Exclusive: The Burning Bright Writers Speak!


Coyle & Roux unleash a tiger on Briana Evigan

A funny thing happened shortly after I placed Burning Bright in my most-anticipated genre films of 2009 list – I was contacted by the writers, Julie Prendiville Roux and Christine Coyle. Both were eager to meet with me and chat more about the film. I agreed to interview them at a decent coffee shop in Sherman Oaks on a January afternoon to talk more about their film which appears to spit in the face of remakes presenting a concept so strange it has to be seen to be believed. Try this on for size…

Briana Evigan (Sorority Row) stars as Kelly, a young woman who, through a series of events, is locked in a house with her autistic brother and a tiger. Oh, and this occurs during a hurricane. Like I said, wild. Quite unlike Roux and Coyle. Talkative, yes. Sassy? You bet. But upon greeting this unassuming pair, I would never have imagined they’d pen a film like this.

The two first worked together writing radio commercials. During a trip to Paris, they reassessed their career ambitions and decided, upon their return to the States, that they would take a crack at writing features. Burning Bright is one of two screenplays they’ve had produced.

ShockTillYouDrop.com: Is Burning Bright the first script of yours to reach the screen?

Julie Prendiville Roux: We actually have another film out there now but we thought you would think it’s silly. The An American Girl [DVD] that’s out there now is ours and the weird thing is, we got that gig because the producers of that film read our thriller.

Shock: Originally, Burning Bright was called Tiger, Tiger?

Roux: No, but that’s from the same poem.

Christine Coyle: The William Blake poem.

Roux: The way this all happened is that we had a screenplay out there called Chance and it was Altman-esque because it was different storylines intersecting. A producer read it, David Higgins, and he asked our agent to send us over so we went. I’ll never forget the call because our agent said Higgins had this thriller idea, two kids trapped in a house with a tiger. We thought that was random.

Coyle: Because most of our stuff, besides Chance, has kind of been comedy, but it was great. We had a wonderful meeting with him and we talked about the idea. He hired us and we wrote it.

Roux: [Higgins] is absolutely the most idea-driven producer we’ve met. He’s really amazing.

Shock: Take me into that meeting with him, what was your reaction to this idea?

Coyle: We went, “No, really, what is the idea?” Where’s the camera, are we being punked? But he told us is that he wanted to do a story about a girl, trapped in a house with a tiger during a hurricane. And the brother is autistic. At the core of this movie we developed with him, we realized it’s about who deserves to live and who deserves to die? Do you sacrifice someone who truly does not have what we would consider a valuable life in order to save your own.

Roux: The movie Higgins did before this was Hard Candy which also explores who deserves to live and who deserves to die.

Coyle: Another interesting element was layering on the stages of grief that someone goes through, denial anger…

Roux: When you know you’re going to die.

Coyle: Then we went through many drafts as we worked with Higgins and things changed, obviously. When we first talked to him, he thought of the boy as being much older. Sixteen or seventeen. And we didn’t feel that was right because the girl should be feeling maternal towards this boy. It’s much more difficult if she’s walking away from a ten-year-old.

Roux: And much more cruel.

Shock: The stakes change. Was there ever a tonal discussion had about how serious you would make this film?

Roux: We all had the like mind of making it as tense, taut and real as possible. You know in Das Boot where you feel like you’re in the boat? We have that similar situation in Burning Bright because you’re trapped in this house, the windows are all boarded up and it’s dark and scary because there’s a wild animal in the house. It’s starting to feel like it’s going in that direction. As you know, through editing it could change. Miklos Wright, the editor, is making it very Hitchcockian which I’m thrilled about.

Shock: In an early write-up on the film I had drawn comparisons to a film called Venom with Klaus Kinski, have you seen it?

Coyle: No, we didn’t know about it until you brought it up in your article. But what’s interesting is to keep someone in the house and to keep the tension going…

Roux: Oh my God! No dialogue. Kelly can’t talk to her brother because he’s autistic. So there we are with page after page of action. We’re dialogue women.

Shock: Story-wise, how do all of these elements come crashing together?

Roux: They have a stepfather, and he’s evil, of course.

Coyle: He’s the kind of guy who has had a million ideas, none of which have ever really worked out. So his latest idea is he’s going to have a bed and breakfast and a safari park together. Her mother had really bad choices in men, Johnny is at the top of her list in bad choices. Kelly is supposed to be leaving for college and what happens is she can’t because of circumstance. She winds up in the house, it’s boarded up and she can’t get out. Part of the question is: Who put the tiger in the house? Was it Tommy her brother? Kelly, in some suicidal way? Johnny the stepfather?

