I reviewed The Bunny Game on this site, which is about to be released to the US market via Autonomy Pictures. Meanwhile here in the UK it looks unlikely to secure an official release given it is the latest film to be graced with the “banned” status courtesy of the BBFC. I speak to director Adam Rehmeier about his challenging and controversial debut picture.

AN: The film sees a release on July 31st for the US on Autonomy Pictures, a new indie label created by people who understand the genre and seem to understand where you are coming from as a filmmaker. How did the deal come about?

Adam: The deal came about at AFM through my sales agent, Julian Richards [Jinga Films], who has quite a knack finding homes for controversial films.  Autonomy Pictures is comprised of Derek Curl [TLA Releasing], Lewis Tice [Danger After Dark], and David Gregory[Severin Films].  I was ecstatic when they bought the film, as I have enjoyed many projects from their collective body of work.  I knew they were right for the film and would promote and push it to the proper channels.

AN: As I mentioned in my review, the banning of the Bunny Game in theUKseems on one hand to be a helpful bit of marketing, but can equally seem negative as viewers can have high expectations when the film is sold purely on shock value rather than as a film in its own right. What are your own thoughts on this?

Adam: I thought the BBFC’s outright ban of THE BUNNY GAME was a harsh and unnecessary, even though the film is clearly not for most audiences.  We were going for a Certificate 18 in the UK, which means nobody under 18 years of age is allowed to view the film.  I think that is quite fair.  It is not a film for children.  In fact, I have pulled it from festivals where programmers weren’t able to guarantee that children wouldn’t be present during the screening.

In response to viewer expectations, I think the banning by the BBFC brought attention to the film in a much larger audience than I anticipated.  If not for the ban, THE BUNNY GAME would have been under the general public’s radars.  Many of these people are not interested in film form and self-expression; they are more interested in entertainment.  If you go into THE BUNNY GAME looking for entertainment, you will be sorely disappointed.

AN: When you were making The Bunny Game did you honestly anticipate any issues with censorship would arise? Would you say you set out to make a film that was deliberately shocking and controversial from the offset?

Adam: When making the film, there were no thoughts about censorship, compromise, or holding back.  The focus was completely on the film, the experience.  Rodleen and I had made a pact to keep everything real, to push our limits, to go on an uncomfortable journey during the production.  I wouldn’t say we set out to make something deliberate and shocking because that implies that we gave it more thought than we actually did.  To be honest, we didn’t really know what was going to happen in the process.  It was very loosely outlined through a series of bullet-point notes I kept with me at all times, though much of it was scrapped or changed as we progressed.  It was a very intuitive process.  For me, it was much more documentary style than traditional filmmaking.  I only shot one take of everything in the film.   I either captured an idea or it was lost.  The energy of what we were doing didn’t allow for re-takes.

AN: The film is really a cautionary tale that shows prostitution, drugs and life on the streets in a very unglamorous and harsh light. Does it frustrate you that the message has been so misconstrued by some?

Adam: Again, I think many people have discovered the film due to it’s banning by the BBFC and are looking for something verboten, shocking, or entertaining.  This is not my target audience for the film, it’s just a result of the BBFC’s decision to ban the film.  Most of the people that don’t understand the film never would have even heard of it without a censorship bureau telling them they weren’t allowed to watch it.  Their expectations are so high before they even illegally download it!   It doesn’t frustrate me when the message is misconstrued, since the experience is completely subjective.  What frustrates me is the sense of entitlement people have when it comes to pirating music, movies, and art.

At one screening, I sat a few seats down from a woman who was visibly shaken by the film. I could hear her gasping every so often.  After the screening, she came up to me and told me that she used to be addicted to drugs, homeless and had to resort to prostitution.  She said that film disturbed her: the repetition of the Johns, the constant drugs, the bleak motel rooms.  She said we really got it right, though it frightened the hell out of her. Rodleen and I get a lot of emails from people whom have been profoundly affected by THE BUNNY GAME.  For me, these interactions and discussions are very rewarding.  They outweigh any of the negative criticism of the film.

AN: How did you fund the film, I imagine it is quite hard for an independent director to obtain any funding, and even harder when the content is of such an “extreme” nature?

