Interview with “Killing Joan” Filmmaker Todd Bartoo

“As a filmmaker, you have to just keep making films regardless of the reception” says filmmaker Todd Bartoo, whose new film Killing Joan is released in April, in this refreshing chat.

-PH: One can guess, and if they did they might say “The Crow” or “The Brave One”, but where did the inspiration for “Killing Joan” come from? 

-Todd: Really the film was based on the concept of good versus evil and whether someone is inherently good or evil. When we first meet Joan, she is a tough, cold hearted killer. But as the film goes on we start to realize that she is more than that, that she has hopes and fears like anyone else. Even though it is a revenge film, it is also about the struggle between good and evil within all of us. 

-PH: Did you write the movie with a budget in mind? Was it intentional to set it only a few locations? 

-Todd: I originally wrote the script back in 2010 as a big budget action film. I studied screenwriting at UCLA and after I finished the program, I intended to direct a different script as my first feature. But for some reason, this script was always in the back of my mind. So I took it out again to see if I could rewrite it to make it as an independent film. 

-PH: How much of the film was in the script and how much of it simply came together on the set? 

-Todd: After I cast the film, I worked with the actors to develop their interpretation of the characters. There were a few ad libs here and there but it was mostly scripted. The only segment that was unscripted was the segment about halfway through the film where we see Joan kicking butt and fighting back. I worked with the stunt coordinator, Erik Aude, to come up with interesting bits. We went out with a bunch of stunt guys and a second unit to shoot it all in one night. 

-PH: How many drafts did you go through? Did it change along the way?

-Todd: I think I went through about a dozen drafts of the script. It changed a lot along the way. I think the biggest change was to the relationship between Joan and her ex-boyfriend Anthony. Originally, he was just a guy she met in a bar. But once I added in their backstory, I realized that became the heart of the story. Once I had the cast in place, I did a draft where I matched the characters dialogue and action to match the actors that I cast. 

-PH: Did you always intend on Jamie Bernadette starring in it? 

-Todd: Actually, I saw a lot of people for the part of Joan. A lot of actresses can pull off the tough chick part, but it’s tough to find someone that can do that but also show their vulnerability. I wasn’t as familiar with Jamie, but my producer had seen her and was familiar with her work. For the most part, the actors came through the audition process, with the exception of Casper Andreas, who plays the part of Anson. Casper is a successful independent filmmaker that I’ve known for a long time. We met on the film festival circuit when our films were doing the rounds at the same time. He had just come off of filming Kiss Me, Kill Me. I was asking his advice on certain things regarding the filming since this was my first feature as a director. Since he is also an actor he asked if there was a part in the film for him. We had one role left open that I was saving for either stunt casting or just playing myself. But it was very much casting against type and I thought it was an interesting casting choice.

-PH: What do you consider yourself first and foremost – a writer? or is it a filmmaker? Or a little of both? 

-Todd: I’ve always been a writer since I was young and writing is my first love. But I don’t really label myself. I’ve studied acting, directing and writing at various times. I’ve produced projects for other people and I’ve even edited a couple rap music videos. As a director, I was intimidated at first because I thought you had to know all of the technical aspects of film. But you just have to know to ask questions and hire the right people that know what they are doing. 

-PH: Tell us how Paul Lada got involved?  

-Todd: I actually met Paul through the actor Justin Giddings. Justin was getting ready to shoot his sci-fi film, Outpost and was using Paul for the VFX on it. I told Justin I needed someone who could do tentacles and he suggested Paul since he had done the tentacles for Prometheus. Paul had just moved to here from the UK and started his own VFX company, so it was perfect timing. 

-PH: Which of his creations were you most impressed by?

-Todd: Just in general, I think the VFX are amazing. There’s one scene where there’s a “smoke snake” that is subtle but very cool. There’s also a great little eye effect he did that is quick but effective. 

-PH: How do those good reviews help? Does it help you as a filmmaker get more roles? Does it help you as a filmmaker get a new film up? 

-Todd: Good reviews are nice and of course are helpful. I’ve gotten good reviews and bad reviews. But as a filmmaker, you have to just keep making films regardless of the reception.

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