Exclusive: John and Drew Dowdle Talk Practical Effects in ‘No Escape’

John-Drew-Dowdle

John and Drew Dowdle discuss the reality of their film “No Escape.”

We had the chance to discuss the film “No Escape” with the director and writers of the film John and Drew Dowdle. Throughout the discussion we find out the intricate details that kept the film’s intensity high and the reality that inspired the film’s creation. We also discover that much of the film is surrounded by real-life, practical effects rather than CG imposed shots. Read through below to find out what makes “No Escape” an action film that will have you on the edge of your seat.

John Erick Dowdle:

Hey Ryan, how are you doing?

Film Fad:

Good, how about yourself?

John Erick Dowdle:

Good, thank you.

Drew Dowdle:

Good

Film Fad:

So I’m going to start off with asking, what was the inspiration for writing “No Escape?”

John Erick Dowdle:

Well it started when my father and I were doing a tour of southeast Asia. And right before we left there was a coup that overthrew the government in Thailand. The generals had taken over the country and it was a couple days before we landed there and we decided to go anyway. And we showed up right in the wake of this coup and it was a peaceful coup but tensions were high. There was armed guards everywhere. It just had this tension in the air and I started thinking, “What would happen if this was a bad coup and you showed up and there was no advance warning or anything like that.” Just suddenly the generals had taken over and what if this had went badly? We had previously gone to Thailand with my parents and my two little sisters who are roughly the same ages and they’re similar to the little girls in the movie. It came from that and Drew and I just started hashing it out and working it through.

Drew Dowdle:

We’ve always been drawn to stories of characters being caught in an unexpected crisis and our last three movies prior to “No Escape” kind of had that underlying theme and this one fit right in and we liked the ideas. Really regular parents with kids in a completely unexpected, terrible situation.

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Drew: We’ve always been drawn to stories of characters being caught in an unexpected crisis

Film Fad:

Sure, so Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan…on the surface level it seems kind of like an odd casting pair but when you look at Brosnan’s history of espionage films and Wilson’s “Behind Enemy Lines,” where he’s also trying to reach a border, they kind of fit very well. How were they chosen for these roles?

John Erick Dowdle:

We like to cast really warm actors. The world of “No Escape” is such a cold world, we really wanted to bring warm actors into it to make it more inviting. For the role of Jack we wanted somebody who you haven’t really seen do something like this. We wanted a regular person, like one of your friends in this situation not like a “actiony” person in that situation. And then we liked the idea of doing something a little revelatory for that actor. And then we started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to cast someone like Pierce Brosnan?” He in a very specific way and then flip that on its head a little too. Make him sort of rugged and an alcoholic and bearded and see what happens with that. It became good fun for us and Pierce, that guy can do anything, it’s really fun to see him do a character.

No-Escape-Pierce-Brosnan

It became good fun for us and Pierce, that guy can do anything…

Film Fad:

Definitely. Let me preface this next question by saying that I love this film. I was fully engage throughout, but I know action-thrillers generally catch a bad wrap from critics. One aspect we always speak to in our publication on Film Fad is entertainment value which “No Escape” definitely has. Do you think some critics sometimes forget to say whether they just simply enjoyed a film like this?

John Erick Dowdle:

(laughs)

Drew Dowdle:

(laughs)

Drew Dowdle:

We can read a review that might not have loved the film but then say things like the film was really well made and it was really tense and we try to mine a lot of the positives out of a review that might overall be a little negative because reviewers are forced to watch movies that they may not be the audience for. And it’s kind of how it works with that if it’s not their kind of movie. We were encouraged by how many of the reviews mentioned the quality of the making of, the quality of the performances, and the tension. To us that felt like there was a lot of stock in that.

Film Fad:

Yeah and I’d like to reiterate, I did, I really loved this film. I thought it was very entertaining and it’s one of the reasons why we go to the movies, to be entertained and I think that’s something that’s lost with a lot of films.

John Erick Dowdle:

Thank you so much.

Drew Dowdle:

Yeah, thank you…haha, we would agree with you on that.

Film Fad:

(laughs) I use my girlfriend as kind of a factor for something that audiences will love because she falls asleep during so many. But she was fully engaged throughout (laughs). But more recently we spoke a pretty prominent stuntman in Hollywood about some of the intimate details of stuntwork and throughout “No Escape” it just seems to have many practical rather than CGI stunts throughout. I wanted to ask, what do you think were some of the most challenging moments when executing some of these stunts?

John Erick Dowdle:

I would say the roof throw sequence. We wrote that into the script in the first draft and the two questions were, “How are you going to throw a kid off a rooftop and how are you going to crash a helicopter on to a hotel roof without spending a gazillion dollars on the movie?”

Drew Dowdle:

And not killing anyone…

John Erick Dowdle:

(laughs) Or killing anyone, yeah (laughs). And what you said, really just about everything in the movie is practical. We did almost no CG. It’s a real helicopter flying around the roof, it’s a helicopter body crashing on to the roof. We wanted everything to feel right and when you go practical, it just feels real. It’s often that people go CG when you could just as easily do it practically and do it better. For the rooftop, early on people kept saying, “Just build the rooftop on stage. You can put green screens all around it and it will be safe and easy…” and we’re like, “No, we want it to be on a hotel rooftop where you feel the height.” We wanted to be able to see the expanse and make it feel real. But going back to what you were asking, the roof throw, initially we didn’t know how we were going to do that. We assumed we would probably have stunt people that we threw off and in fact it ended up being the real actresses. The little girls are being thrown off a rooftop. And it shows in their faces (laughs).

