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Fantasia/Frontières Exclusive: Jenn Wexler and Larry Fessenden talk punks-vs.-maniac movie “THE RANGER”

Thursday, August 4, 2016 | Exclusive, Fantasia International Film Festival, News

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

During this summer’s Frontières International Co-Production Market at Montreal’s Fantasia festival, RUE MORGUE got the chance to chat with several filmmakers who were there pitching ambitious genre projects to potential backers. Among the most notable were Jenn Wexler and Larry Fessenden of Glass Eye Pix, with a unique maniac-in-the-woods chiller called THE RANGER.

Wexler, who has produced such Glass Eye projects as Mickey Keating’s DARLING and Robert Mockler’s upcoming LIKE ME, will make her feature directorial debut on THE RANGER. The story concerns a group of New York City punks who travel to the upstate woods and run afoul of a forest ranger with a very strict approach to his job—which includes ridding the trees of unwanted interlopers. Wexler reveals that the project dates back to her college days: “My good friend Giaco Furino wrote an amazing script when we were in screenwriting class together,” she tells us. “We didn’t know what to do with it at the time, but I was always obsessed with the idea of these punks going up against this park ranger; it was so pulpy and fun. Once I started working for Glass Eye, I learned how to make movies, and then I was like, ‘OK, world, I’m ready to direct! What project will be the first one?’ I remembered this amazing script, and I called Giaco and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to find that screenplay you wrote when you were like 18 years old! We’ve got to bring it up to date!’ So we’ve been spending the past year and a half or so working on it, and having a background as a line producer, I knew how to rewrite it in a way that we could shoot it right away, and in a cool, efficient manner.”

Through that long period of development, Wexler kept Fessenden appraised of THE RANGER’s progress—and although they work together, Fessenden says Glass Eye’s involvement wasn’t a given. “Very often, it takes a little while for me to become fully engaged with a project,” Fessenden explains, “and as Jenn refined the script, she would keep coming to me and saying, ‘It’s getting better.’ I was just waiting for her to find it; it was the sort of organic process that happens with a lot of the films at Glass Eye, where it takes quite a long time for the project to gel.

“We did a great teaser for THE RANGER [which screened at Frontières], and that’s when we truly started to feel what the visuals were, and how well this idea played out,” he continues. “The script is such a fun read, and you really like the characters in the beginning, before the mayhem begins. And there’s this section at the end—I don’t want to get too specific, but it involves a visionary, cinematic solution to how to tell the story. That kind of thing is what engages me. Those are the components I respond to: the way the color palette is going to work, and the juxtaposition of the punk rockers—I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s with that kind of music and lifestyle—with the setting of the woods.”

When it comes to the visuals, Wexler says THE RANGER will be as punk-rock as its characters. “It will also have kind of a girly approach to the color palette,” she notes. “I’m super-obsessed with the art of Lisa Frank, and I want to use her artistic style to show the way the punks view the world when they’re on this crazy drug we invented for the script. Those colors are going to have significance for the audience; they’re going to mean something, so you’ll be kind of clued into what the characters are going through.”

Cast and locations will be confirmed soon, and Wexler and Fessenden hope to have Glass Eye regular Brian Spears involved in some way with the makeup effects. Having an in-house production team will be an advantage, according to Fessenden: “We make these little movies with a certain level of expertise, because we’ve been doing it for so long and we know some interesting people. Jenn’s crew will be the same one that has made a couple of our films—my son Jack’s movie [STRAY BULLETS] and LIKE ME. It’s the home team, so to speak; these are the people who show up at the office every day, so there’s a great rapport. Our office is a community of people who can brainstorm every day as they go about their other business, which makes this really exciting.”

That creativity, according to the duo, will make THE RANGER distinctive. “There’s something that I think will be very interesting visually in the contrast between the punks and the way the ranger is very rigid in his organization,” Fessenden says. “There’s a weird Wes Anderson quality to his scenes [laughs]. That’s something we haven’t really talked about: This movie will also have humor, which is something we don’t always do at Glass Eye. That’ll be a great tone; the whole thing feels really fresh for our company.”

“Yeah,” Wexler says, “it’s darkly humorous throughout.”

“Or humorously dark!”

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.