In January of 2003, young newlywed Randi Trimble was fatally attacked in the garage of her home. Strangled, and stabbed 27 times, she died reciting one final prayer. As in many cases of similar fashion, Randi’s husband Brian Trimble was an immediate person of interest. After a scrutinous investigation by local police, Brian, along with friend and aspiring filmmaker Blaine Norris were taken into custody for the murder of Randi Trimble. ROUGH CUT provides the viewer with an in depth look into the lives of Brian Trimble, Blaine Norris, and the events that led the disturbed duo to commit such a heinous crime.
ROUGH CUT possesses an attribute rarely recognizable amongst most modern genre offerings: the ability to effectively transmit a varying level of emotions, tapping into the humanity that invokes empathy, sympathy, anger and a deep sadness that truly transfers and resonates within its viewers. It’s deeply moving, and, due to the direct involvement and cooperation of friends, family and co-workers (Sean Gaston was actually involved with the making of THROUGH HIKE, and had the misfortune of experiencing this tragic ordeal first-hand), ROUGH CUT establishes itself as not just an informative documentary, but an homage to the surviving members of Randi Trimble’s family. And I must say, extreme sensitivity was clearly figured into the equation of the films creation, as ROUGH CUT is a picture that I think Randi’s mother Nancy Chavez can take pride in. This film is in no way exploitative. It paints the picture exactly as the picture was. A senseless act of violence perpetrated by two evil individuals, which led to the untimely death of a caring young woman, prepared to dedicate her life to Brian Trimble, a husband she thought she knew.
In terms of the technical prowess involved in the film, all praise go to a limited crew, including writer/producer/director Todd Klick, co-writer/producer Sean Gaston, director of photography James Hollenbaugh, and editor Chad Haberstroh. The approach in which the documentary unfolds is intriguing, and while not a brand new trend, it’s not used as commonly as it perhaps should be in the field of documentaries; Sub-plots, slowly sewn together to reveal an intricate quilt of lies, deceit, and ultimately - homicide. The stories pendulum narrative is wonderful, and as a viewer, there’s not an overwhelming mystery behind what ties both stories together, but there is a professionalism that leaves viewers clinging, gazing, and eventually reaching for the piece of the puzzle they still miss. Rest assured, Sean Gaston and Todd Klick will leave every question that can be answered, answered.
INTERVIEW WITH CO-WRITER/PRODUCER SEAN GASTON:
Matt Molgaard: First off, let’s talk about THROUGH HIKE. Tell me what it was like on the set; How was the atmosphere, and how was the overall morale of the cast and crew?
Sean Gaston: The atmosphere on the set of Through Hike was by far one of the most fun times I have ever had in my life. At times it was like amateur hour, but contrary to what some of the people in the media claim, that this film was "supposed to lead to big hollywood contracts", the cast and crew were pretty realistic about what we were doing, and that was making a cheesy horror film. We weren't expecting Through Hike to be the next Blair Witch Project. This was a first time experience for almost everyone involved and we were very cognizant of that fact. In addition to being fun, it was also very grueling and completely draining at times. We were in the woods for 5 straight days, in the beginning of August, pretty much filming nonstop around the clock. The second those packs were on you immediately were drenched with sweat. I never thought a bottle of Febreze would be so coveted. We did get rain one of the days up there and because we were working on such a tight schedule it did screw things up for the rest of the shoot. One of the scenes were rewritten for a new location to try and make up the time, but we dealt with the issues as they came up and made the best of it. Even through all of that, we were able to get a decent amount of the principal photography shot and have an absolute blast doing it. It was amazing.
MM: Sean, give me some insight into the person you believed Blaine Norris to be, prior to Randi Trimble’s death.
SG: Before Randi's death I saw Blaine as a friend and completely normal in every sense of the word. Yeah he was goofy, like to joke, but who doesn't? He was recently married and had just had a baby. At the cast and crew meet and greet I saw him numerous times going over to his wife giving her kiss, smiling at her, hold his son, rubbing his sons head, talking about the baby and sharing stories of what it was like being a new dad. He was completely normal. And he was getting ready to do something that he had been waiting to do for a long time and that was make a movie. Most importantly he was doing it with a supportive cast and crew, a very supportive family (we had two rehearsals at his mom and dad's house, in their backyard. Brian took our headshots for the website there. I even ate dinner with his mom before one of our rehearsals) and most importantly he had a supportive wife. I was excited for him, and you could even say a little envious, because I loved filmmaking and my wife knew I loved filmmaking and that is why she pointed the ad out to me in the paper. This was a very exciting time for everyone involved and you feel energy when we got together.
