“Group” (EXCLUSIVE) Interview with William R.A. Rush

2024 April 24

“Group” (EXCLUSIVE) Interview with William R.A. Rush

-Who is William R.A. Rush?

That’s a question I am still trying to answer. I have been a trial attorney for nearly twenty years. I have education backgrounds in law, eastern philosophy, psychology, creative writing and journalism. I have three daughters; Victoria, Mary and Adriana. I have an incredibly talented and supportive wife, Xxena N. Rush. All of these life experiences professionally, educationally, as a husband and father, have shaped my filmmaking. I started shooting my first short film, the Stephen King adaptation for “One for the Road” in late 2022. I hope, if I continue to work hard and improve my craft, that I can simply answer this question as follows: I am a husband, father and filmmaker.

-What inspired you to become a Filmmaker?

It was always a dream, it seems. My first theatrical experience was a second run showing of E.T. sometime in 1985, when I was around four years old. I was absolutely captivated, entranced. I found myself lost in the world of E.T. I was roughly the same age as Gertie, played so perfectly by Drew Barrymore. There was this girl, my age, and she as running around in a troubled family, caught up in the magic of hope. I was caught up in that magic as well. The first time I saw the art of film, the complex innerworkings that created the final work caught my eye. I began to see film very differently. Other films began to force me to look beyond the picture to how it was made. “Jurassic Park”, “The Departed”, “The Matrix”, “Inception”, “Amelie”, “Wild Tales” and, in particular, “Mulholland Drive” were primary examples of this immersion into the world of what goes on behind the scenes. It became a fascination. Once the pandemic hit, I started watching the films I’d always wanted to experience. With every film, this passion to know, to learn, to do, grew stronger. Finally, episode 5 of Mike Flanagan’s “The Haunting of Hill House” solidified it for me. I decided it was “now or never”. My wife, Xxena N. Rush (magnificent producer) encouraged me. In fact, Mike Flanagan himself encouraged me. I reached out to Stephen King’s office and requested the rights to “One For the Road”, pitching my ideas for it. Less than two days later I had a written contract. I had one year to write, cast, direct, edit and finalize the film. I did it, and it was pretty good.

In the back of my head I knew I could do better, I knew I had a better film in me. I had been writing “Group”, I finished it in short order. I wrote three additional features in 2024. I finished “Group”, shot “Immersion” and am scheduled to shoot “Fetish” in September. I truly believe every film I ever enjoyed planted a blossoming seed into my mind that fueled this desire in me. All I want to do is be a good husband, a good father, and make films. That is how I became, and hopefully shall remain, a filmmaker.

-Do you think the cinema can bring a change in the society?

It’s the naïve answer, but I do. Art is important. I see finished cinema as an artistic nirvana. This applies to any film, even those people deride or that are unsuccessful. In order to get from an idea to a film, so many artistic disciplines and masters must work together, somehow. You must have, as the foundation, a compelling story that’s understandable or interesting to a random reader. That story must be written in the language of cinema. You then need the organizational “big picture” thinking of producers to see the possibilities from the story. Acting is a very specific craft that I certainly have no skills in. But it’s a craft I admire beyond words. It’s magic to me. Just look to Marcello Mastroianni and you’ll see how I try (quite inadequately) to carry myself, the style I choose professionally. The ability of a performer to make you cry with words and the expression of emotion. It’s a glorious and beautiful calling. Set designers are part-architects, part-painters, part-concept artists, often a combination thereof. These people create worlds. It’s a spectacular fete. If you look at any Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Wes Anderson or Ken Russell film you get a glimpse into a world that is viscerally real. Months or years after seeing these films, you remember the fictional places as though you’ve visited them. Your sound mixers have the ears of the masses. They can listen to everything, background noises, creaks, the soft hum of an air conditioner, but what they hear and what they capture is incredible. They know how the film should sound in front of a large audience a year from now. Michael Competielle, or sound man, seems to hear the film from the best seat in a theater as we’re filming. The director of photography, in my case the great Michael Joseph Murray, is a photographer who can capture and properly light the equivalent of 86,400 photographs per hour of footage recorded. I can visualize something, write it, describe it, and this genius can look around a room, whatever the natural weather or external factors, and use light and camera to make the vision reality. The first assistant and second assistant camera can make any place become anything you want. It’s remarkable. Instagram filters take something real and make it seem fake. Cinematographers make something entirely manufactured and make it appear more real than your own living room. Costume designers not only bring the beauty and style to the characters, but also work to make the actors comfortable physically and emotionally. All of their work and skill shines through in the final film.

