The Panic Button crew was kind enough to share some one-on-one time with all you freakish Bidites, and I’m more than happy enough to see that the masses get a good look at our conversations, as they’ve proven nearly as intriguing as the film itself (okay, maybe I’m stretching that, but there’s some great info provided by those involved first hand just the same!). To get things started lets take a trip into the mind of Panic Button scribe, Frazer Lee…
Editor’s Note: An exclusive interview with PB director Chris Crow will be smacking you in the face very soon!
Matt Molgaard/Horrorbid: Aside from the obvious elements of today's society that speak through the picture, what was the inspiration behind this story?
Frazer Lee: The idea behind Panic Button was to reflect the way many of us have become dependent on technology to our peril. As the screenplay evolved, we actually found a lot of the dramatic beats and thematic concerns were happening in the real world of social media. And a lot of the initial inspiration in shaping the characters and story came from the project's underlying intent: how do we tell a thrilling story with some twists and turns, interesting characters, and social context within the constraints of a modest budget? I believe any film project that remains true to its original intent will actually find its strengths lie within its limitations.
HB: Alligator is a great concept in the sense that viewers are dealing with a faceless villain. Were you ever concerned that an antagonist who poses (seemingly) little immediate physical threat, due to a lack of presence, wouldn't win viewers over?
FL: Not at all, in my view less can be so much more. One of my all-time favorite films is Robert Wise's The Haunting, where the source of the peril is largely unseen, only hinted at and becomes all the more terrifying as a result. If we're talking movie villains, perhaps Alligator is the bastard offspring of Max Cady, HAL-9000 and Jigsaw. And, like his victims, he too hides behind an avatar. He's the best kind of psychopath - a satirical, poetic psychopath.
HB: You really tap into some realistic elements with this story. Just about everyone seems to paint themselves in a different light when it comes to online identities, do you feel as though the ability to relate to the honesty of people's deceptions will hit home with fans, especially those who invest a lot of time online, frequenting social network sites?
FL: I hope it hits home, and if so I'm sure some will feel a little uncomfortable about it, while others may feel superior so it works on both levels. Panic Button is intended to hold up a mirror in that respect and not be too 'preachy'. It would be hypocritical of a film (and a screenwriter) that has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed to be too moralistic in tone about it. If we use social networking sites, the film kind of makes us complicit and I think that throws up a lot of interesting moral questions and dilemmas and hopefully gets people involved in the movie and talking about it.
HB: I asked Chris a similar question: were you at all concerned with the limited locations featured in the picture? Placing the action on a charter plane leaves a lot of burden on the actors, were you afraid at any point that the story may fall flat due to any conceivable weak links in the cast, or the short attention spans of potential audiences?
FL: The limitations posed by the 'bottle show' nature of a plane-bound scenario undoubtedly put all the pressure on the actors, but our 'warts and all' approach to characterisation made a positive out of a negative I think. Early drafts had a 'ground story' to cut to, but these scenes became the viral video stuff our main characters witness while on the plane. It harkens back to that 'limitations being strengths' thing I mentioned earlier, because the focus becomes your main characters and their story becomes the backbone of the narrative structure. The cast is amazing in this film, really, and I appreciate the work they did to make these characters become 'real' people on screen. It is unrealistic to expect to 'like' all the characters in a movie, I mean how many flights have you been on where you wished you were sitting next to someone else? By the end of Panic Button, we realize that person might not be who or what they are claiming to be and that becomes the dramatic focus.
HB: Panic Button has been my big surprise for the year thus far. The storytelling is about as close to air tight as can be, i imagine crafting this tale must have been a very challenging process. Tell us about the writing process: How long did this tale germinate before it was prepared to head into production, and what kind of problems did you face during the process of penning the story?
FL: Thank you! It's great to hear you felt that way. It was a challenge, like every script is really, and some really cool and interesting stuff came out as a result of those challenges. The producers knew me from my short films, which I also directed, and based on a spec feature script of mine they'd seen they showed me a treatment for Panic Button (originally named 'All2gethr' for the fictitious social networking site featured in the film) which was just a few pages long but contained early sketches of the main characters and situations. The first couple of drafts were sandbox stuff really, just seeing what worked and what didn't. Jo became the main character around halfway through the process, originally it was Max and at one point it was suggested Gwen become the main focus. Although it is very much an ensemble piece, there was a necessity to hang the structure on one of the four characters and out of that process came the discovery of the film's final twist. I always find those journeys while writing quite fascinating and enjoy the 'eureka' moments that crop up along the way. The screenplay had time to develop well - I worked on it for the best part of a year, on and off. True horror stories about Internet abuses kept coming out during the process and one day the term 'Panic Button' came up. I jokingly suggested it would be a cool name for a sequel and the producers jumped on it and changed the name of the film. It became the focus of Alligator's tragic back story. I love it when happy accidents like that happen! When the script was as tight as it could be, the team was up-and-running and shooting in Cardiff.
HB: Panic Button feels like a film that could certainly spawn some sequels. Is that an avenue you'd contemplate exploring?
FL: If the demand was there, sure! I do this stuff for a living so it all depends on the deal to be brutally honest. Story-wise, it is a big bad plugged-in world out there and there is certainly no shortage of dark stuff to explore if there were to be a sequel or sequels.
HB: From what I've seen and read thus far, the reception has been great. Are you surprised at all by viewers' response, and how gratifying is it to see that people are genuinely enjoying the film?
FL: It is tremendous to see the film going down so well with audiences. Let me tell you sitting with a paying audience at the World Premiere was such a buzz, the response was electric. As a screenwriter, you let go of a project twice. The first time is when the screenplay is handed over to the producers and they go make a film from it. The second time is when the finished film is handed over to audiences. Both scenarios can cause severe hair loss, but in this case both times have been brilliant and energizing experiences. I've had to pinch myself when reading reviews (such as yours!) as they've been so, so positive and have just 'got' the movie and the spirit of what the whole Panic Button ride is all about.
HB: The crew behind this film did an excellent job, and as you watch the film it's evident that things really "clicked" between the technical crew and the onscreen performers. Will we see you and Chris working together again in the future?
FL: Chris and his cast and crew did an amazing job, no doubt about it. I finally got to meet a lot of them at the Film4 FrightFest World Premiere in London, which was a great pleasure. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what's next from Chris. As to us working together again, who knows? That's what's great about the freelance life; you never know what's coming next!
HB: How important do you feel the message of the picture is, and how do you think today's audience will respond to it? For that matter, do you think your typical social networker will be able to view this picture and admit to themselves that, no, nothing is exactly as it seems online, and that everyone may be a little guilty of stretching the truth to benefit how they are perceived away from the internet?
FL: Personally speaking, I'd like for people to take away from the picture whatever they find there. If it causes people to question the potential power these social networks have over our privacies, and us, then great. If it resonates on a more personal level, then hey that's great too. If for some it just works as a bit of a horror/thriller that provides some chills and spills then that's more than many filmmakers can hope for so that's all good too. On the one hand, the film can give us pause for thought if we are using social networks - about our own actions and pretensions, and those of other people. On the other hand it can perhaps remind us not to be too high-and-mighty about these moral issues, lest we turn into self-righteous monsters like Alligator!
HB: One pick; favorite horror film of 2011 thus far?
FL: Oh, Panic Button of course :-)
For more Panic Button information, visit http://www.panicbuttonmovie.com. Still awaiting a stateside, the DVD and Blu-ray hits UK shelves on the 7th of November; for our friends across the pond, the film is now available for pre-order on http://www.Amazon.com. You can also learn more out Frazer Lee at http://frazerlee.com