Interview with BRAKE director Gabe Torres
For Gabe Torres, directing the Stephen Dorff-led thriller BRAKE is another step up the Hollywood ladder. Paul Byrne puts him under the spotlight.
Sometimes, a movie can be summed up in just one phrase. And in the case of Gabe Torres’ spy thriller Brake, that phrase is “Die Hard in a car trunk”.
Stephen Dorff plays Jeremy Reins, the spy in question, whom we meet as he wakes up in a small coffin-sized perspex box. Like us, Jeremy has no idea how he got here, or why.
Slowly, he realizes he’s in the boot of a car, and that his box has been carefully constructed for his growing displeasure. And just to remind Jeremy of that fact, there’s an LED clock, constantly counting down to yet another round of pain and anguish. His captors want to know the location of Roulette. Jeremy tells them that he has no idea what they’re talking about…
It’s a smart little movie, and one that just about delivers on its promise. Just about.
PAUL BYRNE: Which came first – Stephen Dorff or the script?
GABE TORRES: I had gotten the screenplay first. Once I read it I knew that I needed one heck of an actor to pull this off, since the whole film would be focused on his character. I knew Stephen to be a fearless actor and an actor that would relish the challenge of being on camera alone for such an intense performance.
Shades of Old Boy, Buried, Phone Booth, 24… Were there reference points that the writer Timothy Mannion offered up?
No reference points, really. I was not even aware of Buried when I first got the script. The primary talking point was that I wanted to try and create something intense in a limited space and with limited characters. There was a film called Lebanon [Samuel Maoz, 2009] which I really liked that was all set in a tank and the world was seen only through small ports. Very intense in the confined space and also had action. My goal was to create a one set action film.
Did you discuss cinematic signposts with Stephen?
Not sure what a cinematic signpost is, but I really worked with Stephen on character and making sure he was living in each moment, filling his head with as much real information that Jeremy would have about his job, his life, his relationship. Then he could use all that in how he reacted to the events thrust upon him in a real way. I had him spend time with real Secret Service agents, understand their training, etc.
It’s basically Die Hard In A Box – as any S&M madam will tell you, the restraint can be both thrilling and terrifying. Right?
I think that what Jeremy goes through in Brake preys upon basic human fears and phobias. And in creating an immersive cinematic experience, the audience also experiences all the things that Jeremy goes through. It’s all very orchestrated by me as a filmmaker to the audience and by Jeremy’s captors to him. To get into too much more detail would get into “spoiler” territory.
With movies like this, audiences are leaping ahead constantly, trying to work out the logistics. Important that Brake’s plot should be watertight – if you’ll excuse the pun…?
The audience never gets any more information than Jeremy does. They hear what he hears. They see what he sees. If it’s hard for him to make out words of off screen characters, so it is for the audience. If it’s a little too dark to make out something, then the audience also has a hard time seeing. I wanted the audience to figure things out as Jeremy does. Not before and not after. This makes the viewing experience completely subjective.
The LED countdown adds tension for Jeremy, and also the audience. Take you a while to work out the logistics of that? The constant short counts might be dismissed gradually as a gimmick…
The LED lights count down seemingly randomly at first. This puzzles and confuses Jeremy as it does the audience. The purpose of the randomness is it messes with him, because that’s what the people holding him are trying to do. We soon learn that something bad happens every time the numbers hit zero. As with all other aspects of what happens in the film, the LED lights are meant to mentally mess with Jeremy’s head and the audience’s.
Stephen is co-executive producer – easier to get made once your leading man is onboard in that way?
Not much difference. We were financed and in preproduction when Stephen was cast. His participation in the film was more than as an actor, helping to bring key crew positions on board as well as weighing in on the script. He was more involved than just at acting level, so he is credited as an Executive Producer for bringing more to the film than just a performance.
Seems like the biggest movie on your CV so far – is Brake a step up for you, or just another day at the office?
I’ve done a number of indie features in addition to my TV work. December was a bigger film, but Brake was creatively the most challenging creative experience I’ve had professionally.
Happy with the results here?
Very happy with the film. I set out to make DIE HARD in the trunk of a car and I feel I really did that with this film.
Happy with the critical response? Just 46% on rottentomatoes…
As cliché as it sounds, I really don’t follow the online critics. I read some of the print reviews in the trades and major papers. A friend had to explain what the tomato scale meant. Green, etc. I don’t even have a facebook page. And honestly I don’t pay much attention to reviews. I make the film that I want to see and hope other people like it.
The commercial response? Just 47% from audiences on rottentomatoes…
Yeah… again… don’t really follow. See above.
Those early Super 8 monster movies didn’t turn you into Eli Roth – your CV is a little more varied than that. Got a gameplan, a goal?
Keep making varied and exciting films that move people.
Leaving your scripts in various exec’s offices when you were working as a security guard at Universal Studios – did you always believe it would work out? It sounds a little Cinderella…
I knew since I was 12 years old that I wanted to make films. It’s always been my passion and I’ve been fortunate to have been able to keep directing and writing.
Any plans to publish your book of portraits? Or are you waiting until a few of these up-and-comers arrive in a big way?
Should be within the next 5 years. Many of the people I shot from some years back are well established now, but I want some more photos. Most have been shot on 35mm B&W film stock. I shot film up until 2010. Only the last few years I’ve shot my latest subjects with my 7D. I’m still embracing digital in my still work, but I do love it. For films, I love shooting digital now that the look has caught up to film and cost savings are real.
Finally, what’s next…?
Stay tuned. A new film for 2013 that I can’t talk about yet.
Words – Paul Byrne
Brake is out on DVD now