Brevard-based filmmaker James Suttles gets outside this winter to direct Seven Days ’Till Midnight, his second feature film after 2014’s Red Dirt Rising. The new movie, which begins shooting this month around Brevard and elsewhere in Transylvania County, including DuPont Forest, tells the story of the journey, both emotional and physical, of a lone traveler coming to grips with a troubled past. Bold Life spoke with James, and with Tammy Hopkins, the film liaison for FilmBrevardNC, who is serving as the film’s associate producer.
Bold Life: James, this is your second outing as a feature film director. What did you learn from your experience with Red Dirt Rising that might be useful this time out?
James Suttles: This is actually my third film as director. I shot a micro-budget baseball comedy in New York and New Jersey back in 2012. I’d found myself pigeonholed as a Director of Photography in faith-based films prior to that film, and took on the project as it was pretty much the furthest thing I could find from family-friendly entertainment. As for past experiences that I’m bringing to Seven Days ’Till Midnight, I would say the more mistakes you make, the less likely [you are] to repeat them. I now realize I was too focused on the technical execution [of Red Dirt Rising] and should have put more focus on the script and the story to be sure it would connect well with its audience.
From one of the press releases’ description of your own difficult times a decade ago, would you say making the film is a kind of resolution for you?
JS: You know, this is a question that I get a lot, but the reality is that the story and the genesis of the idea a decade ago are somewhat separate. I would say there’s a lot of my DNA in the film’s lead character, yet my personal resolution came separately from this film. The picture is really a love letter of sorts to the therapeutic nature of the wilderness where I found peace.
Tammy, have you worked with James before?
Tammy Hopkins: Yes, James and I have worked together multiple times. It started when he came on board to help with editing my storytelling project and documentary back in 2000 about growing up in Appalachia. Since then we’ve worked together on scouting locations for his film projects, and I’ve acted in a short film with him.
You have a part in this new film. Can you say a teeny bit about the character you play?
TH: My role is small. I play a cashier at an outdoor store where the lead character buys his camping supplies. We have an interesting encounter, but that’s all I can say!
What do you find most compelling about the story?
TH: I can relate to the main character’s desire to escape to the forest to clear his head and figure out his next move. But what hooked me was the multiple plot twists. With most films, I watch them once; but with this one, I’ll be able to watch multiple times.
How long as the film been in development, James?
JS: The story’s been gestating for 12 or 13 years, and the script has been in one draft or another for about three years. Financing the film has been the biggest challenge, and is the sole reason we didn’t shoot it in 2013. With the economy stagnant until recently and the risky nature of film as an investment, it takes a lot of handholding and meetings to pull the financing together.
What would you hope the audience will take away after seeing the picture?
JS: Seven Days ’Till Midnight is, in my opinion, one of the most relatable films I have ever read. The character’s journey is one that everyone experiences many times throughout their life, yet we crafted a narrative that takes it into a whole new world, with a mix of suspense and science fiction. I hope the audience sees that what you have may not be everything you want or expected, but life is precious, and taking what you have for granted is probably the worst mistake any of us could make.
Seven Days ’Till Midnight will film in February and March and be entered in major film festivals later in the year. To keep track of updates, see www.sevendaystillmidnight.com.