In the new film noir-inspired thriller, The minute you wake up deadstockbroker (Cole Hauser, Yellowstone) in a small southern town is targeted after an investment opportunity turns sour, causing many townspeople to lose large sums of money. As he seeks help from the local sheriff (Morgan Freeman) and a dodgy waitress (Jaimie Alexander, Blind spot, Thor), the situation quickly escalates into a web of double crosses, deceptions and murders.
The minute you wake up dead was led by Michel Mailler, who spent most of his three-decade career as a producer. He moved into the director’s chair with the years 2016 Blind with Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore, followed by 2021 heart of champions with Michael Shannon. The move from producing to directing was an easy transition for Mailer, thanks to his years of experience working with first-time filmmakers. “I’ve worked with a lot of rookie directors,” Mailer said. director who had a problem with narcolepsy and literally fell asleep during night shoots. I intervened and finished the shooting. I remember the lead actress saying to me, “You know, I just wish he’d written shorter scenes.” The thing about being weaned on the independent film environment is that it’s so intensely collaborative. The boundaries between roles often become blurred. It was a form of baptism by fire.”
Mailer shared co-writing credit for penning the screenplay for The minute you wake up dead starring Timothy Holland, though he credits the first-time screenwriter with developing much of the story. “It’s really Tim’s script,” he said. “He got the ball rolling. I just went in and rewrote some scenes and changed some dialogue, but it was Tim’s. He deserves credit for creating history. I was immediately drawn to Tim’s initial project. I find it so hard to find a good script. Typically, you read 100 before one looks remotely good.”
Back to film noir
For Mailer, Holland’s screenplay draw was the timeless nature of the film noir genre. “I kind of grew up in the film noir space,” he said. “I loved the books by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, as well as my father (renowned writer Norman Mailer), who wrote Tough guys don’t dance, which he later turned into a film. When single blood came out, it just kind of shook my world. It was a revelation for me. I wanted to do something in the dark genre.
“What appeals to me about the noir genre, in general, is that we live in an imperfect universe,” Mailer continued. “I think the characters that populate this universe, with their flaws and quirks and nuances, need to be brought to life. There’s also the element of the absurdity of the Divine Comedy and the Human Comedy, and when you merge those two things, it just leads to a milieu where things happen, and somebody’s good in that scene and some kind of evil in this scene, and the moral universe is gray. Everyone is trying to survive in the end. There is heightened surrealism in this environmentnotment and these characters. It is an excellent breeding ground for twists.
Work with experienced veterinarians
Mailer enjoyed some pretty stellar castings for his early directorial efforts, The minute you wake up dead being no exception. “Morgan came in first,” Mailer said. “He kind of got the ball rolling. To my delight and to our advantage, he answered the role. Once on board, Cole, who was definitely at the top of my acting list for the role, quickly came into play. He had previously had a relationship on film with Morgan (2013’s Olympus has fallen), so he was eager to return to this couple. Jamie came in last. It was hard to find someone who could really play this role of the hometown sweetheart gone to seed. There’s no kind of genetic malevolence towards her. It’s just a situation of desperation that spirals out of control, and eventually blurs the distinctions between good and evil.
With only three films in his directing career, Mailer quickly found comfort and ease in working with veteran actors like Alec Baldwin, Demi Moore and Morgan Freeman. “Well, it makes your job a lot easier when you’re working with good actors,” Mailer said. “And they are all great actors. My process is really about talking to them about their roles, where their motivations come from, and where their characters come from. I grew up going to actors’ studios as a kid with my dad, and I was kind of steeped in the idea that you analyze a play like you analyze a great work of art or literature. . You just break it down and understand what essentially creates this character’s being. I love doing that kind of stuff.
This does not mean that the director/actor collaboration has always been necessarily fluid. “When you work with very talented people, they bring their own interpretations, colorings and nuances to a role,” Mailer said. “It’s a very collaborative form. When you work with someone like Morgan, he’s like a Stratovarius. You don’t edit the music, you just polish it. You’re there when needed, but no matter what he does, you get good stuff. The only problem with him was that he didn’t like to do too many takes. I was like, “Why don’t we try something a little different?” and he said, “I’m pretty sure the first one was pretty good.” Call me greedy, but everything that comes out of Morgan is brilliant. I just want more. So he reluctantly agreed to give me another take. It was just awesome. I mean, he’s a bucket list actor you dream of working with.
Mailer will continue to split his time between directing and producing; he is currently producing a film titled wild lands about Davy Crockett, and he’s developing his next directorial effort, a drama titled cut manabout a heroin-addicted mother who befriends an ex-combatant. And while he’s excited to star in different genres, right now he’s happy to present this neo-noir thriller. “There’s a certain giddiness that audiences should feel when things get out of control,” Mailer said. “My goal was to make the characters empathetic enough that we were fully invested in driving even when the wheels were squealing. And true to the noir genre, there’s a slight undercurrent of humor underlying the darkness. It’s as if we were in a divine comedy played in hell with the devil in the audience.
The minute you wake up dead comes to us from Lions Gate and is currently playing in select theaters and on-demand and digital. The film will also be available on Blu-ray and DVD on December 13.