By MICHAEL GINGOLD
One horrible day plays out in multiple variations for the couple at the center of 6:45, which opens tomorrow at Regal Theatres cinemas nationwide. It’s the latest fright fest from director Craig Singer, whose previous features include DARK RIDE and PERKINS’ 14, and who spoke to RUE MORGUE about his time- and mind-twisting chiller.
Shot on coldly picturesque Jersey Shore locations, 6:45 (scripted by frequent collaborator Robert Dean Klein from Singer’s story) stars Michael Reed and Augie Duke as Bobby and Jules, a couple whose relationship has become strained. To patch things up, Bobby takes Jules on a vacation to the resort town of Bog Grove–where a hooded figure slashes Jules’ throat before Bobby’s eyes, and then kills him. He then wakes up back on the morning before the murders, and finds himself living the same day over again…and again, and again, as he desperately tries to figure out how to break the cycle and save his and Jules’ lives. The supporting cast includes Thomas G. Waites from John Carpenter’s THE THING, and former boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
I was a creative VP over at Walt Disney when I first started thinking about a GROUNDHOG DAY-type thriller; this was years before it became fashionable [laughs]. It has now become somewhat of a cottage industry, though 6:45 has its own unique feel and vibe. I knew there would be many challenges tackling and converting this type of story into a genre film. Days that repeat can easily become repetitious and monotonous, so we had to be inordinately mindful not to fall into that trap.
Was there an “uh-oh” moment when you heard Blumhouse was doing HAPPY DEATH DAY?
Well, the truth is I sent 6:45 to Blumhouse years before HAPPY DEATH DAY–so while I didn’t have an “uh-oh” moment, I did have a “hmmmmm” moment [laughs]. I’ve never actually seen that film, but I’ve been told it’s tonally very different from 6:45.
How closely did you work with Robert Dean Klein on the script?
I wrote the initial story and a few scenes, but Robert did the heavy lifting. In recent years, our collaborative process has become me sharing story ideas and Robert taking the ball; I’ve become much lazier than I used to be when we were co-writers on scripts like A GOOD NIGHT TO DIE and DARK RIDE!
In telling the story of a repeated day, how did you keep your direction and the visuals varied?
I worked closely with my fabulous DP Lucas Pitassi and my amazing editor Sam Adelman to make sure the days were distinct, and we focused on our lead character Bobby’s internal struggle. It became far more interesting to witness his journey from this perspective.
How did you find the right actors?
We didn’t have the budget for a casting person, so I had to think about actors I had worked with or already knew. I had never worked with Augie Duke or Michael Reed, but we met years back and became determined to make 6:45 together. Thomas G. Waites is a longtime friend; he actually directed my first play produced off-Broadway, a drama called PARADIDDLE that I wrote with Robert Dean Klein. I met Armen Garo in the lobby of The Actors Studio when I was attending a play there, and I recognized him from AMERICAN HUSTLE and told him I’d like to work together one day. Ray Mancini and I have been collaborating on a drama called MONKEY’S NEST that we plan to shoot in Ohio. My whole supporting cast–Remy Ma, Allie Marshall, Sasha K. Gordon, Leonardo Mancini, 45 King, Joshua Matthew Smith, Sabina Friedman-Seitz–were all so talented and easy to work with. I was very fortunate.
In a film with so many shifting emotions, how did you keep your leads on track regarding which day they were in?
That was a challenge, but one of the benefits of low-budget filmmaking is that you don’t have studio executives or people like that looking over your shoulder, so you can sometimes bend a few rules, like shooting according to script order. At certain times, it was difficult for the actors to deal with the emotional ups and downs of such a variety of feelings based on the changing days. My executive producer Maria Jorjezian and script supervisor Tess Shatz did a wonderful job. It can sometimes feel like a test, but the real test is to turn challenges into opportunities. Some of the best reactions I’ve gotten so far, without giving anything away, is how many people enjoy the movie’s third act, and feel the twists really deliver–that the events come together in a powerful, seamless and satisfying way.
How did you find those great, sometimes bleak locations?
I love filming in Jersey; it’s really my backyard in some regards. I shot PERKINS’ 14 in Romania for Lions Gate, and that was tough. It’s a beautiful country, but when you aren’t intimately familiar with a place, it’s sometimes hard to be nimble and adjust when things go wrong–as they often do–like losing a location, and having the right cover sets. In Jersey, if we needed to scramble a little, it was all about solutions and situations that were much more familiar to me. That’s not to say you can’t make wonderful movies away on location; however, if you notice, some of the best filmmakers often work within their geographic comfort zones.
Any funny stories from the shoot?
Not so much funny, but since we all worked and played in this glorious old haunted bed and breakfast, the cast & crew had the opportunity to truly bond. One could imagine it was the sort of film family you read about from the late ’60s or early ’70s, where folks showed up and really cared about doing good work. We had a very young crew, and their spirit and energy were infectious and inspired me immeasurably.
Did the movie change structurally in any significant way during the editing process?
I wouldn’t say it changed structurally, though I will say we wrapped principal photography about two weeks before the world turned upside down, and I was forced to do the one thing the pandemic encouraged, which was work alone in a darkened room with my virtual post team. We used the past uncertain and stressful year to really dig deep into 6:45 and find those little moments that can enrich a film. In some ways it’s bittersweet, as most everyone on the planet lived their own version of 6:45: a day that seems to repeat, with a sameness to it.
Where are you going from here?
I’m scouting and casting my next film TAT, about a slow descent into murder and madness. It’s the darkest material I’ve ever dealt with, on the largest budget, and I really feel it’s going to turn a few million heads–in a good way!