Highlander: The Watcher Interview Jeremy Orr

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Interview with Jeremy Orr

August 28th, 2015

JS: You are credited on IMDb as Writer on ten productions, Director and Editor on eight, Producer on seven, and I gather that there are more that were not counted. How long have you been involved in film-making?

JO: Oh, I dabbled with it a little bit starting in middle-school, 7th or 8th grade. The run of films listed on there I probably started making right out of college. Probably around '99.

JS: The first ones they listed as out in 2003. Monsters on Friday...

JO: Yeah, that was the first one that screened at any festivals. There was some other stuff. '99 was when I started working with the group of people that have done most of the movies with me.

JS: Yes, I noticed consistency, there.

JO: Well, it's a small town, so....

JS: How did Storymark come into existence as your banner?

JO: It was literally just a word I came up with in college, I suppose the notion was to make a mark through story-telling.

JS: How many people in Storymark?

JO: Officially it's just me. I've got a local business license, and I'm going to form an LLC for the distribution of the DVD. But I've got a group of six to eight, maybe fifteen or sixteen people in my local pool that I can generally call up when I need them. Within reason, you know. There's not a huge film-making community around here. It's starting to build up. They're all a lot younger than me now, too. It's starting to develop around here, but for a long time we were about it.

JS: The Storymarkfilms.com redirects to The Watcher Facebook page: Did you have a website before? Do you have plans to make one?

JO: I've put together a test-site. I was waiting until we were closer to launching the movie. Kind of relying on Facebook at this point.

JS: It's worked for me. That's where I found out about you.

JS: I noticed that Thomas La Rue is in every short on the list. He seems to be a willing and versatile actor in your productions. He's been a monster, helper, cold but sympathetic (Frozen). Now playing a Watcher of possibly villainous intentions. What is he like to work with?

JO: Oh, great! Thomas and I have been friends since we were kids. I started hanging out with Tom when I started high school. We've been friends for a long time. It's definitely always fun to work with him. I've pretty much written something for him into everything I've done. Auto Care wasn't one that I directed, my friend George Thomas did, but Thomas wasn't in the original version of that. It was done for a 48-hour film challenge, but we eventually did a little extra opening sequence that he was in, so....

JS: Between The Watcher, the lovely profiles and short bits on every one of your characters that you've put up in the Facebook page, it's clear you are a deep and abiding fan of Highlander. How did you get the opportunity to sign up for this, and have the first part of The Watcher on the Highlander Season 2 Blu Ray set?

JO: It was actually started by Andrew Modeen. He's the one that made me aware of it. For the season 2 Blu Ray they put out a call, they had asked for fan-made documentaries about the Watchers. Andrew went ahead and put one together that is on the blu ray, that was made up of footage from the show, a montage with a little voiceover explaining their history. He already had that angle covered and I couldn't think of anything else to do. It was a documentary of the Watchers, so I figured why not do a little five-minute Watchers' short. They'd asked for documentaries up to five minutes. I didn't do a documentary, I did a five-minute short. It was basically a sword-fight in which the Watcher had to face a choice about whether or not to become involved. Because that's the main question for Watchers.

We did that. They put it on the Blu Ray, and then I said "If you want any more, we can make more for the other sets." And Davis Panzer went "Sure, go ahead. We'll put 'em on there if you make 'em." And so we ended up making three more episodes that got a little bit longer in length. The first one was five minutes; the second one was ten; then the third and fourth were thirty minutes each. And then they decided to indefinitely postpone the Blu Rays. Basically, they'll come along whenever the remake happens. Until then, no Blu Rays. So, they gave us authorization to reassemble it into a feature; we went ahead and shot about 20, 25 minutes of additional scenes, to fill it out a little bit, turn it into a feature whereas before it'd been very clearly structured as an episodic story. So, we needed to play with the structure a little bit to turn it into a feature structure.

JS: How long since you started this? As the movie as opposed to the five-minute feature?

JO: Altogether it's been just over five years. It's not been constant work. We did a little bit here, then there was a break of months and months after the first episode, before we even knew that we were going to do any more. Originally we were tied to those Blu Ray releases, we had planned our schedules around that, and so it was spaced out over several months. A year and a half just to do the other episodes, and then that got delayed, then the decision to span it out into a feature added more time. The film is done! I have to finish a couple fine-tuning things for the DVD.

JS: Did Davis Panzer set any restrictions upon your production?

