Sunday, December 20, 2009

Retro Interview: David Koepp and the cast of The Trigger Effect

A taunt electrical extension cord is pulled to its limits in a crowded city mall. One person leaps over it near the food court before another youth trips over it sending coffee onto the white clothes of the Trendy German Guy.
So starts The Trigger Effect, in the midst of crowded urban sprawl, with the camera working its way up the escalator along the human food chain and into a movie theater. Everywhere there’s tension, simmering racial hatred, and even people talking during the film.
Shortly the focus will shift from the multi-points-of-view to an intimate dramatic thriller that pits an everyday white-collar couple (Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue as Matt and Annie) and their blue-collar friend (Dermot Mulroney as Joe) against a society in melt down. The Trigger Effect traces a weekend where all power and telephones go dead and the trio decides to head for safety in the mountains rather than remain in the rapidly escalating danger of suburban anarchy.
“We take for granted our technology. We expect that it’ll always be there like air. While the fabric of society would not rip in half,” writer David Koepp notes of his directorial debut, “It would fray at the edges. The Trigger Effect is about one of those edges where the threads are coming lose.”
Koepp has made a name writing for such films as Jurassic Park, The Paper and The Shadow. Early scripts included Apartment Zero and Bad Influence. Successive work on Toy Soldiers, Death Becomes Her, and Carlito’s Way paved the way for Koepp’s work with Brian De Palma on Mission: Impossible.
Koepp acknowledges that the top copy scene was developed by De Palma and him over a matter of a couple of months of bouncing ideas of one anther, although on that script Koepp shares a co-credit for story and script. “The best stuff comes from the fewest number of people in the room,” Koepp passes on.
The Trigger Effect was produced by Amblin for around $8-million, a high amount for an indie film and a low sum for a studio film. Koepp feels that Spielberg, for whom he just finished an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Lost World, is one of the few filmmakers able to plan out a film without having to give in consensus.
The Trigger Effect, which Koepp honed in 12 drafts, weaves themes involving racism in today’s society and what happens when a family feels they need to protect themselves with a gun. Each thematic part of the film paves way for the other. When one of the group is shot it leads to an encounter at an desolate farmhouse that mirrors a near confrontation in a movie theater from the film’s beginning.
Koepp presents the case for why a person buys a gun and then shows the dangers of an armed society. “We live on top, on side, under each other, and we get on each other’s nerves. There’s a ripple effect that we have on everyone around us,” reminds Koepp to a group of journalists.
Accompanying Koepp on the junket are the film’s leads. MacLachlan says that the film’s pacing is thriller-like in that “you don’t really know from moment to moment whether the guy’s going to be able to do what he needs to do.”
Koepp observes about MacLachlan: “There’s a wonderful all-American guy thing on the outside, but you’re suspect of him, there appears to be something swirling underneath.”
Starting with Trigger Effect, and then in the upcoming One Night Stand from Mike Figgis, MacLachlan plays characters that he sums up as “emotional men who have a chance to experience and get fucked with by real life. Here’s a character that can start from a place of some naiveté, some innocence. You get to a place where you make the audience believe that you have been tested,” MacLachlan adds.
When the power failure has not been resolved, nor phones restored, Joe reports rumors of looting and murder. Inspired to get a gun, despite Annie’s protest, Matt and Joe barter Matt’s $600 wristwatch for a $95 pump shotgun.
Joe feel the desire to have what Matt has. Polaroid pictures of Matt and Annie on a cabinet door end up in his wallet. At one point Joe can be heard aping the line from a Talking Heads song, “This is not my beautiful wife.”
Dermot Mulroney notes, “Levels of education, or personal achievement, mistrust between black and white that’s inexplicable, but very realistic,” are issues he feels delicately addressed by The Trigger Effect.
Even though Matt buys the gun, he has Joe buy it for him explaining that it comes more natural for Joe since he works closer to that strata of society. This leads to deeper resentment between the two men. At one point, new-gun owner Matt points the shotgun at Joe and squeezes the trigger.
“We had an interesting debate on that on the set,” says Koepp about the decision to shoot the scene where Matt aims at Joe.. “Two for, two against; it’s the kind of passive aggressive thing his character would do. A lot or resentment, envy of Joe’s natural man life style.”
Annie drifts back and forth in feelings for the two as if trying to reclaim her invented dangerous past. “A woman who has a baby, who lives in suburbia, is married; is just as complex, and has just as many desires, needs and pain, as somebody who lives on the street,” says Shue.
The film graphically gets bare, going from crowded suburbia to flat, lonely highway with a nuclear power plant in the distant landscape. (Production used the inactive Rancho Seco nuke plant near Sacramento.) Koepp grinds out tension by having the character’s deal with every pin drop like it’s an unknown entity and focusing on their repressed resentments towards each other. In this way The Trigger Effect feels like a 90-minute Twilight Zone, with at least one ref to The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. In the manner in which that televised episode examined The Red Scare, Trigger Effect does a take on technological dependence.
Koepp maintains that the writer-director relation he’s shared with Spielberg and De Palma as a for hire writer is lost to a more idiosyncratic vision for the writer/helmer.
“There’s less imput, coming from one brain,” says Koepp. “Making all those decisions by yourself can be a drag, you end up having long shouting matches with yourself.


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