Corey Asraf and John Swab are a virtually unknown writing-directing team. They previously collaborated on “Judas’ Chariot”, a short film starring Sam Quartin as June Glass.
For “Let Me Make You a Martyr”, they took their short film and expanded it from 31 minutes to feature-length. Quartin stayed on and reprised her role as June “Junebug” Glass. And then things got interesting, with such notable actors as Niko Nicotera, Mark Boone Junior and shock rocker Marilyn Manson signing on. More than anything else, it is the high-caliber cast that caught the world’s attention and secured the film a coveted spot at the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
Corey and John were kind enough to take a few minutes out of their day on July 23, 2016 (the morning after the premiere) to chat about the film.
GS: “Let Me Make You a Martyr” takes place in a very dark, very bleak world. I’ve read that this comes from personal experience. What do you feel comfortable sharing about that?
Corey Asraf: The abuse and the addiction are both very real, very personal things that I dealt with. So the story started from there, those experiences were used while writing it. These events and traumas happen, and you just take the people you meet and put them into a story. And when I’m writing the story, I control the outcome. Some of the darker moments of my life are pretty evident in the film.
GS: You’ve incorporated the Cherokee wolf legend into the plot. Can you explain the significance of that?
CA: Yeah. I’m from Oklahoma, and there is a lot of Cherokee and Creek Indian influence around there. I’ve got family that come from the Cherokee tradition, so I had heard the story at a young age and thought it would be appropriate for what was happening on screen. The character that Marilyn Manson plays was initially written as Native American. When Manson came on board, we reconfigured it a little bit. So now he’s not necessarily native, but has that same influence.
GS: Was there a deeper meaning behind the choice of using Demon Fuzz’s “I Put a Spell on You” in the film?
John Swab: We had been listening to that song while driving around for years. We were both fans of the Demon Fuzz version for a long time. We knew we wanted to use it in the film because that version was so obscure and we wanted to juxtapose its afro-funk style and vibe with the gritty, white underworld. The band had only put out one album, and it fits perfectly. You’ll notice in that scene that she puts a record on, and it’s the actual Demon Fuzz record with the song on it. We actually used many songs from that record throughout the film, so Demon Fuzz is a big part of the score. For the scene it’s used in “I Put a Spell on You” was really on the nose, and we were almost reluctant to use it because it was so much on the nose. But I think it worked beautifully and carries the scene well. It’s such a laid-back vibe that added a lot of style to the film.
GS: What was the symbolism behind making the priest blind?
CA: I thought it would be an interesting element, but also, just the idea of priests and religion… just the idea that any one man can be closer to God or has the authority to tell people what to do or what to believe… that’s a pretty blind thing to think of yourself. So it was more or less just a play on my views of religion.
GS: Can you touch on the casting process? It sounds like it came together through word of mouth.
CA: There was some dumb luck, but also everybody who worked on our short film (“Judas’ Chariot”) leading up to this knew what our intentions were, knew the story behind the feature, and really believed in it. Their enthusiasm for it was almost on par with ours. Everybody wanted to exhaust their resources to make this the best film they could.
GS: Specifically, how did the casting work for Rooney (Gracie Grenier)? That seems like a challenging role.
JS: It was one of the easier roles to cast, to be honest with you. We looked at probably fifty different little girls, and Gracie was so intelligent and almost terrifyingly old for her age. She was the one we knew who could hold her own with all these cast members.
CA: And the character of Rooney really came together in the last few drafts. We knew we didn’t just want to use her in a cheap way, like to make the audience uncomfortable. And you’ll notice that despite the violent nature of the film, you don’t actually see a lot of blood or violence. Without spoiling anything, I think a lot of people were sort of confused or frustrated with how we ended the film. I think people wanted Rooney to end up in the back of an ambulance with a police officer saying, “Everything is going to be okay.” We did that, but in our own way. A lot of people have asked us about what Rooney represented, but I think it’s pretty obvious that she represented innocence.
GS: I don’t know if I necessarily understood the way that Rooney played out, but I liked the more mysterious approach.
JS: That was the point, because we have a distaste for films that end by putting a nice bow on the story and sending you on your way. We were hoping to leave the audience with their own questions and interpretations of the film. Whether you like the movie or not, you’re going to leave with your own views and only you can make up in your mind what happened. There are a couple terrifying things that could happen to Rooney… but then again, maybe not. We made that decision because we were hoping to challenge the audience.
GS: I know you guys are busy, so thank you for your time!
JS: Thank you.
CA: Thank you.