Shock: Did the script flow out rather easily for you two?

Coyle: I think it helped that Julie, David and I were on the same page. And then David would come in and say, “Okay, I want a Mexican stand-off scene.” So we would go off and do a rewrite, then he’d turn the script over to his people, he’d get notes, then we’d get notes. One of the things that was really wonderful about working with him is if you disagree with his notes, and you have a good reason, he’ll say fine.

Roux: We were able to talk him out of things and he was able to talk us out of things, it was cool. Because of the American Girl gig we were working with him again, so the relationship was there. We would look to do another thing with him.

Shock: When Carlos Brooks came aboard, did you find you had another good creative relationship? Did that bring into play another set of notes?

Coyle: Very few notes. We had seen his film Quid Pro Quo, which we liked, and we sat around a table and talked about a couple of things about what he visually wanted to do. As usual it turned around to be a twenty-two day shoot, or so, in Florida when tropic storm Fay came in. So we were shooting a film about a hurricane during a tropic storm. We had some things we had to cut that we would have liked to still have in there, but out of necessity of budget and time, it just wasn’t possible. We just did an opening scene to explain some of the back story, they’re getting ready to shoot that in Florida for a day.

Shock: How was your time on set?

Coyle: We were there for about five days.

Roux: We were working two of the days on a rewrite and we were on set three days. We were on location in the middle of Florida. The house and the grounds we shot on looked like something from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The house definitely looked like what we had in mind.

Coyle: It was owned by some crazy Hungarian guy and it had fallen into disrepair, but the crew went ahead and used it. We also got to see some of the tiger shoots. We had originally asked what they were going to use…phony tigers? No. They told use they’d just put Lucite between the tiger and the actors. [laughs]

Roux: Which they did do. The tigers were really on set with Briana.

Coyle: And they were just gorgeous. There were three tigers to play one. Huge paws. When we went to the set up at Magic Mountain where they did some of the tiger stuff, there were rules. Every body had to stand in a group, if you’re not in a group you’re potentially dinner. No sudden movements. No children.

Roux: The tigers will train their eyes, it was fascinating.

Coyle: David brought his little kids, five and six, to the set. The tigers were in a cage. The little girl said something like “Wow, this is neat!” and the tiger just fixated on her. At that point, the trainer told everyone no kids under 18 when the tigers are out. And like I said, there were three tigers. One was a pouncer, one runs better…

Roux: One was for beauty shots.

Coyle: They drove them across the country for some of the stuff in the house, then they brought them back here to do a few things for a couple of days.

Shock: How did Briana take to the working conditions?

Coyle: She’s a dancer so she was very physical. And she’s a really beautiful girl, but not in a typical way. She’s throwing herself down stairs, out of windows, it was a physical role.

Roux: That was where the challenge was. It’s not just an action-thriller, it’s a psychological drama. You’ve got this brother-sister relationship so she really did great with that.

Shock: And you’ve got Garret Dillahunt as the stepfather.

Coyle: They were talking about some other actors for the part like Jeff Bridges.

Roux: Bill Pullman.

Coyle: Jeff Daniels. But there are certain expectations you have when you see them on the screen. Garret, certainly from Deadwood and Terminator, he’s got a cult following, but you buy him as this stepfather with a rather antagonistic relationship with this 18-year-old girl.

Roux: The fun thing about Kelly is she’s truly a woman-child. At the end of her teenage years she has this maternal relationship with this boy, she loves him but she hates him. Briana has a hardness in her and a smoky voice that worked for that.

Shock: How does she defend herself in this film?

Roux: She uses a bed as a shield…all of the things in the house.

Coyle: There’s a turning point in the film where she needs to decide whether she’s going to flee or fight. Once she makes that decision then she arms herself with the only things that are in the house.

Shock: So what’s next up?

Roux: We’re having so much fun on a new thriller about another young protagonist. This girl is probably a bit older this time. This is an original that we came up with so we’re really excited about it.

Coyle: It’s about a young girl in her early-20s who, at first, you think…

Roux: Is one of those whack jobs who romances prisoners. Then it turns out she’s not. But we can’t really tell you much more than that.

Burning Bright is currently awaiting a release date, but it is expected sometime this year.

Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor