Exclusive: ‘They’re Watching’ Jay Lender Micah Wright Talk Bad American Tourists

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Kris Lemche as Alex and Dimitri Diatchenko as Vladimir (from left to right) | ‘They’re Watching’ (2016).

Jay Lender and Micah Wright talk reality TV horror movie ‘They’re Watching’ and explain why American’s are the worst tourists in the world.

 

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Micah Wright (left) and Jay Lender (right)

It’s no surprise that noted graphic novelists and animators such as Micah Wright and Jay Lender, with a collective resume ranging from work on ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops II’ to ‘Sponge Bob Square Pants,’ would concoct such a cartoonish yet oddly grounded horror scenario. After speaking to the veteran duo of creatives turned filmmakers, it is glaringly apparent that their intelligent and well-humored personalities have carried over into their creative endeavors.

In this Film Fad exclusive interview, Pooya chats with Jay and Micah about their new horror feature ‘They’re Watching,’ the less than desirable American travel ethic, the rigors of filming in a foreign country, transcending genre, and why the film’s ending could give you diabetes.

So without further ado, here is an exclusive peek into the minds of Jay Lender and Micah Wright.

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Brigid Brannagh as Becky | ‘They’re Watching’ (2016).

Jay Lender:

Hi there, Pooya.

FilmFad (Pooya):

How’s it going fellas?

Jay Lender:

We’re doing well. How are you doing?

FilmFad (Pooya):

I’m doing fantastic. Y’all have a busy day today? Full of interviews, I’m sure.

Jay Lender:

Yeah, absolutely. You’re our first though, and our favorite.

FilmFad (Pooya):

Oh… well that… oh my gosh. Well, you guys really know how to butter someone up.

[Laughing]

Jay Lender:

We’re just getting started.

FilmFad (Pooya):

Yeah, Yeah. Consider me some dinner rolls, because I love being buttered up. I don’t know, that was weird.

Jay Lender:

[Laughing]

 

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Brigid Brannagh as Becky, Kris Lemche as Alex and David Alpay as Greg (from left to right) | ‘They’re Watching’ (2016).

FilmFad (Pooya):

So, I’ll go ahead and jump into things and not waste any time. You guys have involvement in so many fantastic properties. You guys have done everything from Nickelodeon to Video games. So, with past credits that include writing for ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops II’ and ‘Spongebob Squarepants,’ how in Moldova did you end up helming a horror feature?

Jay Lender:

[Laughing] Micah?

Micah Wright:

We’ve been writing movies for a while. We had one in Korea back in 2001-ish, 2002 and we’ve been trying to crack the American market for a while. I went to an event at the Writers Guild where Billy Ray, the guy who wrote ‘Captain Phillips’ and is also a director, he was talking and he said: “yeah, I think the future for writers is in directing their own material.” And I thought, “oh, well that makes sense. Why didn’t I ever think of that before?” Because, you know, you’re not just writing something and handing it off to somebody else and hoping that they can sort of interpret what you already have in your head. So, Jay and I were thinking about what kind of movie we could write that we could actually direct, that people would let us direct. We would have to do it with a low budget. It would have to be something that we would absolutely make money on, because there’s no point in directing a movie about a starving dentist with three wives only to have it completely flame out at the box office.

[Jay and Pooya Laughing]

Micah Wright:

Because then everybody is like, “oh, those are those idiots that did that movie about the dentist, the polygamist dentist.” And so, we were just thinking what could we do that would be cheap and easy. Not easy, but cheap and would be within our abilities. And then we were like, “horror movies.” So, we starting thinking about ideas for horror movies and eventually we came up with one.

Jay Lender:

I think in the end, storytelling is storytelling. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it in cartoons, or videos games or movies. Especially if you’re used to doing funny stuff, that’s the hardest thing in the world, if you can do funny, you can do anything. And by the way, I have title for that movie of yours Micah. It’s called ‘The Bigamentist.’

Micah Wright:

[chuckles] ‘The Bigamentist.’

Jay Lender:

He likes to drill things…

FilmFad (Pooya):

I heard it’s a gnawing drama with biting topics.

Jay Lender:

[Chuckling] Ahhh!

