For the Sake of Vicious premiered at 2020’s Fantasia Fest to a wave of positive reviews praising the brutal, bare-knuckle brawl of a flick for its tenacity and high entertainment value (read my full review here). I had the chance to speak with co-directors Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen, who also wrote the film, produced, edited, composed the music, served as production designers, and — as I learned — stood in as two of the film’s many masked thugs.
Read on to learn about For the Sake of Vicious, heavy action, hands-on filmmaking, and unintentionally on-the-nose set pieces.
Kelly McNeely: I see you guys are you calling from Cambridge [Ontario, Canada]? I grew up in downtown Galt, so I know the area, that’s awesome!
Gabriel Carrer: You grew up like literally 10 minutes away from where we shot this movie.
Kelly McNeely: Small world! I don’t often get to talk to people that have filmed in that area.
Gabriel Carrer: Yeah, you can literally say they shot this in my hometown.
Reese Eveneshen: Yeah, we were right off of Eagle Street.
Kelly McNeely: That’s great! So what was the genesis of For the Sake of Vicious? Where did this movie come from?
Reese Eveneshen: Do you want to take it away, Gabe?
Gabriel Carrer: Oh, god, you’re really good at explaining this but I’ll try it. So, Reese and I have always been mallrats. You know, we’d always go to the mall and hang out in the food court, legitimate mallrats. Like, you know, the movie Mallrats. That is us. Not was us — it’s not past tense — it is legit present tense. And right now the mall — the food court — is closed down and we’re having to deal with that. [laughs]
Anyways, so for the last, I don’t know, years and years and years, we go to the food court and we pitch ideas together. And we were always very supportive of both our films. We were always kind of even in each other’s films, or helping out in some little ways. You know, it could be a little graphic, I would rig up for Reese or it would be me trying to convince Reese to, you know, be the opening actor in the movie with tons of lines of dialogue and he would do it. Reese is actually a really good actor, by the way.
And so, I think it was one of those days where we were in the food court and we were just throwing ideas back and forth to each other. And I mentioned some idea that was completely different than what the script now turned out to be. But, you know, it was something similar. It was during the summer over the course of three days during a blackout with a hostage situation. So it was different, but there were some things that were kind of the same. So for some reason, he stuck to that one. And he just took the little outline and wrote a full script and story about it, and then that was it. That was kind of the take off point from there.
Reese Eveneshen: Yeah, I was really intrigued in the story with the three individuals locked in this scenario with three different beliefs, three different viewpoint systems and three different arguments — none of which matched up — and neither of the three was either right or wrong. And the idea of them having to deal with this shit in the middle of this craziness, and then the fact that the movie did a complete 180 at the halfway mark, was very intriguing to me. And I liked the idea of being like, well narratively, how can we kind of make this work and what kind of story can we tell with this? And it was also coming at a time where it just felt right to do a movie about people not getting along and disagreeing. [laughs] No, but that seems to be the current talk of the town as of late, so that was sort of the exciting part of it.
Gabriel Carrer: You know, also the fact that we’ve never co-directed a film together before, and we have different sensibilities. So when we came together, it was like, well, if we’re going to make this movie, it needs to be nuts. It needs to be — not crazy, but, there’s two of us. So you know, it needs to be doubled down. So let’s double down on the drama, and let’s double down on the action.
Reese Eveneshen: And I also think, too, like there was a certain level of — and I know we’ve both talked about this — kind of like a certain level of anger inside both of us, just in terms of where our careers were going at the time. And we just felt like we’re at a point where we’re like, fuck it, we just need to make something nuts, something that gets this out of our system and gets us out of our funk. So there’s a whole lot of things that went into this.
Kelly McNeely: I know that the actors did all their own stunts, which is incredible. Did any of them have any experience during that sort of thing before? Was this new to everyone?
Reese Eveneshen: Oh, boy. I think as far as I understand Lora [Burke], who plays Romina, she had a huge dance background, and she had some light fight training. I think all three of them had some version of fight training, but none of them had done a movie like at this scale. I know it was a big leap of faith for all of them, but they had a very, very, very supportive stunt team with them that sort of like worked with their strengths and weaknesses, and kind of helped to get them out of their comfort zone and into this situation, because there was no other way to do it. We couldn’t afford stunt doubles, and we knew it would work better if we saw them actually doing the fights. And I mean, honestly, the best fighter out of the three of them was Lora.
Gabriel Carrer: She is, it’s funny because it’s like, I almost feel like the movie doesn’t even do justice to what she is capable of.
Reese Eveneshen: No, it doesn’t.
Kelly McNeely: She’s a phenomenal Canadian talent, too. I’m such a fan of her work. How did you get Lora involved?