JO: Not exactly. They asked to review an outline of our story before we wrote anything and then wanted to see the script before we shot, signed off on both of those; that was no problem. I had no particular restrictions. They did say we couldn't use any actors who had appeared on the series.

JS: How sad! At least Andrew got away with getting one in.

JO: We tried! Andrew got Rich Ridings narrating the trailer for his film. He had tried to get both Liz Gracen and Tracy Scoggins to do a little cameo. I tried to get Adrian and Jim Byrnes but we didn't have any luck. They had asked us not to include them... I was going to try and sneak them in. (he snickers)

JS: We know nothing!

JO: Just because of the direction of my film, I know they asked Andrew not to touch on the Watchers.

JS: Yes, he said that.

JO: He and I have been talking since long before this started and we've stayed in touch. Both of our productions have happened pretty concurrently and we've had a lot of communication. I'm doing a lot of effects work for him.

JS: You're very good at effects.

JO: Thanks!

JS: I know this because I saw your productions. (he laughs) And you've only gotten better since they began.

JO: I've been teaching myself as I go.

JS: Were the logistics of making The Watcher a longer production very difficult?

JO: Especially once I started expanding it into a larger production because both of my lead actors had had children. Jason and Heath both had little girls during the production of this movie...

JS: I did notice strollers in some of the production photos.

JO: Yeah, that was Jason and his daughter, Avalon. And both of them changed jobs, so scheduling with them was very difficult a lot of the time.

JS: Were any of the parts very difficult to cast?

JO: Not really, just because I wrote most of it knowing who I had available. So most of the parts were written for the actors, to an extent. We did auditions for a couple of the roles. The female lead, Tala Koonce Doucet, I met her at an audition for a different film. She was reading for a horror film that never came together. I saw her there and asked her to read later for this role.

JS: I now can recognize Michael Jason Chandler very easily. He played a drug addict in Minotaur's Garden; he was the tormented protagonist in Frozen; and many others. He also had very short hair. Did he grow his hair long for the part of Ian Campbell, or is that fake? It looked very nice.

JO: He used to keep his hair long most of the time. He would cut it periodically for work if he had to. He's had it long since he was a teenager. Since he had a child he cut it short because she was ripping it out. It was probably about shoulder-length when we started. It gets a fair bit longer over the course of the film because we worked on it for so long.

JS: I really admired Mr. Jeremy Wurzbach. He has excellent posture, he poses very well, he seemed to handle a blade very well. I noticed in the Behind the Scenes on youtube that he is very fast. I got a good laugh over Michael going "Look at all my scratches! See? One, two, three..." Were there any injuries on set that required more than a quick check?

JO: No, not really. Oh, I'm sorry, that's wrong. There was one. While we were rehearsing a scene, I smacked Heath, our lead Watcher, right between the eyes with a PVC pipe and split him right open. That required... I don't think he got stitches, just butterfly bandages, but he's got a little scar from that.

JS: Well, legendary directors are supposed to be fairly violent.

JO: (laughs delightedly) I accomplished that, but other than that - and that was entirely on me! - I should not have been involving myself in the fight choreography. I was trying to get across an idea, and then I should've just found the words rather than grabbing the pipe.

JS: About the fight choreography. In Highlander they had two or three professional fight choreographers training several of the actors. What did you guys have?

JO: Primarily it was just Michael Jason. It's a bit of a cheat. We choreographed the fights less as genuine combat and more like dance. Jason and Jeremy (Wurzbach) both have a dance background. They have done performances together, so we approached it from that angle. Jason has had some sword-training; some martial arts, more kickboxing. We drew on that. For the particular stunt where I hit Heath in the head, I actually brought in a police officer to help work that one out.

JS: Eh? As a trainer. And he's like "You, I have to arrest you for assault!" And Heath goes "No no no, I'm not pressing charges." (laughter from both of us)

JS: Speaking of Heath Cates, how did you start working with him?

JO: Heath is one of the more recent additions to our filmmaking group - I've only known him about 7 years! He got involved with our local filmmaker's group after he moved back to New Mexico from LA, where he had done some small roles on shows like Desperate Housewives and Days of our Lives. He still does acting, but has transitioned to full-time fitness training and bodybuilding.

JS: How did you choose your locations for filming? You live there, so I guess you know all the places you can go.

JO: Yeah, we used just about every location around here. There're a couple of small towns in this area around the larger city of Farmington. We pretty much used all of the interesting locations we could find. It's a lot of just farmland and sandstone around here. We also did some of the exterior city shots down in Albuquerque. We actually used a couple of the same locations that they used for Breaking Bad. (cackle)

JS: How did you go about getting permission to film in some of these areas?