 

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David Alpay as Greg (center) and Kris Lemche as Alex (right) | ‘They’re Watching’ (2016).

FilmFad (Pooya):

Terrible puns, ignore me. So, ‘They’re Watching’ takes place in Republic of Moldova, what about this Eastern European locale made it appealing as the setting for your film.

Jay Lender:

Well, we knew we were going to be dealing with issues, and I know it’s going to sound hoity toity, but it’s actually true Our movie deals with issues of cultural imperialism and things like that. Particularly American’s poor attitudes towards people from other countries. As we went through the process of determining where we were going to make this movie, we had to interview a whole bunch of different production companies all over Eastern Europe. And we eventually settled on Romania, as the place to shoot, and the team at Alien film, as the team to work with. Romania has this reputation in Europe of sort of being the Ozark of Europe. We know who those people are in America, we know what those stereotypes are in America. But just for fun we decided, let’s ask Romania’s who they make fun of. And they said, to a man, Moldova. So, we knew Moldova was definitely the place to go. Of course that being said, our Moldova is a fantasy Moldova. We have people running around dressed up in Bolshevik era work-clothes with sleeveless undershirts, it’s not a true portrayal.

Micah Wright:

Yeah, it’s not a travel documentary by any sense of the imagination.

[Jay and Pooya Laughing]

Micah Wright:

You’ll see that we’re making fun of Americans, because that’s what American’s think of Eastern Europeans. So it’s very meta in that we’re not really making fun of Eastern Europeans, we’re making fun of what American impressions of Eastern Europeans are.

Jay Lender:

And the Americans in our movie are all punished for those attitudes. In the end, the Moldavians end up sort of being the heroes, because they’re really the only characters that know what the heck is going on in this movie.

Micah Wright:

And if you speak Romanian, there is no mystery because all the way through it they’re like “bla bla bla” this is happening and we have to go kill “bla bla bla.” And the Americans are walking blindly around not hearing anything they’re saying because they don’t speak the language.

FilmFad (Pooya):

Yeah, there is a couple instances where I was wondering if that was gibberish or some sort of easter egg kind of hidden in there, for only those inclined…

Jay Lender:

It’s an easter egg for all twenty of the people in Romania who will see this movie.

[All Laughing]

FilmFad (Pooya):

Well you mentioned the characters, and I really enjoyed all of the characters. They each had their own distinct and robust personalities.

Micah Wright:

Oh, thank you.

FilmFad (Pooya):

But I really have got to ask, did you pull any of these characters from anyone in particular… particularly Kate? I think anybody who’s had a boss or slavedriver without substance can relate to that relationship.

Jay Lender:

Well, you’ll never get us to name names.

FilmFad (Pooya):

[Laughing]

Micah Wright:

I don’t even know if there were names so much as that there is just a universal truth about having a really bad boss.

Jay Lender:

The reality is that we were playing with a lot of horror movie tropes and archetypes. So we have the hunk, we have the good girl, we have the bitchy girl and we have the goofball. What we just decided is that we wanted our movie to be about loving, and meeting and learning about those characters as much as anything else. Most horror movies, I think, kind of give a nod to that stuff, so you know who everybody is. The guy who shows up smoking pot, he’s in every horror movie and you know who he is, and we have that guy. But our guy, he’s deeper than that and he’s more interesting than that. I think all our characters are like that. In a way we’re not really talking about a horror movie here, what we have is a workplace comedy. It’s slow burn. We spend a lot time with these characters. It’s workplace comedy that turns into a straw dogs type of thriller, that turns into a psycho killer movie, that turns into something entirely different. And our characters are always one genre behind the movie they’re actually in, they really have no idea what’s going on.

FilmFad (Pooya):

Another character that really stood out was Vladimir, every-time he was onscreen one couldn’t help but crack a smile. You seem to have pulled from unique genres to create him, was Vladimir inspired by someone in particular?

Micah Wright:

Well you know, he’s actually inspired by a real life person who appeared three of four times on Anthony Bourdain’s food travel show.

FilmFad (Pooya):

Really?

