March 16 - March 19 , 2023

Interview | Safe House 1618 – Calvin T. Shepherd

fdiff March 04, 2022 17 min read

Safe House 1618

Sir, first of all, tell us something about your love for movies. Do you remember the first movie you watched? Or the movie that created the most amount of impact in your life?


I can almost still see the movie theater my parents took me to, the popcorn, and the opening scene of Toy Story 2 when I was just 3 years old. It’s a very foggy memory, but that’s the first time I remember going to the movie theater. I’ve been hooked on that experience ever since. It’s just so addicting going to the theater. My Dad knew I was a night owl and he’d always give me movie suggestions before he went to bed when I was in high school. I watched a lot of movies with him that really affected me, but it was the ones he’d suggest there, and I’d watch alone, that really got me. I remember when he told me to watch Martin Scorsese’s The Departed for the first time. It hit me like a freight train. I had never seen anything like it. After that he suggested Tarantino movies, which I watched all in order. Reservoir Dogs also took me by total surprise. I remember when I discovered Kevin Smith’s Clerks on my own and realized we, anyone really, could really do this. Could really make movies on our own. I don’t think any one movie has had an impact on me like none other. 


Tell us something about your love for thrillers as it is evident from the movie you have made that thriller offers some kind of a motivation for you as it does for many.


I think this love started early. When I was in middle school, we were assigned a writing assignment, we were to write from the perspective of a civil war soldier every week during class and after some of us would be able to stand up and read them out loud. I wrote the most grotesque and brutal stories and when it was time to read, my hand would pop up above everyone else’s. I enjoyed watching the other students go into shock. I also love movies that make me feel uncomfortable and make me think. Stories that seem real even in the fantastical elements of the narrative. I think we can learn a lot about ourselves and our world from how those types of stories play out. 


What were the movies you grew up watching? Did you prefer a genre, specifically the thriller genre? Who were your favorite directors, still are? 


I was obsessed with thrillers, crime thrillers, horror, action movies. Really anything that made me feel something. I was always a big Batman fan so I watched all of the movies related to that character, whether it be the directors or actors who were involved, which is where I found a lot of great cinema. Tarantino was the first time I really knew what a director was. My Dad said, “This is a Tarantino movie.” Like it belonged to him, because it does. And that’s when I knew that’s kind of what I wanted to do. I learned a lot from him about how to love movies. Tarantino’s love for film is just contagious. The Shining blew my mind early. My mom actually showed me that one. It got so under my skin. Kubrick is something beyond a director. He’s saying more than any of them have ever tried to say and doing more with the medium that we can even perceive as possible. I mean, I see 2001 as more a philosophy piece than just a film. Argento showed me how to turn a film into a nightmare. Compare Argento films to the enigma that is random, horrific nightmares you have at night… there’s not much difference. Only he can do that. I love Fincher and Hitchcock and DePalma and Joon-Ho and Leone. If I had a week, I couldn’t name all the directors that influenced me. We’d be here all day long.


Could you recommend us a few of your favorite movies? Like your top 10 movies of all time. 


All time? I don’t know.  I can try. I think the best “movie” of all time, just pure popcorn fun and amazing performances and just a straight up cool movie is Tombstone. Val Kilmer gives the coolest performance in the history of movies. I’ll argue that until the day I die. My favorite movie to talk about and watch with Jasmine, and I think inspires our collaboration, is David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She can tell you everything about that franchise and I love hearing her talk about it. Also, most bad ass opening credits ever. My favorite horror movies are John Carpenter’s Halloween, The Shining, and Dario Argento’s Deep Red. The music in Deep Red, honestly all three of those movies, is just unreal and so frickin’ cool. Comfort food movie would be Long Shot with Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron. I think that movie is just so funny and so heart-warming. I feel like I really understand Rogan’s character in that movie. My favorite Batman movie is Mask of the Phantasm, but I think that’s liable to change next week. When I was in high school my comfort movie was 30 Minutes or Less. I think that film is underrated and hilarious. Those are ones I return to often, but I like watching multiple new films a week and learning from them everytime. I could never bring up every movie that inspires me.


Tell us something about your specific experience of making the movie? Did you feel at any moment that you wanted to give up as there was a lot of struggle and toil involved from your side? It is important to acknowledge your perseverance and determination behind making the movie so we would like to congratulate you from our side.


