It was back in March when I first heard about the movie, The Ranger. I knew that it was a project coming out of Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix, and that it was a throwback slasher about kids in the woods being stalked by a psycho in a Ranger Smith uniform. But after I watched the film, I realized that there was so much more going on. I was seriously impressed with The Ranger (you can read my review of the film here) and I couldn’t believe that this was Writer/Director Jenn Wexler’s debut feature film. I knew I had to talk with her so I could dig deeper into the brain that brought this film to life.
WARNING! Slight spoilers to the film, The Ranger, are in this interview. Read at your own risk!
PopHorror: Thanks so much for talking to me tonight.
Jenn Wexler: Yeah, thank you!
PopHorror: Let’s jump right in. You’ve been involved in filmmaking for a full decade now. What got you into the industry?
Jenn Wexler: I’d always wanted to work in film. I went to school for screenwriting, and that’s where my classmate wrote the first version of The Ranger, and then we ended up, later on, working on it together. And then, after graduating college, I moved to California, and that’s when I started working at a company called FearNet, a horror TV channel that is sadly no longer around. It was owned by Sony and Lionsgate. I worked in marketing there. That was my first exposure to horror. Well, I always was a horror fan, but that was my first exposure to horror as an industry.
PopHorror: FearNet! Yeah, we were all so sad when they closed their doors. When you finally did get involved in some filmmaking, you stuck to mostly producing films. Do you prefer producing over other aspects of filmmaking?
Jenn Wexler: Well, I’ve always wanted to direct. When I was working at FearNet and when I first started working at Glass Eye, I was directing short films. And then when I really started working at Glass Eye Pix under Larry Fessenden and Peter Phok, they really brought me under their wings and I started shadowing them and learning how to produce. But it had always been my dream to direct. That was always the goal.
PopHorror: As a woman in filmmaking, have there been any challenges you’ve had to overcome to see your projects come to fruition?
Jenn Wexler: I would just say the way that I… well, my confidence level wasn’t quite as strong early on. I think that’s an effect of society. I’m speaking in generalities right now; I’m certainly not speaking for everybody. But I think society has trained women to doubt themselves and to feel like they need to fully understand something before they can do it and whatnot. And I think with men, there’s a little bit less of that. Personally, I wish that I had been a little more audacious when I was younger. Eventually, I found that audacity, because you have to have quite a bit of that audacity to direct features and to get everybody on your team and get everybody to see your vision and your passion.
PopHorror: So, you need to be tough to get people to follow your direction.
Jenn Wexler: Yeah, exactly.
PopHorror: I just watched The Ranger two nights ago, and I noticed that you mixed together two totally different kinds of people – a rule-abiding wilderness policeman and punk rockers who have absolutely no respect for authority. What was the inspiration for pitting these two types of characters together?
Jenn Wexler: The concept of punk vs. park ranger was in my classmate’s – Giaco Furino, who’s now my co-writer – that was in his script that he wrote when we were in school together, and I was always just into that idea. It just seemed so obvious. Punks go into the woods and they come up against a killer park ranger. I was just a really big fan of that idea. It immediately started bringing all of these crazy visuals to mind and these comic book elements and whatnot. But I think it speaks of rebellion vs. authority. And yet, while it seems like these two kinds of people are totally opposed to one another, both the punks and the park ranger have rules of their world that they try to live by. The clothes they wear, their uniforms… It helps them with the way that they see themselves. They’re polar opposites, but there’s also some weird similarities that I was excited to play with. And then you have Chelsea in the middle of it all, who’s stuck in between these two worlds, who is really just trying to get to something deeper while she tries to find herself.
PopHorror: She doesn’t know what she wants.
Jenn Wexler: Yeah.
PopHorror: What I got out of it was that she let herself be taken in by the punk society as a way to hide her feelings of guilt over her uncle’s death. So, to take drugs and party all the time was a way for her to escape.
Jenn Wexler: Yeah, I think that she’s in this place where she’s just trying to figure out what she should do next. Did she want to stay there with them? She’s in between places in her life.
PopHorror: Were there any specific challenges to making the film?
Jenn Wexler: We shot all of it on location in Upstate New York – except for the punk club. That was shot in Brooklyn. There was a day when we had to shoot on top of this mountain. Most of it was out in the woods, but there was one day where we had to shoot on top of this mountain. There were no roads going up to it, so we all had to carry equipment up the mountain. It was, like, a two hour hike. Very vertical. I was pretty nervous, because the cast had to make the hike safely and everything. Jeremy [Holm], the Ranger, he just ran up ahead of everybody, carrying stuff.
PopHorror: (laughs) Of course he did!
Jenn Wexler: Yeah! (laughs) He was super into it. But it was, you know, a bonding experience. That day, though… it was toward the end of the shoot. A couple of us made a teaser to get financing a year before we made the film, and we had gone up this mountain already once. The ones who had done it before, we all had, like, PTSD from this mountain.
Jenn Wexler: As the day was coming and we knew we had to go back up the mountain, they were all like, “Oh, man. I don’t know. I don’t know if I can go back up there!”
PopHorror: They had their own horror movie going on.
Jenn Wexler: Exactly!
PopHorror: I hope there were some things that were easier than that.
Jenn Wexler: Honestly, the whole process was just so fun, even though the cast joked around and pretended to make a big deal about hiking the mountain that day, carrying all of the equipment, complaining that there were, like, bugs in the woods and we were dealing with the weather and stuff. But overall, it was not a hard thing to do. It was just so much fun. The cast and the crew were absolutely amazing. We had this total family, and it all just felt like summer camp.
PopHorror: I saw a few reviewers mention that they thought the Ranger should have been a more over the top character. Were you ever tempted to portray him that way?
Jenn Wexler: The Ranger is exactly how I always envisioned him. There was never really much discussion about going in one direction rather than in another direction. Jeremy and I talked a lot about the character. We wanted him to have this kind of comic book, larger-than-life persona. But, deep down, there really is something relatable to him, and he is human. He really just wanted connection.
PopHorror: The Ranger actually tries to convince Chelsea that she’s just like him, that she’s a cold-blooded killer like he is. After watching the film’s climax, I wonder if he’s right. What do you think? Was this final confrontation only another step in Chelsea’s path to becoming a killer, or a one off that she’ll remember and regret like the death of Uncle Pete?
Jenn Wexler: I think what happens to Chelsea is something that will stay with her forever. But honestly, I want people to watch it and come to their own conclusions about that particular thing.
PopHorror: Do you have any projects coming up that you’d like to talk about?
Jenn Wexler: Well, actually, Larry will probably talk to you a bit about this, too, but I’m a producer on his new movie, Depraved, a modern Frankenstein movie set in Brooklyn. We’re in post-production in that right now.
PopHorror: Ooh, I can’t wait to see Depraved! I’ve been hearing about it for a few months now. Do you have any passions outside of filmmaking?
Jenn Wexler: Hmmm… well, I love hot yoga.
Jenn Wexler: Honestly, making films takes up a lot of my time.
PopHorror: I’m sure it does! Last but not least, what is your favorite candy to get on Halloween?
Jenn Wexler: Oh, man! Um… candy corn. I love candy corn! It’s classic. It’s iconic to the holiday. And, I only want to eat it around Halloween. I couldn’t care less about it for the rest of the year. But it’s very important to me right around Halloween.
PopHorror: Kinda like Peeps during Easter, I guess.
Jenn Wexler: Yeah, exactly.
Thanks again to Jenn Wexler for taking the time to chat with us! Stay tuned to PopHorror for more news on the upcoming modern Frankenstein retelling, Depraved, from Jenn and the crew over at Glass Eye Pix!