Interview with Cloned Director Gregory Orr

Monday, April 22, 2013—Kevin J. Boyd

Gregory OrrFor 20 years, Gregory Orr made award-winning documentaries for international television. His films investigated the New York State parole system (Parole: Prison Without Bars), the life of legendary Hollywood producer Jack Warner (Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul), and the manner in which famous people in history met their end (The Day They Died). In 2004, he wrote and directed the critically acclaimed short film Alone, which Time magazine’s Richard Schickel praised as, “A deft, cinematic short story, handsomely staged and acted by a new writer/director of great and singular talent.”

CLONED: The Recreator Chronicles is a sci-fi thriller about three teenage campers who discover a secret laboratory and accidentally trigger a deadly experiment that creates their duplicates—superior clones who are stronger, faster, and smarter than the original kids and who plot to kill them and take over their identities. The film is scheduled for release on April 23, 2013 through Vision Films and MTI Home Video.

What was your inspiration for writing CLONED?

GO: The idea for CLONED came about during a hike with a friend who was patiently listening to me moan about my difficulties in getting another project of mine—a psychological thriller—off the ground. She suggested I make a horror film, because she thought, like everyone, that they’re cheap and easy to make (I’ve learned they’re not). But I’m not a fan of traditional “dismemberment movies”—where six kids go into the woods and one comes out—so I suggested, “How about three kids go into the woods and six come out?” With that I had something, and that pointed to the concept of cloning and the threat of being replaced by your duplicate.

While writing CLONED, did you draw from any of your own personal experiences?

GO: I’m drawn to stories about psychological struggle—you know, wrestling with the demons within. Life’s ticking clock is a steady source of anxiety for me, coupled with the reminder that an energetic and talented new generation of filmmakers is rising fast behind me, so I didn’t have to mentally stretch much to write a thriller about replacement. And since I have a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of narcissism, I felt the best creature to threaten that replacement should be a better version of ourselves—our duplicates, our doppelgängers. It was the perfect monster and the most interesting for me, because such a being would know everything about us, our hopes, our insecurities, and how to use that knowledge against us. I mean, who isn’t worried about being replaced—by outsourcing, by downsizing, or by a younger, cheaper model? In six months’ time, Honey Boo Boo is going to be looking over her 7-year-old shoulder and worrying about some up-and-coming 5-year-old.

Did you set out to create a movie for a teenaged audience?

GO: Issues of identity are center court for kids, erupting in junior high, and not really leveling out until early college, so making the story about three teenagers just out of high school made sense. Plus I’m very sympathetic to people at this age as they struggle to define themselves. The making of the self is very much at the heart of CLONED, as well as the “remaking” of the self in order to defeat an enemy who knows everything about you. I mean, how do you outthink yourself? And what if the new you really is better than the original and deserves a chance to make its mark in the world? It’s all heady stuff, but ideas that kids are dealing with every day as they compare themselves to classmates who are more popular or smarter or stronger and may be tormented by it. That’s why the three teenagers in CLONED are so sympathetic for me and not just fresh meat for a psychopath’s chainsaw. They struggle with their identity against a superior force out to replace them. For me, that’s life.

Are you a horror/sci-fi fan? Which films influenced CLONED?

GO: I have a limited appetite for the bloody and disgusting on screen for its own sake, but I do like science fiction a lot, and thrillers, and horror on occasion, if it’s really solid like The Exorcist, or Alien, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers—the second one with Donald Sutherland—which exploits our common fear of mortality and replacement and wraps it up brilliantly inside a giant pea pod.

Also, some of the contemporary films out of Europe and Asia influenced my thinking, but not so much their style. CLONED is old-school American in its visual presentation. We probably have no more than six hand-held shots in the entire movie. Except for a few dolly moves, the camera was nailed to the floor, which forced a certain kind of blocking and composition that is reminiscent of the classic Hollywood films I watched on TV as a kid. The “staginess” of that kind of moviemaking appealed to me because it carries a kind of authority that I wanted in selling the scenes where both the kids and their clones are on screen together. David Tumblety, the director of photography, even brought his 40-pound gear-head to the set to help achieve that rock-solid look.

I like films that are anchored in profound ideas, and sci-fi has always attracted me, starting with The Twilight Zone and Star Trek series, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The latter was a seminal experience for me, but then so was the musical Oliver, which explains my hunger for singing sci-fi movies, which appear to have gone out of style.

Cast of ClonedCLONED’S cast is a group of relative unknowns, except for Stella Maeve, who played drummer Sandy West in the Kristen Stewart movie The Runaways, and veteran actor John de Lancie of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, who played Q, the dimension-hopping nemesis of Captain Picard.

GO: I’m so happy with the cast of CLONED because they managed to play two distinct versions of the same character and we only had to pay them once!