Making this movie was the biggest struggle ever. I was working long hours putting it together at a sand and gravel pit. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. And we just had very little time to make it all work. We were all exhausted and just going 100 miles per hour for the two week straight shooting schedule. It was exhausting. But it was so worth it. And we did have more fun than we ever had before. There’s a fun shot in the film where the characters enter the safe house for the first time. We opened the window and put a slider through the window into the living room. One camera operator inside and one outside as we slide the camera through the wall watching them enter the house. We probably shot that shot 50+ times. Everyone was laughing and having so much fun. But, what we didn’t realize was there was a hole right underneath the window. So, one of the tripod legs for the slider wouldn’t touch the ground. I did all 50 plus takes with my foot holding up the tripod leg. By the end of it, my foot was numb and my leg was cramping… but it was so much fun, I didn’t even care. 


Now coming back to your movie, what was your thought behind making a movie gyrating around the theme of entrapment? Was there a specific inspiration or were they numerous?


I was working on a film in March when the world fell around me. I got laid off and was stuck inside for months not knowing what was going to happen. I really wanted the film to play into the fears we had for the last year without being about the specific things we went through. I thought trapping criminals in a safe house for an extended period of time was the best way to do that. And to have a hit man who would find them if they left the house, follow them home and kill their whole family… it just felt so close to what we knew. 


As you have claimed, a substantial part of your movie dealt with the theme of lockdown, the claustrophobia experienced by many across the globe. How important was it for you to bring out the same out of the actors so that the audience found the feeling more relatable than ever?


Well, each character relates to a different mode people, including myself, went into for the lockdown. Matison Card’s character, Lee, is sick and locked in a room by herself and just in so much pain and if she gets up, she feels worse. She can feel better for moments and then it just hits her again. That was my interpretation of having Covid. Jesse Davis’s character, Craig, just sits on the couch, watching the same movies over and over again, and getting high the entire time. Brittney Carpenter’s character, Jamie, just wants to leave. Just wants to see the people she had in her life before everything changed and is absolutely bored and can’t find anything worth doing. Jasmine Day’s character, Joe, is paranoid. Looking out the window every second of every day, plagued by nightmares of what could happen. They each lived purely in a mood of quarantine. It had to legitimately feel like if they left the house, they would die. And then I had to deliver on that promise. And even if they weren’t killed by the virus, the inhuman killer they were being hunted by… the vast corruption would find them.


In a thriller, the sound, the dialogues are of paramount significance. Do you think a lot of thinking goes behind sound designing and writing the script of a movie of this type? 


I can’t really speak to the specifics of the sound design. I’m lucky to work with an incredible editor, Eli Solt, who can really nail down those sounds even when we aren’t working with the best of technology yet. We definitely were focused on certain sounds, like having the tv being a low, quiet volume when the killer was approaching Jesse Davis from behind and the role music would play in the film, especially when it kept certain characters from hearing their death coming. In something like this, it’s important for the audience to believe the characters and for it to not feel scripted. I allow for a certain amount of freedom from my actors. They know the characters so well by the time they get on set, my words might not fit them as well. They know what the dialogue needs to get across and what needs to be said, how that is said is really more up to them. And they follow my dialogue pretty well sometimes, but other times go off in a different direction and the movie is usually all the better for it. 


Tell us something about the performances in the movie? Could you share some hilarious anecdotes from the sets? Can you also discuss the significance of expressions in movies that are thrilling, mysterious or horrific? 


