A veteran of the film and television industry with over 30 years, 100 credits, and a Primetime Emmy for Best Drama Series to his name, Brad Turner has been a reliable director on popular series like 24, Alias, Homeland, and so many others.
For his new film, Trigger Point, Turner taps into his reservoir of action expertise to tell the story of Nicholas Shaw (Barry Pepper), a former special operative now trying to live a quiet life in the town of Bayfield, Ontario. Naturally, as these things tend to go, Shaw’s past comes back to haunt him, and so begins a race for him to figure out who is trying to kill him before it’s too late.
While the premise may sound familiar, Turner brings plenty of unique qualities to a film that is more noir mystery than “generic action movie of the week”. I sat down with him to talk about what sets Trigger Point apart from others of its genre, what being a director of television for so many years has taught him about the job, and what it was like to shoot the film in his own hometown.
Read on for my conversation with director Brad Turner.
Mitchell Beaupre: How did this project first come to you, and what drew you to the film?
Brad Turner: I was actually involved since the inception. I got together with David Ozer, who runs the studio, and he said that he wanted to do a series of action movies. We didn’t have an actor attached, but we talked about sort of the idea of it, and we brought in Michael Vickerson to write the script. Michael presented us with a 1-page treatment which we gave notes on and turned into a 12-page, and then the three of us developed it from there basically.
MB: Barry Pepper has always been one of our great character actors, and something exciting about Trigger Point is getting to see him in a leading role. What was the process like bringing him on board?
BT: Barry is an actor that I worked with when my career was starting, and his character was just starting too. We did The Outer Limits together in Vancouver, and he really left a lasting impression on me in terms of his commitment to the character. This was well before Saving Private Ryan or anything, and I thought he was the strongest part of this episode we did together. From then on I always kept him in the back of my mind, but Barry is very selective in terms of what he wants to do, so this was the perfect opportunity for him and I to get back together again.
MB: It’s funny how that works, as a director on TV you get these character actors who really stick with you. Was that the case with Colm Feore, Carlo Rota, and Nazneen Contractor? You had worked with all three of them on 24 and you’ve got a little reunion going on here.
BT: You’re right on the money, it was a reunion with us all. Colm Feore is a consummate professional. I actually had him in mind for this part when I initially talked to Barry, and Barry watched a ton of his stuff and of course had no problem at all. Carlo I had worked with much earlier than 24, and of course Nazneen is his wife who I had worked with on 24, so yeah this cast top to bottom was kind of handpicked by me. Part of that was because we had a very short prep period as we were shooting in the middle of the pandemic, so the process was a lot different than it used to be. It was much easier for me to handpick the people that I had worked with before and thought would fit each role than it would have been to try and have any kind of auditions.
MB: You were initially supposed to shoot before COVID but the lockdowns pushed you back several months. Is it true that once the shoot got going that you shot the film in 15 days?
BT: I did shoot it in 15 days, but I don’t personally think it looks like a 15-day film. We did a lot of second unit stuff with drones and everything, but it was a very tough 15 days, especially considering we were working under all of the COVID-19 protocols. A lot of credit for that goes to Jessica Petelle, who was my second unit director, so she would be picking up a lot of stuff at the same time that we were working on things somewhere else.
MB: I completely agree that it doesn’t feel at all like a film shot in just 15 days. Did all of your experience working in television help you with turning around the shoot that quickly?
BT: Exactly right, if it wasn’t for doing television for so many years I don’t think I would have been able to make that happen. A lot of people don’t know that we shot 24 in blocks of episodes, which is very popular now, but was pretty new at the time, so we’d be shooting two episodes at a time over 16 day periods, without a whole time second unit, and yet we hardly ever went over schedule. The other thing that helped a lot was paying attention to what kind of coverage I needed. Television is very coverage oriented, whereas movies tend to play, and that’s what the strategy I had for this movie was. I wanted to let the movie play in those shots, to really let them play out and make them beautiful.
MB: The movie has a very interesting stylistic approach. Reading the premise gives the impression that it’s going to be your typical action thriller, but it ends up feeling more like a noir, especially in the earlier scenes. Could you talk a bit about the style you wanted to achieve for the film?
BT: It’s film noir meets mystery thriller with some action as well. I came into the project looking for the best way to create a good story, and to keep the mystery and tension going. My goal was to get the acting to a level where this story would be really intriguing, which having actors like Barry and Colm really helps a lot with making those scenes work. What’s interesting about the story is that the mystery is revealed halfway through the movie basically, so from that point on it’s a fun ride where we’re rolling along with the characters. Of course there were also limitations on things like budget and time where it helped for me to pull on my experience of telling a really clear story.