Micah Wright:

Yeah. Anthony Bourdain, he travels around the world and eats the foods of exotic countries. And he has this guy – when you go to a country like that you get a fixer – who gets you through customs and helps you sort of ameliorate troubles with the locals or police. We knew we needed a fixer kind of character. In the show were lightly making fun of, ‘House Hunters International,’ there’s always a local Realtor, sometimes an expatriate from America or England and sometimes there local. We saw this guy, his name is Zamir Gotta, and he was Anthony Bourdain’s fixer on 3 or 4 episodes of his show. He was such unique and weird individual that Bourdain was like “okay, next time we go to Eastern Europe let’s get that guy back.” And he became this sort of mini star on Bourdain’s show. He’s just that kind of guy, he’s always on the make. You could just see him at any moment going “Tony, would you like to buy nuclear submarine?” So when we cast, we were looking for this guy who was in his 50’s and heavy set, on the fat side. We saw a couple of guys, then Dimitri [Diatchenko] walked in and instantly our mental image of this character changed from a being a guy who’s fat because he drank too much wine and beer, to a guy who’s 6’ tall and 290 lbs of solid muscle. We were just like “okay, we’ll go with that.” In person, he is such a vivacious and funny guy – only ever allowed to play thugs, Russian gangsters, murderers and soviet soldiers – he’s been typecast as a creep. He’s just so funny we were thrilled to have met him.

Jay Lender:

I think what he brought to the role, in addition to unbelievable comedy, because he’s just really funny… Everyone improvised around their lines and they all gave us gold. Dimitri [Diatchenko] saw something in the role that the other guys didn’t necessarily, that was the desperation that underlines that kind of hustle in that character. When you watch Dimitri in this movie you can feel that he feels like it could all fall apart at any moment. He could be living on the street in a refrigerator box and he’d never have a roof over his head again. And there’s something about that quality in him that just makes him incredibly sympathetic. So, we just love what we saw with Dimitri. He did great stuff for us.

FilmFad (Pooya):

Absolutely, “the only real estate broker in Moldova is the best real estate broker in Moldova.”

[Micah and Jay Laughing]

Micah Wright:

Exactly. [Chuckling] He’s from Florida, by the way.

FilmFad (Pooya):

Are you serious? [Chuckling]

Micah Wright:

Yeah, he’s from Florida. That’s not his accent, he’s not from over there, we didn’t find him on the street somewhere. He’s an actor, he works in Hollywood. He just was raised by a father who’s from the Ukraine, so he speaks Russian fluently. He can put-on and drop-off the accent whenever he wants. He’s really great, we enjoyed working with him. And that’s really him playing guitar also.

FilmFad (Pooya):

Is that Greg [David Alpay] playing the Violin, or should I say fiddle, at that same point?

Micah Wright:

Yeah.

Jay Lender:

All the music we did is recorded live on set. We didn’t use any overdubs, nothing. what you see is what you got.

FilmFad (Pooya):

That was a beautiful scene. It really brought the audience in for the culture and fraternity, that new friendship theme, that you are talking about. It really did that for the film.

Jay Lender:

Then it all goes to hell. [laughing]

Micah Wright:

[Laughing] Immediately afterwards, with just one word.

 

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David Alpay as Greg and Kris Lemche as Alex (from left to right) | ‘They’re Watching’ (2016).

FilmFad (Pooya):

Yeah… [Laughing] Not only did the characters have a reality to them, I also enjoyed how this film really has a movie quality to it. I immediately got sucked in but, at the same time, there was a believability that ran the course of the film and made the finale that much more surprising. How important was it to establish the reality feel early on?

Micah Wright:

I think it was really important. The movie begins with this sort of ‘House Hunters’ sequence. And because that genre of television is so distinctive and so well-know, we wanted to make sure we completely, perfectly mimicked the look and feel of it, but with some comedy elements. There’s some moments where we hold for way too long on Dimitri’s face until the audience just realizes “oh, I’m supposed to be laughing here.” We used a lot of ironic counterpoints. For example, there’s a scene where [Kate]’s saying “oh, Moldova is beautiful” and in the background there’s a construction site with a bunch of children that are impoverished and their clothes are dirty, their hair is dirty, and there’s some guy running towards camera with a construction tool in his hand. It’s not typically the scene you would see under the phrase ‘Moldova is beautiful, and I love it here.” We wanted to hit that look and get that feeling immediately, and then to undercut it by cutting to the film crew in the car commenting about what they had just seen. In that scene Kris Lemche is actually driving the car. So, he’s delivering his lines while he reacts…

Jay Lender

Drives in a foreign country. [Laughing]

Micah Wright:

Yeah. Drives in a foreign country where, literally, everyone drives like a maniac. And I know people say that all the time about every country, but this was the one country where my fingers never relaxed on the armrest. And I’ve been all over the world.

