Bird with a Broken Wing: Q&A with director Cameron Cloutier
For those of you who don’t know who the East Area Rapist / Original Night Stalker is… Between the years of 1976 a 1979 a man terrorised Sacramento. He committed over 50 break-ins and sexual assaults before disappearing. Then, in southern California, a man with a similar MO began doing the same, but the difference being that he was murdering his victims also. It wasn’t until 2000 that six of the Southern Cali murders were linked to the Sacramento attacks through DNA. Since then, even more murders have been linked to him. Chilling, right?
Director Cameron Cloutier (It’s My Party, And I’ll Die If I Want To) catches up with Emma Knock about his ambitious upcoming film Bird with a Broken Wing that focuses on Janelle Lisa Cruz, the latest known victim of the East Area Rapist. Read the interview below…
Hi Cameron, thanks for chatting with us. Firstly, can you give us a little background on your career, how you got into filmmaking and a little bit about Bodian St. Films?
I started writing short stories when I was in the fifth grade and having them read in class. Since my friends really liked them, that encouraged me to create more. Around the time of entering the sixth grade, I wrote (as a challenge to myself) my very first screenplay. It was 126 pages long and was a character piece/action adventure/comedy/drama film about a pop singer who hired her number one fan to be her bodyguard.
Since I was ten or eleven years old, I knew I couldn’t make this into a film, so I got a celebrity address book from the library and began writing letters to several well-known directors. A few months later, I received an envelope in the mail from one of them, with a letter inside. In it, he kindly wrote that if I felt so passionate about turning my stories into feature films, than that is a clear indicator that I should make them myself. Other directors, he explained, would just mess up my vision. The man giving me this advice? Stanley Kubrick. And with that, I never looked back. My production company is called Bodian St. Films because it’s a reference to what some of my friends nicknamed me in elementary/middle school: “Bodian”–as in “Cambodian”. The St. just gives the company name a little extra oomph.
Talk to us a about Bird with a Broken Wing and how it came about?
I had a couple friends over one night and we started talking about all sorts of true crime cases. One of them asked me if I knew anything about the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (E.A.R./O.N.S.) and I couldn’t even say I’d heard of him. My friend then described how this man operated and it literally scared the hell out of me. Looking it up on the internet, later that night, only confirmed how frightening these cases truly are… especially when you hear the answering machine message he left for one of his victims. I then spent a few days researching everything and the more I did the more the final girl, Janelle Lisa Cruz, really stood out to me. After that, it didn’t take long to figure out that she must be the focus, the grounding of this feature film. However, in getting to know her, it quickly became apparent that she wasn’t just another victim of this serial killer/sex offender. In fact, she probably is the key to solving these unbelievably horrific crimes once and for all.
What was it that first drew you to Janelle’s story?
Initially, it was because she was the last victim. Janelle died in 1986, but what’s strange is that there was a five year gap (in his crimes) prior to her and then nothing after. So why did he come out of hiding for this young girl? Let’s just say for a minute he was in the military or in jail (which doesn’t seem to be the case) between 1981-1986…why then stop after Janelle? There was a reason why Janelle was chosen and why the E.A.R./O.N.S. never raped/killed again. In getting to know more about her life and these crimes, this truth has never been more evident.
What has it been like working with the FBI and getting to know Janelle’s family so closely?
[It’s been] absolutely incredible. I spoke with the FBI a few times during the research stage of the script (which took a little over a year to do). Everyone there was extremely supportive and encouraging of this film and its importance—and that was obviously very gratifying. As for Janelle’s family, what can I say? The level of trust between us is unbreakable at this point. You can imagine when I contacted them four years ago about the possibility of even making this film, they were weary and sceptical—and for good reason. I mean, how many crazies have they had to deal with since her murder and would they want Janelle’s story exposed to the world, you know.
After months of phone calls, emails, discussions, they could tell that I was serious about doing this because I cared and not for other selfish reasons. This opened up a line of communication that I don’t think would had happened with someone else and I feel, at this point, that I know them just as well as members of my own family—and probably vice versa. We all didn’t think it would take four years to get to this point, but it has. The good news is that the time has allowed us all to grow together and fully realize that Janelle was much more than a serial killer’s final victim. She may have been the reason why he stopped. The truth is, without her family’s time and support, I never would have started this project in the first place—so I’ll always be eternally grateful to them.
When do you foresee that the film will be ready for screening?
