“I have had my battles with technology,” laughs world renowned acting coach turned director Michelle Danner from New York City, where she just finished editing her next film, The Runner. Between doing post-production work on The Runner and starting the pre-production process for another film, a romantic comedy titled Starstruck, Danner is also doing press for another film, the psychological thriller Bad Impulse.
Written by Jason Chase Tyrell, who also wrote Danner’s next film, The Runner, Bad Impulse centers on the Sharpe family made up of father Henry (Grant Bowler), mother Christine (Sonya Walger) and their three children (Abbi Ford, Nicholas Danner and Oscar Debler). Reeling from a brutal home invasion, the Sharpe family are swayed by mysterious and shadowy salesman Lou Branch (Paul Sorvino) to install a high-tech home security system to protect them from any possible intruders, which starts, as Danner puts it, the Sharpe family’s life-or-death “battle with technology” as the security system infiltrates their minds and heightens their worst impulses and inhibitions.
In a world so reliant on technology, it’s hard not to draw parallels between the security system installed by the Danners and existing smart home products such as Alexa and Google Nest. “I always talk about my Alexa that I hate and love that constantly speaks back to me,” confirms Danner. While the security system in Bad Impulse is slightly different to Alexa in that it doesn’t directly interact with the Sharpe family, it manages to constantly influence their actions and behaviour, another aspect of the film that can also be compared to social media. “I’ve been forever intrigued by these forces,” says Danner. “One of the lines in the film is, ‘Are you satisfied with your current home security provider?’ and I’ve never been satisfied with [mine]. I’m always questioning what else I can do with it, which is a bad habit, I admit.”
While Bad Impulse can be seen as a parable of sorts against the riding tides of and the ever increasing reliance on technology and social media, it can also be seen as a tribute of sorts to family and how devastating the loss of familial relationships can be. “I want audiences to walk away from this film with a lot of questions [about our reliance on technology],” she elaborates. “But I also want them to hug their families [after they watch it.] [The script] touched upon something that really spoke to me, how far will you go to protect the people that you love?” Another element of the film that is sure to raise discussions is Danner’s take on the traditional family dynamics and how it can ultimately prove to be harmful and damaging. “Henry, the father, always tells his son, ‘You’re the man of the family now,’” says Danner. “He hands him the baton and the son doesn’t really want to take it but he’s forced to. He’s forced to assume the role of the protector.”
The nuances of the script managed to lead to fruitful conversations between the cast members of the film that only strengthened their performances in the long run. “I think [the script] spilled over to Grant [Bowler] and Nicholas [Danner] having some very in-depth conversations on set,” she recalls. “They had a lot of philosophical conversations.” As an acting coach who has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Henry Cavill and Jennifer Coolidge, Danner managed to assemble a cast that included not only several promising newcomers but a few veterans too, including Grant Bowler, who delivers a searing, haunting performance in Bad Impulse. “I met Grant when he first moved to Los Angeles. He took classes with me and I coached him with some projects and every single time I finished working with him I really thought that he was an incredible talent,” recalls Danner. “I always wanted to work with him. It’s always been on the back of my mind. I sent him the script and he loved it. He really wanted to do it. Grant works quite a lot but he’s one of those actors that people just don’t know how good he is at what he does.”
Bad Impulse also marks the debut performance of actress Abi Ford, who plays the Sharpe’s well-behaved-turned-rebellious daughter Angela. Watching the film and witnessing the level of charisma and natural presence she brings to it, you’d never be able to tell that this is her first on-screen performance. “She was in one of my acting classes,” says Danner when asked how she came across Ford. “She separated herself by acting out scenes that were challenging, and when I saw how brave she was, that’s when I was inspired to cast her.” A surprising addition to the cast is social media personality and singer Rebecca Black, who was cast in the film after Danner noticed her on set with a friend who had already been cast. “She looked lovely,” says Danner. “I was looking for somebody to play a smaller part – and you know, there’s no small parts, even if it’s one line of dialogue, it’s an important part – she was willing to do it. She had a wonderful energy.”
As an acting coach turned director, does Danner have any valuable insight or techniques that give her an advantage when it comes to working with actors? “It helps me,” she confirms. “If my actors close off for whatever reason, and they can’t go to the place that they needed to go to [in order to] deliver a scene, I have a lot of tricks in my bag, a lot of different ways to get them there, no matter what. It’s really helpful to know how to talk to actors but the most important thing is to feel a sense of trust [on set].” While Danner may have a long and seasoned career coaching Academy Award-winning actors for the past two decades and counting, her directing career is only just getting started. With two more films on the horizon, Danner says she feels “very grateful” about the opportunities she’s been given throughout her career. “I’m very lucky that I was able to take what I learned from being an acting coach and bring it to directing,” she exclaims. If Bad Impulse is any indication, she has a long career in directing ahead of her.
Exclusive clip courtesy of All In Films Productions
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.