At film-authority.com, we’re always seeking new ways to share and boost the profile of worthwhile indie films, and innovative heist movie Solid Rock Trust is the kind of project it’s easy to get behind. I’d previously reviewed the film here (Solid Rock Trust), but have stayed in touch with the film-makers, namely writer/director Rick Ives and star Koko Marshall. In the UK, you can see the full movie, currently on 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, for a ridiculous price of zero pence; it’s on the ground-breaking YouTube streaming channel Indie Rights Movies for Free, and you can watch it as your leisure here.
In the past, I’ve regularly been offered interviews alongside screeners and disks, but my focus has generally been on reviewing. Wtih the website readership rising, it feels like time to add another string to my bow, so I tentatively sent off a few questions to Rick and Koko, and they came back with some great answers that provide some real insight into the process involved. Making an indie movie sing is very, very hard to do, and I know that some of the film-makers whose work I’ve reviewed would be keen to take part in a similar experience. So here’s the template, and many thanks to Rick and Koko for taking the time to talk about one of the most enjoyable films of the year.
What was your original pitch, and who did you pitch it to?
In real life, I work in post production and started writing scripts to explore another side of storytelling with hopes it would make me a better editor. In my own time, I’ve been editing indie features for a small company for a few years now, and I pitched them one of the scripts I’d already written on spec, thinking it might be within their usual budget range. Thankfully they liked it and helped me make this one happen! As far as the original pitch, it mostly the script, but in my mind I always wanted to do a single location bank heist that followed “the person in the chair,” and still could hit all of the bank heist tropes we all know and love.
You’ve worked on huge projects with a carpet on names at the end; when you originate your own project, how does your relationship with your work change?
I definitely take things a lot more personally when I have a creative role. It’s both scary and exhilarating to be one of the people making the big choices. The trade off is it’s such a struggle to find your audience when you don’t have a massive studio budget and marketing team putting ads on every cereal box and LED billboard in the area. I try to look at both scenarios optimistically, it’s fun to have been a part of something everyone I know from my high school will watch, and it’s also great to say I am hustling on the side in the indie world and have something to show for it.
How did you feel about authoring ie writing and directing? What kind of advice did you get?
The best advice I received about directing and producing from our Producer Joseph Henson was to just make the choice that this project is going to happen. Once the ball is rolling it really does feel like the pressure is on and the train has left the station. We shot for only 11 days on a relatively light budget and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. We all had fun on set, there was very little (off-screen) drama, and I met some great people I hope to keep working with. I hope to be able to do more of these in my spare time.
Did you look at other heist movies? The Killing was one that immediately sprang to mind; what did you like and dislike about them?
LOVE heist movies, any genre film really. In many ways it’s like music where you have the same chords and notes, but the magic is in doing something slightly different with the same tools and it can feel totally fresh. I tried to work in as many references as possible to heist movies as I could into the script (Inside Man, Heat, Reservoir Dogs, Dog Day Afternoon, to name a few.) There are probably a dozen Easter eggs in this movie sprinkled in I hope fans of the genre might recognize. I also LOVE single location movies. Every time one pops up I’m at its mercy. I just have to see whether they manage to pull this off and what kind of tricks they have in their bag.
Talk Radio is one of the few films with this kind of scope that really work; was it hard to persuade people that you could not only get but maintain tension?
Surprisingly that didn’t take much convincing, thankfully in the indie world, people are more apt to take risks with unconventional storytelling. The worry nearly everyone had with the script was that we wouldn’t be able to find an actress to carry this role. There is a super wide range of emotions, tons of dialogue, and half a dozen accents for her to pull off. Thankfully we managed to find this actress and now that’s what most people rave about once they’ve seen her performance.
How much did you shoot, what were the biggest decisions you made, and do you have any regrets about what you did?
We shot 11 days in a real abandoned warehouse (we did have permission to be there lol). We had 2 RED cameras rolling on pretty much everything. Our crew was only 10-12 people on a given day. We never shot more than 9 hours a day (usual production days are 10-12 hours per day), but it was a sauna in there unfortunately, and even though we were indoors, we were often fighting Georgia thunderstorms because all you could hear was rain on the tin roof when that was happening. One big choice we made was that all the phone calls were recorded by voice actors ahead of time, so they were played back over a PA system while Koko was acting. This turned out great as the whole crew could really get into the scene as it played out. I do regret missing a few setups. A usual film can be 1000-2000 shots and it can be difficult to remember to get everything you need for when it comes time to put the whole puzzle together, but this is something literally every production on earth faces, so I give myself some grace there.
How have people felt about your film after watching it? Were you surprised that they took to it?
I feel like we still only reached a moderate size audience, but we have a great 100% rotten tomatoes score so far, and a good IMDB score, so I’m hoping it will have legs for a few years to come. It’s also just so wonderful to hear from critics like you, Eddie, who really recognize this as something unique and fun that it can really resonate with people on a deeper level than some of your competing choices.
And for Koko…
I’d previously reviewed The Get Together; the opposite approach to an indie movie to SRT, with tonnes of characters and a real ensemble feel. Do you prefer one way of filming to another?
