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SXSW Q&A with 'Faults' director Riley Stearns

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Austin, Texas native Riley Stearns will premiere his first feature film "Faults" at SXSW on Sunday, March 9 at the Stateside Theater.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who is also Stearns' wife) stars in the film based on his screenplay, which was voted into the 2013 Black List for best unproduced scripts.

Stearns recently answered a few questions about the project.

Tell us about Faults.

The film is about Ansel Roth, an expert on cults and mind control, who's approached by a mother and father who are worried about their daughter. She's under the spell of a mysterious group called Faults and they don't know how to get her back. Despite deprogramming being dangerous and illegal Ansel is broke and the money they're offering is real so he agrees to kidnap and de-brainwash Claire.

What inspired you to create this film?

I keep saying this when I talk about the film and it probably makes me sound like a weirdo but I've always been fascinated by cults. That said, I think a lot of people are too even if they won't admit it. There's something both captivating and completely terrifying about them which is probably why they're the subject of so many films. Even more than cults themselves it's the act of leaving a cult that I was particularly interested in. The inherent ridiculousness of a person being paid to kidnap and deprogram an adult, sometimes in broad daylight, then take them to a secluded location to reverse the mind control effects helped inform the darkly comedic tone of the film.

When did you first conceive the idea for the film?

The first germ of an idea for FAULTS probably came about in early 2012. I knew I wanted to do a deprogramming film but the tone of it at that time was probably a little more on the serious side. In the meantime I wrote and directed a couple of shorts, one of them being THE CUB which played at Sundance 2013. The longer I sat with the idea "weirder" it got. I wrote the script in February of 2013.

What kind of research did you do during the writing of the script?

This is probably bad but I didn't really do any real research. I did read a book from the 80's, when the film takes place, to brush up on some of the terminology and techniques but I knew I wanted the film to be slightly hyper-real so letting myself be too bogged down by how something would actually happen didn't appeal to me. I wanted the characters to be able to tell me where the story should go and not necessarily the other way around.

Tells us about your cast.

Leland Orser plays Ansel and he brought everything he had in him to the role. He beat himself up, deprived himself of sleep, accidentally cut himself during takes on at least two occasions and had to memorize all of my oddly timed and paced dialogue. Basically the film wouldn't be the film it is without him and I couldn't be more honored to have worked with him. Claire, our troubled cult member, is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead who also happens to be my lovely wife. We have a second hand about us and I trust her implicitly which makes it feel almost like I'm not really directing her when she's in a scene which is the best feeling possible. Additionally we have an incredibly talented supporting cast made up of strong character actors including Beth Grant, Chris Ellis, Jon Gries and Lance Reddick. I love my cast.

What do you want audiences to take away with them after seeing this film?

The nice thing about making a film that I love is that I'm going to love it no matter what other people think of it. I made the film I wanted to make and I hope people like it but even if some don't I hope that they at least feel like they're watching something that was made by people who cared.

Do you have any future projects that you can tell us about?

I don't have anything I can talk about yet but I want to keep telling stories that I care about and that are a little outside the norm. For now I'm just excited to show people this film and I'm ready to have fun at SXSW!

For more about the "Faults" screening go to: http://schedule.sxsw.com/2014/events/event_FS14983

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