Gabriel Carrer: Well, Avi [Federgreen], our producer, Lora had starred in a film Lifechanger that he produced. But we still had to go through the process of auditions to audition everybody. Personally, when I had the outline, I had a different look for the lead. But then when she came in to the auditions, it was just like, she just floored us. I was like… well, yeah. You know, she blew us away. And you can understand why Avi loves her too. She sure has a talent and she really gives the full 100%, she was able to really transform herself and make herself different from previous roles she’s played, and that’s something that we were looking for.
Reese Eveneshen: Yeah, and what was cool about it too, is you needed somebody — well, this goes for all three of them — is that you know, it’s a film that doesn’t have a lot of room for big character arcs and big dramatic character development moments. You’re kind of thrown right in the middle of the situation as soon as the movie starts.
So with Lora, especially, we needed to find an actress who brought all that weight and emotion to the character that we don’t even see right from the get go. And she is definitely one of the few who could instantly pull that off. And I mean, what was great is that she wanted to know every single little detail about this character. Stuff that’s not even on screen, stuff about them — between the characters.
Kelly McNeely: I love that you’re just thrown right into the action right at the beginning, there’s really no downtime in For the Sake of Vicious. And the fights are super friggin gnarly, what was the process like for setting those up, for filming, for choreographing? What was the whole process from start to finish? Because it looks like a lot.
Reese Eveneshen: Yeah, I mean, it’s so funny because it does, but it actually ended up being one of the easier things to do on the movie. Just in the sense that the fights were pretty detailed in the script, so we had a good blueprint to work off of, just because they were such an important part of the final act of the movie it felt wrong not to detail in the script. They serve as a narrative function as well.
So our stunt team had a lot to work off of in that respect, but they took it, they adapted it, Gabe and I sat with them both, we talked about what we were going for. And we really wanted to go for fights that didn’t feel particularly choreographed. We wanted fights that felt like this is a fight that broke out in a bar, because these are characters who weren’t supposed to know necessarily how to fight. They know how to brawl, maybe, but, you know, it’s just sort of meeting people in extraordinary situations.
Kelly McNeely: It’s raw and scrappy
Reese Eveneshen: So we talked to the stunt team, they got on board with that. And then once they got on set and they saw the location, we kind of had to re-adapt to that. But in terms of the actual execution of them, once they were planned and rehearsed, it was just a matter of shooting them in their little breaks, and it’s actually really easy. [laughs] Surprisingly, that seemed to be the most easy part..
Gabriel Carrer: One of the directions we both — Reese and I — both agreed on, and we both kind of liked, and we kind of thrived on that idea of, you know, these fighters, they’re not like when you see a movie and there’s like these action guys, they’re bad guys, but you know, it’s almost like these guys that come to the house — or these invaders — it’s like the dude was just having dinner with his family on Halloween night and he gets the call and he has to go and work for his boss that needs his help. You know, these aren’t trained fighters. So he has to leave, step away from the kitchen table, say bye to his kids, I’ll be back in like an hour honey, and then leaves. Like, these guys are just people that could have moms or dads or you know, kids and wives and stuff, so we just wanted to make them not super trained karate chopping martial artists. We just wanted that brawley vibe. If you were to go into someone’s house and break in, what would that fight look like? Like if someone came into your house, right now, as you’re on the phone interviewing us… [laughs]
Reese Eveneshen: How would you fight?
Gabriel Carrer: You know? Like you would fight back, obviously, but it wouldn’t be like… I don’t know, maybe you do know martial arts [laughs], but if you didn’t, what would that look like? So that’s kind of what we wanted, that was our take.
Reese Eveneshen: And it’s also the fact that the people who ultimately end up winning the fight have the knowledge of like, well, this is my house. I know every nook and cranny of this house and I know how to take advantage of it.
Kelly McNeely: I love the bathroom scene. It’s really intense, it’s really contained. It’s a really excellent introduction to that whole second segment of the movie, I think. How long did that take to film? I know both of you guys, of course have experience with filming action films with The Demolisher and Defective. Did you have any secrets to shooting a fight scene that you were able to bring forward with For the Sake of Vicious?
Gabriel Carrer: We did pre-lighting for that, pre-lighting was important because we needed to have 360 degrees without interruption of lights. So that was important. Once we were able to do that, it was pretty much shooting in a chronological state.
Reese Eveneshen: That was a long day. Our stunt team spent about six hours probably rehearsing the actual fight in the bathroom, stage by stage by stage. Then they brought the cast in and kind of walked them through it. And then — much like we did with all the other fights — we just did it chunk by chunk by chunk. But the actual shooting of it didn’t seem to go too long. Actually the longest part was the rehearsal and setup. Where you get bogged down in these fights is when you start throwing in the special makeup effects. That’s one things get slowed down, because then you’ve got to stop, you’ve got to reset.
