Recently, Bloody Good Horror had the opportunity to chat with two parts of the production team behind the upcoming movie, The Ranger – Andrew van den Houten, who is one of the film’s producers, and Issa-Jean Sarr, who served as its production coordinator. The film follows a group of punks who, while running from the police, cross paths with a murderous park ranger for whom having an ax to grind is more than just an expression.
Our conversation ran the gamut of topics, including the nuts and bolts of low-budget filmmaking, horror’s punk rock renaissance, and what it’s like to be a 22-year-old working with some of the genre’s heavyweights.
BGH: Andrew, can you take me through, in your perspective, how The Ranger came to be?
AvdH: Jenn Wexler (director and co-writer of The Ranger) was someone I’d seen a short film from at the Viscera Film Festival. I was a judge of her category that year and she ended up winning. After that, she and I kind of bumped into each other at various events over the years, at different horror productions that I was involved with or that she was involved with. When I learned she was presenting her new project – which became The Ranger – at Fantasia’s Frontières Market, I made a point of checking in with her about it. After that, I came to see it as a project I wanted to be involved with.
BGH: And Issa, I understand your path to The Ranger was a little bit longer. Can you tell me about it?
IJS: I come from a city called Roubaix, it’s in the north of France, near the border with Belgium. I lived there my whole life until I got into a film school in Paris called ESRA. Eventually, I was able to first come to the US as part of a program the school participates in called Optional Practical Training. I’ve been here since and working in films. One of my first jobs was on a movie called Haymaker.
AvdH: Haymaker is where I met Issa and he was someone I wanted to work with again. So, when things started coming together with The Ranger, I recommended him to Jenn and my producing partners (including Larry Fessenden, Heather Buckley, Ashleigh Snead). Really, once he was on board, Issa became one of the backbones of making The Ranger happen.
BGH: As someone way more familiar with watching movies than making them, can you take me through the role of a production coordinator, particularly on a low budget film like The Ranger?
IJS: It can become a kind of all-encompassing position. Basically, my job was to handle the logistics, things like where do the actors need to go, what’s going to happen tomorrow, which locations do we need, that kind of thing. I handled a lot of the communication, the contracts, the production reports. On The Ranger, we shot in upstate New York so it was kind of an authentic horror experience. A lot of nights, we were in the woods, it was pitch black, there were bears in the area, so you had to travel in groups (laughs). But, yeah, it was pretty cool shooting there.
BGH: There’s a really great indie filmmaking pedigree behind The Ranger, what was it like playing such a key part in that as a 22 year old just breaking in to the business?
IJS: Yeah, it was amazing and challenging, but I was definitely willing to take it on. I hope I can continue to prove myself. It helps that, when you’re in the woods for three weeks and you’re focusing only on the movie, the people you’re working with become kind of like your family. Also, Jenn has a producer’s background, as do other members of our crew.
BGH: It must have been nice to have people around who’ve sort of been in your spot before.
ISJ: Yes, but for Jenn, this was her first feature as a director and she really decided to take on that role and let us handle the production side. On set, she was focused on directing. However, at the end of the day she would tell us, “I know what you’re going through and I know today was difficult, but I knew you could pull it off and thank you for doing it.”
BGH: From the plot description, it seems like The Ranger has that sort of iconic slasher setup, you know, a group of kids get into some shenanigans, they’re in the woods, and then trouble finds them. Is that what this film is going to be, a throwback 80’s slasher, or is there more than meets the eye?
AvdH: I’d say The Ranger absolutely delivers on the slasher genre, no doubt. I think there is also like a dreamscape, 80s quality to it so it feels fresh in terms of imagery and storytelling. I mean, there have been a lot of films that reach back to that 80s vibe, but I think this puts a different spin on it. Especially for the slasher genre, which is really cool. There is definitely a different level of storytelling, particularly around the Ranger character, going on. I do enjoy that character and the way Jenn developed it and I think the kids are also well developed.
BGH: The poster – with its vibrant purple background and that starkly silhouetted punk rocker in the foreground – seems to hint at that dreamlike quality you referenced. Is that something viewers can expect to carry throughout the film?
AvdH: Aesthetically, no doubt. That was 100% Jenn's vision for this movie.
BGH: The punk rock angle is also interesting. It’s something we’ve seen a little bit recently too, with films like Green Room, but it hasn’t been overdone. Is that punk rock energy something that’s important to the film or is it more of a point of reference?
AvdH: I think The Ranger has got that punk rock energy, for sure. I would say musically as well as the overall tone, which is really cool. I mean Green Room was a great film but I think ours is different tonally from Green Room. Heather Buckley, who is one of our producers, she comes from that world so she was very intimately involved with Jenn in getting this film made. I think her influence helped in terms of procuring a lot of the different props, wardrobe elements, as well as the music, to make that energy authentic and necessary.
BGH: What’s the future for The Ranger?
AvdH: I definitely expect the film to be out in festivals in 2018. I would think there will be a release date toward the third or fourth quarter of next year. Honestly, I think that 2018 is going to be the year of The Ranger.
IJS: I’m looking forward to seeing the finished film. It felt like as a team we just came together. Each person has their expertise and … I usually think of making a movie like a building a skyscraper. You’re building something together, from the ground up, that’s going to last for a long time.