While people often offer advice to others struggling to break into a protected or competitive area, those looking for help to achieve their goals often times have to work hard on their own to get what they want. The main character in the new independent horror thriller, ‘The Banshee Chapter,’ which was written and directed by first-time filmmaker Blair Erickson, ua forced to put her life in danger to achieve the accurate answers she needs in order to find a missing friend. The helmer also worked to obtain the guidance he needed, in order to make a unique movie that will captivate and horrify fans of the genre, through the help of such experienced actors on the set as Ted Levine.
‘The Banshee Chapter’ follows a young journalist, Anne Roland (Katia Winter), who sets out to uncover what happen to her missing friend from college, James Hirsch (Michael McMillian). James mysteriously disappears after experimenting with mind-altering drugs that were secretly used by the government in the 1960s on unsuspecting victims. Aided by a rogue counter-culture writer, Thomas Blackburn (Levine), Anne finds herself drawn into the dangerous world of top-secret government chemical research and the mystery of a disturbing radio signal of unknown origin. The film is based on real documents, actual test subject testimony and uncovered covert programs run by the CIA.
Levine generously took the time to talk about shooting ‘The Banshee Chapter,’ which is currently available On Demand, and will be released in theaters on January 10, 2014, over the phone. Among other things, the actor discussed how he developed his working relationship with Winter by spending time with her before they began filming, and how he liked the fact that Erickson used minimal special effects in the horror thriller, as it allows audiences to image the circumstances of James’ disappearance, and the ordeal Anne went through in order to find him.
Question (Q): You star as Thomas Blackburn in the new horror thriller, ‘The Banshee Chapter.’ What was it about the character of Thomas, and the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Ted Levine (TL): I thought the writing was pretty interesting. I also have a personal history with psychedelic drugs!
Q: Speaking of the film’s script, Blair Erickson both wrote and directed ‘The Banshee Chapter.’ What was your experience of working with him on the set, particularly since he was a first-time director?
TL: It was a little scary at times. Sometimes I felt like he didn’t actually have what he needed to have. When one is a writer and a director, I think you lack a certain objectivity. In my experience, some people aren’t able to actualize things and get things on screen.
But I think Blair did a good job. Corey Moosa, one of the film’s producers, was there, and gave a good objective view of what was going on. But I still think one’s better off, at the very least, if you’re working as a team on the writing and directing.
Q: So do you generally prefer working with helmers who didn’t pen the script?
TL: Yes, I do. Then there’s someone else to bounce ideas off of. Rather than dealing directly with the writer, it’s nice to have that third point-of-view and reference point (with the helmer). So yes, I do prefer triangles.
Q: ‘The Banshee Chapter’ is the first film Blair both wrote and directed. What was your experience of working with him as a first-time filmmaker?
TL: It was good. Blair’s a very bright and interest guy. But like I said, there were times where I felt he didn’t quite have the coverage that he would need to cut a scene together. It would be interesting to have different options in the editing room. So I was worried about some of that, because some of the producers were looking at it in an editorial sense. But I think ‘The Banshee Chapter’ offers a different point of view, but it worked for the documentary style that they did.
But it’s different working on something, and having your own preconceived notion on how things should go. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I have an idea of how things should come together. But it’s my preconceived notion, and I’m sure Blair’s ideas were different.
Q: Speaking of Corey and the film’s producers, the movie was shot on a lower budget, through Zachary Quinto’s production company, Before the Door. What was the overall experience of making the movie independently?
TL: Oh, it was really cool. It had the low-budget feel. If I know what’s going on, it’s a whole lot better. If I know this is what I’m dealing with from the get-go, it’s better than finding out a week-and-a-half into it that no one’s going to take your wardrobe home, and you have to take it home yourself. That’s not the case on this film, but I’m just saying it’s good to know what’s going on as you go into a project. So to have a good conversation with the producers is a nice thing.
Q: The main actress you work in the film is Katia Winter, who plays Anne Roland. What was your overall experience of working with her on the set?
TL: It was lovely and great. Katia got a little exhausted at times, because it was her all the time. The schedule was pretty intense, so she needed a little support in that regard. But overall, I thought she was wonderful.