JO: (laughs) It depended! In private locations, houses, we would talk to the owners. Generally with public spaces we just went for it. Just about everything we did down in Albuquerque we just did guerrilla-style, we just ran in and did it.

JS: I did notice hikers wandering by one set.

JO: (light laugh, then thinks hard) What would that be?

JS: It was the riverside... when they were hunting the page or whatever he's supposed to be.

JO: Oh, in the "behind the scenes" stuff? Yeah, that was a public park. City locations. If we did anything that involved weapons, which obviously there were a few, we would definitely inform the police and local businesses just so we didn't scare anyone or get shot, um - We've had some interesting run-ins in the past if we didn't call the police, so I've learned my lesson. It was fun! One of the fight-scenes we did, we notified the police ahead of time and it was a slow day for them, so we had an audience of police officers the whole day; they just took turns, three or four of them at a time parked right outside the perimeter of our shooting area. They would just watch us do this fight scene and then the next couple would swap out.

JS: What were the most difficult scenes to film?

JO: The final fight scene that we have, which you probably haven't really seen yet, that was probably the most technically complicated just because we had a lot more stylized lighting than we usually do. And it was a fight scene with a couple of different pairs of people and a couple of different locations around the set and we tried to keep those orchestrated, so that was probably the most logistically difficult. The flashbacks were a little bit difficult to do just in pulling together the resources. We did three flashback scenes. The Western scene, one that's in Medieval Europe, and then one in California in the 1930s.

JS: Andrew mentioned that you lucked upon old cars to use for that California shot. So that wasn't a green-screen car that one guy's firing an ancient machine gun from...

JO: We did both. We did have a trailer to hook the cars up to to shoot from and really the cars couldn't drive very fast. So really, most of the driving stuff in that scene was on a green screen. But just for the driving. Everything when they're not actually in motion we still did on location. I try to avoid green screen as much as I can. It's definitely very useful for all kinds of stuff, but....

JS: What was your favorite scene to film?

JO: (delighted laughter) Probably the flashbacks! I mean, especially the Western one. I really, really enjoyed doing the Western flashback because I liked the way it looked. I got to do the sword fight. I enjoy doing the sword fights any time, regardless. You know, it feels very Highlander-y, when you're doing a flashback scene. Those were probably the most fun that I had.

JS: Don't forget to zoom in on the eye! (we laugh)

JO: We do a few of those! I have a different - I played around with a couple of other visual cues for the Buzz just to give it my own "spin". I do have a couple of those "pull in on the eyes" bits. Basic hallmarks. I also give it my own feel!

JS: How did you select music for your film? You said you have a lot of people you always work with...

JO: Honestly, the music is mostly pre-made stuff we've purchased. My production partner, George, the director of photography and co-producer, he's a commercial producer locally on his own. It's mostly stock-music that he's bought, and I take it and remix it, rearrange it, pull different instruments out. Lay in different things to give it a little more unique feel, but the music for the most part isn't entirely original for this. There are a couple of songs - rock songs, hard rock, heavy metal songs - in the film that are from what was a local band. They're no longer around here; they're now in Austin.

JS: Are they still together?

JO: No, it was really just one guy with a couple of friends that filled in on instruments, but he wrote and performed all of the parts. He's now operating under a different name, with a different band there in Austin.

JS: Andrew Modeen hinted that you would be appearing in Dark Places as a character you play in The Watcher. What can you tell me about that?

JO: Yeah, I have a small part in The Watcher. It was just a glorified director cameo. Another reason I enjoy the flashbacks a lot, the Western flashback in particular is the one I'm in.

JS: It made me laugh. That was so cute! "Have you ever used one of these?" "Aah!"

JO: Yeah, that was a fun little bit to do! So, I have that in the movie and I have one other little scene, very briefly, in The Watcher. If you've read, I have a Watcher profile for my character on the Facebook page.

JS: I did. He's very glorified. (JO breaks out laughing) "Yes, I am the coolest Immortal ever."

JO: I wouldn't say that.

JS: I read that profile, man.

JO: Yeah, I get sent to investigate something, and that's how I get dropped into Andrew's film. Very briefly and it was just a cameo done via green-screen.

Jeremy Orr's various productions can presently be found on his Youtube Channel, Storymark

and on his IMDb Page.

Highlander: Dark Places Interview with Andrew Modeen

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