By Don Simpson | August 12, 2012
Writer-director Kyle Day uses certain narrative aspects of rape revenge thrillers as a guideline, but Cherry Bomb breaks away from the less politically correct tropes. First of all, even though Cherry (Julin Jean) is a stripper, we never see her naked. Additionally, the brutality against Cherry is strongly implied but never shown — we do, however, see much of Cherry’s violence towards the men. There is never any doubt about what happened to Cherry, it is just that Day sees no reason to fetishize the violence. Most importantly, Day allows Cherry to mature and grow as a character as the film progresses.
Julin Jean’s performance as Cherry is what really won me over. She does not opt for being a tough chick or a ditsy slut, like most heroines of [s]exploitation and Grindhouse flicks. Sure, Jean is incredibly sexy, but she never allows herself to be objectified. Cherry is completely natural and human, totally unlike any other [s]exploitation flick stripper I have ever watched. M. Andrew Barrera’s cinematography is quite respectful of the [s]exploitation and Grindhouse genres, while never looking overtly grainy or low-quality. In fact, the lensing is quite beautiful — especially the film’s high contrast, over-saturated colorscape.
We recently sat down with Day at a local coffee house to discuss his novel approach to the [s]exploitation genre, Jean’s nuanced performance and Barrera’s stunning cinematography…
Don Simpson: What attracted you to directing a feature-length genre film as your debut?
Kyle Day: I have always enjoyed those types of films ever since I was a kid. Cherry Bomb is more in exploitative in nature, so I don’t want to say that those are the kinds of movies that I liked as a kid. But I loved everything by John Carpenter — one of my favorite horror films was The Fog, I also loved The Thing. Some of the first movies I remember seeing as a kid were Die Hard and Terminator. I love action movies, basically. I love dark and gritty action movies. Cobra with [Sylvester] Stallone is one of my personal favorites. That is what made this project so captivating: it is dark and gritty; it has a lot of the 80s overtones that I am nostalgic about; and it is sexy. It was just a fun project that meshed with my sensibilities. I think a lot of filmmakers want to do something artistic. They want to make something that is beautiful and amazing. I want to do that some day, but for my first feature I just want to do something fun, something that we would enjoy shooting and have a good time with.
DS: What was your approach to the exploitation/grindhouse genre, in terms of which characteristics and tropes you wanted to retain, as well as what you wanted to update or change?
KD: When you are looking at this particular genre, there are titles of classic films that come up a lot — like I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House on the Left — but I told our writer-producer Garrett Hargrove that I didn’t want to be associated with those films. Ultimately we will, just because of the nature of what we’ve shot. I did want to maintain the element of vengeance where a catalyst happens in the beginning of the film which provides the fuel for a very linear plot, going after each character in succession. I like that and I wanted to emulate that, but I have never liked how much attention was placed on the brutality of the sexual violence. I don’t enjoy watching that, I didn’t want to do that. It became a very difficult balancing act. How do we make this kind of exploitation film and handle the subject matter in the beginning of the film correctly? This is my first feature and I am still very much a novice. I understand that. I don’t have the experience to handle that subject matter correctly. So, when this awful act happens to Cherry in the beginning, we leave a lot of it up to the viewer’s imagination. We see her getting thrown to the ground and then we cut. We just don’t show it. We tried to do everything else similar to exploitation films with the exception of that. Also, to bring it more up to date, we worked in a lot more humor. A lot of those films are dark consistently throughout the course of the film, but we really tried to make Cherry Bomb more tongue-in-cheek. One reviewer said that our film is very self-aware. I think that is an accurate judgment. We know we are not making The Shawshank Redemption, this is a movie about a stripper killing people.
DS: And that leads to the casting of Julin Jean as Cherry and the way her character is developed. Despite being a stripper, she is not objectified by the camera.
