Blood on Her Name is a new tightly focused, character-driven thriller that follows a woman’s frantic decisions in the wake of a murder. It’s a remarkable film in both its performances and writing, and I had the opportunity to briefly speak with the creative duo behind it, writer and director Matthew Pope and writer and producer Don Thompson.
Matthew, you’re based in Atlanta, Georgia and Blood on Her Name was filmed there. That area has seen such a boom in film and television production over the past decade. What’s working in the industry down there been like for you? Matthew: I wouldn’t call myself the expert in that regard. I find myself just trying to keep my head down and do my work. It’s no question the tax credit and everything that comes with that has been hugely effective in bringing productions to the state. Those were helpful in getting this film off the ground. We’d like to see the next phase be encouraging and stimulating smaller, independent films.
Don:Georgia is a great state to shoot a film in. We were able to pick up a good crew of very talented people. It’s really nice to see that industry being built there. We were a tax credit film and this film would’ve been very different without it.
This is the debut feature of Rising Creek Films, the company that you two run together. What about Blood on Her Name made you two choose it for your first outing with this company? Don: One of the things we loved about this film is the simplicity of it, which was attractive from a creative front. When we were putting this together we had just left a festival that was film after film; 250 minute masterpiece after 250 minute masterpiece. We thought: “This is great, but what I wouldn’t give to just see a quick punch in the gut.” So we started thinking like that and putting it together. When you’re first out of the gate you don’t have a lot of resources to draw on, but the film started making sense, we started finding some people who liked the story and wanted to back us so this became the one.
When you’re working as a creative duo and putting these stories together, how do you two balance each other out? Matthew: A lot of verbal altercations. Physical violence at times. [Laughs]
Don was in Atlanta for a couple of years as we were putting this together. We actually started by putting a handful of scripts together, so we had an extended period not doing much other than writing. We’d worked together before a number of times on smaller projects and we definitely knew enough to believe that we could be productive writing together, but it was nice to be able to have an extended and dedicated period of time to sort of work through all of that.
I think all of the challenges that come along with trying to co-write on something forces you to make sure that you’re telling a story that you can both see and that makes sense and appeals to both of you. In the early stages we pretty much just tossed ideas back and forth and hammered out structure and beats and character arcs. Then when it comes to writing we largely split it up, take a chunk of scenes at a time, and just go back and forth writing and rewriting. It’s a pretty collaborative process. We’re never sitting at the computer with one person typing as the other person’s dictating words.
Don: We’re pretty contrarian by nature. I love story structure. I live for it. The more I talk about story structure, the more he wants to add the emotional elements. That collaboration is what really turned this film into what it is.
This film has such a tight script and is very driven by dialogue, which is something that I often feel is one of the more difficult things to write. Is dialogue something that comes easy for you two or is it a struggle? Matthew: I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle. We were working from a set of characters that have a certain kind of sentiment and worldview to them. Everything that happens, happens for a reason and happens quickly. There’s a terseness to it that we wanted to come through. We were certainly looking to make sure that all of the dialogue was necessary and important. Because there are a lot of layers that gradually unfold in the narrative it became that much more important that the characters were saying only what needed to be said.
Beyond that, I don’t know that there is anything specifically interesting about our process on the dialogue. It went through the same phases as the rest of the writing. The only addition there would be my Southern filter coming into play a bit more. Don had spent time in the South and wasn’t unfamiliar with colloquialisms and other things relevant to the dialogue, but I took on maybe a slightly larger role to try and make sure that it felt authentically Southern. If you’re from the South, you know what it’s like to watch films or TV shows where supposedly Southern characters sound incredibly out of place.
Don: I think the fun part for me was wringing out every extra word of dialogue. We’d gone through the script three or four times on plot points and everything, but our final task was quite literally picking at words and seeing if somebody had been redundant about something. Basically putting everything to the test of “Do I need that? Should that be there?”. Some people find it too spare, some people would like it to be a bit more verbose, but it’s in line with our taste. I love it when people don’t chatter on.
The setting feels just as important of an aspect of this film as anything else. It encompasses life in those rural parts of the South and how violence is sort of embedded into the culture there, whether it’s for sport, self-defense, or something more negative. Was that always intentionally woven into the story? Matthew:I would say in some ways yes. I don’t think we were setting out to make a story specifically about violence. I always want to be very careful to not paint with too broad of a brush. This is a story about a certain group of characters that you could make a completely different story and have a completely different outlook on the world for all of them even when they only live a block away from each other because there’s such a broad range of people, not only in the South but anywhere. With that said, we were very much playing in the stream of existing genre elements with some of that. Southern Gothic feels very at home and ideas of guilt, sin, redemption, violence, and repentance come into play. There is certainly more of a comfort and a general familiarity with guns and that sort of thing but not necessarily just from the South but in more rural areas. It’s just a part of life, it’s not exotic or unusual or strange.
A good chunk of this film hinges on Bethany Anne Lind’s performance. She’s really fantastic in this. Is that something that happened once she came onboard or was it always in the plan to have so much of the story be told just through her performance? Don: Bethany was a part of this story from the time we conceived it. We’ve known her for years, we’d worked with her on a handful of things, so we had a very good idea of how capable she was when it came to pulling something like this off. So we took chances in the script that we would have never written blind – if we didn’t know somebody that was going to be able to pull it off. The film was crafted around Bethany and we were making choices based on her capability from the earliest moments.
Matthew: It was always going to be the kind of story that followed the lead character pretty exclusively, just by its nature. I was particularly terrified just with the idea of trying to bank an entire movie’s success on an actor that I didn’t know we could completely count on. So pretty early on we identified Bethany as the person that we wanted for the role. We took her a treatment and said “read this, if you’re not into it, let us know because we might have to change plans”. [Laughs] Fortunately she dug it and from that point when we knew that she would bring her talent to the role, it gave us a freedom and flexibility to try some things and depend on her to carry some moments that, if we were casting from an unproven pool of indie actors and just hoping for the best, it may have been a much higher risk scenario for us.
Don:On scripts of this size you tend to have just a little bit of a tendency to want to actor-proof something, and you can do that a lot by leaning really heavily on plot devices and external events. We were able to completely shy away from any of that. We didn’t try to actor-proof anything. We knew that moments were going to completely hinge on Bethany pulling those moments off and just putting it out there. I think largely it’s worked. There’s plenty that we look at in our jobs and think “I might’ve changed this or that”. It’s just sort of what you do as a creator; you’re never quite done. But with Bethany, I don’t think we’ve ever looked at it and thought “I’d change that”. She’s just fantastic.
Matthew: If you print that though, she may get too angry about it. So definitely don’t print any of the positive stuff about Bethany. When she gets really angry and starts yelling at you, it’s bad news. [Laughs]
Don:She’s gonna be a diva on the next one. [Laughs]
Matthew:We were very fortunate to get her before her diva stage.
Blood on Her Name opens in select theaters and will be available on demand on February 28th.
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