Under the Influence: Zeke and Simon Hawkins on Bad Turn Worse and Out of Sight

Under the Influence charts the often-mysterious ways that art begets art, calling upon moviemakers to write about one creative work that informed and inspired their own. In this edition, first-time directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins share two lessons that Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 classic, Out of Sight, taught them during the making of their stylish Southern crime thriller, Bad Turn Worse.

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In the ’90s we saw pretty much every movie that came to theaters in Connecticut. It was one of the only ways our parents could get us to sit still for two hours straight. But we didn’t know anyone in the film industry, and we certainly didn’t think all that much about who did what behind the scenes.

Out of Sight (1998, directed by Steven Soderbergh) was one of the first movies to change that. We could feel the hand of an artist molding and shaping a film, out of what we had expected to be just another generic crime movie. Walking out of the theater afterward, we felt a little different. Not to be hyperbolic, but the experience became one of the seminal moments of our lives. It put us in search of other great directors like Steven Soderbergh and set us on our own career paths as filmmakers.

13 years later, when Brian Udovich and Justin Duprie approached us with Bad Turn Worse, we immediately thought of Out of Sight. In a general sense, Out of Sight inspired us to embrace what a crime movie could potentially be, but as we moved further into pre-production, its influence became much more specific.

The “Detroit” Montage and Trying to Look “Professional”

Bad Turn Worse is our first feature film. We wanted it to compete with big studio releases and appeal to mainstream audiences, but we didn’t have big studio resources. So early on, fear crept in. We started to let ourselves get too wrapped up in trying to make Bad Turn Worse look “professional” – which was impossible given our limitations (and our definition of “professional”).

Along with our cinematographer, Jeff Bierman, we turned to Out of Sight for help. It hit us that the film’s “Detroit” montage – one of our all time favorite location montages – is just a camera shooting on an insert car, with no extra budget, helicopter shots, or expensive, special camera rigs. It was freeing to know this, and it helped us let go of our conception of  what “professional” meant. It also gave us the confidence to embrace the limitations of our film rather than fight them. We abandoned time-consuming and crew-consuming plans, such as using a camera dolly. Jeff started lighting for scenes as much as he could rather than taking the time to light for individual shots. When you watch Bad Turn Worse‘s “Corpus Christi” montage, the influence of Soderbergh’s “Detroit” montage is obvious.

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Poster for Out of Sight in 1998

The Trunk Scene, our “What-a-Burger” Scene, and Reshoots

After editing for a couple months, we were hitting a wall. We knew we didn’t quite have the opening to our movie, and we knew we hadn’t cemented the importance of the relationship between Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) and Sue (Mackenzie Davis). Once again, we returned to Out of Sight for help. That movie’s George Clooney/Jennifer Lopez trunk scene struck us immediately. It’s an amazing first-act conversation in the back of a car’s trunk that lasts five minutes and anchors the entire film. It’s the first time the two lead characters, Jack Foley and Karen Sisco, meet. The hope that they will get back together must carry the audience through the rest of the film. Listening to Soderbergh’s director’s commentary, we discovered that the trunk scene was created during reshoots – months after principal photography. We would have never known otherwise.

The idea that this crucial scene was actually a reshoot now helped us reimagine the potential of reshoots. It might seem obvious to an outsider, but to us – given our timetable and limited resources – the idea was revolutionary. Up until that point we were treating our reshoots as a chance to get a couple inserts in and shoot a missing scene that we had dropped during principal photography. Deep down we knew, though, that we needed more. Confidence boosted by Out of Sight, we began crafting a new opening – the “What-a-Burger” scene. Our scene would also become a five-minute conversation piece that anchored Bobby and Sue’s relationship, clarified the details of our world, and cemented the emotional foundations of our film.

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The “What-a-Burger” scene that opens Bad Turn Worse

Filmmaking is both a creative and pragmatic art form. Artistic sensibilities are the foundation of a director’s approach, but pragmatic problem-solving ends up informing creative decisions significantly more than audiences realize. Out of Sight influenced our work on Bad Turn Worse heavily on both fronts. MM

Bad Turn Worse opens in theaters and on VOD November 14, 2014, courtesy of Starz and Rough and Tumble Films.

Check out previous installments of Under the Influence here.

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