MB: Another distinguishing factor is the striking locations you use in the film. Most action movies you’re just getting another warehouse shootout that we’ve seen a thousand times before, but here you use unique locations like that gorgeous greenhouse sequence. Could you talk about how you utilized the locations in the film to make those scenes stand out?
BT: I talked a lot with the film’s producer and location manager about how we had one shot really to make these sequences look cool. It’s interesting that you mention warehouse shootouts because I’ve got warehouse shootouts up to my eyeballs in my career, so that was a place where I’ve been here plenty of times before and I know what it takes to do that, so I want to take it slightly left of there and make it unique. The greenhouse sequence was actually in the script that Michael Vickerson had written, and we found this perfect location the first time we went around scouting. What I did was I basically took the sequence that was written in the script, and then I designed it to fit what was capable at the location. A lot of times when you’re working you’re shoehorning the story into the location, which is a lot of what we did on 24. You find a great location and you write the scene for the location.
MB: Without getting into spoilers, the movie climaxes with this breathtaking scene set against a large body of water.
BT: That was actually Lake Huron. I grew up there, and Lake Huron always feels like an ocean because it goes so far that there’s nothing you can see on the other side. That whole pier motif was something that as a kid growing up I always thought was the perfect location to shoot in. It also faces almost directly due west, so every day when the sun comes down it creates this amazing image with the sky. None of that sky in the film is a visual effect. Utilizing the locations really did create the cornerstones of the movie for us – there’s the town at the beginning, the big greenhouse sequence, and then the ocean at the end, and we basically filled in the gaps in between.
MB: You shot the movie in your hometown of Bayfield, Ontario, making it the first film ever shot there. What was it like after all of these years getting to bring a major movie shoot to the place you grew up?
BT: It was weird because I still have a house there that I always go back to, and I think people have always sort of known that I was involved in the film industry, but they didn’t know much about it. When we first started toying with the idea of shooting there the people who lived there were excited for two reasons. One, they had never had a film shot there. Two, they were finally going to get to see what I did for a living. It’s a really little town, there’s only about 500 people there and it’s 2 and a half hours outside of Toronto, so when we rolled up with 90 to 100 people and big production vehicles they were so shocked.
MB: I’ve always sort of romanticized small towns, their quaintness and that feeling of home that they radiate. Have you always been drawn to the small town atmosphere?
BT: Definitely, and I think we really create a character out of the town here. Barry’s character in the film before the movie picks up has spent a good two or three years here establishing a life, going to the cafe every morning, and Barry and I talked a lot about how this was a place for him to remain anonymous but he also became a part of this community. It’s interesting when you grow up in a small town you can appreciate that these people aren’t caricatures the way that some might expect. They’re the same kind of people that you’d meet if you were in a city. There’s intellectuals, there’s bullies, there’s honest people just trying to make a living. So we really wanted the characters to feel real.
MB: Nicholas Shaw is a great character who falls in the tradition of someone like Jack Bauer from 24 and Michael Scofield from Prison Break, where he gets his back put up against the wall and he has to use his intellect to get out of situations. Is that something that excites you about a character?
BT: It does. The whole idea of this character was that he not only was comfortable with all of the technical aspects of his job, but that he’s also super practical. Growing up, my father was a very mechanical guy, and he passed that along to me, and I really wanted a practical side to this guy. There’s one great scene where Shaw has to improvise this weapon out of the plumbing pipe, and I’ve got to give it up to the prop department because they came up with this idea of him kind of MacGyver-ing this weapon, and it becomes the centerpiece of this really awesome action sequence.
MB: We started off by talking about how the three of you began this movie with the idea of a franchise, which is something that the end of this film certainly sets up. Could you give us a tease as to what we could see next if there are more films after this?
BT: I think there are definitely characters that you’ll see back. Barry, of course, and definitely Eve Harlow, Karen Robinson, and Laura Vandervoort as well. We don’t know exactly where we’re going to go with the second movie, but the idea is that it’s an onion that’s very complicated, and we’re going to peel back those layers. We’re hoping to bring more action into the second film, while also keeping the mystery and intrigue because I think that’s what’s most important. We’d probably go back to Bayfield a bit, but I think ultimately we’d go somewhere else, maybe even international because I think this story really opens itself up to that. What we really need though, is all of you guys to go out and see the movie on video on demand or in the theater so that you can get to love these characters and get them back into your living room for more.
Trigger Point will be available in theaters on April 16th, and on VOD on April 23rd
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]