MM: How well did you know Brian Trimble, and just how involved was he with the making of THROUGH HIKE?
SG: I met Brian twice during preproduction and spoke to him twice during preproduction. The first time I met him was at the cast and crew meet and greet. It was held in a park and he was introduced to everyone as the cinematographer. Blaine joke that he was supposed to make everyone look good. Brian and everyone shared a laugh. I had the opportunity to introduce myself to him just before he left. He made the comment to Blaine and some of the others that his wife "really didn't want me to come here, so I'd better head home."
The next time I saw his was a week or two later, when we had a rehearsal at Blaine's mom and dad's house. Brian was there for pizza and soda and had all of his photography gear set up in the kitchen to take everyone's headshot for the website. We marched through the kitchen like an assembly line and he made small talk with everyone, took our headshots, packed up his gear, stopped outside to say goodbye, while we were rehearsing and left. That was the last time I saw him face to face. The next time I saw him was when his picture was on the frontpage of the newspaper under a headline that said he hired a hitman to kill his wife. Now in between that time Blaine was keeping us updated with Brian and what he was doing behind the scenes, film related, with camera equipment etc. and that he was planning on coming to some rehearsals to test some lighting equipment and gear. Then Blaine told us at one of the later rehearsals that Brian suffered from Multiple Sclerosis and his doctors told him that he wouldn't be able to physically handle the hike. That was a blow for the film, but like every good independent film project we pressed on. At that point as far as we were concerned he was out of the picture. I didn't hear anything else about him until that day in March when Blaine and I were editing my death scene and he told me that Brian's wife had been murdered. I had no idea this had happened because I lived a few counties away and didn't really pay much attention to the news. So I found out about the killing from the lips of the person who did it.
MM: From your standpoint, did it seem as though Brian and Blaine had a real close relationship?
SG: Before the filming of Through Hike and even while the filming was going on, from my standpoint it looked like Blaine and Brian were very good friends. Blaine told us, the cast and crew, on numerous occasions, what Brian's role was going to be in the film. He was supposed to be the cinematographer. We were told by Blaine that Brian was a friend of his, a coworker, they hung out all the time, he helped him write the script to Through Hike, they both liked to hang out and play video games, dungeon's & dragons, were both avid horror movie fans, he was going to be Blaine's right hand man when we were up there filming, and that Blaine and Brian were going to bounce ideas off of one another concerning shots, lighting, and angles etc. I'd say they were very close before the filming. Even when Brian was no longer going to be in the picture, Blaine seemed to take that pretty hard. At the time I thought it was because his good friend had MS and he was deeply concerned for his friend's health and well being.
MM: After all the chaos had unfolded, and the dust had cleared - what did it feel like to know that this aspiring filmmaker that you personally had worked with, was in fact a cold blooded murderer?
SG: Those feelings are something that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I'm not just saying that to be dramatic, but the situation is completely, even to this day, unbelievable. Those feelings are not only mine, but they are the same feelings that everyone who was involved in Through Hike either felt at one time or are still dealing with them. Because of my involvement in Rough Cut I am still dealing with them and will probably do so, in hopefully a much lesser extent in the future, until the day that I die. And it is not just a haunting feeling, it's the feelings of "what could have been done differently", "should I have seen the signs", "did I in some sick way help to perpetuate this"....these are the main things that I struggle with almost daily. Please don't think that I'm in the fetal position in a corner somewhere, rocking back and forth, sucking my thumb, because I am not. I live a very happy, carefree life, and going through this experience and dealing with these feelings can be attributed to that as well. After dealing with this, I make it a point to hug and kiss my wife and kids everyday and tell them that I love them. Life is short and there are some really sick people in this world. I knew one of them for a short period of time.
MM: Do you believe Blaine Norris would have killed again, had he escaped justice in this case?
