I was super excited to get the opportunity to chat with the brains behind No Escape! The director/writer John Dowdle and co-writer Drew Dowdle were so awesome and easy to talk to! It’s always great to talk with filmmakers who have a genuine passion for what they do! I really enjoyed this movie! Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it totally throws you a whole new shocking curve ball that leaves you wondering what could POSSIBLY happen next! After watching this movie I really can’t wait to see what new projects “The Brothers Dowdle” have in store for us!
The following interview with director John Dowdle and co-writer Drew Dowdle took place Friday, November 20th. Special thanks to April Tonsil coordinating everyone’s schedules to make this happen!
Shohan: John and Drew? How you guys doin?
John and Drew: Doin’ good! How are you doin?
Shohan: I’m doin’ great thanks! If you guys could do me a favor and just say your names before you answer a question. It’ll help to distinguish who I’m talking to.
John: Yeah, this is John here. I’ve got kinda the more higher squeaky voice.
Drew: Yeah, this is Drew here. I’ve got the deeper voice.
Shohan: Sounds good, right on. OK well let’s get started! First off lemme just say, and you’ve probably heard this a bunch by now, but this film really gripped onto me. Just the intense pacing and the writing was some of the best I’ve seen in suspense and thriller movies in a long time.
Drew: Thank you so much.
John: That’s really nice to hear!
Shohan: So what inspired the idea to make this movie?
John: My dad and I were traveling, we went to Thailand for vacation. Right before we left, there was a coup and the generals had taken over the country. I asked my dad, “Should we cancel the trip?” and he said, “Oh no, it’s a peaceful coup. It’ll be fine.” We showed up and it was in fact a peaceful coup. But there were armed guards everywhere we went and they checked for bombs under our car on the way to the hotel. There was this heightened sense of security everywhere. People seemed nervous. I started thinking, what if this turned badly? What if this went off the rails? We had previously been to Thailand with our dad and our little sisters who are 9 years younger then us. So i started thinking, what if you had two little girls with you and you were responsible for them? Once I got back to the States I pitched the idea to Drew, and he was like, “Yeah, lets do that!”. We did a bunch of research and we started hammering our the details.
Shohan: Awesome, awesome! So Owen Wilson really surprised me here! I’ve never really seen this side of him before. I’m more used the “jokey ladies man” version. How did you know that he would be perfect for this role? Like, you nailed it!
John: Yeah, thank you! You know what it was that proved to us that he could do this, it’s kinda funny, it was “Marley and Me”!
John: We saw that movie and we were like, “I haven’t seen him go that deep”! There’s a moment where they’re putting the dog to sleep, and we’re like oh my god! He got me all choked up! We wanted somebody who you didn’t know as an action guy. We really wanted this to feel like somebody you knew. We wanted to make this to feel like a normal guy in a heightened situation. Not an action guy using his bad ass ninja skills.
Shohan: Like someone who could be your neighbor?
Both: Exactly! Yeah!
John: I wanted to see someone like my brother in the situation. What would you do if you’re like an IT guy, and you have to keep your kids alive? What do you do? And Owen is SO delightful!
Drew: There’s a moment in the movie where, without spoiling it, his character does something that’s pretty shockingly violent! We kinda used that as a litmus test for the actors we were thinking of. We wanted someone who when you see them take that turn, it’s really shocking! Like you would never expect someone like this person to do that! And Owen, like you said, he’s so well known for his comedies, but he’s done some pretty heavy stuff in his past. Even in his comedies, even in his silliest of comedies he really does something with every line he has. There’s a lot more than just the surface level to him. Comedy actors, just by and large, are so good when they’re allowed to do something different. We knew we’d get the best of him with this movie. It wasn’t just a job, he wasn’t just doing it for the money. This movie actually meant something to him and that really appealed to us a lot.
Shohan: It definitely shined through in the film. I noticed that they never really mentioned the specific country where everything takes place. Was that intentional?
John: That was very much so. Initially in early drafts of the script we had named the country Cambodia. We have a lot of sensitivity to what goes on over there. We found over and over again when people would read the script they’d be like, “Wow, could this happen in Cambodia?!”. We didn’t want that to be THE story. We didn’t want to make a story about Cambodia that was bad for Cambodia. So we decided to take some of the specificity we gathered there, and sorta make our own country with it’s own language, it’s own flag, it’s own prime minister, and kinda give it it’s own national identity. We felt that in being specific with it, without naming it, we could make it more allegorical and keep the focus on the family.