Yes, The Get Together was the complete opposite experience! That was also a blast, and honestly so different that I don’t know if I can choose which I prefer. It is so nice to have so many other actors around to play off of and find creative moments with, and I definitely missed that with SRT. However, SRT was such a special and strange experience acting with so many limitations it almost forced more creativity. I had to find ways to keep my dialogue feeling fresh and new without the freedom to change words or pacing, and it was a super fun challenge. Plus, I love acting SO MUCH so to be in every single scene is my absolute favorite.
How do you prep for a character like Maddie? She’s some way from the kind of person you’d know casually…I hope!
The hardest part of prepping for Maddie was actually robbing a bank. Just kidding 🙂 I prep all my characters a bit differently, and for Maddie I spent a lot of time creating her story and discovering what makes her who she is. In general, people always justify their actions, so in order to understand Maddie I had to discover how to justify her actions, and what it would take for me to behave in this way. Once I can find Maddie in myself, it just takes turning up certain qualities and toning down others to create this person.
What kind of back-story did you create for Maddie? She comes across in a very 3D way, with hidden depths that we only become aware of as the tension rises…
A lot of Maddie’s depth comes from Rick’s script. He created a multidimensional and believable character, which made my job much easier. I wrote a full backstory of Maddie’s upbringing, relationships, and experiences that shaped her. I had to know who her mother was, what childhood was like, why she speaks all these languages and dialects, etc. Knowing a character’s secrets, intentions, and opinions help me create a more dynamic character.
I’m specifically interested in the way Maddie handles tech; did you have input into the way she arranges her various devices?
I am possibly the least tech savvy person in the world, so I had to learn or invent what exactly Maddie could be doing on these computers. The only input I had was the somewhat OCD organization of the phones, pens, desktops, etc. on the desk. I love organization and cleanliness, and that is a quality I turned up for Maddie.
Heist movies have been quite a male preserve; how does having such a resourceful heroine break the existing pattern?
I can’t believe we are one of the first female led heist films! It makes so much sense to me, especially the way SRT is written. Like many females, Maddie is great at seeing the bigger picture, thinking on her feet, and finding balance between managing her team’s emotions while remaining in control (for the most part). It was such a privilege for me to get to play such a resourceful, intelligent and badass character. I feel so lucky to have gotten to play a role that I would love to see.
Are you really a master of accents in real life? That aspect of the film really entertains….
I wouldn’t call myself a master, but maybe I’ll start now haha. I have been good at mimicking accents since I was very little. I also studied dialects in university for a semester, so I have a few tools to help. Honestly, I am a massive perfectionist with accents, but since Maddie is also an American speaking with fake accents it took some of the pressure off. My friends and family all know that I was SO excited to get to play with accents in this film, and it really was a blast.
And together…I’d be be keen to hear from both of you; where did you learn your craft?
RICK: I’m still learning ha! Every project I work on, or watch, big or small, has something to teach. Sometimes it’s inspiring ideas and sometimes it’s what not to do. Watching 8 hours a day of behind the scenes on tentpole blockbusters doesn’t hurt either, sometimes I feel like my access is such a gift and I’m thankful they let me in the front door every time I walk through it.
KOKO: I second Rick’s answer- I am always learning. I studied acting at Pace University NYC (BFA Acting program with minors in Psychology and Art), but I honestly think I’ve learned more through working than I could studying. I booked my first lead role in a feature directly out of college, and every single project since has taught me so many new skills and lessons. Years later and I am finally writing down everything I learn each time I wrap a project.
What was the goal when you set out to make Solid Rock Heist? Do you feel you achieved it?
RICK: There a few goals I had in mind… I wanted to play with genre tropes in a way that felt like a game with the audience, I wanted to have a twist in the story every 10 minutes, I wanted to pull off a single location/actor movie that felt like it never slowed down, and I wanted to make a low budget movie that looked like a big budget movie. At the end of the day I feel like we managed to achieve all of these!
KOKO: Once I received the script, my personal goal was to create a character who is both compelling and relatable enough to hold audience attention for a whole film. I was terrified of this and I hope I achieved it! After we started shooting, the challenge and goal were to keep Maddie human and avoid feeling robotic while working with limitations of recordings and all the technical pieces.
What happens to a film when it enters streaming? Has it been hard or easy to engage with press, media and audiences?
RICK: Unfortunately these days, every movie is a drop of water in a sea of content, and it can be tough to be found. I’m still really getting my footing beneath me when it comes to marketing an independent film of this nature, but it has been super fun to engage with audiences and interviewers. So far I’ve done 25 podcast interviews and haven’t had a bad one yet so anyone out there feel free to hit me up and see if you can get me to stop talking!
KOKO: One of my biggest weaknesses as an artist is self-promotion and social media. I am so proud of this film and all the work we put into it, and I want the whole world to see it, but I’m not sure how to make that happen. I left this wonderful set and flew straight to NYC for another shoot, and haven’t really had any down time since! I did a few really fun podcast interviews and would love to do more!
And lastly…what happens next, for both of you?
RICK: I’ve got a few scripts written and am waiting to figure out when I have another break in my day job schedule. As big of a fan I am of heists films, I also watch way more horror that I care to admit….
KOKO: For one, I’m waiting for Rick to call me with dates for the next one 🙂 I have had a few features release recently, just wrapped another single character/location film, and I have 2 films coming up in the fall. Between bookings I also write, so I’m working on finishing a feature and starting to pitch that to producers. We will see!
You can find more about the locations used in Solid Rock Trust at the link below.
and (in some territories) you can see the whole movie below