SG: When Blaine first told me that he was a suspect in this case I couldn't believe it was even remotely possible that he would have been wrapped up in this. This guy was completely concerned for our safety every second we were filming on that trail. He even yelled at some of the crew members for throwing a small rock at a rabbit that was just ahead of us as we were hiking to one of our scene locations. I have said this numerous times before and I will say this again, the Blaine Norris that I knew, the guy that was filming Through Hike on the Appalachian Trail, was NOT the same Blaine Norris that I was reading about in the newspaper and seeing on my television on a nightly basis. Now, sitting here, almost 7 years later, having spent every day of that 7 years doing something related to this story and producing Rough Cut, I absolutely believe 100% that Blaine Norris, had he gotten away with murder in this case would have absolutely killed again. When you read as much I have read about the psychology of killers, hit-men, serial killers, etc. and have the opportunity to interview the detectives that worked for 9 months on this case and see all the evidence that they had on him, he absolutely would have killed again. He told Brian that this killing made him feel "alive", much like the character of Samuel Toone in Through Hike. In the character descriptions of the Through Hike script, Blaine told us that each character in the film represented a different part of his personality. It was easy making the connection of the 5 hikers, but we would always stop there, because Blaine wasn't a killer, we didn't need to go there. But when you find out that he tells Brian that strangling his wife, banging her head into the concrete floor of the garage, and stabbing her 27 times, made him "feel alive", and then you revisit those character description and see the words from Blaine's own mind, that say, "Samuel Toone believed that for every life he took he could extend his spirit's life" it is easy to know that he could kill again. He was truly disturbed.
One of the last emails that Blaine and I exchanged, in February (a month after the murder and a month before I found out about it from him) he, Ryan Baker (our audio guy on Through Hike), and myself were planning an overnight trip, just the three of us, to head back to the trail that coming Spring to get some ambient sounds and empty trail shots for the film. Ryan knew a lot more about the investigation than I did at the time, because he was Blaine's landlord and hung out with him on a regular basis, he went to the police and asked the police if they thought this trip was safe, and the detectives told him if the three of us want to eat dinner in a crowded restaurant together that is one thing, but they wouldn't be alone anywhere with him. Two months after that email Brian confesses and the cops put 24 hour surveillance on Blaine while they build the case against him. Spring comes and goes, we don't make the trip, and he is arrested in September.
MM: Now, let’s talk about ROUGH CUT. I’m extremely curious, do you feel as though ROUGH CUT will provide some strange form of gratification for Blaine. After all, in an indirect and odd sense, Blaine finally got to see his movie made.
SG: I don't think Blaine in a million years would want to see this film be made about him, let alone find gratification in it. I was told by a friend that this film (Rough Cut) being released isn't going to make him happy. Personally I don't think Blaine should have an opinion on the subject. What he did effected so many people on so many different levels. It's beyond his comprehension to understand it. Blaine was even quoted as telling the two detectives that accompanied him in the police cruiser when they drove to the lake where he ditched the 6 inch gerber gator fishing filet knife that he used to murder Randi Trimble, that he would be happy if Through Hike never saw the light of day, but I have documented evidence from Blaine's computer, also given to us by the police to says the direct opposite. He wrote all of us one of those, "If you are reading this I'm either dead or going to prison for life" letters, and in it he told all the cast and crew to let Ryan take over the film and finish it and just have one public screening. In addition he sent me an email, just after he told me about the murder, saying that if he were found guilty for the murder and it came out that his motive had something to do with the film that it would do "wonders" for the marketing of Through Hike. I'll let your readers decide whether or not he would gain some gratification from seeing Rough Cut made versus seeing Through Hike get finished. He is to far gone mentally for me to decide.
MM: I personally felt that ROUGH CUT was an extremely respectful piece of work. The film gave voice to some of Randi’s family, and I think it also provides viewers a chance to see how caring, and strong Randi really was. Has her family had a chance to view the film, and if so, what were their thoughts on ROUGH CUT?
SG: Yes, Nancy has seen the film numerous times. Before we screened it publicly for the first time we sent her a screener to view in her home because we didn't want her watching the movie with 350 people and a media circus that was our initial screening. That day was nuts. We were on the cover of 5 newspapers in 3 counties, made the local news on every affiliate in those counties, and even got a call the day before our screening from Dateline NBC to do a story. Protecting Nancy from that circus was a priority for us. Did she like the movie? I don't know, because how much can you like something that retells the darkest experience of your life? Since then she has seen a few more times publicly and she cries every time. She uses the word "anxious" when she tells people what it is like to see it. Mike Wilson, Randi's uncle, the one in the film that made the pecker comment, has never seen it and has told me he will never see it. When I asked him why he told me, "because I don't need to relive this everyday of my life."
MM: How did her family respond when you and Todd Klick approached them about making this film?
SG: They responded with a lot of trepidation and rightfully so. After a bunch of emails and few face to face meetings they saw that our hearts were in the right place and we weren't going to "glorify" these psychos in anyway and we wanted to tell Randi's story.