And in that case, in the bathroom fight, in order to keep the time going because it’s getting so late, Gabe had to sub in as a stunt double to get the neck piece put on that gets slit, because we couldn’t afford to take T.J. [Kennedy] out to go put the makeup on, we had to keep shooting the fight. So Gabe went down, put on the wardrobe and got the appliance hooked up. So there’s a quick bait and switch when the throat gets slit. That’s the stuff that really slows you down.
But in terms of the mechanics of it, I mean, you just kind of throw the team in and you just go, okay, let’s do this. I mean, you’re in a 360 space. Like Gabe said, the lights are everywhere. You can kind of put the camera wherever you want. It was intense though, shooting that bathroom fight, like every single take. Because we did long versions of it that at the end of it, everybody would be so jazzed and hyped up. Just a rush of adrenaline from being in that room. You could feel it just reeling off of people.
Gabriel Carrer: Yeah, Lora was thriving in that too. I remember seeing her, she was just like, just loving it. It almost was like her natural habitat. Like she’s a fantastic, unreal dramatic actor, but like, I feel like she’s just as an intense, fantastic action actor, too
Reese Eveneshen: Yeah, like, especially when she gets punched or hit. She would just get so revved up for it. She’s like, “fucking hit me!” [laughs].
Gabriel Carrer: That’s the thing, she looked like she knew — I don’t even know how she did it — but she just knew how to naturally take the hits and make them look real. And I think too, I think she almost had the same mentality as the stunt team, the guys who are on the stunt team, because they got along, I feel like they had the same brains. You know what I mean? And sometimes you don’t have that same brain matching thing going on or that kind of unspoken body language that you both have, but she definitely fit in with them.
Reese Eveneshen: It also helps that this stunt team, they like to — safely, of course — but they like to take real hits. So, a couple of the other actors would go, no, I don’t want to really hit you, but Lora was like, no, I will really hit you. For instance, like that part where she takes the back of the toilet lid off, and she’s hitting T.J. with it. There’s no movie magic there, that’s a real toilet lid smacking him over the head — multiple times — time after time after time, so that was crazy. That bathroom fight was a rush.
Kelly McNeely: Now, was there a reason — just out of curiosity — that the film was set on Halloween?
Gabriel Carrer: We love Halloween. [laughs] That’s not the only reason.
Reese Eveneshen: [laughs] Um, that’s pretty much it.
Gabriel Carrer: In the original idea, it was during the summer during a blackout. And you know, we had a SWAT team come into the house instead of dudes with Halloween masks. And then we were pushing the shoot back to shoot the film even later on in the fall. And you know, we changed the whole thing where they’re just goons coming into the house. So it was like, why don’t we just make it take place on Halloween. And then it can just be a little bit more intense with the masks that were there.
It’s more of a thematic and visual aesthetic to write. You know, it gets darker earlier on in the day, there’s that aura of Halloween. And also you have all this action and violence and screaming and mayhem going on in a house. If it wasn’t Halloween, the neighbors would question it. But the fact that it was on Halloween, and there’s tons of pumpkins lit on the front lawn, and there’s a party next door, you would just assume that it was a scary action movie or something was going on in the house, like it was easier to just be more convincing that this was, you know, could be undetected to a certain extent.
Kelly McNeely: It’s like those old recordings of all the Halloween sound effects and things, like “yeah, they’re just playing a really weird tape, that’s fine, don’t worry about it.”
Reese Eveneshen: Exactly.
Gabriel Carrer: And as a filmmaker, it was really fun shooting this during the month of October, because, you know, we had Halloween candy on set constantly. Like literally the bowl of chips that was at the front door as a prop, halfway through, there’s less and less bags in there because crew would be eating the chips. We weren’t too picky on that because that bowl of chips wasn’t the focus. So you know, it was just fun. [laughs]
Kelly McNeely: And I really like those devil masks and skeleton masks. They kind of end up being multi-purpose, because they’re really creepy and they’re great for those thugs coming in, but also just if they were walking down the street, people would just assume they’re trick or treaters, so it’s a kind of multi-purpose design to them.
Gabriel Carrer: Exactly, and we wanted to make them cheap, too, because going back to before, like when these goons were called we wanted to make it look like they just went to the dollar store quick to grab the masks, do this raid or whatever, right? So we didn’t want them to be flashy or kind of cool, like you know super stylized like you see in some horror movies or whatever. They just need to be literally like that cheap Halloween mask that they really ripped off the front shelf. Plus, for budgetary reasons, I think Reese and I had to wear those masks a few times on set as well to be goons, so we were able to recycle personnel with those masks.