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The little girls are being thrown off a rooftop. And it shows in their faces (laughs).

Drew Dowdle:

We had worked it through with Thai stunt kids repeatedly in a warehouse. We built courses on the rooftops that were pretty high in the air. John’s son had watched on the iPad and seen some of the test runs with the stunt kids and he really wanted to do it. So we invited everyone on location on a Saturday, the moms and the daughters and the two of us and John’s son. We watch the stunt kids do it a couple times and then we strapped Henry, John’s kid, up to the wires and we threw him from one to the other. And the little actresses were…it was like a ride, they all wanted to do it. And obviously there wasn’t a camera there then but we went through it a few times and they actually had a pretty good time with it. So then we really could us the real girls and they were comfortable and their mothers were comfortable. And then we changed it, instead of throwing the girls face down, we could throw them face up. And on the second throw, the Lucy throw, we actually put the cinematographer on wires and he jumped over with the camera kind of alongside her. It was a tough thing to choreograph but it really gives you the feeling that you’re falling with her and that we felt like was pretty cool.

Film Fad:

Yeah and I could definitely tell throughout, as I mentioned, I could see the practical effects. And I’m one of those people that it really engages me further when I can see all of the effort that went into something as practical as this. But outside of the entertainment value of this film, I know you touched on it briefly but was there any particular message or theme you were trying to convey throughout?

John Erick Dowdle:

One of the things that was really important to us is there was a number of years ago, and it has a happy ending, our dad was in a plane crash and he almost died and he’s rallied since so now he’s fine. But Drew and I had all of these problems going on in our normal day-to-day lives and suddenly there’s this moment of “Dad’s been in a plane crash, you’ve gotta get to Fargo, North Dakota where he crashed. Get here in the next 12 hours, because we don’t know if he’s going to live through the night.” And suddenly everything just melts away. It’s like everything that seemed like a problem is just nonsense and the things that are important, family and the human connections we have with each other, not jobs or who you’re dating…all of that stuff becomes irrelevant. Drew and I both got there within 12 hours and there was that feeling of, “This is what’s important.” And we really wanted to invoke that kind of feeling. Jack’s down on himself at the start because life isn’t turning out the way he wanted it to, he had higher dreams and aspirations for himself, and he feels like he’s letting his family down and he feels bad about that. But when the shit hits the fan, this is what’s important, this family is what’s important. And we really liked exploring that in this.

No-Escape-Owen-Wilson-Lake-Bell

“What would I do if I was this character? What would I do in this situation?”

Film Fad:

Well let me ask you, outside of “No Escape,” both of you seem to enjoy being involved in some high intensity, fast paced films. Is this a genre that you tend to thrive in or particularly enjoy?

John Erick Dowdle:

Yeah. We really love intense movies. I love watching the movies that grip me and we try to do that the best we can to really grip an audience and not give them time to think about bills they have to pay and stuff like that. We like to create an immersive experience.

Drew Dowdle:

Yeah, immersive is a good word. Like something that’s experiential where you’re not thinking about your life outside of it. Once you’re drawn in you’re thinking about, “What would I do if I was this character? What would I do in this situation?” If you’re thinking along those lines throughout the movie then we feel like we’ve done our job and we tend to like to keep the foot on the gas during our films.

Film Fad:

Well let me close with this question. Do either of you have anything in the future that you’re looking forward to or anything that you want to get involved with in the future?

John Erick Dowdle:

You mean like film-wise?

Film Fad:

Film-wise or any other projects that are just really your niche in general.

John Erick Dowdle:

Well right now we’re starting to get our foot into TV right now. And that’s really fun. TV has become so interesting in this new era. We were like, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do an 8-hour movie spread across 8 episodes?” I find that to be appealing. We’re really excited about a couple projects that we’re working on in that space right now.

Drew Dowdle:

Yeah, it gives you a lot more opportunity to go deep on character when you have 6 hours or 8 hours. The TV things that we’re both close to right now are both limited series. And there’s something about a slightly longer format. I know as an audience member, I love that type of experience of watching something that I know is going to be over in 8 hours and is not going to go on for 7 seasons but it’s more than one viewing, it’s more than one night. I really enjoy that. One of them is a lot of perspective, there’s a lot going on. And the other one is more of a slow burn, psychological type story which is also very interesting to us because we do spend a lot of time. A lot of our energy in film, kind of doing these fast paced films, this is very very different at a much slower pace but really interesting and I think that’s a chance for us to do something a little different.

Film Fad:

Well I know we’re running out on time here but I wanted to thank you guys both so much for taking the time. We’ll be posting a Blu-ray review fairly soon (found here) and you guys can look forward to it being very positive because I really enjoyed it.

Drew Dowdle:

Thank you.

John Erick Dowdle:

Thank you, appreciate that Ryan.

Tell us your thoughts on “No Escape!” We want to know what you think of the film!

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“No Escape” comes out on Blu-ray on November 24th

Ryan

Author: Ryan

Ryan has been fascinated with film and pop culture since childhood. Throughout college he "played it safe" taking the more lucrative route of being a computer programmer while squeezing in film related courses where he could...but even during his post college career, he could never escape his true passion. After following one of his favorite blogs for a long time, he approached the site's Editor about writing and they reluctantly gave him a shot. He later became their Senior Writer which led to a variety of other projects, radio show appearances, features, and high profile celebrity interviews. Despite his success with blogging, he still wanted more so in order to expand his creative addiction, he merged his IT skills and blogging know-how to create FilmFad.com which has continued to grow into a creative Mecca of pop-culture fun and integrity.[email protected]   Film Fad

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