Q: How did you build your overall working relationship with Katia and your other co-stars on the set? Were you able to have a rehearsal period with them before you began shooting?
TL: No, not really. I made a point of hanging out with Katia a little bit when we had the time. We took a road trip to feel comfortable, because we were hanging out. We developed a certain friendship on the shoot.
Q: ‘The Banshee Chapter’ is based on real CIA secret programs, and follows Thomas as he helps Katia’s character, Anne Roland, track a missing friend who had been experimenting with mind-altering chemicals developed in secret government drug tests. Did you do any particular research before you began filming to gain insight into the chemical testing?
TL: I have years and miles of research and experience with psychedelic drugs!
Q: Besides ‘The Banshee Chapter,’ you have starred in several horror and thriller films, including ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ ‘Joy Ride’ and ‘The Hills Have Eyes.’ What is it about the thriller genre that you enjoy so much, and how did you work to differentiate your role as Thomas from your earlier work in the genre?
TL: They’re interesting genres that can go a variety of ways, and it’s interesting to see how people approach it. But what I liked about this movie is that there weren’t a lot of special effects. It strove to leave the monster up to the viewer’s imagination, which is why they didn’t show it so much.
Q: Like you mentioned earlier, ‘The Banshee Chapter’ was partially filmed in the found footage-documentary style. Do you think shooting the movie in this format helped the story, and are you personally a fan of the genre?
TL: I don’t watch a lot of movies, so I’m not familiar with that as a genre. But from what I saw, I didn’t think it was so disturbing. I was aware of the format in the script, but I expected it to be a little more jarring. But what was included worked for the story, which was cool.
Q: The film played at several horror film festivals, including the After Dark Film Festival and Frightfest. Were you able to attend any of the film’s screenings at the festivals, and if so, what were your overall experiences like?
TL: No, I wasn’t able to attend. But I was able to watch the movie on the TV screen.
Q: ‘The Banshee Chapter’ is set to be released in theaters on January 10, 2014, and is currently available on VOD. Are you personally a fan of watching movies on VOD?
TL: I actually don’t spend a lot of time watching films and television; I’m usually outside doing other things. I don’t want to watch other actors. But when I watch movies, I actually prefer to see in movie theaters.
Q: Besides appearing in films, you have also appeared on television, in such series as ‘Monk’ and ‘The Bridge.’ What is it about television that you enjoy so much, and do you have a preference of working on TV over films, or vice versa?
TL: It doesn’t really matter. It just matters if the script is good, and the people you’re working with are interesting. That’s the most important thing. It’s cool to do a big money film, but they’re typically filled with special effects and green screens. That’s not as rewarding as working with other actors.
Q: How does shooting smaller, independent films like ‘The Banshee Chapter’ compare and contrast to the bigger studios movies you’ve starred in, such as ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘The Silence of the Lambs?’
TL: Well, they pay you more money on the big studio films, and that’s important. You just have to go in, knowing what to expect. I’ve had some bad experiences on film because there were people who weren’t as experienced as I had grown used to. So sometimes you can get into dangerous situations on a film, and people don’t always anticipate that.
The actor is a tool, and you can’t leave the tools out in the rain. That can happen on an independent film. So you have to know that going in, so you can look out for yourself.
Q: Besides acting, are you interested in directing films?
TL: Oh yes, absolutely, but probably for television. But I also feel like I could do a good job on films, so I am going to do something. I’ve got a couple irons in the fire, in that regard.
Q: Besides ‘The Banshee Chapter,’ do you have any upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss?
TL: Well, there are some things that are coming out. I just finished ‘Big Game’ with Samuel L. Jackson, Jim Broadbent and Felicity Huffman. It was directed by a Finnish filmmaker, Jalmari Helander. That should be pretty cool, because he’s an interesting guy and director. I was really excited to work with Jim, because I’m a big fan. We spent a lot of time looking at that green screen I was talking about! That was pretty cool.
I also did another independent film called ‘The Girl in the Lake.’ That was a picture we shot up in Maine, and it was directed by Ian McCrudden. That should be pretty cool; it was a pretty interesting story.