You might be familiar with Franck Khalfoun without exactly knowing it. If you've seen HIGH TENSION, you saw Khalfoun play "Jimmy", the ill-fated gas-station attendant who runs afoul of the Killer in Alexandre Aja's intense thriller. Now Khalfoun is again working with Aja, only this time he's not receiving an axe to the chest for his troubles, he's actually calling the shots.
P2 is Khalfoun's feature film debut, although he's experienced in directing commercials and music videos. The tale of an unhinged security guard (Wes Bentley) and the woman he harasses (Rachel Nichols) on Christmas Eve was hatched by Aja and his co-writer Gregory Levasseur, who in turn handed the idea to Khalfoun. Franck talked to me about the sometimes-grueling experience, caused in part by a 25 day all-night shoot in an underground garage.
Where did the idea for P2 come from, and how did you become attached to direct it?
KHALFOUN: The idea was actually Greg and Alexandre's. They heard stories of abductions and attacks that were happening in parking garages - in France, actually. It immediately caught their attention, and they felt that it was something that was universal enough, and interesting enough to make a movie out of it.
I became attached to direct it because I've known them for many, many years, and I've been directing for many years, and they thought this was a good project, it was one location, a few actors, a good first movie for me to make...
How long have you known Alexandre and Gregory?
KHALFOUN: I've known them close to twenty years now.
So you met when you were kids?
KHALFOUN: Yes... Actually, they were kids and I was working for Alex's father. I have a few years on them. (Laughs)
Was it crucial for them to be there, in terms of helping you with your first big picture?
KHALFOUN: I don't know if it was crucial, but it was nice, it was a comfort zone. I mean, we had very little time to shoot this movie, we didn't have a lot of money for the amount of stunts and effects that are in a movie, so it was a very crazy schedule. I remember the first A.D. telling me that he worked in t.v., and they worked fast, but this was way too fast. They helped me shoot stuff, they would take second-unit - it was very helpful to have Alex Aja and Gregory Levasseur shoot second-unit on my first film. They were with me every step of the way, and we would bounce stuff off of each other.
What are the challenges of telling a story like this, which takes place in such tight, confined location. I'm sure you have to learn to be creative with that small space...
KHALFOUN: When you sit down and think about it, a parking garage can be very big, and there's a lot of things in them. We were kind've afraid we wouldn't have enough ideas, but once we started going, in turns out we had to take stuff out of the script, there were too many ideas, and too many things to exploit inside the parking lot. We had to cut stuff out as to create a good rhythm for the movie. Not to be pretentious, but it's a small DIE HARD.
Was much of the movie storyboarded?
KHALFOUN: The action scenes were, everything that required special effects or visual effects - those were all storyboarded.
How much rehearsal time did you have before going into production?
KHALFOUN: I rehearsed with the actors for about four or five days before... They weren't too keen on rehearsal, they felt it was important to keep the dialogue fresh, they didn't really want to bounce off of each other. The rehearsals turned out to be more about where the scenes were going to go, where they would start, where they should end - rather than the actual theatrical sort of rehearsals, you know?
It wasn't the sort of thing where you wanted to keep them separated when they weren't shooting?
KHALFOUN: Well, there are scenes that require that, and then there are scenes there's real dialogue, there's a real relationship that's manifesting itself. So you hate to go into a 25 day shoot with a bunch of dialogue and not know what's going to happen, you should at least know the high points, the low points, the beats of the interaction before we get into it.
Talk a little bit about Wes Bentley and Rachel Nichols - obviously, aside from the tension you're creating with the camera, it's up to them to carry the film.
KHALFOUN: Yeah, and they both did a fantastic job. Wes has a more complicated role, I mean, Rachel's reacting to a madmen, it's very physical and emotionally strained a lot of the time. Wes really creates an incredible character. He's dangerous, funny, sensitive, emotional. Wes has a lot of range as an actor. The way that the script is written, it gives him an opportunity to really expose himself in that way. They both did a fantastic job for different reasons.
What was the most difficult part of the shoot for you, personally?
KHALFOUN: The toughest part was the lack of time and the fact that we hag to constantly shift back and forth- we were editing the film as we were going along. We would end up doing all these special effects shots and explosions in a single day, it was very stressful. On the crew, and especially on the actors. (Laughs) When applying stress on the actors, when you're making a suspense movie or a horror movie, makes them edgy and crazy, and that translates really well on film. It ended up being good for the actors, even though it was painful, you know?
I talked to Rachel, and she mentioned that you were shooting from like 6pm to 6am, and that would certainly take its toll...
KHALFOUN: It does take a toll. That, and being locked in a garage, never seeing the sun - these things are very heavy on a production. On the other end of it, we're in a neutral environment, so we're not going to get flooded out, deal with rain, no weather problems... But the combination of a very intense, scary script, a dirty parking lot, shooting at night - many seasoned veterans told me this was the hardest film they'd ever made. I'm kind've proud of that in a way. (Laughs)
It's a good way to cut your teeth, that's for sure.
KHALFOUN: Yeah, when everybody's telling me "It's going to be easier next time," it's like "Okay, this is good!"
Speaking of that, what do you think your next film will be?
KHALFOUN: I just finished writing something that I'd really like to see get done. I'm reading a bunch of scripts, and I'm adapting a novel for Alex Aja. So a lot of writing right now, and I have to weigh out where my passion takes me in terms of directing.
A very hearty thanks to Mr. Khalfoun for taking the time to chat it up with me... And remember, P2 opens November 9th.