5 Questions with... Bret Wood

There are so many talented folks working in the Atlanta film industry, we should learn more about them! In this regular feature, CinemATL asks "5 Questions" -- hence the title (clever!) -- of one of Atlanta's talented film professionals...


Those Who Deserve to Die is the latest feature film from Atlanta writer/director Bret Wood. It follows two very well received indie features, The Unwanted and Psychopathia Sexualis, both of which played at the Atlanta Film Festival and many other fests around the world. Bret also directed the documentary Hell’s Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films.

When not directing films, Bret's day job is producing film restoration projects and Blu-ray releases for Kino Lorber, a New York-based film distributor. So when he's not making his own films ("which only happens every three years or so"), he's preparing the releases of other people’s films.

As Bret finishes post-production on his latest film, he was kind enough to take a break and answer a few questions -- five to be exact -- for CinemATL:


1. I hear that you're working on a new film, can you tell us a bit about it?

We’re two shoot-days away from wrapping principal photography of my fourth narrative feature, Those Who Deserve to Die [the film has since wrapped production]. On the surface, it’s a revenge story, as an Iraq War veteran (Joe Sykes) returns home to avenge the deaths of his family, guided (and goaded) by the spirit of his dead sister (Alice Lewis). Rather than treat the violence as a satisfying dramatic payoff, I’m trying to keep his quest morally cloudy, so the viewer is never entirely sure whether they want him to succeed or not.

2. Much of your work has been based off of 19th-century stories and novellas. What draws you to these works as inspiration?

I don’t go there necessarily looking for material, it’s just where I like to spend my time. And the upside is, if I do stumble across a story that seems ripe for re-interpretation, there are no literary rights to be cleared. I think what I relate to is that these stories often deal with horror and perversity (some of it shocking, even by today’s standards), but it’s all cloaked in this formal, precise language. My work is all about repression and oppression, so it just clicks in my head.

And it’s not just the books I read. I’ve always found more creative inspiration in things of the distant past. To me, the most exciting films to watch (in terms of raw creativity) were made pre-1934. Those first-generation filmmakers were writing the screen language that is still used today — and if you go back to those “original texts,” you can discover all sorts of fascinating things — including storytelling techniques that failed to evolve — things that no one else is doing today.

Bret Wood with Rachel Frawley on set

Bret Wood with Rachel Frawley on set

3. Does your work for Kino Lorber help or influence your own creative projects?

My day job at Kino Lorber has greatly shaped my vision as a filmmaker, just in that it requires me to watch a broad spectrum of film that I wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to. As Vice President, in Charge of Restorations, I mostly focus on silent films and archival presentations, but a wide variety of films cross my desk. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve worked on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Rawhead Rex, Guilty Parents, the German Titanic (1943), Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby...Kill!, and some amazing films directed by women in the 1910s (most notably Lois Weber’s Hypocrites [1915]).

And depth of my exposure varies: sometimes I watch the movies straight through, sometimes I watch them while listening to audio commentaries written by notable historians, sometimes I’m doing scene-specific work like color-grading and digital cleanup (it’s amazing what you can learn about how a film was made by examining it shot by individual shot). It feels like I’ve been in locked in a graduate studies film class for the past 20+ years. In a good way.

The most important part of being a filmmaker is having your own style, and you develop your film vocabulary by watching movies — and the greater diversity of films you watch, the broader your vocabulary can be. Not everyone agrees. Most filmmakers (not just locally, but globally) prefer to use the vocabulary of the past ten years, so the director and audience are speaking the same visual language. As you can tell by now, I prefer dead tongues.

Lynn Lowry in TWD2D

Lynn Lowry in TWD2D

4. You often feature female protagonists in your films. Is this a conscious decision or does it just tend to work out that way?

Great question, which no one ever asks. My movies are usually about a struggle for independence. And since oppressive power in our culture is usually associated with men, I think it makes the struggle more potent if the protagonist is a woman, so she must fight within a culture that tries to deny her independence: conservatism, sexual predators, religion, the medical establishment, and overbearing family members (just about every variety of patriarchy). And that’s another reason I like setting my films in the past or in the rural South: it makes the obstacles faced by the women even more insurmountable. But that’s what my films are ultimately about — overcoming and surviving — and that might explain why they seem to resonate more with women viewers than with men.

That being said, I decided to change things up in my new movie, and make the protagonist a man, fighting against a male antagonist. During production, however, we recast the villain as a woman, purely because an actress became available with whom I was eager to work (Lynn Lowry). The script was not changed — only the gender. I was determined not to soften the role just because it was being played by a woman. That would’ve been hypocritical. So now we’ve got this truly diabolical (woman) villain — and I’ll be curious to see what meaning people assign to this characterization.

5. Finally, it's a question that's plagued mankind for decades... with your film history knowledge, I'm hoping you can give the definitive answer: What's the best Police Academy movie?

I have only seen the first, so by default, it is my favorite. Having seen Diner, I went into the theatre thinking Steve Guttenberg had a long and promising film career ahead of him. By the time I left the theatre, I reevaluated my prediction, and put all my chips on Michael WInslow. I’m still waiting for him to fulfill his big-screen potential… it will come.

You can follow the production of Those Who Deserve to Die at the official Facebook page. Give it a like!