I love every performer that worked for me on this film. They are such powerful and beautiful people through and through. The first person I cast was Matison Card. I had just met her at a film festival and she was so eager. She watched my film Forgery and it seemed like she just really wanted to work with me. And I really wanted to work with her. Though she’s nothing like her, when writing Lee, I could only see Matison. And I think I was right in that choice. Lee is such a tough and vicious character and that is all thanks to the outstanding and powerful performance from Matison Card. Matison brought Brittney Carpenter to me. I had only seen her in one other thing, a short film which the standout and most impressive thing about, far and away, was Brittney Carpenter. And I only met her in person on the first day on set. And I was blown away by her performance and I’m happy to have met her. For the roles of No. 1, Ronan Kelly, and Craig, I was playing the movie with Ryan Fredericks, Jesse Davis, and Cody Alban in each of the roles. Finally I landed on Fredericks as No. 1, Davis as Craig, and Alban as Kelly. Which ultimately I think was the right choice. Though, those three actors can do just about anything you ask them to do, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they could also kill any role you give them. Cody Alban I had met through our assistant cameraman and colorist and really close friend of mine, Garrett Brady. Garrett had just made a film called Gumshoe, which played at the Horsetooth Int. Film Festival. Cody was a standout in that film. Garrett, being the excellent filmmaker he is, and Cody, being the performer he is, they really found something together there. And I was so excited to bring Cody on. It was actually Garrett who told me he saw Cody in Ronan’s role over the other two and the more I played that in my head, the more I agreed. Jesse Davis and I are good friends who came close to working together over and over again, but the world kept getting in the way. I told Jesse I was working on something and he instantly wanted in. I told him about Craig and how Craig basically never moved off the couch… and he just wanted it so bad. I’m glad, too. Because he was spectacular in that role and just so funny and so relatable. Ryan Fredericks and I had worked closely together before. And I knew, kind of, from the beginning, I wanted him as No. 1. But Ryan is such a spectacular dialogue performer, I was nervous to bring him a role which has absolutely zero dialogue. No. 1 doesn’t even make a sound until the end of the film. But as far as expressions go, there’s a scene where he’s unmasked and holds the phone up to his ear… and the entire shot… never blinks. And I didn’t even notice this until I watched the movie. It was incredible. Ryan will go places I can’t even believe and he’s just amazing. Then we had Randy Rochford as the Doctor who only got one scene in the final cut but was just fantastic. He came on set and killed it.  I love Randy. Andrew Hook who played Senator Kelly. Andrew auditioned for another film I was working on a year prior and I called him up for this role. Andrew is English and you can’t even tell with this role. His accent and demeanor is just so evil, in the best way. He was incredible to work with. Michael Puchino came in to help Senator Kelly find No. 1 as Malcolm. He was great to work with, bringing in the perfect amount of nervousness to that character who really seemed scared of No. 1 and what he experienced with him.  Maddie Steele came on for one day to play Joe’s friend and in one day just stole all of our hearts. The panic she put into her character was so gut wrenching and her chemistry with Jasmine Day was absolutely perfect. Wyatt Jordan who was also our composer played the Clerk perfectly and Emma Gollob who was also our costume designer who played Sarah Helms on TV used her journalism experience to really bring those scenes to another level. 

And then there’s my closest collaborator, Jasmine Day, as our main character Joe Holt. Jasmine is such an amazing performer and she is there for me through every stage of the process, a debt I can never repay. She helped with Safe House 1618 from page one.  Jasmine has a way of capturing people’s hearts when performing and I was so, so blown away by her just in the first scene. The first scene we shot with her had zero dialogue or anything really. All she had to do was pick up a notebook and go look out a window. And I was just… captivated immediately. She disappeared and became Joe completely. After I called cut, I called her into the other room and she thought she was doing a bad job, she tells me now, but I took her into the other room and just gave her a hug. Because… I don’t know. I was so happy and so impressed. She is incredible and I’m so happy I get to work with her and I can’t wait to do it again, because there is no one like Jasmine Day. 

But I love all my cast, as I said before. They all are incredible and just the most lovely and beautiful people.


The movie primarily focuses on the harrowing nature of forceful isolation. This is a problem even if you are not considering circumstances. Most of the time it is the freedom we seek, a breath of fresh air. Can you shed some light on this? 


I mean, no one likes being put in a box. Period. Human nature is if we are told we can’t do something, we kind of just want to do it more. The moment Lee said, “you leave, you die,” someone was going to leave. 

But that’s what the next generation of filmmakers are going to do to the industry. So many reviews today are so caught up in what you “can” and “cannot” do. As if there are rules to what we do. I mean yeah, there’s the basic rules you learn for your early stuff, the basics. But those rules are literally designed to be broken. We are put in this position where the “perfectly correct” Spider-Man movie is over two and a half hours and film festivals promote independent films with something to actually say and forcing them down into a box.

Blockbusters are pop music, and can be good, but streamlined, focused on their success by saying what should be said at the right moment. 

Independent film is rock and fucking roll. We should be letting the music take us. And I’ll admit, I followed the rules on this one. Let people convince me it needed to be shorter. 

Don’t get me wrong, darlings should be killed and cuts should be made for the betterment of the story. 

But I’m tired of this put films in a box, time constraint, follow the rules bullcrap. Playing it safe should be reserved for the people who made it and making the boring ass films we see at the multiplex lately so they don’t lose any of their precious money.

Us young filmmakers should be raw and unrelenting. We should take advantage of all the online film festivals and opportunities to get our names out there and use social media to help with that. 

Take risks.

Break the rules. 

Do it differently. 

The box shouldn’t even exist. Screw the box. 

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