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Interview: Rick Charnoski, Director, Warm Blood

Posted by August 2nd, 2022 No Comments »

NadaMucho.com Interview
Q&A with Rick Charnoski, Director, Warm Blood

By Tim Basaraba

I was not prepared for the festival hijinks I would encounter at the world premiere of Warm Blood on April 22 during this year’s Seattle International Film Festival. Uptown Cinema and its rickety seats felt appropriate for the independent flair of Rick Charnoski’s first feature length film and all its messy glory.

Warm Blood feels like the love child of Richard Linklater, David Lynch and Errol Morris. Short on plot but long on confusion and intrigue, I somehow still left feeling like I knew intimately what it was like to live on the underside of Modesto, California.

After the premiere at SIFF, I connected with director Rick Charnoski to learn more about the film.

Nada Mucho: I assume SIFF was amazing? The premiere looked like a “family reunion” of sorts.

Rick Charnoski: Thanks for coming. It was great to see the mix of old and new faces in the theatre. So many people from the Warm Blood cast and crew were able to be there, which was a bit overwhelming… but in a good way. It was also a bit strange to see those faces up on the big screen as characters in a piece of cinema rather than running around Modesto with cameras. The film took many years to make, and, over that time, we did form a kind of family. We all enjoyed watching the final product together and I’m glad people in the theatre felt that.

NM: Warm Blood took more than nine years to complete. Did the process soil you on making feature films? Or was it a labor of love that emboldened you to give it another go?

RC: It’s hard to imagine making another film the way we made Warm Blood, but if the opportunity appears I’m down to give it another go. I want to make a film about the human race from a rat’s perspective. Part documentary, part narrative.

NM: Nice. Will you include some subtle easter-egg references to Ratatouille and Secrets of Nihm for me?
RC: Sorry I’ve never seen these films.

NM: You should check them out – both are great. Talking about Warm Blood intelligently with you, the director, is difficult since the film is so chaotic and visceral. In a loose sense, it’s still a “narrative” feature, but you mixed in elements of documentary and even – dare I say – sketch comedy. Obviously, the narrative structured around Red, a twenty something arriving back in Modesto, played by Haley Isaacson who meets up with silent type Tom, played by Ryan Toothman. Her story weaves and circles around what seems to be the documentary portion of the film, which is peppered with real people sharing real experiences. These people no doubt know the camera is “rolling,” but I assume your personal relationship is what lead to the authentic reactions we see on screen? Or is the editing so good that I can’t tell?

RC: I approached everyone openly and honestly about what I was doing. I spent time with the people I shot whenever I could. I was lucky to meet so many cool people that were willing to jump in on the project. iPhones and Instagram have familiarized people with the idea of broadcasting themselves to the world, so it’s much easier than it used to be to approach a stranger with a camera. If I couldn’t get to know them before we shot, I just did my best to make them feel comfortable. Honesty cuts through a lot of awkwardness and mistrust.

I had a wide range of reactions from people we shot on the street in Modesto. We ended up with a lot of footage to work with, so the edit started LONG and began getting smaller and smaller as I fell out of love with certain material. Even when we were trying to shoot narrative scenes, we tried to let the real-world melt into them.

NM: I would be remiss not to ask about a third aspect of the film, which I described earlier as “sketch comedy.” I like to see films with what I call “Optimum immersion,” meaning I try not to read any reviews or synopses beforehand. Heading to the Warm Blood premiere I assumed it was horror film of sorts, perhaps based on the title, but it doesn’t exactly belong in the horror genre. That said, like many horror films, you used elements of comedy to relieve the tension. John Veit’s “News Guy” and the fake TV and Radio commercials are examples. Were The News Guy’s antics the last elements added to the film in the editing process?

RC: The news material throughout the film is what inspired me to make the film. I am both obsessed with absurd media and think it’s important to add comedic elements to serious issues. You can’t sit in the same tone for too long.

John Veit is a friend from back in the day. He and my filmmaking partner of 25 years, Buddy, used to work with a satellite truck company in NYC on news and sporting events. We’re all familiar with the dark humor of media production because we were immersed in it for years. John and I still wish each other a “Happy 9/11!” every September. It’s a personal joke because we worked on that bullshit together and dark humor is what got us through. Today’s media shitshow is so out of control that I had to take a good poke at it.

NM: Wow, my last question was super long winded. Let me practice some brevity with this next one. The film looked great on the big screen. If I had to guess, a portion was shot on film stock?

RC: We are all about film. The look… the commitment… the knowledge it takes to get it right…all of it. It’s also much easier to edit with film because you shoot so much less. I can’t deal with the terabytes of digital media that come with the philosophy of “let’s do another take, because we can.”

My good friend Chris Blauvelt shot most of the movie on Super 16MM. We did the whole thing, cast and crew, in about 12 days. I shot the rest myself while on research missions to Modesto. I shot some on Super 8, some on 16MM with a Canon Scoopic camera and some on a Sony VX200 video camera.

NM: Have you viewed Lynne Ramsay’s second feature length, Morvern Callar?

RC: I have not, but I will now. Ratcatcher was an inspiration for Warm Blood and our band, Rat Shit, made a song called “Lynne Ramsey.” I was influenced by, and quite frankly stole ideas from, many films that I love. I actually took parts from 15 of the movies that were inspiration for Warm Blood and spliced them together after I wrote the first script. It helped me a lot.

NM: We’re all big music fans as well. What have you been listening to lately?

RC: I listen to punk rock and jazz. That’s the music that has always been visual and hugely inspirational for me. When I was a kid in Pennsylvania in the 80’s I got my info from college radio. WMUH was the first eyeopener. WRTI was the Philly jazz station, WKDU served up the punk, WBGO and WKCR were the NYC stations I listened to nonstop. I made hundreds of cassettes of shows over the years. I had a plan to listen to these tapes forever and remember those exact radio shows forever, then my car was stolen on Flushing Ave and they went away. It was my worst loss of any material possession ever.

Music is everything. It’s endless. Favorites include Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, The Proletariat, SNFU, Sun Ra, The Fall, Sonny Rollins, Joe Strummer, New Order, AC/DC, Mingus, Lee Scratch, Cannonball Adderly, Pretenders, Eric B. and Rakim, WuTang, Devo, Siouxsie, Coltrane, Stan Getz’ Brazilian stuff is right on the money and T-Monk for his abstraction.

NM: After walking out of the premiere somewhat awestruck, in an effort to sound smart and not give anything away, I Tweeted: “It’s like Richard Linklater, David Lynch and Errol Morris had a love child and his name is Rick Charnoski.” The most confounding and frustrating aspects of each director are apparent in your work. These challenging elements are what make these directors stand apart from the norm, but also limit their audience due to the stigma attached to “Art House.” Coming from a skate video background, does this kind of artistic chaos comfort you? Do you feel that bludgeoning the senses of your viewers is more important than giving them a structured narrative with concise ideas? It was refreshing for an avid filmgoer like me who sees 3-4 films a week.

RC: This movie was pure instinct. I tried in the beginning to do it without approaching it like a skate video. I had to challenge that instinct. What happened was a strange evolution from that style of filmmaking into something that’s different, but still similar in many ways…. the fractured vignettes that are stitched together, the strange mixtures of characters and sounds and constantly being aware of the audience not falling asleep.


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