Reese Eveneshen: And we were destroying multiple versions of them too, I mean, between people getting hit in the face with a crowbar and half their face blown off and thrown into walls and whatnot. It just made it a lot easier and more cost effective to use those.
Kelly McNeely: Now were they just found at the dollar store? Where did those masks come from?
Gabriel Carrer: Yeah, they were from the dollar store. The skull ones and the devil ones were from the dollar store, the devil ones we didn’t modify really, but the skull ones we did. They were originally just a crazy neon green glow in the dark. So I think it was like two days before shooting I went and bought like six of them, threw some white acrylic paint on them, and used some red paint for the teeth and then drew a black X on the forehead. I was like, well this looks different than the one that was bought 20 minutes ago, it’s not neon green, it’s now white and has blood in the teeth and a black X. Just to, you know, give it some level, but it also it popped a little bit more too under the certain lighting and stuff like that.
Kelly McNeely: I love in the kitchen there’s that plaque that just sort of feels really in place. Something about, “Don’t be the best, just be better than you were yesterday”. Was that intentional? Or did that just happen to be part of the design?
Gabriel Carrer: [laughs] Actually, I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Reese Eveneshen: [laughs] Neither do I!
Kelly McNeely: Oh that’s perfect. There’s a plaque that is very clearly visible when they’re fighting down the stairs. And it says something along the lines of “just be better than you were yesterday”. And I just thought it was really funny.
Gabriel Carrer: Are you serious?
Kelly McNeely: [laughs] Yeah!
Reese Eveneshen: Oh that’s amazing! That’s great!
Gabriel Carrer: Dude, did you not catch that?
Reese Eveneshen: No, I mean, the thing is, like, Gabe and I were production designers on it and our design was, we went to every Goodwill and Value Village and we would just buy as much shit as we could think of that would go in a house. And I think at a certain point, we were just grabbing as many inspirational posters as we could find. [laughs] I mean we probably put some thought into it when we’re looking at it, going “is this too much?” but that specific one? That’s too funny. I don’t remember that.
Gabriel Carrer: I don’t remember that either.
Reese Eveneshen: I’m gonna have to look for that now. That’s amazing.
Gabriel Carrer: We knew that, you know, Lora Burke’s character — Romina — she was a nurse. So we knew that she when she came home, we wanted to fill it up with some things that are like, oh, that would be something that a woman would put up that’s hard working and she’d have something nice to come home to, but there was no thought into what was on them or if they were going to make a shot. Like it was just literally like, we need something in the background that looks feminine, pretty, and something relaxing to come home to.
Kelly McNeely: Something motivational, yeah.
Reese Eveneshen: We kind of based it off of this idea, like, when I was growing up, I had a single working mom who had two different jobs and I remember our house was like a hopscotch of a bunch of different stuff she would just find at thrift stores. I don’t know if she necessarily put too much thought into them other than “I just need something to liven up this place because I’m not really around that much”. So that was sort of the basis behind it.
Gabriel Carrer: That’s crazy that you noticed that.
Kelly McNeely: So what’s next for you guys? Do you have any projects coming up that you’re working on? Do you have any things you want to be working on?
Gabriel Carrer: We do…
Kelly McNeely: I was going to say, I don’t know if you can talk about them…
Gabriel Carrer: Raven Banner and Avi, they’ve been extremely amazing. So I think it would be great to work with them again. And we do have a few products, there’s a few that we want to do on our own, and then we have one or two that we don’t mind coming back together and doing as well. So it’s just a matter of time to write.
Reese Eveneshen: I think that’s just because it’s impossible to know what these movies are going to end up being. We know that there are specific projects that we’re working on, whether they happen or not is the wild card. It’s kind of like a For the Sake of Vicious situation. We didn’t know that that was gonna happen, and then it did. [laughs] And also like the state of the world right now with COVID-19 and whatnot, that’s really put a giant question mark on what’s getting made in the next year or so. So we’ll see.
Gabriel Carrer: And that’s why I’m constantly trying to get Reese to assist me in writing a Thundercats script.
Reese Eveneshen: There we go. Thundercats.
Kelly McNeely: [laughs] Yeah, I support that.
Gabriel Carrer: No, I’m actually serious. [laughs]
Reese Eveneshen: [laughs] He’s gonna do the new Thundercats reboot and I’m gonna do the new Alien movie.That’s our trade-off.
Gabriel Carrer: [laughs] We have more of a chance doing the Thundercats, dude. Alien’s Disney now.