Festivals - Fantasia 2020 : Survival Skills – Quinn Armstrong ‘s interview
Par Mulder, California, Los Angeles, le 27.08.2020
Writer-director Quinn Armstrong’s feature debut, expanded from his 2017 short, is simultaneously a throwback to a bygone age and very much a film for today. Drawing from the wild VHS heyday of law-enforcement training videos like “Surviving Edged Weapons”, “Satanic Ritual Abuse”, and “Reality Check”, Armstrong builds a comedically wholesome world of scan lines, Americana, and educational-film naiveté, before shattering it with the grim reality of domestic violence. As the police-training construct begins to unravel, so too does officer Jim’s smiling facade, his hell-bent protectiveness and limited methods only escalating a situation he’s ill-equipped to handle. In a time when police conduct and training takes centre stage, SURVIVAL SKILLS casts a bleakly satirical light on the disasters that can occur when simplistic training, complex ethics, and the dark side of human nature collide. Be safe out there, rookies
Q : Hello Quinn, Survival Skills is your first movie . Can tell us a little bit about your background ? What was your main inspiration to become a director ?
Quinn Armstrong : Sure so I was a stage actor for many years and then that was my job and I really had no interest in movies and then my girlfriend who I had long term girlfriend I just wanted to be an actor so I started making writing and directing these little shorts for her to edit and then she out of nowhere she sort of applied and got into a fight down in LA big school and I had to decide well my gonna stay here and do my thing or go down there so I applied to USC and got in and went down there and was so intimidated I knew nothing about film I still don't know much about films And I just connected with people down there who were really interested in the scripts and we said let's just do it just make it happen.
Q : You have directed three short movies What you wish for, Gills and Survival skills. This last one is the basis for your first feature film. Can you tell us what the origins of this movie ?
Quinn Armstrong : So I work for domestic violence shelters or long time I worked in volunteer and I wanted to make a movie that was about The feeling of wanting someone but not being able to because of the rules that were in place. I wrote a version of the script that had none of the sort of VHS elements to it and I just it was it just didn't work it was just this sort of earnest drama that was kind of boring frankly and then I discovered I just randomly start discovered these training videos and I thought you know what would be a shame if we tried to combine these weird wacky training videos with this incredibly dark domestic violence trauma and we tried it
Q : Did you shoot the different sequences of this film in chronological order?
Quinn Armstrong : No we didn't . We made this movie for very little money and when you make a movie for very little money you have to kind of jump around and do all that stuff but the actors were rolled with it more amazing.
Q : Can you tell us about your filming, more specifically the locations where you shot this film ?
Quinn Armstrong : Sure, we shot at half of this movie in Los Angeles and how could this movie in Seattle where I'm from and that we shot I would never shoot in LA again. The permit red tape it's crazy but we shot mainly on the stage and that was really nice.
Q : Your direction of the actors is very inspired. What can you tell us about your collaboration with Stacy Keach and Vayu O'Donnell ?
Quinn Armstrong : Sure so for Vayu who plays Jim, the big problem was that we had this gap trickle character who also had to connect with the audience and so what we did is we talked we talked we talked. We figured out eventually that basically before every scene I told value a number from one to 10 on how artificial Jim was. If it was 10 for that scheme he'd be very smiley and very put together and happy and all that and if it was 0 he just be like a normal person. And that really helped us and I wish I could tell you know what that collaboration with Stacy was like but really she nailed every single take every single time. Stacy Keach is an amazing like machine of an actor he's so good he would just do the scene perfectly I don't like all rights.
Q : What I particularly liked in your film is the treatment you brought to the image of the film. Can you tell us how you arrived at that old image worthy of our dear video tapes ?
Quinn Armstrong : So if I understood that correctly you're asking about like the VHS effect. We tried to do digital BHS filters there are tons of them around you can try that but they never really looks good so what I ended up doing is we edited the movie digitally we shot the movie actually and then I took the final version of the movie put it on actual VHS tapes and I bought about 40 VCRs and I used magnets knives and fire to create the image working that you see in the movie static in the tape wrinkles and stuff like that over a period of about 3 months I was just in my apartment messing with the machines and. There's a lot of fun.
Q : What were the main difficulties encountered during the making of this film ?
Quinn Armstrong : I think the biggest difficulty for me is that we were making something that looks like a training video so there could be no elegant staging or elegant camerawork so when I was trying to solve problems on set I would think like well we could do this sort of camera moved here and we could like introduce the character in this school way we can't do any of that so a lot of the scenes I had to be like no, no, nio you walk in you sit down we do over the shoulder on you over the shoulder on you and a master shot that's it you can't be you can't all these cool ideas you have you can't do that and that was that was kind of tough.
Q : What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot and why ?
