Tripp Rhame has been working in film since the late 90s, particularly as cinematographer for Little Mammoth Media’s “BIG Adventure Series” of educational films for children.
Now, he has made his feature film debut with BLEED (review), a minimalistic and raw horror film with all the key ingredients: young characters, ghosts, sacrificial marks, and sinister cults. I had the chance to speak directly with Tripp Rhame as he is currently out promoting the film. You can also check out my review of BLEED here.
Yes, I am a co-partner in Spitfire Studios. We began working as a commercial production house for the past ten years building towards our feature film production. We’d been amassing yearly and reinvesting money into the company to build kind of a war chest if you will. When the time came, we could back ourselves since we now had the resources to do so.
It’s a very impressive first feature. And I know that with the backwoods setting and secluded house away from the city is almost like the “go to” location for a lot of horror films. What was your plan going into production just to make sure that BLEED stood out from the rest of the pack?
We wanted to make sure that the film not only stood out visually, but we wanted to have a unique cast. I really think we had an exceptional cast that really gelled well together. They all became friends instantly and that bond has continued even past the production. I grew up in the 80s and I love these types of films. So this was an homage to all those visual experiences that I had as a teenager and a young adult. I wanted to put that together with some visual flair as well as try to have fun with it and do some things that have become lost in a lot of the current pictures. We didn’t want to torture porn or anything outlandish just to get a bunch of gags. So we wanted to have more focus on the story and the characters.
There was a real synergy with the characters thanks to the actors’ on screen chemistry. And it’s very easy to spot the love for the horror genre in almost every frame of this film. Could you talk a little about what made you want to tell this particular story?
Raj Kala, the actor who plays the character of Kane in the movie, had just finished shooting a short film up at this prison farm. He called me up and told me I had to check this place out. So when we both went up there to explore, it was so incredible that I knew I wanted to have it play a character in a story. I went back to the studio and wrote a treatment for a narrative that would take place at this prison farm. Although I didn’t want to go the traditional EVIL DEAD or CABIN IN THE WOODS route, so I decided to focus on a young family, and build a mythology around the things that this family might be going through emotionally.
I really enjoyed how you developed the relationship between the siblings Sarah and Eric. What was it about the actors Chelsey Crisp and Riley Smith respectively that made you want to cast them?
I actually made Riley an offer without having to audition him because I was familiar with his previous work playing, I guess you could say, “bad boy” type characters. When I spoke to him about the project, he was instantly passionate about it and really wanted to get involved. Chelsey, however, did read for us and her performance caught our attention immediately. She connected well with Riley, but she also has a background with improv comedy, which enabled her timing to always be on point. It also helped that Riley and two of our other actors, Michael Steger and Lyndon Smith were all on 90210 together, because even with a tight production schedule and shooting window, it was important that we make the cast work.
Was there a lot of room for improvisation on set?
Absolutely, and that really helped us. We didn’t stick hard to the page. Once we got into a scene, we would block and rehearse it on set, the actors would bring to my attention anything that didn’t feel right to them. That really helped me because these actors are essentially embodying the characters that I wrote, but because they are doing that, they know these characters better than I do. So if it didn’t feel real to the actors, I let them change the dialogue as well as anything else regarding their characters until it felt right to them. That was really important to me because if we didn’t feel that dynamic of this group coming together, we knew the audience in turn wouldn’t be willing to go on this ride.
As a person of mixed ethnicity, I want to thank you for casting such a diverse group of people. It’s become a pretty big topic of discussion in Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general about diversity in the type of film roles being offered to people of ethnic origins. Do you have any thoughts on this subject?
Thank you for mentioning and noticing that. I think our cast represents the general public. This would be my group of friends, if I was hanging out with these people. It just felt right to have a more ethnically diverse group of people. To have a group of friends where every character is of a single origin, that doesn’t represent our country. And it showed in the way that this cast got along so well. There were never any issues of race on our set. Everyone was talking and being friendly to each other, which just made the experience of making this film so much more fun, especially because we were in such a dark and ugly place for most of the shoot.
BLEED definitely made use of its low budget and the practical effects looked great. But did you have any difficult experiences with getting a certain look or effect?
We also had the benefit of The Walking Dead shooting practically in our back yard, so we were able to get special effects makeup artist Andres Frietas, which added a lot to the finished film. But we did a week of overnights. That in itself puts a lot of wear and tear on your body clock, but coupled with the fact that we were in this dark and dank place, there was that concern of making sure everyone was accounted for. Everybody had to have a guide and wear lights on their head to get around. But one scene in particular where Riley’s character, Eric, gets his neck cut. That whole scene took place in an enclosed cell and we didn’t have the time or the money to remove walls to create space. Coupled with the tight space, there were a lot of cues that had to happen. We rehearsed it ten times because we knew that if we didn’t get it right the first time, the amount of time it would have taken to clean Riley up and replay the effect would have taken us well into the morning. So thankfully, we had a one take wonder, but the pressure to get this scene right wore down on everyone.
What’s next for you? I noticed on your IMDB page you have a film called SENTIENCE in the works.
SENTIENCE is a script I’ve written. I feel really strongly about it. It’s set in the late 70s about a young girl who has a near death experience who comes back with a lot of strange traits. I’m really excited about it.