When you list off the growing (but certainly not fast enough!) collection of female directors in hollywood today, one could start with names they know, like Angelina Jolie, Ava Duvernay, or Lynne Ramsay. Well, you better start getting used to hearing the name Megan Griffiths. The Riverside, California native and director of award winning films such as Eden, The Off Hours, and her 2013 hit Lucky Them, is not just a good director, she is a great director. She is the true example of a rising star in independent films and Hollywood. You can tell her star is rising just by the collection of actors who she has worked with. Names like Toni Collette, Amy Seimetz, and Lou Diamond Phillips say yes because they want to work with Megan Griffiths. I was lucky enough to be able to ask her some questions about her new film The Night Stalker starring Bellamy Young and Lou Diamond Phillips playing on the Lifetime channel this month.
AMG.COM: Thank you again for taking the time to answer some questions about your new film The Night Stalker, and your work as a director. I really enjoy your films and I greatly appreciate it.
AMG.COM: What did you know previously about Richard Ramirez, and what made you feel his story could be turned into a movie?
Megan Griffiths: I grew up in Riverside, CA, during The Night Stalker era. Ramirez was terrifying to me as a child. As an adult, I retain a bit of the fear of him, but what I feel now more is a humanistic curiosity. When the opportunity arose to depict his story as a motion picture, I really wanted to focus on the "why" of it all. His acts were so senseless to me that I wanted to make sense of them in whatever way I could.
AMG.COM: Making a film under the “Lifetime movie” umbrella, did you hold any trepidations to having that label on your movie? Did it restrict you in any way?
Megan Griffiths: The film was made as an independent production. Lifetime acquired it at the end of post-production. And yes, I did have a little trepidation. But it was more about the level of control the network might exert and whether it would still feel like the film I set out to make by the time it aired. Happily, the people I dealt with at Lifetime were wonderful. They understood the film and supported it completely, and the film that was broadcast is exactly the film I wanted to make.
AMG.COM: What type of access did you have to Richard Ramirez's family life? What kind of research did you need to do in order to write the script?
Megan Griffiths: I had access to the definitive biography, THE NIGHT STALKER: THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF RICHARD RAMIREZ, by Philip Carlo. Carlo had done immense research into Ramirez's family history and his childhood, as well as the crimes and the victims. It was really the backbone of the film. I supplemented that with my own research into the psychology of murderers and those fascinated by them to understand and craft the characters. And, maybe most importantly, I had access to Gil Carillo, the detective who tracked Ramirez. Carillo was a consultant on the film and was a treasure trove of names, dates, and stories. He'd also spent hours face-to-face with Ramirez, and the details he provided about Ramirez himself really helped to shape the character on the page and the performance by Lou Diamond Phillips.
AMG.COM: One of the many great achievements of The Night Stalker is the casting of the three actors playing the different ages of Richard Ramirez. How important was it for you to get each one right, and how important was working with Amey Rene on the process?
Megan Griffiths: First of all, thank you so much. I'm very proud of the casting for those roles. Amey Rene did amazing work to locate and bring in a huge number of talented latino actors, and to provide incredible insight on what they brought in the context of their auditions. We had reference photos from throughout Ramirez's life, but for each version of Ramirez, we needed actors who not only looked the part, but could bring out the different, changing aspects of his personality. I think Ben Barrett, who plays Ramirez at 17 and at 25, may have had the toughest challenge, as he had to portray Ramirez during the part of his life where he underwent the biggest transition. Through Ben's mostly non-verbal performance, you can feel Ramirez's sadness as the character feels and mourns the loss of his own humanity. What Ben did with that is one of the most compelling aspects of the film, in my opinion.
AMG.COM: Speaking of casting, you get two fantastic performances from Bellamy Young and Lou Diamond Phillips. Can you elaborate on the preparation that went into capturing their performances?
