By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Debuting today on VOD and DVD, writer/director Justin Reinsilber’s CENTRAL PARK sends a psychopath into the titular New York City landmark to terrorize a group of teens. We’ve got an exclusive chat with the filmmaker.
Available on digital platforms including Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Xbox from Ammo Content, CENTRAL PARK stars Justiin A. Davis, Ruby Modine (HAPPY DEATH DAY), Grace Van Patten, Malika Samuel, Guillermo Arribas and Deema Aitken as a group of high-school friends who head to the park to party in the woods after dark. One of the group, Harold (Davis), could use the distraction: His father has been implicated in a major Ponzi scheme that has lost millions of dollars. Unfortunately for Harold and his friends, one of the victims of that scam is out for revenge, and follows them into the park with murder on his mind.
What inspired the use of the financial scandal as a story motivator?
Like a lot of people, I was fascinated by the Bernie Madoff situation. What could make someone cheat his or her friends and family on such a massive scale? I started thinking, what if that happened to me, and what I would I do? What am I capable of? I’ve always been intrigued by greed and revenge and what happens when those ideas intersect—which feeds which, and the potential for horror and tragedy as a result.
Do you have any favorite New York City horror films that influenced you?
It’s almost impossible, at least for me, to talk about New York City horror and not start with ROSEMARY’S BABY. The city as a character is active from the opening scene, and I tried to do that in CENTRAL PARK. DRILLER KILLER, MANIAC and THE NEW YORK RIPPER are also fantastic films that portray city life through the lens of horror. That’s what I tend to gravitate toward: the idea that terror is just around the corner.
How important was it to film on location in the city?
It was the thing. CENTRAL PARK wasn’t a movie I could shoot in another city and slap a New York title on it, and expect it to work. Central Park is as much a character as anyone in the film. The texture of the city was an element I felt necessary to capture, and that’s something that can only be achieved by shooting there. New York City is alive all day and all night, and capturing just a bit of that on film is inherently interesting to watch.
How much was actually shot in Central Park, and what were the challenges of filming there?
Going in, I knew there would be limitations to what I would be able to actually shoot in Central Park, and friends cautioned me that I’d never be able to film there: “They won’t let you do this, or it’ll be a zillion dollars.” But in fact, it was shockingly easy to arrange; the Conservancy is very friendly to filmmakers.
So I shot as much as I could in the park. I obviously couldn’t film the graphic violence there, and had to pastiche other parks for those scenes. I found the right locations that had the same topography; Prospect Park, for example, was designed by the same team that designed Central Park.
The one challenge we had was that we couldn’t drive in. That meant we had to park as close as possible to where we were shooting and walk in our equipment, camera, lights, actors, the whole nine.
Did any of the other New York City locations pose problems?
Other than the usual issues low-budget indies come up against, surprisingly no. Shooting at the World Trade Center site had us on our toes, but it worked, and that’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
How did you land your diverse group of actors, and what was the importance of that diversity?
Having a diverse cast was and is very important to me as a filmmaker and as a person. One of my favorite authors once said something to the effect that in his writing, he wanted to be more than an honest witness to his time and place. We don’t live in a white world or a black world or an Asian world, we live in the world, and portraying that on screen was of paramount importance to me.
Getting the right actors was key to pulling that off. I’m an actor myself first, and firmly believe that the right person is the character, and the more seamless the connection between the two, the more believability will come across onscreen. It’s all about casting, and I had the good fortune to work with Kathleen Chopin and Anne Davison. They were great in helping us find our kids, though finding the right actors to play Harold and Felix was difficult, to say the least. While panic began to stir, in walked Justiin Davis, who crushed it, and Guillermo Arribas was the next to audition and was equally impressive. Needless to say, they got the parts.
Ruby, who plays Sessa, originally came in for the role of Leyla. I didn’t think she was quite right for that character, but I absolutely loved her audition. Despite seeing several other terrific actors for Sessa, I couldn’t stop thinking about Ruby. She was truly such a pleasure to work with. I really put her through the wringer in her audition, and I knew I wanted to have her on board. I ended up rewriting Sessa for Ruby, and now I can’t imagine it any other way!