KD: Although we wanted the film to be sexy and stay somewhat true to the roots of sexploitation, I didn’t want Cherry to be an object — and I know Garrett did not want that either. But then we went one step further. I am a big fan of Alien and Aliens, and I think Sigourney Weaver is a very strong female lead, but that has already been done before. Those films are just two examples, but there are numerous examples of very strong-willed and very capable women. We actually wanted to do the opposite. We wanted Cherry to not be strong in the beginning of the film. We wanted her to make mistakes just like any normal woman in her early 20s. Cherry still has a lot of maturing to go through. We wanted that kind of woman to be our lead. A woman who learns as she goes along — that is her arc. In the beginning she is not very strong, confident or capable; she handles situations with her emotions, not really thinking about the implications. By the end, she has gone through a metamorphosis; she has become stronger and more intelligent. She has morphed into — sort of — that Sigourney Weaver-type of character. Julin is a very lighthearted person. She is very easy to talk with, she is very friendly. She definitely added a third dimension to the character. I think most actors would have made Cherry into a tough as nails woman. Not Julin. She played it exactly how we needed her to — as a normal woman who didn’t know what the hell was going on. Julin is such a lovable, nice person — she exudes that when she is acting. She just seems like the girl next door. I don’t think Julin would ever want to be in a fight. She is not really a fighter. That is what makes her performance so interesting. We are definitely playing it against who she really is.
DS: Can you talk about how you and the cinematographer [M. Andrew Barrera] achieved the visual aesthetics of the film?
KD: At the time we were getting ready to shoot, digital SLR’s with the ability to capture movies had become popular — the Cannon 7d and 5d. We ran some tests and I loved them, so I bought the cameras specifically to shoot this movie. Andrew didn’t use the Cannon lenses, he used a set of lenses from the 80s or 90s with a lot of contrast and provided a very rich image. It was an image that by today’s standards you probably wouldn’t want for a feature, but for the look we were going for it worked perfectly. Then I used a color correctionist in LA to put on the finishing touches and he added some film grain, bumped up the contrast and really crunched the blacks. We were considering the sales process the whole time, and we knew if we went all out 80s then we would probably never sell it, but we wanted to make it accessible to that audience. We really straddled the fence. We went with a lot of the 80s sexploitation look, but not enough to ostracize today’s audiences.
DS: How did you approach making a gritty and seedy genre film in Austin?
KD: That was very tough because Austin is a very clean, good-looking city. We wanted the film to be gritty, raw and dark — in a lot of parts we accomplished that, but some parts we didn’t. That is the nature of low budget filmmaking, just go for it in every instance. You are not going to get them all, but get as many as you can. A lot of the responsibility fell on the set design and really going out of our way to find certain places. But when you are working with a limited budget, I can’t think of anyplace better than Austin. There are so many resources here, especially crew members, and they are willing to work for very reasonable rates. They just want to work. They are good at what they do and they just want to part of as much as they can. Business owners are also very reasonable about letting you film — it was very easy to film at every single one of our locations. I couldn’t have made this film anywhere else. It would have cost at least double the amount of money.
DS: What are the advantages and disadvantages of trying to sell a genre film?
KD: Based upon my experience with this feature, I think genre filmmaking is the way to go for independent filmmakers. It sells — and I say that because we sold Cherry Bomb. We are proud of what we did and what we accomplished with our budget, but its not a great film. If you are evaluating it against other like films with similar budgets, I think it is very well done. The fact that we were able to sell it says a lot about the commercial aspects of genre filmmaking. When you add in guns, violence, sexy women — you are adding in all of the aspects that are required to sell a movie of this budget. To be perfectly blunt, the very next feature I do will be similar to this because I know it works. Would I love to do a very well-written drama, something more refined, polished and more mature? Sure. For me it is not enough to just have the film play at a few film festivals and win some awards. The accolades are great, but it is not enough. What is enough is that everyone gets paid after the movie is done, including myself, so that we can make another movie; and that the film get released on home video so that people can see it.
DS: So, how did you sell Cherry Bomb?
KD: Immediately after we finished shooting, my editor and I cut a fantastic trailer. The trailer just went everywhere. I had put it on YouTube and that was it, but then got picked up by Trailer Addict and started popping up everywhere. I don’t know how, but it just went everywhere without my intervention. A lot of sales reps out in LA saw it and I started getting emails. I saved all of those emails and a year later when the film was done, I started following up with them. We had a lot of conference calls, and we settled on the Highland Film Group to broker deals for us. They brokered a deal with Well Go, plus a distribution company in Germany and one in Japan. So they got us international and domestic deals.
Well Go USA Entertainment recently released the Austin-filmed Cherry Bomb on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.