‘Blinders’ Director Tyler Savage On Los Angeles, Subverting Expectations and Virtual Film Festivals

Tyler Savage on set, wearing an unbuttoned grey shirt over a t-shirt, a baseball cap, and glasses. He is studying the actor standing in front of him out of focus, both are washed in an orange light against a dark background.

Blinders, the latest feature from LA-based writer and director Tyler Savage, presents a thrilling, subversive take on the City of Dreams. Set entirely in LA, the film follows Andy (Vincent Van Horn), a high school teacher who leaves his hometown after his girlfriend cheats on him with a colleague in search of a new beginning. Upon his arrival, Andy manages to find an apartment, a job and a beautiful new girlfriend Sam (Christine Ko). After a chance encounter with an unhinged rideshare driver Roger (Michael Lee Joplin), Andy soon finds his hopes of a new life gradually disappearing thanks to the efforts of Roger, who is hell bent on destroying his life after Andy repeatedly rebuffs his offers of friendship.

While it starts off like a gender-swapped iteration of Barbet Schroder’s Single White Female, Blinders has much more to it than meets the eye and audiences soon discover that all is not what it seems in a twisty, exhilarating and genuinely thought-provoking narrative, written by Savage and Dash Hawkins

Screen Queens guest contributor Ahmad W. had the opportunity to speak to Savage about his film, which is having its world premiere at the 2020 virtual edition of FrightFest, his portrayal of Los Angeles and his upcoming projects.

Screen Queens: Hi Tyler! Thanks so much for agreeing to an interview. Congratulations on a great film, I truly enjoyed it and can’t wait to see how people react to it. I wanted to ask you what it was like having a film premiere at a virtual film festival and if there was any hesitation regarding a digital premiere from your or the producers’ end.

Tyler Savage: Of course! Thank you for taking the time to cover our premiere. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and certainly hope we get some good initial reactions! We’re obviously a little disappointed that we won’t be able to see the film in a theatre with an audience, especially since we’ve heard such awesome things about the fest, but we’re still thrilled to be part of FrightFest and to be getting the film out there. We didn’t have any hesitation about doing a virtual premiere because holding off for 2021 just never felt like an option. 2020 sort of has a way of forcing us all to just roll with the punches. And fortunately, we’ve had quite a bit of interest from distributors since FrightFest made their lineup announcement, so we’re making the most of it. 

Vincent Van Horn and Dusty Sorg in Blinders (2020). A dimly lit close-up on two men, Andy (Van Horn) and Cheeto (Sorg). Andy looks ruffled, staring suspiciously at Cheeto, whose hands are raised towards him.
Fryman Films

SQ: I wanted to ask you about the inspiration behind the film. It very much starts off like a gender-swapped version of Single White Female before it transforms into an entirely different beast. Were there any films or filmmakers that inspired you while you were writing this movie?

TS: The initial inspiration was me getting driven home from a party by a strange rideshare driver who made me feel uncomfortable. Then Dash [Hawkins, co-writer] and I started talking about stalker movies and how to tell a story that highlights some of the pitfalls of our modern, tech-driven world. We definitely referenced Single White Female as well as The Cable Guy, What About Bob?, and Play Misty For Me. Both versions of Cape Fear were also relevant as we developed the story. Since a lot of us already know how a stalker movie typically ends, we tried for something fresh here that’s meant to further highlight the idea that technology makes us all more vulnerable than we realise. 

SQ: I like how you presented the technological aspects in this movie, particularly the way you decided to use Instagram posts and stories to establish character traits. What inspired you to present some of the film in that format and what do you think of some recent films, including Unfriended and Searching, that primarily used that technique to tell a story?

TS: Thank you! Yeah, I wanted to integrate 9×16 smartphone footage since it’s so disarming. It’s so familiar to us these days that it sort of gets the audience to drop their guard and just go with the flow of the story. I also think it’s a very efficient character-building tool since a brief snapshot of someone’s social media life gives you a good sense of them. I thought Searching used tech in a great way. For me, it’s about finding fresh and clever ways to tell a story visually without having to sacrifice emotion in this form over content world we live in. 

