Written by David D. Jones and directed by Alastair Orr, Triggered is a horror/thriller film that follows nine old high-school friends who meet for a 5-year reunion camp trip in the woods. Unbeknownst to them, their old high-school science teacher devised an act of gruesome revenge which is to take place during their trip. They awaken strapped to time-activated bomb vests and will have to compete against each other in a bloody game of survival — each kill gives them more time toward their timers, and the last one standing lives.
Director Alastair Orr discussed his directorial and editorial work for "Triggered" in a recent interview with Borrowing Tape. Triggered is available to watch via On Demand and Digital on November 6th.
Photos courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
How were you approached to direct the movie, ‘Triggered’?
I was looking to do something a little different after House on Willow Street and Indigenous. I never really injected my personality into any of my previous films, I was always trying to fit a mould with varying levels of success — and by varying levels I mean between 4.4 and 4.8 on IMDB! I was looking for something different from the get-go, but also something that we could afford to fund ourselves. I had come across David D. Jones on the internet and we’d been trying to get something off the ground for a while, when one of our bigger projects fell through, he pitched us this idea that was basically nine kids running around the woods trying to survive, and the hook is that we wouldn’t need a big, expensive, scary bad guy, we’d have something so much worse — we’d have woke, SJW millennials going after each other.
What was the casting process like for Triggered? An acting highlight was Russell Crous, who played Kato like a convincing sociopath.
We actually got a ton of casting help from Steven Ward, the guy who plays Ezra in the film. He was working part-time at a casting agency when we were looking for actors, and he threw us a ton of options — one was Russel Crous. Russell is a quiet dude off set, but when the cameras roll he turns into this beast that just chews [the] scenery. He was a little concerned that he was taking the character into a weird place but we just decided to let him run with it. Almost everyone that was cast was a friend of a friend of a friend. In South Africa, we don’t get too many opportunities to make horror films, so it was easy to get people to sign on for something they don’t usually do.
Triggered has a ton of darkly humorous and meta moments. How did you find the experience of working with Writer David D. Jones?
David really inserts his personality into all the characters and that’s why they’re so unlikeable. He’s also not a writer that’s scared of hard work. We re-tweaked, re-configured, and overhauled the film probably about 3 times — and I’m not talking about subtle changes, we changed the whole mechanism of the game and David was up for it every-time — well if he was bitching he wasn’t doing it in front of us. He goes hard with the one-liners — I mean some of the stuff we just couldn’t shoot. One day I’m going to have to show this film to my parents and there were some lines that almost made us throw up in our mouths.
I loved that the vests would display different colors according to how much time they had left to live - it worked to heighten the mood of the scenes. What was it like working with Cinematographer Brendan Barnes?
When Brendan read the script for the first time he was like, “What’s wrong with you guys? How do you expect me to light this?” He was worried we weren’t going to be able to see a damn thing, cause I didn’t want every character to have a flashlight because then they've automatically got a weapon. The lights on the vest were always going to change color, but it was Brendan’s idea to rig additional LEDs on the vests when the characters are off-screen and light the other characters from this.
How were the vests conceptualized and created?
We didn’t want them to look like the traditional suicide vests, we wanted to have a bit more fun with it. We commissioned this super talented cosplay artist to design the vests. His name is Brian Cargile and he programmed the vests to be able to change colors on set. Once we had them in South Africa, we added in extra wires and components to roughen and toughen them up. I think our main reference was the laser tag vests from Starship Troopers and there’s an old video game called Blast Chamber that uses a similar device. They were a pain in the ass on set. We got rained out badly, like torrential Noah’s Ark rain and it kept shorting the vests. The timers were added in post because there was no way we were going to control and monitor the countdowns on set — and we needed it to be specific. This resulted in having close to 1800 VFX shots!
Where was the movie filmed, and how long did production last?
We filmed on a horse farm in the South of Johannesburg. We planned to shoot for 17 days but with the rain, we only had about 14 days. We didn’t have insurance to cover the bad weather so we had to make do, but whenever we were rushed, we would just lean into the theme of the film and use that energy to streamline scenes or power through the difficult ones.
What were your favorite and most memorable scenes to direct?
The whole process was so stressful I don’t look back at the shoot with fond memories. Ironically, I probably lost years off my life because of this film. I loved filming the smaller character moments when the dialogue really came to life, but only when the actors actually remembered their lines - here’s looking at you, Steven Ward and Cameron Scott. 🙂
Can you tell us what types of effects (Practical or VFX) are in Triggered to achieve the gore and explosions?
99% of what you see is practical and in-camera. There were some CGI enhancements on the explosions (just to add bigger stones and debris that were too dangerous to film on-set) and then the one day Kato’s gash wouldn’t stick properly to Russell’s face and was peeling off so, we cleaned that up in post. It was important for me for the film to feel scrappy and raw, so we tried to do as much in-camera as possible — except for those damn timers.
As the Editor for Triggered, how did you find the post-production experience?
It was one of the more difficult films I have cut! Because of our expedited shooting schedule, we didn’t get as much coverage as I would’ve liked. Normally editors love bitching about directors not getting the right coverage, but this was all on me. It was tough looking at the footage for what it was, normally an Editor isn’t on set and catch watch the footage with a fairly objective eye. But, because we had to change so much on set, I was bringing a lot of that baggage into the editing bay. So it took me a while to realize “Ok so you don’t have the footage to the film you wanted to make, that film doesn’t exist. You’ve got to pick up the pieces and work with what you’ve got. This is your chance to rewrite it for the last time.” I also had a lot of help from my producer, Ariye Mahdeb, who would constantly come in and give very good suggestions.
Which films/directors have influenced you as a filmmaker and the film, Triggered? Which movies do you consider to be Essential Viewing? What are some of your favorite horror movies from the past decade?
So Triggered wears its influences on its sleeve, with heavy nods to the work of James Wan, Kinji Fukasaku, Greg McLean, Kevin Smith, Drew Goddard — who all inspired me when making this film. Essential Viewing? Terminator 2, Aliens, WaterWorld. Top horrors from the last decade: RAW, Revenge, Don’t Breathe, Train To Busan, Get Out.