Well, I don’t have a start date yet so that is a little hard to predict. However, I have always pictured this film premiering at the Cannes Film Festival. You know, take a series of cases that have been largely forgotten, a young girl no one’s really heard about–and then project their story on the largest screen possible, with the best sound system, during the world’s most respected film festival. I would feel justified in my accomplishments if that was to happen, and I’m fairly certain Janelle would be proud too.
What can a horror fan expect from this film?
Honestly, to be scared out of their mind. The recreations of the crime scenes will be exactly how they played out, according to the reports and testimonies. It is one thing to know that a film is based on a true story, but to realise that nothing has been changed for the sake of making it more movie-like is truly frightening.
This isn’t a serial rapist/killer like you’ve seen in other films. This guy was/is scary. He seemed to possess the knowledge of how to take your worst nightmares and then play them out on you for real. Got a gun? He would enter your house in the daytime and unload the bullets. Got a dog? He would bring treats and quickly calm the ferocious one down. Have kids/grandparents in the next room? They’re not going to hear a thing. Lock your doors? He just kicks them down. Police barricades blocking the roads? He’s on the rooftops of the houses looking down. Stand up at a town hall meeting and state that you can’t believe people are allowing this to happen? You and your spouse are the next ones attacked. And the list just goes on and on.
It would take almost fifteen years after the last murder to link the 50+ rapes and 10 murders together, but it’s been fifteen years since then and we still don’t know who he is. Thinking about it, this may just be one of the scariest films ever made.
Have you taken any inspiration from any famous horror films, in terms of style, direction or otherwise?
Every film is different. With this film, I’ve made some very conscious decisions in how some of the scenes are going to look. These crimes occurred between 1976-1986, when slasher and teenage ‘coming of age’ films prospered. Having those two styles being crisscrossed with one another will certainly make the audience feel a difference between what Janelle was going through and what he was doing. Can you imagine what Halloween juxtaposed with Pretty in Pink would feel like? Insane, I’m sure—but that’s what it was like. Janelle had no idea that a freight train was headed towards her.
What are your aspirations for Bird with a Broken Wing?
Obviously first getting the film made [and] then taking it to the best film festivals in the world. I’m confident that this could be one the biggest money-makers of the year, if handled properly. A film on this subject, made on this scale would certainly get the word out about these cases and could very well help identify whoever the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker was/is.
This is the type of film where audiences won’t be going out for pizza afterwards. They’ll be discussing the clues/facts for hours afterwards and demanding answers from the police/community leaders. Perhaps this film will also suggest that the rape laws in America should be changed—especially in light of DNA testing. I mean, there is still a statute of limitations as to how long a rapist can be prosecuted and that’s wrong. If the E.A.R./O.N.S. was picked up today, he can only be tried for the murders that law enforcement have connected to him. The 50 or more people he raped? Not so much, and that’s a shame. The people who have had to live with the fear (for nearly forty years) that he might come back for them will never receive justice. That being said, my intention with this film is to honor the victims and bring awareness to these cases so that this monster can finally be caught/identified.
From your back catalogue we can see that you’ve work across all aspects of filmmaking, including writing, producing and directing, but which do you enjoy the most and why?
For me, it’s writing and directing. There is nothing more satisfying than to create something, literally out of nothing, and know that if it wasn’t for you and your perspective, this work would not exist. I wish more people would take advantage of such an opportunity and make films, even the most commercial ones, from their heart and mind. We would now have less films that look and feel the same if that was the case.
Producing can be fun, but that’s a little more like being a problem solver to the filmmaker’s vision–knowing what he/she needs to make the film/shot/scene work, anticipating problems, keeping everyone happy, etc. It’s a position that is very important in learning the business and getting things done—but at the end of the day, unless it’s a movie you truly believe in, you’re wishing you were making your own film instead.
Writing for others can be a blast too. Sometimes I come up with stories and think, “this would make a great film. I, myself, may not have the patience or the want to make it, but if I found someone who did have the passion, that would be fantastic.” Other times I’ve been asked to pen a script for a director, so then it becomes something like an interview process. Example: “What kind of film do you want to make? How many characters? What’s the length you’re going for? Will it be mostly interiors, exteriors, or both? Do you only want to make this because you saw a really cool movie a couple months ago and now want to imitate it? Come on, we can do something better.” Things like that.
I enjoy all the aspects of filmmaking, quite frankly, but there’s nothing like making your own original piece of entertainment.
