Ahead of the release of his first feature film Drifter, CinemaChords caught up with director Chris von Hoffmann to talk the importance of channeling inner pessimism and anger to create a nihilistic, violent and visually bold piece of cinema.
CinemaChords: You’ve worked in a lot of different roles since you’ve been making films, what’s been your favourite?
Chris von Hoffmann: Directing is definitely the thing I feel like I’m the best at and the one that I enjoy the most.
CC: What experience did you bring over from your work on short films to your first feature Drifter?
CVH: I was very adamant about making as many short films and mistakes as possible, so that I could really understand what I wanted to contribute to movies. I didn’t really know what that was in the beginning. I spent a few years making shorts, so I felt pretty confident in being able to dive into making a feature film.
CC: What sparked your interest in film-making in general?
CVH: I’ve been pretty single-minded about working in film since I was 6 or 7 years old. The first film I saw in the theatre was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and I just loved the magic of it. I don’t know what the specific thing was, but I remember having a camera when I was about 9 and just filming stuff. It was a culmination of a lot of things, but seeing my first movie in the theatres really kicked it off.
CC: What is your first feature film Drifter about?
CVH: It’s about two outlaw brothers in the Californian desert and they’re on the way to hunt down the guy who murdered their father. They take a temporary detour into a small town, because the younger brother needs medical assistance after being beaten pretty badly by a bunch of bandits who try to hijack their car. Once they enter the town they do find medical assistance, but they also find a small family of cannibal savages.
CC: Where did the idea for this story come from?
CVH: It was when I was around 16 that I had the idea for the story and the structure, but it was going to be a town run by a supernatural force instead of cannibals. When I started to develop it a few years later, I changed it to cannibals, because I thought it was a bit more exciting and better for budget. I wanted to make sure that my first movie was a culmination of nostalgia and a deconstruction of different genres and movies that I’ve loved since birth.
CC: What film-makers were your inspiration for such a visually powerful film?
CVH: John Carpenter, Robert Rodriguez and, to a degree, Martin Scorsese. I really love aggressive film-making and I’m a real believer in the power of movies. I wanted to crank things up on all cylinders.
CC: Was this something that grew organically as you started filming or was it your original intention to make something this bold and violent?
CVH: I am quite a pessimistic and angry person, so during filming I really wanted to get this out of my system. I wanted to make a film as nihilistic as possible. I wanted it to be very mean-spirited and to give it a very violent tone. It’s a post-apocalyptic movie, so it’s essentially a cold exercise in violence. I wanted to crank up the cynicism of it to really do it justice.
CC: Despite it being this kind of cold, cynical film it also has an element of comedy that takes that edge off. Was this important?
CVH: Yeah. I did want to balance things out a little bit. I wanted it to have this weird sense of humour that may not connect with a lot of people, but I think it’s funny. I really like twisted humour where you’re not sure whether to laugh at it or not, because it’s uncomfortable.
CC: There are a lot of contrasts in Drifter, particularly with the comedy versus the violence/horror and the dark/bright visuals in the film, but the characters are arguably two different types of villains. Why didn’t you choose to focus on the typical idea of straight-cut good vs evil?
CVH: I liked the idea of not being sure who to root for. You’re just going on this deranged ride through this story and that’s the way that I just see things normally. You don’t really need to put a label on things all the time. I wanted the characters to be a bit more ambiguous.
CC: Why was it important to have this story set in a post-apocalyptic environment?
CVH: The setting is very ambiguous and I didn’t really want to establish or exposition exactly whether it’s taking place in the future or in the Californian desert now. I wanted to create my own setting that is almost like it’s taking place in a dream. I wanted it be like it’s swimming through my brain, rather than putting a label on its setting or saying that it’s a post-apocalyptic movie. It can be wherever or whenever you think it’s taking place.
Drifter will be released in cinemas on 24th February and VOD and iTunes on 28th February 2017. Check out the awesome trailer below.