Shohan: Gotcha. To make it a little more relatable to the world at large.
Drew: Like John said, the geopolitical situation of any particular country would become a big a part of the conversation that felt off point from what we were doing.
Shohan: Yeah, my wife and I actually had our honey moon in Thailand. I remember one of the rules they told us was that it was illegal to make fun of the king or to make any kind of jokes. Did you guys run into any obstacles making such a huge film over there?
Drew: Well that was one thing that we had to avoid for sure! We also had to make sure not to use the kings image, or make any reference to the king. We even had to avoid using the color yellow because that’s the king’s color.
Shohan: Oh that’s right!
Drew: Any Buddhist imagery we had to avoid. Thailand has a long history of relatively frequent coups. In fact, initially the movie was actually called “The Coup”. We definitely had to assure them that it wasn’t going to be depicted in Thailand. We weren’t using the Thai language, none of the signage is in Thai, which is something that we wanted to do anyway. But we really had to promise them that we wouldn’t cross that line!
Shohan: Without spoiling anything, what would you say was the hardest scene to shoot?
John: The rooftop scene was the most expensive. But I would say the hardest, maybe for me personally, was the scene when they’re crossing the border. I got really sick that day. I was throwing up at the monitors! There were boat shots that we had to get and I was just miserable!
Drew: The rooftop scene had SO many moving parts to it as well!
John: Drew and I really believe in shooting things practically. Not doing CG. I hate shooting green screen! We shot on a real rooftop and it was SUPER hot. We were on the the twelfth floor and we didn’t want a CG Helicopter. We wanted a REAL helicopter flying and a REAL helicopter crashing around us! But the thing is is that there was no open space for us to put a “broken down” helicopter. So we actually had to buy and disassemble someone’s house, use a Crane to get the chopper up there, and then rebuild the house back! And then throwing kids off the roof, there were just SO many moving parts that made it difficult.
Shohan: Well I think the choice to to use practical effects definitely resonated with the audience on a deeper level. You can always tell when someone is using CG. Even the highest quality tends to not have the same WEIGHT of the real thing. With this movie you could actually feel the bullets zinging by! It was great!
Drew: heh, Thank you.
John: Thank you!
Shohan: Sure thing. So what drew you guys to filmmaking? What were some of your writing and film influences when you were kids?
John: Heh, that’s cool! That’s a good question. We don’t get many questions like that. I would say Drew and I and our mom, we used to watch movies all the time. Books, movies, and music were just a huge part of our environment growing up. Drew and I started writing when we were pretty young. I started when I was 14 and I was writing a whole bunch. I would give it to Drew and he’d give me notes and we’d work it out together. A lot of the skills we’re working on today started back then. Eventually I started trying to talk Drew into pursuing it. He had gotten a great job right out of college and he was doing very well. So it was a tough sell to be like, “Come on out to LA! Let’s be poor together!”. It seems crazy to me now that I think back on it!
Drew: I’d say one of the main influences in terms of career, was probably John. He was more naturally predisposed to diving into Hollywood and trying to hack it out. I was a little more practical, i guess. It seemed like more of a pipe dream to me back then. When we were in high school the Coen Brothers were starting to have massive success and they were from our home town. We kinda took a page out of that play book. John would direct, I would produce, and we’d co-write together. The plan was that we’d build it all ourselves and learn how to do everything in the process. I’d say that they were our most significant influences.
Shohan: That’s awesome and great to hear that you have such passion for filmmkaing! Well, I’m officially a fan of “The Brothers Dowdle”. So count me in! I’ll be following you guys wherever you go! So what’s next for you guys? Do you have anything in the works that you can talk about?
John: We’ve got a few things going on right now. Two features and two things for TV in the script stage. The one we CAN talk about is called “Six Minutes to Freedom” it’s a Panamanian thriller that’s centered around the last days of Noriega. It’s a true story and we’re really excited about that one!
Drew: It follows the story of a dual citizen Panamanian-American named Kurt Muse who was imprisoned under Noriega. He was credited as being sort of the driving force that took down Noriega and was later rescued by Delta Force.
Shohan: Nice! And that’s gonna be a feature film you said?
Both: Yeah, it’s still in the script stages.
Drew: We’ve got a couple limited series that we’re working on but unfortunately we can’t talk about those.
Shohan: Heh, no problem! Well thank you very much for sittin’ down with me! It was a pleasure talking with you.
Drew: Yeah it was a real pleasure talking to you too!
John: Thank you so much! This was was really fun!
No Escape will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, November 24th.