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‘Painkillers’ Interview: Peter Winther

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Painkillers is the new action film from longtime Roland Emmerich collaborator Peter Winther. The film stars Tahmoh Penikett, Lesley-Ann Brandt and Colm Feore, and is currently available on DVD and VOD. Check out the official synopsis and our interview below.

PAINKILLERS tells the story of a squad of marines sent on a classified mission deep in the war-torn mountains of Afghanistan, but when they find the mysterious item they were sent for… it’s not what they were expecting. The next thing they know, Major Cafferty (Penikett) and the surviving squad members wake-up in a military medical facility with no memory of what happened or even who they are. Using an experimental drug, doctors try to “reboot” the soldiers’ memories, but one by one they fall prey to bizarre hallucinations and homicidal fits of rage. Only through snatches of resurfacing memories does Cafferty begin to question the true motives of the hospital staff and discover the shocking, deadly reality behind the otherworldly artifact they found.

How did you wind up making Painkillers?

Peter Winther: The producers on the film sent me a script that wasn’t 100% what I was looking for. I was writing another script at the same time and I was having a hard time getting into it. I needed a trigger to get into this bigger story that I had and they sent me a script that had that trigger, so I kind of merged the two.

What was the trigger that hooked you?

PW: What they had was strictly a military script. It came as a bunch of soldiers that had lost their memory. The where and when wasn’t terrestrial at all. I had this other idea which kinda tied in this Roswell history because I just love these kinds of movies. Originally I’d had this idea that my old boss Roland Emmerich and I had, so I was just kind of following up on it. This script about these soldiers who couldn’t remember what happened was my in, I thought that was the way to get into this potentially much bigger story. In Painkillers, I feel we give a very satisfactory ending because there are still a lot of questions left unanswered.

Have you always been a fan of Science Fiction?

PW: Yeah, I love it. A lot of what Star Trek does where it takes present day situations but throws it into a Science Fiction setting to comment on society for today; or in the case of Painkillers or what we did with Stargate where you can kind of use Science Fiction to explain how we all came to be in the first place. I just felt that was a good story to tell and it’s one I’m fascinated with in how the human race has accelerated so quickly. And with the whole Ancient Astronaut thing, there are so many stories in that genre itself; I love that world and I thought it would be a fun thing to try to do and expose a little bit if my theory of what could have happened.

You directed a cast with a lot of genre experience.

PW: I purposely went after this type of cast. As an independent film, you want to have actors in there that fans of this genre know immediately. Tahmoh Penikett with his many roles in Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural; and Colm Feore is just a great actor, he just raises the game of everybody as soon as he walks in the room. He’s got a little notebook for his character that he refers to, and it’s like a 300 page notebook that’s full. He really dives into every role that he plays, and particularly the scenes with Tom Owen and Colm when they’re facing off against each other, those scenes might be the best scenes of the movie.

You also shot a lot of outdoor action in the film.

PW: The action stuff comes very easy to me. The challenge was, as opposed to doing The Patriot or Independence Day with second units, you don’t have as much time, so you have to just plan it. There is no safety net. You have to get it right the first time, so it’s all about planning and execution. We were in Calgary in January, so all that stuff set in Afghanistan was shot in the badlands of Calgary and it was cold. In Fahrenheit you’re talking like -10 to 20 degrees, and we’re doing these gun fights and battles. It was challenging to say the least, but again we got it done and I think it’s really more about the acting. It had to be emotional and it had to be based on the character.

Any final words you’d like to say for the fans?

PW: For me it’s a film that’s cool, fun and thought provoking in the vein of a Stargate type of thing. This will be a great movie for you to watch and we had a lot of fun making it. There’s a bigger story that will happen in the second film which will be shooting starting Spring of next year, so there’s more to come from that universe that we’ve just started to tap into.