We recently had the opportunity to talk Stress Position with its writer/director, A.J. Bond.
LeglessCorpse: With the selfish nature of human-kind, I would think there were many stories that inspired your dissection. When did you first come up with the idea for Stress Position, and was there any isolated incident that made you think, “I must tell this story.”?
A.J. Bond: I’ve always been strangely fascinated by the idea of “psychological” torture, that is, breaking someone down without necessarily using pain or the physical horrors we usually associate with the word “torture”. The communist-era Stasi secret police where particularly good a this, as well as the US during the whole “enhanced interrogation” program used on suspected terrorists post-9/11. When Osama bin Laden was finally killed in 2011, the debate about what role torture played in procuring the intelligence about his whereabouts got me thinking about these subjects again and I started to wonder, how bad could these techniques really be? It seemed like time to go back and revisit these Enhanced Interrogation techniques, and I wasn’t alone, as Zero Dark Thirty came out around the same time exploring some of the same themes.
LC: Did you have any difficulty finding people to be involved? This film does go to a different realm than simply slapping make-up on someone and having people act afraid, after all.
AJB: When I came up with the idea of actually trying some of these psychological torture techniques for real, I knew that I was treading in some dangerous territory and I immediately thought of my long time friend and collaborator David Amito. Dave and I have a history of working on projects that push the boundaries of reality and deal with very personal issues in almost experimental ways. I knew Dave was the only actor brave enough to follow me down this path – I simply couldn’t imagine doing the film with anyone else. Once we started assembling the crew, the subject matter definitely scared some a few people away and we had one person quit because of ethical concerns. We knew this experiment wouldn’t be for everyone, but those who came on board found it to be a pretty fascinating ride, quite unlike most film shoots.
LC: Since you not only wrote and directed Stress Position but also acted in it, were there any personal challenges from going between putting yourself into your character and maintaining objectivity as a director?
AJB: I essentially play myself in the film, but a heightened, slightly more evil version, so finding the character wasn’t too hard. What was difficult though, was keeping track of what was real and what wasn’t. The film really blurs the line between reality and fiction, and even on set that line was difficult to navigate. I was trying to direct the film, based on just a short outline, not a conventional screenplay, all the while juggling surprise torture scenes and improvised dialogue. I was also attempting to really psychologically manipulate and control Dave, even when the cameras weren’t rolling. It was a bit of an insane endeavour and my relationship with Dave suffered dramatically as a result. The story of the film also changed considerably while we were shooting, taking on a life of its own. What you see in the final film actually isn’t far from the reality of what really happened on set.
LC: The dynamic between you and David Amito feels quite genuine; were you friends before this film? How much discussion was there over how far you could actually go? I could see the two of you working together in other scenarios quite well. Any chance we’ll see you guys team up in future projects?
AJB: Dave and I really were good friends, going all the way back to high school, so our rapport in the film is very genuine. We’ve collaborated on short films and plays before, and our relationship often involved playful pranks and mind games anyway, so this seemed like a natural extension. When I approached Dave with this project, the pitch was that we would actually try some of these psychological torture techniques for real, but once filming began, it became clear that Dave wasn’t expecting just how intense the experience would be, nor did I foresee just how evil I would become when put in the role of torturer. This led to a falling out on set and we didn’t speak for several months after production. But I’m happy to report that Dave liked the finished film and we managed to patch things up on the festival circuit, so there may be more collaborations between us in the future!
LC: I am a fan of the Avant-Garde, which was part of what I found so intriguing about your film. Are there any specific artists responsible for inspiring the visual reality you created, or is what we see more of a direct channel to your own twisted thoughts? Also, what films came into your reality that brought you the desire to be a filmmaker?
AJB: Stanley Kubrick’s films had an incredible impact on me when I was a kid and were a big inspiration for me becoming a filmmaker, especially 2001 and The Shining. The stories of Kubrick’s infamous directing methods (often described as “torturous”) were very much on my mind during the making of this film as well. What if Kubrick directd a reality TV show? I suspect it might end up something like Stress Position. As such it seemed fitting to add some Kubrickian elements to the look and the set. Symmetry, modern design, lots of clean white space. My production designer Lauren Meyer and I discussed making the torture chamber feel more like an art installation than the cliche dark, grimy torture chambers seen in other films.
LC: When can we expect to see something new from you? Can you give us any clues on the themes you’ll be next exploring?
AJB: My next film is a psychological thriller entitled Wisteria, exploring isolation, madness and guilt in the remote Canadian wilderness. The script is done and we are aiming to shoot next year, so keep an eye out for that in the not too distant future!
Thanks for the interview!
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