When Keoni Waxman stumbled upon The Ravine by Robert and Kelly Pascuzzi, he knew he had to adapt their story to the big screen. Inspired by the true events, the film is about an unspeakable crime that rocks a peaceful community, where family and friends are left to wonder if they overlooked the murderer among them or if there might be more to the story. I spoke to the director about creatively working with the Pascuzzi's, casting, the film's incredible timing, and the film's most difficult sequence.
"What really appealed to me were the writers who were the eventual executive producers of the film," Waxman said. "It's an incident that is a big tragedy, a murder-suicide that happened to them in their lives. They wrote this book and more as a cathartic release than anything. Reading the book, I thought, 'This could be a really cool thriller. This could be an exploration on drama and this or that.' When I met them, I realized they were trying to get this movie made. I thought, 'You know what? That feeling is hopefully what we can put into the movie. If they can do that, then I think people are going to really enjoy what they see it in a positive way.'"
Casting fell into place for Waxman with the principal cast in Eric Dane (Euphoria, Grey's Anatomy), Teri Polo (Good Trouble, The Big Leap), and Peter Facinelli (Roar, Catch the Bullet). "We first looked for our lead, Mitch, as one of the detectives trying to solve this murder," he said. "He looked at a few people, and then our casting character said, 'How about Eric?' I'm familiar with Eric before he did 'Euphoria' and his other work in TV and film. When we talked, I realized he was perfect for the role. The novel is searching for these people. It's people looking in, at their faces, themselves, and what they believed in. Eric was like because we had moved to the city to New Orleans, 'I really want to make this something that more people can feel more accessible. He really became the guy who went, 'You know what this is?' This is our guy. This is some of the people are going to take a look at it and go, 'I can see myself being that guy.'"
Waxman saw a side of Polo he wasn't familiar with but was pleasantly surprised. "With Teri, she's done some amazing comedic work, but sitting down, talking to her, and really just sort of seeing how she felt that it was something that scared her. She said, 'I hadn't done something like this,' and the emotional aspect of it was so big,'" he explained. "Then being on set with her and watching her and literally every day she had to cry. Every day she had to just bring 12 pages of dialog. I thought, 'Okay, I have these two great actors here who really understand the role.' Then we found Peter, and his initial thought was, 'I don't want to humanize Danny, the killer. I want people to understand what someone would go through to actually do something so bad' and where that seems like a simple task, it's a hard thing for people to portray, and he was great. So between the three of them, I really felt like, 'I have this lead cast and then Leslie Uggams and Byron Mann and then with all of our local cast, it all just sort of started falling together because people started really understanding what we were trying to make.'"
The director was fortunate to do most of his filming before the pandemic, as the bulk of its delay was post-production. "We were actually fortunate in that our last day of filming was the first day that everything closed like literally closed down," Waxman said. "It's for the opening of the movie where we're in Austria, but we actually went from New Orleans. We went to Transylvania in Romania to shoot in the mountains five hours out of Bucharest, and we're shooting a ski lodge essentially. While we were shooting, everyone was just listening to the news that Prague had just closed, and they were closing the borders. We wrapped, and then the next morning, I woke up, and my phone was blown up with dozens of texts saying, 'Get on a plane.' We had to just literally find the plane and landed at LAX, which was empty. I got home, woke up the next morning, and the pandemic officially started. There were 12-hour lines at the airport. So we literally just missed it. It affected us in post in that post was in Vancouver. I live in L.A., and the producers were in Kansas City. So suddenly, we're in a weird place where now we can't communicate that easily. That slowed it down quite a bit. We didn't completely dodge the bullet, but it nicked us just a little bit."
One particular scene that was troubling was the anti-climactic one involving the film's signature shot. "I always look at it as, 'If there's a problem, it's because we have to just come up with a different way to do it,'" Waxman said. "I never look at it as it's going to be something that's catastrophic, except for when we were doing the stunt with the car driving off the ravine. It is stated on the ledge. We had the drones up and the five cameras. The whole slingshot rig was built, and then New Orleans, with its weather, came in, and we got just poured on with lightning, and we had to go for cover. Coming back, the whole field was flooded, muddy, and nothing worked. We managed to get it back up eventually. Other than that, it was a pretty smooth production." Cinedigm's The Ravine, which also stars Kyle Lowder, is available in theaters and on-demand on May 6th.