SQ: The city of Los Angeles very much felt like its own character in this film, particularly in the way it is talked about and shot. A lot of people really seem to romanticise the city or hold it to a higher regard because of its reputation. What are your thoughts on Los Angeles and how it is usually portrayed in film and TV?

TS: What a great question… I’m from Los Angeles so I’ll always have a bias. I have a love-hate relationship with the city, but the love wins out. It’s funny because while it’s true that some people romanticise it, it’s been my experience that people hate on it. When I was at NYU, I’d say I was from Southern California to avoid snarky remarks about being from LA. But the truth is, it’s a big city that contains multitudes. There are so many little worlds in LA that to say you love or hate the city it just doesn’t make sense. You might hate Rodeo Drive or something, but that’s just superficial snapshot of one aspect of LA. I love Lynch’s LA in Mulholland Drive. I love DePalma’s LA in Blow Out. Tarantino’s LA. People should watch LA Plays Itself if they haven’t because it gives an incredible overview of the city as a character. 

Michael Lee Joplin in Blinders (2020). A close-up on Roger in a street at night, illuminated by shop signs behind him. Roger has his head held high, with a surly expression. He is wearing a dark baseball cap and a red button up shirt.
Fryman Films

SQ: The first two acts of this film really work because of how invested we are in Andy and that is largely due to the charming performance from Vincent Van Horn, who is absolutely wonderful in the film. Can you tell me what the casting process for the film was like?

TS: I hope reading this question makes him blush, but Vincent is wonderful! He’s been a close friend for several years now, and Dash and I actually wrote the role with him in mind. Vince and Michael [Lee Joplin] are both Texas boys who have been buddies for a long time, and they have a fun dynamic that I knew we could play with. Vince has a naturally calm and likeable way about him, but he did the hard work of really getting into this relatable yet flawed character and bringing dimension to him. The whole film wouldn’t work if he failed to carry the audience, like you mention.

SQ: Michael Lee Joplin is absolutely insane in this movie and really reminded me of a more sinister version of Jim Carrey’s character in The Cable Guy. How did you decide which direction to take the character in and were there any specific films or characters that inspired Michael’s portrayal of him?

TS: I’m so glad you mention Carrey in The Cable Guy. Michael did a phenomenal job of bringing Roger to life in a way that demands attention but doesn’t go overboard. We definitely looked at some character references from other films, but he and I talked a lot about just making Roger real. Rather than talking about him as this insane villain, we tried to ground him and be empathetic to his reality, which is a pretty twisted reality to say the least.

SQ: The way the film ends feels like the perfect set-up for a sequel that follows Christine Ko’s character. Would you ever want to revisit this world and this character in the future?

TS: Yeah, we definitely wanted the ending to feel like you were being launched into a new story. I’d certainly welcome the opportunity to keep building out this world, but I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that it’s best to keep several irons in the fire.

SQ: Last but not least, I wanted to ask if you are currently working on or developing any new projects and what genres you would like to tackle in the future, considering both Blinders and Inheritance have elements of horror and psychological thrillers.

TS: Really appreciate being asked this genre question. I’m still very much dedicated to making thrillers for the moment, but I think I’ll eventually broaden out. Dash and I are working on a couple new thriller concepts that I’m really excited about, one of which is sort of like Rosemary’s Baby meets Phantom Thread. But I’m honestly just grateful to have had the privilege to make this film with people I love, so hopefully we’ll get to do it again!

by Ahmad W.

Currently based in the UK and the UAE, Ahmad W. is a poster designer, budding screenwriter and journalist from Boston and the (self-proclaimed) #1 Robert Eggers stan. His favourite films include mother!, The Witch, Black Swan, Hereditary and Scream. His claim to fame is a DM he got from Ari Aster (who has since left him on read) and his favorite pastime is spending the day in a cold, half-empty movie theater. You can follow him on Twitter at @ephwinslow.

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