Adam: The funding of the film came from a person who wishes to remain anonymous, a patron of the arts.  Rodleen and I would have made THE BUNNY GAME for nothing if we had to, but I really wanted enough of a budget to pay the actors for their time, to secure insurance for the rig, and to purchase props that were necessary for the film.  All of the camera and editing equipment is mine, so outside of that, there wasn’t a need for much money.  I didn’t use a crew or equipment that I couldn’t carry with me at all times, so that cut down on expenses tremendously.  Typically, filmmakers get bogged down by thinking they need a lot of luxuries to make a film, when in fact, all you really need is a camera, a microphone, actors and an idea.

AN: I love the greyscale cinematography and the very insular feel to the picture, seems to be portraying a very colourless existence and one from which there is no escape. Was this part of your intention with going with black and white film?

Adam: Absolutely.   Shooting the film in black and white stripped everything down to a primal level and kept the focus on the action.  There are so many psychological visual cues when working in color, it didn’t seem like an appropriate choice for THE BUNNY GAME.  In preparing for the film, Rodleen and I spent several years shooting photos together, which allowed her character of Sylvia Gray [Bunny] to develop organically.  We were actually shooting all color photos until the last few months before we made the film, as the black and white aesthetic really was in response to some of Rodleen’s costume design and hair & makeup choices.

AN: The film reminded me in one sense of Texas Chainsaw, in that it feels like its dragged you through hell but you don’t see very much in the way of gore. It plays a lot on expectations…would you agree with that?

Adam: This was truly an exercise in negative energy for everyone involved in the production.  It was not a comfortable process.  The reason the film feels like it’s dragging you through hell is because it was dragging us through hell as we made it!  It’s a relentless and exhausting film, but we wanted to stay true to the parameters of the situation.  So many films romanticize violence and prostitution.  I feel like we kept the film grounded in reality.

The press the film has received has been responsible for much of the expectations, and whether it delivers or not is quite subjective.  If you go into the film without having read anything about it, I think it would be quite an assault of the senses.

AN: Can you talk a little about the early stages of the film – where did your original idea come from and how did you develop it into the picture it finally became?

Adam: Rodleen and I began collaborating through music and photos around 2005.  Gradually, we started talking about making a film together.  The genesis of the project was really a combination of horror film ideas I had mixed with a real life abduction story from Rodleen.  Her survival story was very powerful and visual, and for a while, I think we toyed with making a film that more closely resembled that story.  As more actors came into the mix, the story morphed to accommodate their respective energy.  The film was a very intuitive process.  It was more about putting the right ingredients together and seeing what happened than it was about structuring something concrete.

AN: What’s the story with Greg Gilmore, who originally began working on the script with you? He had some problems during the filming process and bowed out, can you talk about this, and also what is he doing now?

Adam: Gregg and I were not working on a script together, it was much more akin to the process Rodleen and I were going through to develop THE BUNNY GAME.  Gregg and I had been developing a character, JONAS, around 2003.  We were really just doing a lot of test shoots and sound experiments when the JONAS character emerged.  We had this idea about a man driving around in a non-descript white cargo van with a pseudo family of puppets, dolls, dummies and marionettes.  It was an unnerving idea that we could execute very cheaply, but we never quite committed to it.

Later, when Rodleen and I started to collaborate on what would become THE BUNNY GAME, I suggested that we get together with Gregg and see if there was any chemistry between them.  We met up at Rodleen’s house in La Conchita and discussed making a horror film together.  I began working with Rodleen and Gregg separately, as it was agreed that they wouldn’t be in contact until the production began.  We had dates set and planned, an around the clock shoot made in one week, with the final production day being Easter 2006.  Several weeks before we started, Gregg became very apprehensive about acting in the film.  He had been delving into darker and darker territory during his preparatory phase and was convinced that he might actually hurt Rodleen.   It was a surprise really, when he quit, it just came out of left field.  Rodleen and I were both upset about his decision.

Of course, time heals all wounds.  Gregg and I have wrapped on my 2nd solo feature, JONAS, which is currently in post-production.  Straying far from the concept of the man in the white van with the pseudo family, we chose a very squeaky-clean and square film to make together.  JONAS is a modern reworking of the biblical tale of JONAH & THE WHALE.  After Jonas Nuckolls washes up on a desolate beach, he goes door-to-door in the great city, preaching God’s teachings and preparing those he encounters for a special message that will be revealed the following Sunday.

