IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Directors Adam and Mark Kassen talk 'Puncture'

Monday, 26 September 2011 10:00 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Directors Adam and Mark Kassen talk 'Puncture'

This summer, Chris Evans got to prove his superheroic bona-fides yet again, this time as the title character in Captain America: The First Avenger, and while he very capably brought the skinny Steve Rogers and the unstoppable super-soldier to life, he was bound by the inhibitions of a morally unambiguous character.  In the independent film Puncture, by contrast, Evans sinks his teeth into the contradictory role of Mike Weiss, a real-life functioning drug addict whose small law firm went up against pharmaceutical giants in an effort to implement needles that would effectively save many health care professionals from the risk of contamination.

Based on a true story, Puncture is the work of sibling directorial duo Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen, both making their feature debut as both directors and producers.  Producing the film along with them is Paul Danziger, Weiss's legal partner and the cautious, responsible yin to Weiss's irrepressible, dangerous yang.  Mark Kassen actually plays Danziger in the film. IAR recently had a chance to screen the film and was very impressed with both the Kassen's filmmaking and Evans' brave performance. With Puncture opening in limited release on September 23rd, both Kassen brothers took the time for an exclusive interview with IAR's own Jami Philbrick, in which they discuss their shared process, the hazards of adapting a true story, working with Evans, and their casting methods.

To begin with, when you first got attached to the project and learned about the true story that it's based, what did you find most exciting about making this movie?

Adam Kassen: The first thing that resonated for us was the story and the character. The real Paul Danziger, who actually wrote a draft of the script, sent us the project. We just connected to it right away because we thought it was a really interesting window into this very provocative health issue that's going on right now. Our dad owned a medical supply center for years, our mom has been a nurse for over forty years, and then just in the character of Mike you have this really interesting dynamic tragic hero. So that's what we started with. We met with Paul, he came up to New York and then we ended up going down to Houston. We met with the family, Mike's family, Paul's family, judges, lawyers, high school debate team members and we became more and more inspired the further we dug into this sort of deeper story. We came back from New York, and we had a really good idea of what we wanted to tell. We ended up bringing in Chris Lopata, and the three of us sat in a room for about a year, and worked on the script. We showed it to Paul and then when we got it to a place where we were excited about it, and we went into casting.

Mark, did you always know that you would end up playing Paul?

Mark Kassen:
I always wanted to. I hoped that the situation would help itself happen that way, but yeah that was the plan.

How did that work out between the two of you as far as sharing directing duties day to day? Was it ever confusing on the set or did it all come together?

Adam: It's a really organic ebb and flow. We don't have a system of who does what per say, but it really just kind of works. We developed it together over the course of a few years so it’s just an evolution. We've had a lot of prep time, not just with the writer but also with our DP and with Chris. We took Chris down to Houston and met the real people and walked around with the actors. So we had a really good idea before we started shooting of what we wanted to do, how we wanted to tell the story and how we wanted to shoot it. Then on the day everything changes as they always do, we just had an organic ebb and flow of how we worked. We just sort of jump in, but we were such on the same page literally and figuratively because also being brothers and knowing each other pretty well we've been working on this project before we started shooting for so long.

Mark, with playing your character, did you discuss it at all with Paul or was he hands off in that regard? Did he let you do your own thing creatively or did he have a lot of suggestions on how to portray him? Did you feel a responsibility to Paul to do the role justice?

Before Mark talks about his performance and Paul, let me say this. Paul was down on one of the first days of shooting and Mark came on to set in costume dressed in this blue Oxford shirt, khaki pants, and his hair kind of slicked back. Paul looked and said, “Mark, why are you dressed like this?” You look so dorky in your character. Paul then looked at himself and he was wearing the exact same outfit that Mark was wearing.

Mark: It wasn't that Paul was doing anything in particular but it was a really great thing to have him there as a resource. There's time I spent with him talking to him about information. Then there's time I spent with him just sort of getting engaged in how he felt and the experience he had, how conflicted he was or guilty he was, and how he handled things or the position he felt pushed into as the result of his partner. I think through getting to spend that much time with him, it really helped me emotionally to be able to get an idea of what this person went through in a way that you don't always get when you just take a character off the page.

Adam: Also you know just working with Paul in the writing process, too, with him going through the story over and over again with us. It helped all of us to get really inside of his head and to see what actually happened, what his perspective was and what was going on at the time. Then he was on set like every day, whether we liked it or not. But it was great having him there. Just to have that presence around, somebody who really can keep you to task with not only half of the story, but just with everything. From how we ran the legal proceedings in the movie, to the doctors we had on set when we were doing the medical scenes. They're really just helpful I think in all of it, from acting to writing to shooting, just giving the film the authenticity we needed.

