When Scooter Corkle decided to take on RLJE Films' The Friendship Game, he wanted to take on the thematic and psychological challenge the horror film presented. It follows a group of teens as they encounter a strange object that tests their loyalties to each other and has increasingly destructive consequences the deeper they go into the game. The Hollow in the Land director spoke to Bleeding Cool about the rabbit hole he fell into, inspirations driving the film, casting, and more.
Breaking into the Weird of "The Friendship Game"
Bleeding Cool: What intrigued you about 'The Friendship Game?'
Corkle: I reached out to Dan Bekerman, our producer, looking to sort a weird project, something a little out there compared to my first movie [Hollow in the Land], which was like a small-town thriller. He said he'd had this movie for a while and sent it over. I met with Damien [Ober], the writer, and we hit it off. The first thing that drew me to [The Friendship Game] was its cosmic horror, cerebral but based on character and focused on relationships. The first time I read it, I was enamored with how freaking weird it got until the end [laughs]. I worked with Damian to get it into the pocket.
I sensed 'Hellraiser' vibes from the film. Was there anything you drew inspiration from regarding how it came out?
Any filmmaker is going to pull references from who knows where? 'Hellraiser' was definitely in there, although we don't have any flying meat hooks, sadly. We have a device that breaks reality or forces characters to live through a broken reality. I also liked this movie called 'Coherence,' which is similar to us in many ways. It plays a lot more with the multiverse, but it is character-focused, and it almost starts as a drama with all of these friends coming together and the relationships. Some of them don't work, others do, and the drama is already associated with that. Then, poof, a multiverse incident happens, and their relationships are put to the test. In a lot of ways, we looked at that as a reference and something like 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' mainly because of its tone and its use of color. 'It Follows' is part of the new era of American horror I'm interested in. They are character-focused, but they are still like genuine elevated horror films.
How did the casting come together?
There was a report out a long time ago, but we had Bella Thorne attached for a while, but she had scheduling conflicts. Peyton List read fast and signed on board pretty early. I had a good conversation with her. She's so down to earth, smart, and engaged with performing. We had a big sit-down outside of Vancouver Island up here in the north and spent a whole day chatting and drinking coffee and beer, and she was great. We had Brendan Meyer read to get on board, even though I'm already a fan of his from 'Color Out of Space' and 'The OA.' I've been watching him for a while, but this is a different character for him. Kelcey Mawema read as well, and she killed. She's all instinct, freshness, energy, and greatness. Kaitlyn [Santa Juana] also read and was a find because she mostly did stage before coming in. I think this is her first major role, but she's a performer to watch, and I'm excited to see where she goes.
Since this is your second feature, what is the most difficult aspect kind of going in?
Movies are hard in general [laughs]. "It's a miracle any movie ever gets made" is how you feel when you're trying to get one made. Time is always going to be your biggest hurdle in a movie. You've got to shoot around people's schedules. When the money arrives, you kind of have to go. Money affords you more time, and we didn't have a lot of money, but we had a good crew and cast. One of the things I learned the most about this movie is when you are backed into a corner, and you have a good cast, they're going to save your ass every time. You have half an hour to shoot when the light's going down, and you have two camera positions you got to get. If your cast is going to nail it every time, they're just going to save you, and that was a big learning experience for sure.
How much did you have to cut before the final project came out?
We had some major reshoots at one point, pickup shots, and we shot a lot. A lot on the ground didn't end up making it into the film. We're quite a lean movie, but that does add to at least the disorientation that we want the audience to feel. Is there a director's cut coming out? No, but I'm happy with where we landed.
How do you feel 'The Friendship Game' stacks your other work?
That's a fascinating question. My first movie, it's about being emotional. I don't think that's different in this movie. That's my approach to directing, trying to be within the emotion. The only difference is that in horror, you get to have a little bit more fun, and especially in cosmic horror, where it is playing with psychological madness, you can push that emotion toward confused fear, and that's just more fun to play with. It's an added layer to the emotional onion. That's the main difference in my approach to horror movies.
The Friendship Game is in theaters, digital, and on demand.