Ahead of the World Premiere of The Odds, Closing Night Film at this year’s Raindance Film Festival, we got talking with director Bob Giordano about all things film.
The Odds is a complex psychological journey that with every plot twist becomes more twisted and keeps audiences in a continual state of doubt: could you explain to us how you originally came up with the idea, and how it matured and developed in the writing of the screenplay?
I was (and am) fascinated by films that have a single character, such as Buried or Locke, and as a challenge, I attempted to devise a single-character story. The best I could do was to carve it down to two characters in a room for a short film I called The Odds, featuring an antagonist known only as the “Game Master” and a protagonist known as the “Player.” This premise would essentially become the basis for the third act of the feature.
I wrote it to be filmed primarily in a single location — another challenge that was inspired by the previously mentioned films, as well as classics like Rope, Reservoir Dogs, and Cube, among many others. When I develop stories, I am constantly shuffling back and forth between the writer and producer roles, and the producer in me decided that it would only take a little more time and money to film it as a feature. So I decided to expand the story.
Having a couple clever twists can offer enough entertainment value for a short film, but a feature needs a lot more — it needs a deeper story to carry it. I came up with the idea to turn it into a pain endurance contest as the main thread of the script, but I knew that without a heart and soul, it would simply be a version of another torture-porn flick (no offence to torture-porn flicks, but they’re not my cup of tea). I had to figure out what the main conflict would be that could sustain the story. After the writer came up with some unfulfilling ideas, the producer took over again and examined the characters — two males — and asked if it wouldn’t be more interesting if one of them were a woman. Once I’d considered the story with a woman as the protagonist and a man as the antagonist, the pieces started coming together.
Throughout my life, I’ve known several women who were involved in abusive relationships (I won’t name them out of respect for their privacy), and I’ve become familiar with some of the conditions that can result in that dynamic. Once I took the arc of an abusive relationship and used it as the structure for the characters’ relationship, the story more-or-less fell into place. The “challenges” for the Player would progress in increasingly more physically painful and mentally debilitating tests. I knew those scenes would be inherently compelling; I needed to make certain that all the stuff in between was compelling as well. I didn’t have fancy effects or glorious vistas. All I had were two people in a room.
I still haven’t come up with a good 1-character story.
What sources inspired you for The Odds, whether based on literature/film/TV? For instance, is the game in the film based on a real-life psychological experiment?
Other than the films I already mentioned, there are three other pieces of entertainment that directly inspired The Odds. The Russian roulette scenes in The Deer Hunter were some of the most excruciating ever put to film and made a big impact on me. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode titled The Man from the South, where Steve McQueen bets his pinky for a car that his lighter will light ten times in a row was a bit influential. (Tarantino did a homage to this in Four Rooms.) And a film called The Interview (being the first time I experienced the horribly under-rated Hugo Weaving) was a great demonstration of the conflict that can be wrought with just two people in a room. I wanted to add a contemporary feel to it, so I liked adding the bit about it being an online competition. I like the idea of a kind of “urban legend” feel to the scenario.
What message did you want to convey in The Odds about power and the relationship between perpetrator and victim?
The protagonist has failed in life, falling so far that she has given up. But through the journey of the relationship with the antagonist, she finally realizes that she doesn’t have to be defined by her failures, that she actually has the power to take agency over her life.
Redemption is within your reach if you are willing to make sacrifices to achieve it.
Both characters are involved in a game that is demanding psychologically: how, if at all, did you prepare your two main actors for their roles?
This story is primarily two characters jabbering on in a room, so I knew it would only work if we had the absolute best actors we could find. Luckily we found Abbi (Butler) and James (Fuertes). They came to the project with different processes (as actors often do), but both of them really just got it. James asked me for a character reference, so I gave him the Aaron Eckhart character from In the Company of Men. He watched it and basically said it was no help because the guy was “basically just a dick.” He decided to watch Inglourious Basterds, and he took inspiration from Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of Hans Landa. It was a good call. Abbi has her own arcane process that I’m sure is mundane craftwork, but from my perspective all good actors are performing a sort of emotional alchemy that I don’t understand, and that is akin to magic in some sense.
As a director, I tried not to have too many pre-conceived notions for the roles and leave room for the actors to shape them per their ideas, because that’s what you should let good actors do.
How was it filming predominantly in the space of one room, and what challenges did you face?
As far as production goes, a single room location can’t be beat. (There was actually one outside location that we filmed on a chilly afternoon at the lake, but we won’t count that.) Everyone knows where the set is for the entire shoot, the equipment is ready to pick-up right where you’ve left-off the day before, and you only have to set design just the once.
Of course, the danger is that there’s not much exciting about a mostly empty room. I knew early on that I’d have to bring out every trick we could muster on our limited budget to keep the story involving. After the script was finished, Bob the Writer got fired (or sacked, as you say), and Bob the Director took over. He did storyboards for the entire film, blocking the scenes in ways that the writer would never conceive, always trying to add movement and new perspective whenever possible, making changes to ensure that the story was more visual. Easily half the movie is tell-not-show — which is a dangerous place to be — so the camera needed to be a part of the action, not simply record it. Our DP, Jeremy (Gonzales) and fellow camera operator Gabe (McCauley) worked hard to get interesting angles and lighting choices that hopefully keep the audience from becoming bored by the images onscreen.
This is your directorial debut feature, how was the entire journey for you? What were its exciting elements and challenges?
The journey with The Odds so far has been better than I could’ve hoped for. Most of the key people were (and hopefully still are) friends of mine, and it was a thrill to get to create this with them. It is also humbling when so many people put their faith in you as a creator, and there’s a tremendous amount of pressure not to let them down.
A lot of writers dream of directing so that they can stay “in control” of their work. One of the most gratifying things for me was to enlist people who are good at what they do and then turn them loose to come up with interesting things that I would never have thought of left to my own devices. Our wardrobe person (Dina D’Argo) had ideas about the clothing that accentuated the emotional journeys of the characters, and even conceived of a wardrobe prop that inspired some great character reveals that weren’t in the original script. My editor, Pete (Kremer) did shocking things with effects that added a boatload of production value, and Rob (Wenner) saved our asses on the audio side with a killer sound design.
There were a couple of problematic situations involved in the production, but figuring out who’s really on the team is part of any project. Rather than get wound-up about the immediate obstacle, it’s better to keep your eye on the long game and not get distracted away from the real goal.
When you write and direct a movie, you actually make and re-make it multiple times, from script, to storyboards, through production, then editing, then sound design and music. The goal is to make each version better than the previous one, and I think we finished with the best version that time and our budget would allow. Of course, you hold your breath with trepidation until an actual audience watches the film, but we’ve gotten a good response, so that’s been gratifying. I’m beside myself with excitement anticipating the international premier at Raindance and the idea of this film speaking to audiences on the other side of the ocean. It’s a real thrill that this story might be relatable to people waking up five time zones away from me — after all, isn’t that what most filmmakers really want?
Book your ticket to the premiere of THE ODDS at the Closing Night Gala of Raindance Film Festival 2018, followed by a Q&A with producer Tom Steinmann and an after party.