Whilst most of your work seems to have been done behind the scenes, you’ve also acted in a few. How does that experience compare?
I have always admired directors who also acted in their films, like Spike Lee and Kenneth Branagh, as well as those who would do a cameo or have a small role in someone else’s movie. And then sometimes a director may have to play the role out of necessity… if the actor, for instance, doesn’t show up for your short film. However, it’s not something I do a lot of anymore, mostly because the other aspects of filmmaking are taking up more of my time–but it is something I would consider if the film needed my quirky energy (for whatever reason) or I liked the character/director/movie that someone else was doing. Acting can be fun, no doubt about it—though everything has its own challenges.
Out of all other the films you’ve worked on, which have you most been proud of and why?
Honestly, without meaning to sound like a giant ego-maniac, I am proud of everything I’ve done because that was me at a particular point in my life expressing my views and storytelling to the best of my ability–whether it be a short story, poem, screenplay, music video, news piece, feature, etc.
That being said, the hardest thing I have had to work on editorially (so far) was the filming of a high school production of West Side Story. I filmed that using one camera and quickly realised that not only would I have to record the play multiple times to get all the action, but because there obviously wasn’t a recording made of any track, I would have to find the best version of each song, lay that down on the editing timeline and then go in and sync every shot, dance move, singing mouth, etc. It was something I wanted to do for a few extra bucks and help out a theatre group, but it took me over six months to complete and was a giant headache. Saving Grace…it turned out great and is currently on YouTube.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline currently?
At the moment, I’m writing a horror/drama feature for a first time filmmaker named Joe Scibilia. The movie will be a standalone sequel to one I made a while ago called Hollow Eternity and revolves around the concept of dual identities.
Also, next month, a wild, avant-garde filmmaker named Jason Rudy will be premiering his new film, Mondo Sacramento 2 at the Crest Theatre in the city the movie’s named after. Co-starring Lynn Lowry, it depicts several brutal, darkly funny, and strange true crime cases from the Northern California region. The director asked if I would do a small cameo in it and that film looks to be C-R-A-Z-Y (in a good way).
I also have four projects that I’m keeping on the backburner until Bird with a Broken Wing is completed. My hope is that I’ll be getting to make those soon after. They are separate films that tie together thematically, similar to what Kieslowski did with his Three Colors Trilogy. Like the film I’m working on now, these four features would redefine what a scary movie can be. But more about them later…
In five years, where do you see yourself and Bodian St. Films?
If all goes well, I’ll be working on one of the other projects I just mentioned above. I have a lot to offer this genre and what I’m seeing lately is a return to the cookie cutter, generic horror films that are merely disposable and no one cares about. Where’s the passion? Where’s the drive to take this type of film and push it to the next level? ‘Cause that’s what I strive off each and every time I create something.
If you could work with anyone in the industry who would it be and why?
Wow, this answer could probably take up a novel as to who and why, but I’ll give you a couple names. I would love to work with Jennifer Jason Leigh because she is fearless with every role that she takes. Look at the body of work she has amassed and tell me her talent combined with mine wouldn’t be astounding.
Dianna Agron… you may know her from playing Quinn Fabray on Glee. Now, I think she was awesome on that show, but I could tell from watching her that she is capable of playing a whole smorgasbord of amazing characters that she’ll probably not ever get a chance to play. I would delight in rectifying that, that’s for sure. I could name four films right now off the top of my head that I would instantly cast her in if I could—and she’d probably walk away with an award or two. She’s that talented, if someone actually gave her a shot.
Finally…what’s your favourite scary movie?
This is another almost impossible question to answer. Movies to me, like music, completely depend on my mood. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a cheesy/funny horror film and other times, you want something more substantial. Let’s take the classics out of the conversation because we all pretty much love those. Films like Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead 2 and The Silence of the Lambs are constantly being referenced, and for good reason. However, let me list off some of my favourite horror films that are not often talked about such as April Fool’s Day, Opera, Haxan, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives, The Mist (Black and White Version), Ginger Snaps, Buffy/Angel (TV), Something Wicked This Way Comes, Paperhouse, Flowers in the Attic, Sweeney Todd, Anguish, The Hitcher, Gorotica, Stir of Echoes, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, Dolores Claiborne, Gothic, Suburban Nightmare, Twin Peaks and Hannibal.
Read our preview and watch the teasers of Bird with a Broken Wing here.