Hippie Bus Driver Makes Good

Alec Carlin's outstanding new thriller Outpatient is only the latest intriguing turn of events in a professional life that has included stints as writer on a cheesy sci-fi picture, documentary filmmaker and hippie bus driver. He sits down with us to discuss why he gave up filming snakes eating birds in favor of horror shows of his own devising.

OC Weekly: How did you get your start as a filmmaker? Alec Carlin: Well, I started as a hippie bus driver for a company called Green Tortoise that takes people all over the world. In my travels, I met a documentary filmmaker, and he showed me how you do it: you basically collect a lot of footage and put it all together. He started paying me to film stuff when I went around the world. He'd say, "I need a shot of the pyramids at midnight," "I need a shot of a toucan," whatever. I watched him put all of this together. He'd take a shot of a snake and another shot of a bird somebody filmed two years earlier and edit them together, and then his money shot would be another shot of a different snake eating a different bird. It struck me as a very strange way to work, and it occurred to me to try my hand at it. And from there, I worked my way into narrative. BeforeOutpatient, the only feature credit I could find for you was writing the screenplay for a sci-fi picture calledDarkdrive, which was clearly something very different fromOutpatient.

Ah, well . . . we had some problems on that one, I'm afraid. We did it several years before The Matrix, and I went into it imagining something more on that line. It was supposed to be this moody story of a man who has to journey into a virtual world to find his wife, who has gone in there. I expected something a little more Blade Runner, more William Gibson. But the director unfortunately didn't agree and just wanted more explosions. The producer, Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, had a more artistic vision, and in fact he's a producer on Outpatient. In the end, the sci-fi/art crowd thought it was too much of an action picture, and the action crowd thought it was too arty. Not what I'd call a success.

So how did you get from there to directing your own feature?

Well, it was the product of a 10- to 15-year obsession, really. I met a lot of producers along the way who were interested, but then we wasted a lot of time chasing names, trying to find a star to make the film marketable. Agents kept telling us their clients loved the script, but it was just a little too out there. In the end, I'm very glad we didn't get the name actors, Sean Penn and the others. I think the actors we got were just fantastic.

Justin Kirkis great in the lead.

Oh, yes. It's such a tricky role because he has to be simultaneously innocent and sinister, so you never can quite tell if he's really a killer or not. It's a tricky balance, and he pulls it off.

You hear all sorts of horror stories about directing for the first time. Was this a difficult shoot?

Actually, most of the difficulty was just before we started. We really had trouble finding our leading lady, and two weeks before shooting was to begin, we still had no idea, and the start of shooting just got closer and closer. [Leading lady] Catherine Kellner came aboard very late, and it was very fortunate she worked out so well. So there were certainly some tense moments there.

What are you working on next?

Well, I've got two screenplays in the works. Actually, I've got nine or 10 screenplays floating around. What has happened a couple of times is I've tried to make a picture as a low-budget independent, and then somebody reads it and says, "No, this is too good; let's try to raise some real money and make this as a bigger film." When I listened to them, the project just ended up bogging down as we chased names around and the months went by. That nearly happened on Outpatient, actually; a couple of months in, somebody read it and told me we should try to get the funding and make a proper Hollywood film.

Thank heaven you didn't listen to them.

Oh, yes.


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