THE PRODUCTION

Messages began shooting on August 8th, 2003, and wrapped on September 27th.

Setting up a shot in the apartmentAs with many “no-budget” features, arranging for locations was one of the biggest challenges, particularly since the script called for everything from a rundown apartment/motel to a deserted lake estate. During the two weeks prior to the start date, no fewer than six locations for the main character’s apartment fell through, and we had to wind up using an apartment belonging to one of the producers. This turned out to be an advantage, though, as the director had, two decades beforehand, lived in not only the same apartment complex, but a unit with the same floor plan. So, pre-visualizing the action, choosing camera angles, and so on, were relatively simple.

Notification posters draw an unplanned crowdIt should probably be pointed out that there are hazards of posting “community notification” posters concerning a fictitious sex-predator (particularly one with a striking resemblance to the lead actor!) around an apartment complex – namely, that you need to keep crew members in the vicinity of each of the posters to assure any residents passing by that, no, this is only for a movie, and there really isn’t a serial rapist living among them.

Broken windowBut even that experience didn’t prepare the cast and crew for what happened shortly after the scene where outraged residents throw rocks at Greg’s apartment. As we were setting up for the next shot (in which Greg, on the phone, complains to the police, “Look, they’re throwing rocks at the building!”), someone threw a real rock at the apartment…smashing the rear sliding-glass door. Amazingly, it turned out not to be neither a would-be vigilante nor a “copycat,” but merely a couple of three-year-olds who were having fun throwing rocks at buildings, and hadn’t even seen the rock-throwing scene from the film. Nonetheless, it took some time for nerves to settle among the production members!

Phone boothAnother challenge was the phone booth. When Messages was first written, it was assumed that there would be no shortage of phone booths in neighborhoods with apartment buildings. But, during the years the script took form, the rise of the cell phone and concerns about drug dealing caused the disappearance of most of the traditional “Superman-style” phone booths in the greater Seattle area. It took several days of scouting trips by the producers to find even a handful of such booths. Fortunately, one of the few survivors was outside the 50’s era motel pressed into service as the residential apartment for Levan Kartuli.

Offut Lake fishing pier (on a calmer day)Just as much energy went into finding a suitable lake for the film’s finale. Offut Lake was finally chosen, and a pier was reserved as a base for the on-the-water scenes that conclude Messages. Unfortunately, due to a series of miscommunications at the site, the reservation was not posted, and by the time the cast and crew arrived, the pier was already occupied by a cadre of extremely feisty fishermen who were not at all happy to have to move, and who retaliated by relocating one pier over and making enough of a racket each time the camera rolled that the production eventually had to give up and find another site on the lake from which to shoot. Director Walley claims he learned something from this experience: “Whatever you do, never mess with fishermen. They’re the Teamsters of sportsmen.”


DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

Messages was a long time in gestation: eighteen years, to be precise. By the time the process was over, the story was far from what I had envisioned at the start.

Originally, Messages was to be a study of paranoia – a tale of a man who believed that random signs and events, street graffiti, etc., were somehow malevolent communications intended specifically for him. Eventually, the story changed into one in which the protagonist was no longer merely imagining that he was being communicated with, but was actually the target of another character’s relentless and malicious mind-games and “practical jokes.”

While this shift brought new energy to the storytelling, the end result quickly turned into a rather formulaic action-mystery thriller with the clichéd confrontation with the “psychotic evil mastermind” at its climax. (This being Seattle, the aforementioned evil mastermind also bore a striking resemblance to the billionaire founder of a certain local software empire.) Finally, I realized that the only way to create a satisfying ending was to go against the expectations of that genre, subverting rather than reiterating it.

Looking back, what strikes me about Messages is that, while I had no interest at the outset in making a film with a specific “theme” or “moral” (something I generally find intolerably heavy-handed), and merely set out to create an interesting and entertaining story, I can look at the final result and see it contains all sorts of observations about guilt and innocence, retribution and reconciliation, and the nature of justice in the world, that were among the issues I was wrestling with during the time the script took shape, but which I never imagined would appear in the story being created, let alone permeate it.