Megan Griffiths: I love what the actors did with these roles, and it was a huge pleasure to sit on set and watch it unfold. Much of the film takes place in one room, with interviews between these two extremely complicated people. It was almost like watching a play every day on set--they'd arrive off-book and do these 10-15 minute takes, never faltering, and consistently be bringing new elements to each take. Celia Beasley (the film's editor) and I had a field day in post-production culling through the troves of nuance in the footage. I know that both actors read the Carlo biography to prepare, and I had long conversations with both of them about everything from specific lines to more general thoughts about the external look of each character. Both were incredibly invested and passionate about getting it right, and very generous with each other on set as well.
AMG.COM: Do you feel like this movie revives the career of Lou Diamond Phillips or reminds everyone how great of an actor he is?
Megan Griffiths: I don't know how Lou would feel about the idea that his career needs reviving, since he hasn't ever stopped working. But I do think this role serves to remind people how incredible he is as a leading man. In the 80s and 90s when he was in all those big blockbusters like LA BAMBA, YOUNG GUNS, STAND AND DELIVER, he had such intensity and fire. That's still there, and he's just grown as an actor and has gained so much control of his craft.
AMG.COM: All of your films feature great female performances, but your last two films have had the female leads as journalists, confident in their sexuality, sticking up for themselves, and also finding comfort in the end. Is there a sense of you in these characters of both (Lucky Them) Toli Collette's- Ellie Klug and (The Night Stalker) Bellamy Young's- Kit?
Megan Griffiths: I definitely have an interest in women who are flawed, maybe not traditionally "likable," and who are on a journey of understanding and accepting themselves for who they are. I think what I have in common with these characters is an independence and a desire to make sense of my own world. There are plenty of ways I differ from both characters, but I can absolutely relate to them. And I feel like it's part of my duty as a filmmaker from an under-represented demographic (that being female) to showcase female characters in all of their complexity and to break away from the more general tropes that we've all seen so many times before.
AMG.COM: I am sure you get tired of this question, but what do you believe needs to continue to be done for Hollywood to recognize successful female directors such as Ava Duvernay, Elizabeth Banks, and yourself?
Megan Griffiths: I saw Ava Duvernay give a keynote at SXSW a few years ago and she said we just have to "do the work." It's on us to create and showcase our talents and not wait for others to grant permission. That being said, I'm thrilled that the zeitgeist seems to be shifting. It's incredibly encouraging to see great male allies do things like JJ Abrams, who issued a memo to his company Bad Robot saying that any lists of writers, directors, actors and others to be considered for a project should “be at the very least representative of the country we live in. Which roughly breaks down to: 50 percent women, 12 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian.” That kind of systemic change matters, because right now, those lists are almost entirely white and male. If every studio followed his lead, we'd see change happen not over generations, but very quickly over the next few years.
AMG.COM: Do you think the needle is moving? Is Hollywood ready to give more lead roles to women and increase the confidence in women directors? Or is the Ghostbusters backlash towards an all-female cast a bad sign?
Megan Griffiths: The backlash against the all-female GHOSTBUSTERS is a sign of a dominant white male culture feeling the wave cresting and knowing that wave is about to crash down on the patriarchy. It's fear emerging in the form of trolling and whining, and I get that they're scared and they don't want to lose their place at the front of every line ever, but it's happening, and those bros need to embrace it. Expanding your viewing habits to be more inclusive of people who don't look like you is healthy, empathy-building, and so very good for society. Honestly, we could all stand to do more of that.
AMG.COM: Lastly, after all of the success you have had with Eden at SXSW, or the wide praise for Lucky Them, do you see your career headed towards a more big budget direction? Would you be open to making a Marvel movie or a Franchise film?
Megan Griffiths: There's nothing I love more than finding the humanity in individuals and using the medium of filmmaking to say something meaningful. So would I be open to continuing to do that, except with more resources and with the possibility of reaching a much bigger audience? Hell yeah! Sign me up!
AMG.COM: Well, Megan thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions and I look forward to seeing your career continue to soar high. Congratulations on the success of the film.
Megan Griffiths: Thank you!