MM: You endured the entire THROUGH HIKE experience, you knew Blaine personally, you knew Brian to an extent. To know that this small indie film shoot somehow escalates into a gruesome murder which, in the end, results in a beautifully crafted documentary. And here you are, to an extent in the middle of the entire ordeal. What do you take away from all of this?
SG: I take away a sense of sad accomplishment. It is bittersweet. As bittersweet as it probably gets. Yeah, we spent 2 years producing a documentary film, 4 years getting it distributed, were interviewed on local television affiliates for ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, were on Dateline NBC, shown at the Marche du Film at the Cannes Film Festival, and traveled all over the country, but at the end of the day in order for us to do all that a completely innocent, beautiful, caring, and giving, young woman was brutally strangled, beaten, and stabbed 27 times by a psychopath who had dreams and aspirations of doing the same thing that we just did. The only thing I can think of that we take away from this is bittersweet accomplishment and knowing that if just one person sees this film and is in some way touched by it and it helps them to deal with a situation that they might be in, then maybe it was all worth it. We have decided to donate a portion of any of the proceeds that we get from the film and dvd sales to domestic violence charities in Randi's names. So that is definitely one positive thing that could come out of something so tragic.
MM: What I personally found touching about ROUGH CUT was not just the honesty and straight forward approach behind things, but the fact that Randi Trimble always remains the focus. Two seriously disturbed antagonists are put on full display, yet as a viewer, I never once forgot about the victim. How important was it to you and Todd Klick to keep Randi Trimble in the constant foreground of this picture?
SG: The first conversation I ever had with Todd before we even started production was if we were going to do this we needed to give Randi of voice. We accomplished that by having her present throughout the film. The big pitfall we wanted to avoid is exemplified in just about every crime drama you see on TV. They literally dispose of the victim in the first 5 minutes of the show or movie and the rest of the time is spent on the detective work solving the crime, but when we did this final cut of the film, our editor Chad Haberstroh, did an amazing job of peppering Randi throughout the storyline with a person talking about her or a photo so the viewer is constantly reminded of her presence.
MM: This whole thing is the kind of experience that sticks with you forever. Tell me how has all of this effected your life?
SG: This experience has effected my life in every way imaginable. It has taught me so many lessons. Not that I didn't do this before this experience, but I love life a whole lot more. I didn't have any children before all this started and now I have a son and a daughter. I never take telling them how much I love them or my beautiful wife for granted. Hugs are little tighter. This has also taught me a lesson in accomplishment. Going for what you believe in but having the sense to know when enough is enough. It has also taught me to not be so trusting of people. I thought I was a good judge of character until I met Blaine Norris, but what I read about serial killers and those who murder, they are adept at deception. Lastly this has changed me professionally. I use to work on the exhibition side of the motion picture business before I got into independent film production, now I still produce films independently, but I also teach TV/Media and filmmaking classes to high school students. I don't want them to have any illusions about the proverbial pot of gold or what they will they will see when the bright lights of hollywood shine on them. It's definitely not what they think it will be.
MM: Do you have any new projects in the works, and if so - can you share any details?
SG: I don't have any new film projects in the works and probably won't for some time. I think the next thing I am going to do is write a memoir, yes I know what you are thinking, you are only 31 and you are going to write a memoir, but I think the process will be very cathartic for me and help me heal in some small way. I have become very good at compartmentalizing this experience and getting Rough Cut distributed was a huge mountain for us to climb and this memoir is going to give me a chance to walk down the side of that mountain, leaving everything that I have ever thought about this experience, from Through Hike to Rough Cut, on paper. That is when I will let it go.
MM: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ROUGH CUT?
SG: I think you pretty much covered it as good as anyone could have.
The DVD release features a small handful of quality extras including:
“Her Name Was Randi”
A brief tribute to Randi Trimble and the good natured woman she was. Commentary includes personal statements from Randi’s mother Nancy Chavez, and her best friend Gabriella Bradley among others.
“Psychology of Blaine Norris”
A quick feature that attempts to breakdown the man that Blaine Norris was, as told by friends as well as Detective Kurt Voggenreiter, and psychiatrist Salvatore Cullan among others.
“Phoenix Film Festival Q&A”
Sean Gaston and Todd Klick answer a series of interesting questions during the Phoenix Film Festival screenings.
ROUGH CUT can be ordered through Amazon.com.
For more info visit http://www.myspace.com/roughcutatruestory.