Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #1: Peter Sattler on His Guantanamo Bay Drama 'Camp X-Ray' Starring Kristen Stewart
indiewire After studying directing at North Carolina School of the Arts, Peter Sattler moved to LA. "I've worked just about every below-the-line film position there is" he told Indiewire. For the past five years, he's been doing studio assignment writing. "Camp X-Ray" is his first feature film.
What it's about: "A young woman joins the military to be part of something bigger than herself and her small town roots. But she ends up as a new guard at Guantanamo Bay instead, where her mission is far from black and white. Surrounded by hostile jihadists and aggressive squadmates, she strikes up an unusual relationship with one of the detainees."
What it's really about: "It's about a really shitty job. It's about being surrounded by co-workers you don't like. It's about being interested in someone you're not supposed to be. It's about the grunts having to clean up the mess that was created in the wake of 9/11. It's about bureaucracy. It's about a quarterlife crisis. It's about hope, or the lack thereof. It's about loneliness. It's about the mundane minutiae of everyday life, just shaped and warped through the surreal lens of Guantanamo Bay."
Biggest challenges in completing this film: "Probably time. We had a short shoot (19 days, I think), which means that we had to move very quickly. There's not a lot of time to explore the scenes; you pretty much have to get the blocking right immediately. And of course, you can only plan so much. Once you get the actors and props in a space, your blocking always changes. We also have some extremely long scenes which are hard to direct because you can't fine tune each single line. You have to give your actors very broad notes, or at best, one or two specific notes and then set them loose."
Cameras used: "Arri Alexa, and I couldn't be more in love with it. It's built like a film camera, not like a digital camera. It's designed to handle the rigors of production. And the low-light exposure is frankly insane, which I adore since I can use practical and motivated lights."
Sattler's Hopes for Audience Take-Away: "Love it or hate it, I want them to feel like they experienced something. That they came out the other side of Gitmo and were forever changed by it. I want them to feel that the bond between this soldier and detainee is real. That there is a real intimate emotional human connection that transcends all the other bullshit surrounding them."
Did you crowd-fund? "Nope. We were lucky enough to not need to."
Inspiration for the film: "To narrow it down, Gus Van Sant's 'Elephant' and 'Gerry,' 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' (Nagisa Oshima), 'Hell in the Pacific' (John Boorman), and 'Compliance' (Craig Zobel)."
What's next? "Hole up in an old castle and write another one."