Daniel Minahan, Brooke Smith and Donna Hanover

Dan Minahan with Brooke
Smith and Donna Hanover from Series 7
Photo by DMI

Daniel Minahan is the 37-year-old writer-director
of Series 7, a movie that takes reality TV to the ultimate
Twilight Zone degree. In this show, five contestants are chosen
by lottery to challenge a champion. The current champion, Dawn
(Brooke Smith), eight months pregnant, is the ferocious queen
on this bloody battlefield. She has already blown away 10 rivals.
Her five challengers are chosen by lottery and notified by a knock
on the door. Unlike Mission Impossible, there is no way to refuse
this mission. Here, Minahan talks about reality television and
the fine line that exists between writing entertainment and writing

Paula Schwartz (MM): Did you have a crystal
ball? How could anyone have better timing in planning a satire
of reality television?

Daniel Minahan (DM): I feel like some idiot
savant, like I just stumbled into this thing unknowingly. I didn’t
see the same thing Mark Burnett, saw of course. Mark Burnett is
the guy who invented Survivor. He has this whole franchise.
I saw reality TV as some kind of Orwellian “Big Brother.”

MM: Is your timing basically luck, then?

DM: Yeah, I mean I wrote it in 1996. I could
have made it in ’96, but then it wouldn’t have the same
impact it has now.

MM: Let’s clarify the rules: you
don’t choose to be in this show, and there are no money prizes?

DM: Exactly. It’s a satire. It’s
a world where being famous is like a death sentence. And there’s
no money. I wanted to make it an inside-out world where it really
was more about an invasion of privacy, and people just accept
it. That was part of the humor of it, too.

MM: How did you come up with the opening
of your film–where the very pregnant Dawn comes into a convenience
store and blows away a customer?

DM: You see “Previously on The Contenders…,”
and it’s the last kill of the previous series. So it’s
the last kill of Series 6. It seemed like a good way to just throw
the audience off balance and get into the story immediately.

MM: How did you come up with image of
a pregnant killer?

DM: It just seemed like the way to do it.
That makes her instantly sympathetic. I just thought it up. I
was thinking of westerns. Right after she shoots the guy you see
her walking through town, alongside these strip malls and she’s
carrying her grocery bags and ready to move on. She’s kind
of like this outlaw.

MM: Talk about shooting that scene at
a Qwik Mart in Danbury, Connecticut. Is it true people were just
moving around the body?

DM: They didn’t want to close for business.
People just walked in. There were no signs saying this is a movie
crew, people just kind of walked in, ordered their stuff and didn’t
really look down and bother to ask any questions. They must have
seen the body because they stepped over him.

MM: Another scene that’s really gripping
is the mall scene. Talk about that scene.

DM: I felt like it was an important scene
and when we first sold it to USA, the head of USA was concerned
that maybe it was too strong. I said it was really important to
me because it’s the point in the film when it’s not
funny anymore. Up until that point, the film just kind of bubbles
along and it has this crazy kind of inside-out logic to it and
then, when the teenage girl is killed by the old man, it’s
not funny anymore. When we tested it in Santa Monica, everyone
in the focus group noted that scene as their most memorable.

MM: Talk about shooting the film on video?

DM: I grew up making documentaries and shooting
them on videotape. I know about shooting on tape and editing on
tape. It seemed like the perfect marriage of a story with the
subject matter.

MM: What are the disadvantages of shooting
on digital?

DM: It’s a whole extra step involved
where you shoot on tape and then you blow it up to 35mm film and
then, if you ever want to make any change to your print, you have
to blow up another piece of tape and cut it in. It’s a little
bit complicated.

MM: Because of all the reality TV bag
of tricks you use–the you-are-there action, the quick cuts, the
commentary–do you think viewers may start to lose themselves
and think maybe this is possible?

DM: Well, I hope so (laughing). The
plot is really like a soap opera with all the people in it and
the alliances and the ex-boyfriends.

MM: How does such a gentle guy like you
have such a dark streak?

DM: I don’t know. It’s the quiet
ones you have to watch out for. My professor in college used to
say there are two kinds of film directors: the ones who want to
please their parents and the ones who want to shock their parents.

MM: You mentioned somewhere that your
mother hadn’t seen it and you were a little concerned about
how she would react. Has she seen it yet?

DM:She saw it at Sundance. She loved it.
My friends kind of cornered her after the screening and said ‘Mrs.
Minahan, what did you think? Did you love it?’ She said,
‘Well, I don’t know if I can say that I loved it. I
don’t know if I would have seen this film if my son hadn’t
directed it.’ And then it became known as ‘the film
only a mother could love’–that could go on the poster.

MM: In addition to Series 7, you
also co-wrote
I Shot Andy Warhol. Do you enjoy the screenwriting

DM: I hate writing. It’s torture. And
it’s lonely. I really like collaborating with people. It’s
why I want to make movies. I love the whole craziness of it. It’s
like re-creating reality. It’s re-creating a world and telling
a story.

MM: What kind of reaction are you expecting?

DM: I hope this is the kind of movie that
people go away from the theater seeing things differently…
I’d like people to go out for a drink afterward and talk
about it; argue about it.

MM: Do you think everyone will get it?

DM: It’s like WWF–I think it’s
very accessible. I think the language of it is so accessible because
it really walks you through the story just like a TV show.

MM: Some people will criticize the way
you portray the young man dying of testicular cancer as insensitive.
Are you concerned about that?

DM: That’s really challenging because
it’s not making fun of cancer; there’s nothing funny
about cancer at all. But the way the media or television shows
depict it, they manipulate the situation and the way it’s
talked about. That’s what it’s poking fun at. It just
seemed the best way to criticize TV language was to do the same
thing. Did I make a movie that’s about exploitation or did
I make a movie that’s exploitative? I don’t know.

MM: One final question: if you put Dawn
and Richard Hatch on a desert island, who do you think would be
left standing?

DM:: I don’t know. Richard Hatch is
a pretty tough cookie.