Seriously, I had decided beforehand that I wouldn’t make the movie without exceptional actors, and I had Stella in mind from the beginning. She came to New York and was so cute and fun and inventive in the casting session that I knew we had our Tracy.

Alexander Nifong and Jamal Mallory-McCree, who play Craig and Derek, were unknown to me, but they had such presence in the casting session that I liked them immediately. Since shooting CLONED, they are becoming better known—Alex was on Glee recently and Jamal just wrapped a movie with Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson.

We casted Star Trek: The Next Generation alum John de Lancie at the last minute, and he joined us for a week upstate, entertaining everyone with sly remarks and putting up with our production delays due to bad weather. John brought his wicked sense of humor and a subtle menace to the role of Dr. Miller, who threatens the three teenagers when they come ashore on his private island.

My co-producer Lynn Appelle negotiated one luxury that made a real difference to the acting. A week before production, Stella, Alex, and Jamal joined me upstate in the Adirondack Mountains, where we rehearsed in the actual locations, which was very helpful.

Laura Moss & John de LancieStella is a fast study and likes to joke around on the set, but she delivered two distinct performances that really hold your attention.

The other cast member who played a key role was Laura Moss, who started out a few years back right out of college on the soap opera Another World. She’s fun to work with and delivered a great scream that officially tipped our movie into the horror genre.

CLONED is set against the majestic backdrop of the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. What was it like to film there?

The Adirondack region of upstate New York is a 6-million acre preserve where nature has the last word, and that’s part of the struggle in CLONED—the battle between our “natural” selves and what science hopes to “improve” upon. The landscape is breathtaking and unique, and there’s an air of mystery and timelessness that fit our story. There’s also the famous “Adirondack style” of architecture and furnishings that I knew would enrich the movie and make it look so much better than the typical cabin in the woods movie. (Wait until you see our “cabin”—it’s a beautiful, multi-million dollar camp built in the 1920s, nestled on a lake, and one of the stars of the film.)

One of the reasons to go to the movies is to escape and travel to wonderful places, and I think audiences will respond to our cinematic road trip. The downside was that it was very cold in October when we filmed, and our actors had to do some lake scenes—I mean IN THE LAKE scenes—without wet suits. I had gone to an Outward Bound camp in Maine when I was 16, and they made us jump into the cold ocean every day to get used to the temperature, so in case we fell out of our boats, we’d be prepared. So I made the cast go swimming every day during rehearsal, and it helped a little. It was still freezing, but the cast did a beautiful job of acting like it wasn’t.

You’ve made documentary films for many years, but did any of that prepare you for making CLONED—your first full-length feature film?

GO: I’ve made a number of long-form documentaries, which taught me how to tell a story. What can’t be taught, though, is the on-set creative process, where actors and crew are working together to make something out of nothing. I think director Danny Boyle spoke of it recently when he said that the director is there to create a focused, protective, but also pressurized environment where the best work can be drawn out of people. I don’t know if I managed that, but I did try to create a space through blocking and camera position that let the actors reveal their characters, while also advancing the story. Years ago at film school, I had pursued cinematography and had shot a number of shorts and independent films afterwards, so I’ve always been interested in visual story telling—how movies can create a new language beyond words.

You grew up in the shadow of Hollywood. Both you grandfather and father worked at Warner Bros. What was that like and how did it influence your decision to become a filmmaker?

GO: I have great memories of visiting my father at Warner Bros, where he was a TV executive. I got to shoot childhood movies with my friends on the studio back lot. You’ve never seen a Western until you’ve seen one with a cast of 10-year-olds! Unlike most filmmakers, I fell in love with movies not at the movie theater but on a movie set. I could sit all day and watch a company of actors and crew prepare a scene. My father indulged my interest by letting me dismantle our house on a regular basis to turn it into a cowboy bar or space ship interior.

My grandfather was less encouraging. He once looked at one of my Super 8mm epics and advised me to give up moviemaking in favor of something safe. “Become a lawyer,” he said. He thought he was being funny, but at 13, it stings. So my upbringing both indulged my love of moviemaking and discouraged it. I deeply appreciate the incredible world I grew up in, but I’m glad it’s passed and been “replaced.”

What is next for CLONED and for Gregory Orr?

GO: Teenage test audiences have really enjoyed CLONED, so I’m looking forward to making the sequel. We have a script and we’re raising funds. I’m planning a series of movies under The Recreator Chronicles banner, with a variety of characters and situations that can expand on the first episode—the “foundation film,” I call it.

There’s also the psychological thriller I was trying to get done before I made CLONED. That one is set on NY’s famous Erie Canal and involves a childless couple who pick up a mysterious runaway who is not what she appears. Sounds like cloning, I know, but this time it’s just youth unbound that’s escaped into the water supply.

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