Beware the Blue Caprice: Alexandre Moors helms drama based on Beltway sniper case
The sound design in George Stevens’ 1953 Shane—erratic as life, up close and off in the distance—caught the ear and the admiration of Warren Beatty, who went to Stevens and got thoroughly schooled in how to achieve such audio-realism for his picture Bonnie and Clyde. Beatty followed the secret recipe faithfully and therefore was dismayed at his first preview that everything came out sounding the same.
Instantly, he bolted to the projection booth, where he found the projectionist sitting calmly, smiling contentedly. “Don’t worry,” he assured Beatty, “I fixed it. I went through and evened the sound out. It’s the worst soundtrack I’ve heard since Shane.”
One can only hope that this particular projectionist has retired and won’t be confronted or challenged by the often-inaudible soundtrack accompanying the Sundance Selects release Blue Caprice, a grueling, super-real thriller based on the Beltway sniper attacks of 2002.
Alexandre Moors, a first-time feature filmmaker from France, worked overtime to achieve that unnervingly real effect. “We spent quite an amount of time on the sound,” the director is quick to admit. “It was quite a luxury for me to spend three weeks mixing. There was an intention on my end to have the story unfold almost as if the audience was eavesdropping on it from a distance, like it was something that happened in your neighbor’s backyard. This was the kind of violence that really grows within our community. I really liked the feeling that we are looking at it a little bit from a distance and we are missing pieces and parts of the conversation.”
The Beltway murders were one of the most intensely covered terror sprees of the new millennium, all the more horrible for the randomness of it all. Ten people were killed, and three others wounded, during three weeks in October 2002 along Interstate 95 in Virginia and throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
The shooter turned out to be a 17-year-old Jamaican-American named Lee Boyd Malvo, but the perpetrator who called the shots was his Svengali-like father-figure, John Allen Muhammad, who had befriended and sexually abused the boy and psyched him into doing his bidding. Muhammad was sentenced to death in September 2003 and eventually executed by lethal injection in November 2009. Malvo is now serving six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Despite the media furor the incident caused, it has never been turned into a movie—although, Moors says, there have been “a few crime-reenactment type of things on TV.” What is surprising that it took a foreigner to bring this homegrown horror show to the big theatre screen—and he claims to have done it totally by chance.
“Even though I knew about the story,” he explains, “I was not in the country when it happened, so I never really was overwhelmed by the media coverage. When I picked the story, I just thought it was one of many bursts of violence in America’s history. It didn’t strike me as such a huge story. I’m rather glad I didn’t know so much.”
Slowly, the emotions of the tragedy crept up on him. “For us, it was quite a serious endeavor throughout, and it took a toll. At times, I would cry watching it. Everyone would cry, in fact. It was very moving and disturbing on the set and difficult doing the editing. During the first screening in Sundance, I had my producers in tears. I think it’s the intimacy. For me, the feeling is that it was built almost as a fairy tale.”
Serial-killer thrillers don’t usually come in family-styled packaging, and that was the attraction for the 41-year-old director, who was traumatized at an early age by the Tom Thumb story. “I remember when I was a kid, being terrified by the story of a parent who would leave his kid in the forest. I think what makes this movie particularly upsetting is the very fact that the violence comes within this father figure. To be so close and to be such a complete representation of evil—there’s a conflict that’s very sensitive and speaks to everyone. The construct between the love a parent should have for their son and what transpired here is almost unbearable.”
Tequan Richmond, who played the nine-year-old Ray Charles Jr. in Ray, is the teenager with a gun, shooting people from the trunk of a blue Chevrolet Caprice, and his partner in crime is Isaiah Washington, in something of a comeback after his acting career faded to black following a much-reported homophobic slur against a fellow actor in his “Grey’s Anatomy” TV series. Tim Blake Nelson, in a throwaway as one of their blue-collar buddies, is the only other name actor in the film.
Getting Washington into the picture was quite a coup, considering he no longer had his acting shingle out. “He was semi-retired at the time, with no agent and no management,” Moors remembers. “The story goes that we reached out to him on Facebook, but what happened was I wrote him a letter and sent him the script, and he said yes. It’s not as cute a story, however. I think he was a little bit tired of Hollywood, and he was doing work in West Africa at the time. He wasn’t even in the U.S. He has a nonprofit organization that does work in Sierra Leone for children.”
Washington had been Moors’ one and only choice for this difficult part—because of his performance as an accused man, hours away from execution in Clint Eastwood’s True Crime. “What I really appreciated was the ambiguity and ambivalence that he put into the role. It’s about a black man who’s wrongly accused. He had a certain way of playing along the gray area so that you never knew if he was guilty or innocent. He had a beautiful ambiguity about him I needed for this character. The audience was supposed to have mixed feelings about him. He should be able to play simultaneously a loving father and a monster—and how do you do both? Other people would push it one way or the other, making it too sympathetic or too evil.”
Moors snuck into features through the back door, doing commercials and music-videos, and he plans to relapse into them in his spare time—if he has any. As a result of Blue Caprice, he is being heavily cruised by Hollywood. “I sit down with people and talk, but I had a good agent and manager even before the film,” Moors admits. “It’s not something that just happened. I was already in touch with people before that. But now—definitely—people pay more attention to what I have to offer.”
His debut feature was not as meticulously planned as his short films. “I storyboard a lot when I do music-videos or commercials, but I deliberately took a different approach for this. I like to say I was trying to be like an impressionistic painter, going to nature with his paint and brush. I was trying to stay open and alert to the surroundings. We did quite a few improvisations. Depending on the weather, I’d change locations. It was a small crew, so it was easy to be adjustable in the filming.”
Blue Caprice went smoother than he expected for a first feature. “We got very lucky with the funding and casting. I sometimes wonder if I have used up all my luck on this first picture because it was a wonderful experience for me throughout.”
For now, he’s keeping all Tinseltown temptations at bay and focusing on a new script by the author of Blue Caprice, R.F.I. Porto. “I’ve known him five or six years, and we’ve written some scripts together before. This will be our fourth. It’s a thriller set in the world of organ transplants and organ trafficking called Cannibals. Hopefully, sometime after the beginning of 2014, we will go back to shoot it.”
Yes, he’s aware Stephen Frears got there first—in 2002—with Dirty Pretty Things, but he’s pressing on. “That’s the only other film we know of about that, but ours is very far from it, I think. Dirty Pretty Things was really not about organ transplants. It was more about immigration, and organ transplants were a part of that, whereas our story will take place in funeral parlors or hospitals. It’s like a full-on, surreal thriller, so the subject is going to be very dark and disturbing, but we’re going to have a little bit more fun with it. Since it’s not going to be a true story, our fancies will take flight.”