The editors take these raw, often disordered pieces and make them a cognizable whole. Miranda Jean Larson and Bradley Shupinski are my editing superheroes. Whatever we are able to do on set, however good, is but a chunk of marble before they complete. Even if all of the above is done to perfection…and everyone involved always strives for perfection…it lacks a soul until a great composer paints a symphony over it. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without Gary Mutch. He gives the film it’s soul. His scores and sound design evoke emotion, they resonate with the unconscious sensations borne of memory and experience in each viewer. Without music and sound a visual masterpiece like “2001: A Space Odyssey” would fail to stir the viewer. It’s all but impossible to think of Steven Spielberg without thinking of John Williams, or Tim Burton without Danny Elfman. Musical composition is a similarly involved product made of many brilliant artists bringing their specialties to the studio and creating a singular piece. I cannot help but think of Brian Wilson overseeing the “Pet Sounds” sessions. Finally, a director must be able to adopt the story into a vision, express that vision clearly to all involved, and organize the various artistic factions together to captain the brilliant collective toward the destination of completed work. It’s an incredible amalgamation of individuals with different artistic mastery, at the top of their craft, working together to create a singular piece. It’s art that can only exist through the collective and collaborate works of many great artists, each at the height of their creative strengths. Honest human emotion allows the viewer to escape. Art is mean to designed to remove you from reality during the time you consume it. So I believe cinema can, does, and has changed society. I am certain it will continue to do so, hopefully for the better.

-What would you change in the world?

Access to healthcare, proper healthcare, for everyone that needs it. This would include mental health care. My film, “Group”, has a very strong statement about that very concern weaved in throughout. Many people work very hard, often through tremendous pain, often in invisible professions. Those people are one injury away – often caused by their job, often caused by someone else – from becoming impoverished and desperate. Mental health is stigmatized. To live in a world where a life-saving mental health diagnosis could result in the patient being ostracized or professionally ruined is the ultimate Catch-22. Someone can either seek treatment to get the help needed to manage the condition and consequently suffer serious personal, financial and professional consequences, or they can avoid treatment altogether and suffer. That’s not any kind of life as I understand it. That’s hell. Healthcare for all, without financial harm or societal prejudices, is what I would give the world if I could change one thing. I think many other related (and seemingly unrelated) problems would be solved if this wish were to come true.

-Where do you see the film industry going in the next 100 years?

Technological advancements, whether 100 years in the past or the future, do not make or define the course of cinema. It’s the filmmakers who use the technology to create their visions that define the course of cinema. I believe that will always be the case. I am certain Artificial Intelligence programs and software will become more prevalent. Indeed, some film festivals are already offering submissions under such categories. There is tremendous fear in the industry over A.I.’s growing presence and influence as well. This will likely go on for a while. Some proponents of A.I. have likened the critiques of A.I.-driven film to those stars of the silent era who railed against talkies. I find this comparison spurious at best. The stars of that era were concerned about being replaced by stars in a different forum, more for fear it would fail or undermine the art than anything else. Of course, it elevated the artform.

The difference in effect between films with sound, or the advent of colorization and the like and the current “threat” from A.I. is apples and oranges. A.I. can make something visually stunning, maybe it can approximate emotional resonance. But it lacks, and will always lack, the soul needed for film to be film. It will lack the element that makes it timeless. It will never escape the uncanny valley. Soul is what feeds a film and makes it feel real. If you take it away…and A.I. largely does take it away…the husk that remains, however beautiful, will have an element of the uncanny that will be unappealing.

No computer program or app can ever create what visionaries like Bergman, Fellini, Varda, Argento, Ducournau, Cronenberg, Jordan Peele or David Lynch can bring to life. This is because they have lived. Part of the filmmaker resides inside the films they create like a beating heart. Audiences feel that humanity reaching out through the screen. A computer program is lifeless, soulless, robotic, algorithmic… Audiences don’t feel algorithms or binary code. It’s not part of living. It’s not part of the human experience. The movie industry’s recovery from the pandemic has shown that people long for great cinema. Audiences will be there to embrace it, to escape into it.