A cautionary tale about the dangers of online dating apps, “Crisis Hotline” tells of a cynical counsellor that finds himself in a life and death situation when a caller threatens to kill three people and then himself.
Writer-director Mark Schwab, who has been making horror films for over fifteen years now, explains that it was important to him to make a fun, entertaining film but also one grounded in realism.
Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to take up filming, sir?
Mark Schwab (MS): I’ve always been a movie fan but it was in high school when my friends and I picked up a VHS camcorder and made a horror movie with it. It was so much fun that we haven’t stopped since.
MM: And was it always the horror-thriller genre that most fascinated you?
MS: I was a fan of horror/thrillers certainly. A lot of my early films were horror films with titles like “House of Terror,” “Holliday Havoc” and “Slaygame.” But I like all types of movies and hope to work in every genre at some point.
MM: I imagine you sat down to watch a lot of similar films before writing the flick?
MS: I did but maybe not for the reason you think. I watched the first 10 minutes of similar style genre films specifically to see how easily and eﬀectively they got the audience into the story. In the past, I usually took my time getting to the plot of meat of the story. But when I looked at films like William Friedkin’s “Cruising” I was amazed at how much information is conveyed visually in just the first ten minutes. Watching those first ten minutes of movies I admired informed me in making an eﬀective first ten minutes of Crisis Hotline.
MM: In terms of the production, what was involved before you even shot a leg of film?
MS: A lot of planning and organization! We locked down all of the locations, signed up the entire cast and crew and planned the daily shooting schedule down to the minute. When your budget is tight, every day on set had to count and all of our pre-production work paid oﬀ nicely.
MM: Can you talk about the LGBT angle to the film. It’s refreshing to see…
MS: Thank you! I guess I wanted to make a LGBT thriller mainly since there are so few of them out there. Plus, I wanted to make sure that even though there are gay characters it isn’t central to the thriller elements. I do think a LGBT audience will have moments that ring true but I didn’t want it to be political or rooted in gay identity or oppression.
MM: is there anything in the film your lead actors weren’t prepared to do?
MS: No, I was always very upfront with them about all of the more sensitive scenes and they were consummate professionals. In fact, to their credit, they were prepared to do much more but I specifically avoided making things too graphic just for the sake of being graphic.
MM: Did they have any suggestions that you ultimately implemented?
MS: I like to let the actors have as much room to create as possible. However, since our shooting schedule was so tight everyone was aware that there wasn’t much time to experiment or workshop different ideas. Fortunately, the cast was just excellent in working under fast conditions and did a superb job.
MM: How hard is it to ground a horror or thriller movie?
MS: For me, I think the scariest films are ones where the situation is just nightmarish enough to be plausible for any of us. What the characters go through in Crisis Hotline could potentially happen to pretty much anyone who dives headfirst into the online dating pool – no matter what your sexual orientation or identity might be
MM: What do you believe the message of the movie is?
MS: Crisis Hotline is mainly meant as a cautionary tale. Online dating apps aren’t inherently wrong or evil but there is the potential for serious abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people. It also deals with abuse of power – mental, emotional and sexual. A lot of the characters in Crisis Hotline are viciously and knowingly abusing the power they have over the people close to them for their own gain.
MM: Where do you see your career going in the next few years?
MS: Making more features hopefully. I love the work of making a movie. Every aspect of it. It’s one of the greatest creative challenges to meet head on.