Interview: Jonathan Liebesman: The Killing Room

Though he has already caused a stir with his previous works, director Jonathan Liebesman wanted to make a statement with his latest film, The Killing Room. Following four individuals who sign up for a psychological research study, the film tracks their final moments as they discover that they are now subjects of a brutal, inhumane government project.

Premiering at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, The Killing Room is intense, rigid and original psychological thriller. One that pushed you to the edge of your seat in anticipation for every next move.

In his interview with, director Jonathan Liebesman opens up about the story, the sets and the possibility of a sequel.

CMR: What made you want to do this project?
Liebesman: I really wanted to do a film that I was fascinated with intellectually. And I'm fascinated with the fact that in today's world, every country is pushing their own agenda, no matter the costs. It is so insane and fundamental. And the whole question of where do you draw the line intrigues me. When do you stop fighting back?

In the film, you have a bunch of actors who are recognizable, but no one that you can easily put a name to. Was this done on purpose?
Well here is the thing. The most important thing for me was that the movie was grounded. When someone walks through the door, you need to believe that they are a real person. So I hired a casting director who was able to get actors who could make me look good.

How difficult was it to find the main set?
We built the entire thing. I always knew that I wanted to simply because I wanted the freedom to put the camera wherever I wanted. There are three rooms in the film, and it was very important to me that you got certain views from one room to the other. I didn't want to compromise that.

Building such a set comes with a hefty price tag. How high did your budget end up being?
Around $3.2 [million] I believe.

The beginning of the film started off slow, taking the time to introduce each character. Then, out of nowhere, the 'game' started. How important was the quick transformation?
If you are going to be tense, the only reason you will get to that breaking point is if you care about the characters who are in the shitty situation. The movie is called The Killing Room, so you know that shit is going to hit the fan. So I had to make the audience wait. And while I made them wait, I decided to let them get to know these characters. That way, when the shit does go flying, they care.

As for the sound; ignoring the fact that the screening had poor audio quality, were the vast difference between dialogue and background noises intentional or something that developed over time?
Well in the screening that you were in, the dialogue was soft because their sensor channel was f*%@ed. But with that said, there was an intentional effort to keep things very soft and then have a really loud sound. It is meant to put you in the situation, a way to not desensitize [the audience] so that they will continue to notice things.

How long did you shoot?
23 days which can be seen as short, but I truly think that with the intensity, the short shooting schedule was necessarily. There were many instances where the actors knew that we had one or two takes, and so that added pressure helped them keep their energy up. If we would have had more time, they would have relaxed, so it was a good thing.

Are you nervous about the expectations that people will have with this film?
You know it is hard because everyone has expectations. It is four people in a room; it better be gory and scary. And I just want to tell the story. Gore is at times unnecessary. It is tough, because audiences expect certain things, but I decided to make what I thought was the best story. I chose the best way to tell the story. In my opinion, torture porn was not necessary for this.

Any plans for a sequel?
The movie is a different type of movie. So if it does well, I would want the sequel to be different. I do have a story, but it isn't what the audience will expect.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

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