Exclusive Right At Your Door interview: Chris Gorak and Rory Cochrane
9th Sep 06
Opening in the UK just before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Right At Your Door is a tense, claustrophobic thriller from first-time writer / director Chris Gorak, dealing with the aftermath of a dirty bomb attack in Los Angeles. Ideally suited to our modern-day climate of paranoia and fear of attack, by terrorism or otherwise, the film proves to be far more horrifying than any recent Hollywood slasher film, Japanese ghost story or Wicker Man / Omen remakes of recent years.
Chris Gorak was in London recently, so eatmybrains grabbed the chance to sit down with him, and his lead star Rory (Dazed and Confused and Empire Records) Cochrane, to chat about the making of this edgy indie film.
EMB: Hi Chris and Rory. Congratulations on a very impressive film. If I can start with you Chris, you’ve worked with quite a few top directors in the past; Gilliam, the Coen Brothers, Spielberg and David Fincher. Did the effect of working with such film-making legends give you the impetus to go out and start directing your own films?
Chris Gorak: I think so. I mean at some point I was art directing and production designing, and I think somewhere along the line I decided that writing and directing would be the ultimate creative challenge and I started writing.
Then I was production designing on a movie called The Clearing where I met the producers Jonah Smith and Palmer West, and they pretty much challenged me to write something contained and compelling, so I brought the script to them.
EMB: Right At Your Door deals with a very tricky subject matter; a dirty bomb attack in LA. Did this cause you any problems with funding?
CG: No, I mean Jonah Smith and Palmer West have a company called Thousand Words and they financed the picture in its entirety. You know, it was a challenge budget for sure, but they made the decision to finance it independently.
EMB: How long did it take you to write the script?
CG: The first draft I wrote pretty quick. You know, it was a very reactionary story, so I kind of wrote it left to right. I didn’t outline it, didn’t mull over it. It started as a short film idea and there was one scene in the (short) film that ended up in the final film, and I looked at that and I figured that it could be a full-length feature. So I wrote it pretty quick, the first draft, and then it went through a whole development phase of deciding certain things, especially the ending.
EMB: It’s a very big-scale event, but it’s also very enclosed too, as it focuses on only two main characters. Was that your intention from the beginning?
CG: Absolutely, yeah. As a first-time director I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to do the grand-scale and I thought it would be interesting to do a quote unquote ‘disaster film’ kind of from the inside out where the disaster is the landscape and we focus on the two characters. Therefore it makes it, everyone can relate to it. It’s two people marooned at sea if you will.
EMB: Rory, what attracted you to the script? How did you get involved?
Rory Cochrane: Well, my manager had sent me the script and I read it and I liked it and I thought it was a tight script. I was sort of, you know, a little nervous because of the material, because you obviously have this situation with your wife where most normal people would, in their minds in that situation, let their wives into the house. So I was sort of wondering how I could sort of play that and make my character sympathetic or something like that. So I was a little afraid, but you know, I think that it’s good to approach projects and get involved in them when you are afraid of them, and just try to make it work,
I’d worked with Jonah and Palmer, the producers, before and I think they’re smart guys and when I met Chris I thought, ‘this guy knows what he’s doing’, so I was happy to be a part of it.
EMB: It’s a very emotionally-challenging role, Was that part of your decision in taking the job, or was it more to do with the actual content of the film?
RC: You know, I didn’t really focus on the fact that the backdrop was a terrorist attack. It was more the simple story of just two people.
I’m glad that it was a short shoot (smiles) because I was sort of mentally losing it. You know, we shot six days a week in that small house, and it definitely affects you. It affects the crew, they have all this stuff in the air, and everyone was coughing in these tight quarters. But it was very efficient the way that they shot the movie. The budget obviously wasn’t huge, so I think they did a very good job.
EMB: Chris, the film is all shot from character-perspective, ie from the character’s view point. What was your reasoning behind this?
CG: At first it was driven by the financial constraints, but then I realised as we were going on that if we just follow the characters and if like, Rory’s character Brad was in the car and we were in the car with him looking out of the windshield then it narrows the scope financially. But also, it makes it more claustrophobic and I think more intense if you’re always riding on the shoulders of the characters.
If Rory’s character Brad is locked in the house, then the camera and the crew are locked in the house and Mary McCormack’s character, his wife Lexi is playing outside and is completely isolated, physically and mentally from the crew, there’s a strange dynamic on set by telling the story via each character
EMB: The film uses a lot of radio broadcast as opposed to TV reports. Why did you make this decision?
CG: Again it was inspired by financial constraints, and then I realised that unfortunately we are aware of what this could look like and what the detail is and where it comes from and things like that. The audience would paint their own version of that in their mind’s eye, so we didn’t have to show a lot of that.
I didn’t want the film to end up, you know, for myself during something like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, you’re glued to the television watching the news. This movie could have been that – characters in front of the television so I had to think of a way to get rid of the televisions, but get information across. And the actors we got, David Richards and Nina Barry are fantastic voice-over actors and did a great job. We researched radio broadcasts from tragic events and how the newscaster and the studio is kind of the calming force for the people in the masses
EMB: There are very few special effect shots in the film, but when they are shown they’re very effective. Was that another financial constraint?
CG: Well one thing that we wanted to do was not spend all of our effects money on one big glory shot, if you will. I bargained to try to put several shots throughout the film and just cutaway to them just like another shot, so we’re never holding on it too long, you know, two seconds here, three seconds there, just as if I was cutting away to one of the characters, and I think that helps texture the film and stretch the effect.
We had a very small visual effects team and special effects team. The smoke we used was actually from Kuwaiti oil fire stock footage and we flipped that so the smoke would travel in the right direction and painted that into our city plate shots and it seems to work fairly well.
And then the falling ash in the foreground was actually a practical effect. You know, old school, guy on a ladder with a fan and shaking out the paper dust…
EMB: How do you think this film will be received in this current age of possible terrorist attacks?
CG: Well, I can’t predict that, but for me, in the film we were very sensitive to 9/11 and we didn’t talk about the politics or the social global aspect of it. It’s focused on the characters.
Having said that, it’s very much a piece of fiction, it’s not non-fiction. You know, a lot of the films coming out now are non-fiction and we’ve lived that. This is something completely fictional and hopefully in some way entertaining because of that.
Right At Your Door was released in UK cinemas on September 8th 2006.
Click here to read our 4-star Right At Your Door review.