Quinn Armstrong : The most difficult scene. I haven't been asked that yet. I think so the scene where Jim is in the interrogation room with Lauren the daughter and we have this long, there's like a 4.5 minutes take that's just them sitting across from each other talk nothing interesting happening. And I was doing, I was being in saying that on that day and doing rolling takes so there was a period where we were rolling for about an hour that going back and forth in the crew was outside wondering what the hell's going on but I was just in in there working with the actors on this really difficult take and it was really rewarding and I love doing it man that was a tough day.
Q : What were your main sources of inspiration for Survival Skills ?
Quinn Armstrong : So from my own experiences in domestic violence and training videos at there are a couple one weird source of inspiration it is Dostoevsky's novel the idiot. Which is about a character who's kind of like Jim he's kind of this this he's a good person. And I think Dostoevsky”s religion, his Christian beliefs led him to a particular conclusion. I am not a religious person and my conclusion is very different and then his although it is better written.
Q : How is difficult actually to create a new and first independent movie ?
Quinn Armstrong : We made this movie for less than I mean far less than most movies are made. in tune, different cities with dozens of actors and all this sort of thing I got through it because of my producers and specifically because of my friend Colin West who is one of the producers and honestly like it was really tough it was really challenging you know you couldn't have any sort of fancy things we're trying to put out fires everywhere but the thing is I trust Colin and he believed in the movie and so when I was upset when I was you know stressed out not sure thing I could think you know what Colin. So the weirdly that thing that got us through it was believing in each other.
Q : In the current context of the coronavirus, as a filmmaker, can you tell us about the many difficulties that this entails ?
Quinn Armstrong : We are actually in preproduction on my next feature and we're so that what people are saying is that coronavirus increases your budget by about 30 percent so you can have compliance officers and was not an officer. What I've found is actually I think there's a there's real potential here and there's some cool stuff happening. Not just in terms of people making movies that are shot over zoon but I know some trapped in sewer narrative filmmakers were getting into animation. Or who are getting . I have a friend who's making these amazing at what he calls sound movies which are movies that are I mean it's like a podcast episode kind of like a radio show but they're more cinematic, more carefully made so I think you know any limit is an opportunity there's potential in any challenge.
Q : Your film is presented as an international premiere at the Fantasia festival. how does it feel to see your film selected in this international festival ?
Quinn Armstrong : Fantasia was our number one festival that we wanted to go to over all others and I want to, you know I want to build a relationship with them long term so it's been amazing and it's also been. we were so scared about how people would receive this movie about cops at this moment in America especially and it's been people are really grappling with what this movie means they're not just dismissing it even the people like that one or 2 people who haven't liked it as much have really approached it with an open mind and with respect and that's been sold so gratifying to me and to all of us really.
Q : Who are your favorite directors and which films are the main driving force behind your artistic creation ?
So, I tend to make movies that are very dark and very violent and sort of horrific but my favorite movies are tend to be old romantic movies not my favorite director is I mean this changes every day it could be you know it one day it could be David Lynch one day could be Billy Wilder but lately Preston Sturgis who wrote and directed the lady eve (1941) and Palm Beach story (1942) and stuff like this. They're just these on romantic comedies that are really sharp and witty and have something to say and I just love them I could watch him all day.
Q : Do you have any French actors you'd like to work with ?
Quinn Armstrong : Oh gosh yeah I mean. I think okay so I'm going to limit myself to one is. I think he's right it's either all over. I'm not sure and I'm going to mispronounce name Olivier Gourmet (comédien belge). He works with the Dardenne brothers a lot. I think there's something so interesting so I've done I've done theatre in France and I traveled there and it's seen a lot of theaters and there's something French actors who have these amazing physicality there's just this is just this very physical sense different actors I would love to do it I'd love to do a comedy like a big stuff fun comedy with French actors that be amazing.
Q : What are you currently working on ?
Quinn Armstrong : I'm working on a new movie thatwe hope we're gonna shoot at this next year. It's called Dead teenagers. And. It is I can't say much about it except I would say that it is thhis movie will do for slasher horror movies what survival skills does for police training videos. Thank you so much this is fun.
Survival Skills is a lost training video from the 1980s. In it, Jim, the perfect policeman, gets in over his head when he tries to resolve a domestic violence case outside the law.
Written and directed by Quinn Armstrong
Produced by Mike Downing, Colin West
Starring Tyra Colar, Spencer Garrett, Stacy Keach, Ericka Kreutz, Vayu O'Donnell
Music by Mark Hadley
Cinematography : Allie Schultz
Edited by Keara Burton
Release date : March 6 2020 (USA)
Running time : 84mns
We would like to thank Quinn Armstrong for this interview and Lorenzo Feldhandler
(Source : Fantasia 2020 official website)