Since the film is based on actual events, how much creative license were you able to take with the story itself or did you feel like you had to stick pretty closely to the facts?

Mark: What we can say, that maybe won't give it away, is that there are a lot of various elements to the story and there are various feelings about how deep those elements went. What we were trying to do was represent the pieces of them without coming to any conclusions that we did not have the right to say.

Adam: We have opinions about what happened, but we're leaving it to the audience.  But there's lots of different strong opinions about what happened in various parts of the movie.

Mark: There are people who were connected to this case. There are federal prosecutors that got curiously within reach of major indictments, and there's an article that's been written about this going much further than we did about why that happened, what might have done it and what companies might be connected to that, but there's a lot out there.

Adam: We were surprised, I must say, by how deep these nefarious activities go. It almost felt cliché the stories that we heard to be true, but they really are. There's accounts from lawyers about how they were pulled out of their car by local cops, and followed until they got bribed for $5 million dollars in cash. We've got all these different accounts from different lawyers about how these corporations will (spend) a lot of money to do these things. You have billions of dollars, it's a huge industry, and they have stock prices so it quickly spirals out of control about what they'll try to exert to make sure that they're on the winning side of the battle.

Chris Evans gives a surprising and impressive performance in the film, can you talk about casting him and his process in portraying the role of Mike?

Mark: Yeah, I mean basically we went after him. He was suggested to us by our mutual agent. We loved his work in Sunshine and felt that he's a really, really good actor who had probably not been given the opportunity to go as far as he could. We got him the script and once he read it, he was willing to meet with us. Within minutes of talking we kind of realized that he's a really smart, interesting actor and if he would have us, we'd be lucky enough to have him.

Adam: With the role of Mike, we wanted to be very careful on how to cast him, he could very easily fall into a trap of a self indulgent performance you know? With Chris you have somebody who is this touching, sensitive, deep, emotionally interesting guy, but he's also charismatic, electric and magnanimous. That was what Mike was and we wanted someone who could give that kind of dynamic performance. If you look back at Chris's work, even in some of the movies that haven't had the greatest successes, often his acting is overlooked because you have the CG, or because he's so charismatic, but its really because he's a great actor.

The movie also features veteran actors such as Marshall Bell (Total Recall), Brett Cullen (Lost), and Kate Burton (127 Hours), can you talk about the decision to cast them in the film?

Mark: Basically by casting Chris, it gave us license to do whatever we wanted within a certain budget range and we just made a decision that, with the help of our casting directors Courtney Bright and Nicole Daniels, we would just go after the best actor for the job. We really just went after people that inspired us and I think that lent a level of credibility to the entire film.  Our friend Jesse Martin (Law & Order), Roxanna Hope, and Vanessa Shaw (Two Lovers), obviously, lent a real level of authenticity that makes the movie all the better.

Adam: Courtney and Nicole, they put Brett and Marshall Bell in front of us. We've been a fan of Marshall's for a long time. He's one of those great character actors. He's a pleasure both in front of the camera and behind the camera. And Brett as well, you know he's actually from Houston. The Cullens ... there's lots of streets named after him, and so talk about someone who knows that character well, he really does. Like Mark was saying, we just felt that we were fortunate we were able to get a lot of really great, interesting, smart actors that would come down for a day or two and play a part in a movie.

Finally, I could easily see Hollywood making this story into a legal thriller starring Matthew McConaughey, which would have been a completely different film. Since this is an independent movie, do you feel that afforded you a certain freedom that you would not have had as filmmakers if this was a studio film?

I'm sure if we had gotten Matthew he would've been great too, but yes 100%. In fact we have a friend of ours who works at a studio we like to run our stuff by, she's good at giving critical notes, and she said, "This is a really great story, but the only way you'll get it done is to make it outside the studio because some things you'll have to change to get someone else to make it." So yeah, 100%, I mean that's why I liked making it independently because the mechanism is not set up in the studio world for it.

Mark: For us, we haven't really had much bad studio experience, or really any because we've been fortunate in a way, we haven't been in the business of taking a bunch of scripts and setting them up for studios. We've been trying to take our time to find projects that will resonate, that are important to us, that we think that we can do in this style of filmmaking, and make them that way. Then we can see what happens afterwards. Hopefully people will go see it, like it, and then we can make more.

Puncture is currently playing in limited release.

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