FilmFad (Pooya):

So it was a real white knuckle experience, I guess.

Micah Wright:

Oh yeah. A real white knuckle experience. And it was for [Kris Lemche] too. I only had to ride there, he’s suddenly driving there while saying his lines on camera, and reacting in the scene, and living in the moment.
So, I think the realism comes out in his panic.

 


Check out Film Fad’s review of Jay Lender and Micah Wright’s American horror feature debut ‘They’re Watching’ by clicking HERE.


 

FilmFad (Pooya):

I don’t want to spoil this movie. I want to walk on eggshells here. But that ending, pardon my french, was F&*%ing bonkers, it was really surprising. Without revealing anything one would deem spoilery, I want to know what inspired you. The reason I ask, I see a lot of famous horror creators invoked in various ways throughout the film, and it’s pretty subtle at the beginning. Towards the end, especially at the climax, I saw very Sam Raimi-esque moments and other things like that. 1) What inspired you to do that ending, and 2) what were your biggest horror inspirations at that point?

Micah Wright:

You mentioned Sam Raimi, I think for sure there is a lot of Sam Raimi in there. There is a lot of John Carpenter in there. There is Toby Cooper in there. We are big horror fans. We knew that we did not have the money to do a 90 minute special effects movie. So we had to marshal our resources and use them very very sparingly. We decided we’ll horde them up until then end and then just dump them on the audience like a big bucket of cold water.

Jay Lender

[Chuckling] We also knew that because we were making a different kind of movie, where we would spend a lot of time exploring character and getting into personal stuff, that we need to make sure that when it’s over we rewarded the audience. So when you see the last ten, fifteen minutes of that movie, that’s dessert – and we know it. We wanted to make it the greatest dessert we could possible give people, and I think we did pretty well – it’s pretty nuts. [Chuckling]

Micah Wright:

We’re making a character driven drama that devolves into a psychological thriller and then an outright horror movie. It was important to us to sort of have that build, so we have a reason to have ending like that.

Jay Lender

As the audience is watching this movie, if there’s ever a moment when you wonder when the bodies will show up, just be patient. They will arrive, and in great numbers. [Chuckling]

FilmFad (Pooya):

Thank you so much for giving me the time to chat with you guys today. I really enjoyed watching your film and I will definitely say that the ending was not only sweet, it was like a three scoop sundae with bananas and a maraschino cherry on-top.

Micah Wright:

Great. I’m so thrilled to hear that.

Jay Lender

[Laughing] Thanks Pooya, good talking to you.

FilmFad (Pooya):

I think I have diabetes now.

Micah Wright:

Fantastic.

 

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Pooya

Author: Pooya

Since his wee lad-dom, Pooya has been a sommelier of cinema. It was likely some acting bug, fallen from the dust riddled ruby curtains of an enchanted old stage that did it. Those cinematic scarabs must have burrowed deep into his brain, irreversibly altering his mind, turning the poor boy down a dismal path.From his earliest years the strange boy would aimlessly wander the aisles of countless video rental stores, amassing his trivial knowledge with vigor. These actions befuddled the boy’s parents, who still would lovingly oblige his unusual attraction to the motion picture. Often seeking refuge in the cushioned seating of his local movie theater, the odd adolescent would immerse himself in the scripted and effects riddled realities unfolding on the screen before him. During his collegiate years, he was twice spotted on stage performing bizarre theatrical rituals before awe-struck audiences. When he departed from academia, he left behind his youth in exchange for a labor routine, but the strange young man never lost his long-cultivated love of film.Recently, Pooya was approached by FilmFad.com to join their budding team of entertainment bloggers. After hours of coaxing and an undisclosed number of honey jars, he accepted their offer. Finally he had come full circle. Finally, at FilmFad.com, he was home.

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