Seattle writer/director Megan Griffiths’ new film, “The Night Stalker,” will have its world premiere at SIFF June 4. Here, she talks about growing up during the year of serial killer Richard Ramirez’s crime spree and the challenges of being a female filmmaker.
“People love to get inside the mind of someone who scares them,” says Kit (Bellamy Young), in Megan Griffiths’ new psychological thriller “The Night Stalker.” She’s speaking of Richard Ramirez, the serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles during a crime spree in the mid-1980s, but the words also come from the film’s writer/director, spelling out one of her motivations for making the film.
“I think it’s important to look at these things, and try to understand these things that are so unimaginable, because otherwise how are we going to make any progress as a society?” said Griffiths, in an interview at a U-District coffeehouse last week. Her film, which involves the real-life character of Ramirez (played, mesmerizingly, by Lou Diamond Phillips) and the fictional character of Kit, makes its world premiere June 4 at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Though Griffiths (“Lucky Them,” “Eden,” “The Off Hours”) now makes Seattle her home, she grew up in Southern California, and was 10 years old at the time of Ramirez’s crimes. “I was absolutely terrified of him,” she said. “I thought he would be coming in my window, appearing in front of my bed. You notice a recurring theme [in the film] of him standing in front of a bed, and that was taken from my nightmares.
IF YOU GO
‘The Night Stalker’
World premiere, Seattle International Film Festival, 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 4, Uptown; 1:30 p.m. Sunday, June 5, Pacific Place. Griffiths, with other guests from the film, will attend both screenings. (siff.net).
“He was a formative figure — a person who introduced me to fear and darkness when I was pretty young and naive and not exposed to much of that. I just really wanted to get past that and look at him, as a person who was formed, as we all are, by various things that happened throughout his life.”
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The character of Kit came, Griffiths said, as an attempt to “construct a character who ran parallel to him. She was impacted by him, though they never met [until later].” Kit, a teen during Ramirez’s crime spree, is both frightened and fascinated by him. Confronting him decades later — he’s on death row, and she’s an attorney trying to get him to confess to another crime — is cathartic for her.
Griffiths is careful to emphasize that her film is a fictional narrative informed by history — “we have been very explicitly not using ‘based on a true story.’ There is, however, one scene with a remarkable level of authenticity: a flashback in which Ramirez is captured as he races down a neighborhood street. That street is precisely the block on which Ramirez’s actual capture happened, and two of the men chasing him in the scene were also among those chasing him 30 years ago.
“They still live across the street,” said Griffiths. “Also, the Mustang that [Ramirez] tries to steal is literally the same Mustang. They still own it. They had to tow it to us; it wasn’t functioning.”
“The Night Stalker” was shot last year in Los Angeles with, Griffiths is proud to note, a predominantly female crew. She’s familiar with the statistics about female representation in the film industry – a recent study showed that women directed 9 percent of last year’s 250 top-grossing movies – but is determined to help change that, from the director’s chair on down. “It’s not like there isn’t a huge amount of qualified, driven, talented females in every part of filmmaking,” she said, “but you really have to make it a priority to look for them.”
With her fifth feature now behind her (it’s been acquired by the Lifetime channel, for airing later this month), Griffiths is looking for her next project — which might be a television comedy she’s developing with fellow Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton, or one of “a couple of smaller films that I’m trying to put together,” ideally to film in Seattle. She smiles at the idea that she might be soon be labeled a veteran filmmaker. “Veteran. I like it.”
“I feel like there’s two ways to have a career in this business,” she said. “One of them is to be an overnight success and have a big breakout, and the other is to slowly and steadily build your career and continue learning and take opportunities as they come.”