AN: I totally admire Rodleen’s commitment to the project and that she insisted on everything being “real” on her part. I believe this was mainly a cathartic exercise for her, with the film being partly inspired by her own personal experiences. How difficult was it for her on an emotional (and also physical) level to revisit those traumas? Can you elaborate a little on this?

Adam: Rodleen’s process was very cathartic.  She’s an amazing human and performer.   I’m not sure how difficult it was for her to revisit those traumas, but I will say that her approach was very inspiring.  She meditated extensively and fasted for 40 days leading up to the production.  She was very clear for the entire film and really gave it everything she had.  She designed her own costumes and did all of her own makeup, which allowed her to get into the skin of her character.  During our final photo shoots before we began production, it was really hard for me to see her as Rodleen.  She completely morphed into this whole other persona

AN: Do you think the “realness” of what was happening made for a certain “atmosphere” or tension on set that would be unobtainable through using SFX?

Adam: Yes, SFX would have killed the vibe and goals that we established early on in the production.  We really wanted this film to be hardcore and didn’t want to hold back when it came to dealing with violence. Your brain knows the difference between real pain and SFX.  That is what is so unique about the film.  It really puts you in an uncomfortable headspace to see real violence and heightens the experience.

AN: The fact that so much of the film was done for real rather than using SFX I imagine made the filming process quite special. What do you consider the main advantages and disadvantages to doing it this way?

Adam: I think the main advantage is that it sort of crosses a line with the audience and breaks the wall of the comfort zone.  Since the angle of most horror films is for entertainment, when you throw in real violence into the mix, suddenly an audience questions their motivations for continuing to watch.  I think a horror film should bring these emotions out of the audience.

One of the disadvantages of working this way is that you can attract a lot of negative entities while you work.  It’s almost magnetic.  I don’t want to elaborate to deeply, but there were many strange things happening during the production and then later on in post.  I have a feeling that negative entities swarm around violence and violent thought, whether real or simulated.

AN: How did you come to contact with Renfro to cast him for the film? He’s such a creepy character and plays it so well!

Adam: I met Jeff Renfro inMontanaon the set on the Polish Bros. film NORTHFORK in 2002.  We had a bit of a misunderstanding early one morning in a snowstorm and he attacked me.  It was pretty traumatic, as I didn’t really understand what had just happened.  Luckily, the incident was quickly broken up by the Transpo Captain and we were forced to shake hands.  We ended up becoming friends and Renfro was someone I checked in with once and a while over the years.  At some point when Rodleen and I were casting the film, the ugly incident with Renfro popped into my head and it dawned on me that his energy would perfectly match for Rodleen’s intensity.

AN: Are there any films/directors that have particularly inspired you?

Adam: Maya Deren [Meshes of the Afternoon]

David Lynch [Erasurehead]

Werner Herzog [Even Dwarfs Started Small]

AN: How important was the soundtrack in the overall picture? You also created this yourself too?

Adam: The soundtrack is just as important as the visual aspects of THE BUNNY GAME.   I spent months a months recording in my loft in downtown LA, experimenting to find the perfect atmosphere and tone for the film.  To me, the film is really an abstract musical, a musician’s film.  I used Rodleen’s voice as the lead instrument in the film and built the sound design around her guttural screams and moans.  She has a real set of pipes, some of those screams in the film are just otherworldly.  I recorded about 500 tracks of music in 9 months during post-production.  Obviously, a lot of it never made the cut.  I think I whittled it down to about 35 tracks in the final cut.  I like to over-record for each project, build up a catalogue of tracks and then laying everything into the cut in a final, intuitive blitzkrieg.

When I finished my first pass with THE BUNNY GAME, there were areas that I wasn’t happy with the soundtrack.  The opening, for instance, was a lot more atmospheric in the first pass.  It was lacking something, so I enlisted the help of my friends James Brown III, Sandor Finta, and Pete Majors of the band HARASSOR.  James gave me access to their full catalogue of recordings,  as well as some side project stuff he was working on.   The energy of HARASSOR was just what the opening of the film needed to set up Rodleen’s character.

AN: Finally what are your plans for the near future? Are you working on anything else right now you can tell us about?

Adam: I am busy at the typer right now, punching keys like a madman, outlining and writing my next 7 genre films.  They are all pretty fucked up, but complete departures from THE BUNNY GAME.  Of course…they’re TOP SECRET!!!