad and Alex is being dubbed an alpha-male struggle by most of the interviews and press releases I’ve read. Did you intend for it to call attention to a specific gender characteristic or something broader?
AM: I really wanted Alex to face himself in front of his girlfriend. This actually happened to me and a former girlfriend. I went to the bathroom in a restaurant and came to the table to find my girlfriend eating dinner with another man. I wanted someone to show up to challenge Alex physically and sexually and present a huge obstacle in front of Jenn. He doesn’t back down but he doesn’t fight either; it’s frustrating for him. I wanted to show the audience how she felt too, as though these were her two options, and to end with her reunion with Brad.
KC: How do trained bears react to actors constantly screaming at them?
AM: There were actually 160 shots all together of the bear in the tent. So while it may seem that things are happening at the same time...they probably weren’t. We did one day with the bears and one day without them to get the entire sequence. The editor, Dev, put the whole assembly together and then called me in to get the bear attack done. When we saw the whole thing as one, it was really great.
KC: Last question: what was the bear’s name?
AM: They aren’t good horror names, but the two bears were Chester and Charlie.
KC: Aww, that’s so cute!
AM: I know, it’s not good for horror.
KC: Thank you so much for your time, I can’t wait to see your next film.
AM: It’s in development, so it’s not a sure thing yet, but it’s called a Wolf in the Window. I want to do a trilogy of women surviving extraordinary, horrific circumstances.
KC: I’m all for more female protagonists.
AM: Me too, I think it can teach more more about myself as a man.
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