Right at Your Door: Making of Disaster Film

RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR marks the feature directorial debut of writer-director Chris Gorak. The film premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and is now being released by Roadside Pictures.

Making the Movie

Produced and financed by the Los Angeles based production company Thousand Words, RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR began on the set of an earlier Thousand Words production, the drama THE CLEARING starring Robert Redford, Helen Mirren and Willem Dafoe. Gorak was the Production Designer on THE CLEARING, which is how he met Thousand Words principals Jonah Smith and Palmer West.

Gorak recalls, “While working out in the woods of North Carolina we talked–or I mostly talked–about wanting to direct my own film someday. Jonah and Palmer sort of intuitively challenged me to write a contained and (hopefully) thrilling script.”

After the first draft, Gorak, Smith and West developed the project for about a year before going into pre-production. “Jonah and Palmer are ideal producers,” says Gorak. “They really allowed me to freely explore a lot of creative options but also knew when to put a lid on the creativity. I feel we have a strong working relationship rooted in friendship, experience and trust.

“I wanted to tackle a large event with a restrained budget. I figured we couldn't afford to shoot lots of TV reports, so radio became paramount. I am a firm believer in the notion that strict parameters can lead to more exciting creative choices. I feel without TV, the situation faced by our characters immediately becomes more claustrophobic for them and therefore our audience.”

Another challenge: an urban disaster movie, RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR calls for certain visual effects, an expensive proposition. “I wanted the special effects to be believable but more importantly to play as just another shot — just another piece of the action,” says Gorak. “I never wanted to hang on a shot and say, 'ooh here's the big money shot.' Instead, I bargained for several little shots, which we sprinkled throughout the film to remind us of the surrounding danger.
“I always compared the approaching dust cloud to the shark's fin in JAWS. Once we showed the shark fin approaching and then finally arriving at the house, the audience would from that point on feel the shark's presence circling around our marooned characters.”

Gorak and the filmmakers also created and then stuck to strict rules about telling the story from the characters' perspectives. “If Brad was in the car, we were in the car, which means we'd put the camera in the car and shoot through the windshield. This not only maintained that claustrophobic feeling, but also limited the visual scope of the disaster — but never its intensity. “Later, when Brad became trapped in the house, we trapped the crew in the house and shot out through the windows.”

After shooting some tests on HD, DV and 16mm, the filmmakers settled on shooting RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR on Super 16mm. “Super 16 gave us a nice gritty textured feel, the most latitude in color timing and the best results back out to a 35mm print,” says Gorak, who chose cinematographer Tom Richmond (“Palindromes,” “House of 1000 Corpses,” “Little Odessa,” “Killing Zoe”) to serve as DP.

“We wanted the movie to flow organically and unravel. We shot the film hand-held 95% of the time. We wanted it to feel as if the story was running ahead of not only the audience but also ahead of the film crew.

“Our greatest challenge was to keep the continuity of the looming ash cloud,” he continues. “Early in the story the smoke cloud blankets the sky, so we were always fighting daylight when the ash was supposed to be present. We stumbled upon kind of a thunderstorm look: as violent weather patterns change and move the sun continues to peek in and out the cloud line. We embraced that spooky condition for the movie.”

The Actors

The filmmakers saw many actors hoping to play Brad and Lexi during the casting process. “Once the script started circulating,” Gorak reports, “it seemed as if more and more name actors began to see the material as an opportunity to demonstrate their range and ability to handle challenging material. “I met with both Rory and Mary on separate occasions and realized they immediately understood the weight of the story and its relevance,” Gorak says.

“What we liked most about Rory and Mary was that they are extremely talented and experienced actors who have the chameleon-like ability to fit into any scenario. Rory will always be knows as that stoner from 'Dazed and Confused,' and now millions see Mary every week on 'The West Wing,' maybe because they don't carry around the baggage a movie star persona.

“They quickly became Brad and Lexi and transcended anything we might have expected from either one of them based on their resumes. “Without a doubt, it is their believable performances that carry the film. They both can go from 0 to 100 and back to 0 on the emotional scale within a single scene. It's unbelievably captivating to watch.”