Contracted is a film that will make you think twice about hooking up with a stranger at a party. What is the film and why does it hit so hard? You’ll have to see it for yourself. You can be prepared though. Shock spoke with director Eric England about the film, how it came together, and the good fortune of telling a tale of bad decisions…
Shock Till You Drop: Where did you come up with the idea for contracted?
Eric England: The idea came from really wanting to do a movie in sub-genre of a disease and infection and looking at that from the end and asking myself; “How can I get to that point?” then reverse engineering it in a way. I also wanted to tell a really intimate story about a girl and I thought it would be really cool to use sex as a way to introduce this virus and then let it spiral out of control and let it reveal itself to be something else at the end of the movie.
Shock: Your set up is so twisted and unique, where does that come from?
England: I heard this weird urban legend about a girl who goes to the doctor and she has maggots inside of her and the doctor says, “Whoever you’ve been sleeping with has been sleeping with dead bodies. Oh wow so that’s where that came from. So I was wondered how to spiral that out of control and take it even further and throw it off the walls.
Shock: You shot the film in 15 days. What’s the hardest part of that?
England: A little bit of everything. Shooting in L.A. was a pain in the ass. Also dealing with our lead being in make-up for three hours every day for the most part, balancing the tone and trusting your story. Sam’s rotting away essentially and there are times when she’s wearing her sunglasses and she just looks like absolute crap and dealing with people. I wanted it to feel weird. There are people who flat out say, “you look like shit. You need to go to a doctor.” I didn’t want every scene to be that. I think some people have faulted the movie for it, saying that not enough people are dealing with it. But you get so sick of hearing people say that and you don’t want to do it every time so it was just a matter of finding that balance of how far is that believable that they are dealing with it but at the same time, there’s some humor in the movie. You have to kind of go with us a little bit, trust us in the movie. That’s why the guy is like, “Wow that’s some really bad pink eye” and the doctor’s a little weird, it says Day 3 of 3. I want you to know that this movie will pay off by the end of it, you just have to go with me all the way till the end.
Shock: As far as casting, how hard was it to find someone to play Sam?
England: It was really difficult. Because starting out, we were approaching a few actresses and sending out offers and doing the whole thing and the movie came together so fast. I wrote it in March of 2012 and we started shooting in May of 2012. We didn’t have the time to wait for agents to get back to us and say “My client wants this and that.” Half way through that process, like a week or two of emails not being returned, I was just like, “we have to ditch Hollywood.” We have no money period. Some people didn’t want to do it because the pay wasn’t good. Some of them thought the content was too bold and they didn’t want it to be sketchy, and then some of them just had scheduling conflicts. So finally, I said that we didn’t have the money for Hollywood, this is a renegade style film that we’re just gonna run around L.A. and shoot in people’s houses. Beg, borrow and steal the whole way through. I don’t care whose face is on the poster. I don’t care that it’s not some girl from Vampire Diaries or something. I just want an actress who wants to do this movie. And our star, Najarra Townsend, ended up losing some of her reps over it because they didn’t want her to do it. The fact that she was just “I’m doing this movie”, gave me so much passion for her to be this role. I met her through Matt Mercer, who plays Riley in the film and is also a co-producer. He and I did all the casting cause we didn’t have the money for a casting director. So we were looking through hundreds and hundreds of girls and thousands of headshots and he said “Let me invite Najarra in, she’s a friend of mine. When she left, I told Matt; “That’s her.” It was her’s to lose now but when we brought her back in, she killed it again. So we sat her down and told her “It’s gonna suck, no one is gonna have sex with you after this” We just told her all these horror stories, and she fell in love with the script, she fell in love with us and the crew, we fell in love with her, and we hit it off so well that it was an incredible actress/director relationship. Her face is on the poster and I wouldn’t want anyone else’s face there.
Shock: When doing a film like this, were there any scenes that you really wanted to do but couldn’t get in?
England: Yeah. We had a few scenes that didn’t make it because I ended up changing things story wise but we also had our producers, J.D. and Raphael, who are great guys, there Orthodox and extremely religious. So we had to cut out a lot of the sexuality and we had to be careful about the nudity because of that. We ended up taking a very art house approach to the film and I think that it adds this layer of sophistication to the movie because it’s not a very graphic and sexual film.
Shock: Are there any characters in the film based on people you know?
England: Absolutely, like I said, we had no money so everyone in the movie except for Najarra and Caroline (Williams) were friends. Katie Stegeman was in Madison County and was the lead in my second film, Roadside. Matt Mercer was also in Madison County. They were all just people I knew so I just wrote the movie around them. The guy that serves them the drinks is a real bartender and he works in that restaurant, we were just finding things we could use. I like to say that Contracted was just one big home movie that we shot in our back yard with our friends.
Shock: So finding Najarra Townsend was a blessing, how did Caroline Williams come on board?
England: She came on board in the wackiest way. Me and Matt Mercer do a “Drunken Horror Movie Night” The particular movie we were watching that night happened to be Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. At this point, the movie was turning off a lot of actresses. We had some that were high profile, some that were not, and they were all scared to do the movie because of the content. Then Matt Mercer threw out Caroline Williams. We were like, “Do you think she would do it?” So Matt sent her a Facebook massage the very next day, we didn’t even know if it was her actual Facebook page but we got a response back right away. The next thing you know, we were having lunch and freaking out. We’re big fans and had no idea what we were doing. (Laughs). When she sat down, she was just this big ball of energy and we just hit it off. She started telling us about the movie saying “It’s so poetic and it’s so great.” I was just think “Wow. You’re really making my little STD movie sound really cool.” It was just a really perfect alignment.