Right at Your Door with Chris Gorak

RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR marks the feature directorial debut of writer-director Chris Gorak. After multiple dirty bombs are detonated, spreading deadly toxic ash across Los Angeles, Brad (Rory Cochrane) inadvertently quarantines his wife, Lexi (Mary McCormack) outside their new home by safely sealing himself inside. With the city under siege and Martial Law in affect, Brad and Lexi struggle to survive with little supply, limited time and no information–all the while separated by thin doors and thinner sheets of plastic. When “help” finally does arrive, it appears to be anything but.

“At its core, RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR is a reaction to the psychological limitations in our Post 9/11 society,” offers writer-director Chris Gorak. “I felt that after 9/11, as a country we ran off to far-away places to fight an elusive ghost. The real skirmish line was established on U.S. soil, and the last time that happened was during the Civil War. The harboring and even training of the people who carried out the attacks were done within our borders, a concept that I think was, at the time, very hard for us, as a nation, to swallow. But this is also why I felt no need during the narrative of RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR to have anyone mention the words 'terror attack' or 'terrorism.' We already have that idea well established in our collective conscious.”

The City

Perhaps bordering on taboo by creating the scenario, Gorak steeped RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR in the geography and culture of Los Angeles, imagining attacks that decimate the city's West Side.

“There has been so much speculation on what would happen to Los Angeles in this situation that I wanted to take a stab at it myself,” says Gorak. “Story-wise, I really wanted to cripple the city, which wouldn't be that hard considering LA's daily traffic mess.
“I figured that Downtown, Beverly Hills and LAX were ideal targets which would make the Valley something of a safe haven, envisioning that the Hollywood Hills would contain the flow of toxic ash somewhat. I imagine in this scenario that there'd be a mass exodus of millions of people fighting to cross Mulholland Drive into North Hollywood.”

Real-Life Disasters

Both real-life disasters and previous work on a particular movie informed the visual pallet and distinctly LA feel of RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR.

“We wanted RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR to have a very Los Angeles feel and having worked on many films here in LA, I knew that I wanted to place the characters' neighborhood on a hillside with a view of Downtown,” Gorak explains. “With the house being almost like a character in the film, we searched for much longer than anyone expected we would in order to land the perfect location.”

Gorak has been a production designer and art director for many Hollywood movies, including Catherine Hardwick recent classic Southern California saga LORDS OF DOGTOWN. Gorak recalls that, in terms of locations on LORDS OF DOGTOWN, “We had our work cut out for us since the grit of 1970s Venice is now long gone. We eventually found great locations all over Los Angeles County, many in San Pedro. When Catherine made the transition from Production Designer to Director with her film THIRTEEN, it was the last boost of inspiration I needed to get RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR going. She's always been hugely supportive of the project.”

RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR also benefits from the directors' first-hand experience with real-life natural disasters that seasonally threaten Southern California: brush fires. “I have lived through a fire or two,” he recalls. “Very early on I remember my wife called me when I was working in Vancouver to say how ash was falling from the sky. At that time she was the only one who'd read the script and to her it was as if the story had become real. It's not far fetched for anyone in Los Angeles to envision ash falling like snow.”

As an Art Director, Gorak worked with Steven Spielberg on MINORITY REPORT and with David Fincher on FIGHT CLUB, two relatively paranoid visions of the future, and acknowledges that those movies had some influence on the story he chose to tell for his first film as a writer / director.
“I always thought of those films as opposing bookends to the Millennium,” he says today. “FIGHT CLUB looks at the social impact of life in Corporate America and MINORITY REPORT looks at the social impact of technology created by Corporate America. I think ultimately seeing how these films successfully put a magnifying glass on American contemporary society helped me when thinking about RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR. “I was lucky to witness first-hand how Spielberg applies humanity to his storytelling and how Fincher applies inhumanity to his, and I can only hope that these different approaches somehow rubbed off on RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR.”

The Radio

We interrupt your regular programming for a KDHP emergency news brief. This is Neil Simmons reporting from KDHP's Pasadena studios. Multiple explosive devices were detonated simultaneously across downtown LA moments ago.”

This chilling bulletin is the means by which Brad, and the audience, first learn of the disaster, and though we never see his face, Neil Simmons and his colleagues at KDHP radio are major characters in the film. Anyone who lives in Southern California, or really any urban center, will recognize how significant radio is in times of crisis.
“From the first incarnation of the script we knew we needed believable sounding news reports to help intensify the disaster and clearly place our characters in a real life & death situation,” explains Gorak. To achieve a degree of verisimilitude, Gorak listened to hours of news and radio reports from 9/11, searching for key words used by anchors, observing how announcers in the studio spoke differently from reporters on the scene.
“Detail and nuance on the radio were very important to us,” Gorak says. “I must have written about 50 pages of radio reports. Indeed, they were the script within the script. I knew that the reports were to play not only in the foreground to make vital story points, but also that they would be layered throughout the background as disturbing audio wallpaper.”
The filmmakers cast the news reporters through voice-over agencies, listening to dozens of auditions and ultimately landing on actors who had experience not only as voice over actors but also in front of the camera.
“This duality made the performances ring true,” Gorak continues. “We recorded the actors, David Richards, Nina Barry, Ed Martin, and Kimberly Scott, in a sound studio. The reporters calling in from the scene, played by Nina Barry and Ed Martin, recorded their lines as they ran in place, yelling through a towel or dust mask to bring a new level of on-the-street reality to the performance.”
The results can be harrowing:
ANNOUNCER: Kathy, Kathy are you there

REPORTER: Neil, debris from a building is falling. Right now people are running through the streets, smoke is everywhere, people are [inaudible], Figueroa Street. Neil can you still hear me

ANNOUNCER: This is of course an incredible —

REPORTER: Neil are you there (sound of explosion) Another boom! There was another boom!
Gorak asked the actor playing the studio anchorman, David Richards, to record his tracks simultaneously with the actors playing the reporters so the back-and-forth between them “felt organic.” In the sound design phase of post-production, the filmmakers took care to pitch the voices of the reporters as if they were coming through cell phones or over a car stereo, as called for in the script.

Hurricane Katrina

“We had already locked our picture and were in the process of color timing when Hurricane Katrina occurred,” recalls Gorak. “Having lived in New Orleans for several years, it hit me pretty hard. And when I heard on the news that 'Help is on the way,' which is a line from our film, I thought 'Oh, God: this horrific, unprecedented and uncalled-for state of abandonment was merely fiction to me last week.”

“I think Hurricane Katrina highlighted how unready we are to swoop in to triage a large- scale disaster. What have we really done, since 9/11, to better homeland security Unfortunately, Katrina was devastating, and huge. If nothing else, I hope RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR might help us imagine how we might respond to such a complicated event.”

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