Peter Malone Elliott and Alexander Sharp on their debut feature film Wired Shut
Updated: Nov 30, 2021
Wired Shut is a home invasion thriller that follows a famous novelist (played by Blake Stadel) who is recovering from reconstructive jaw surgery. After his estranged daughter (portrayed by Natalie Sharp) shows up, he is faced with a life-threatening secret. Directed by Alexander Sharp (who co-wrote the story with Peter) and screenplay by Peter Malone Elliott, Wired Shut is released in the USA 30th November. I spoke with Alexander and Peter about their initial conversations about Wired Shut, the development process, and their upcoming projects.
Did you always want to pursue a career in the film industry? Did you receive any formal training?
Alexander: Not always. I think I initially wanted to pursue archaeology after seeing Indiana Jones, before I realized it's a lot more about taking toothbrushes to rocks instead of dodging giant, rolling boulders and poisonous dart traps. When my sister started taking acting classes with Crystal Bublé (Michael Bublé's sister), I followed suit. I still didn't really know what I was doing. I think I was just copying my sister. After making my own short films after school with my friends, both acting in and directing them, I quickly realized which side of the camera I truly enjoyed being on. Later, I attended Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles studying film production and business, and that's about as "formal" as it ever got. Otherwise, I was just a kid with a camera.
Peter: Same for me---not always. I was a competitive athlete my entire life (I played a year of Division 1 college soccer before transferring out to LMU, where I studied screenwriting and history), so there was a while there where I was strongly considering pursuing the professional athlete path. I also was very interested in journalism (I was the managing editor of the student newspaper in high school). The film/TV bug didn't really seriously hit me until I was probably about 16 or 17. It's definitely fair to say, though, that the writing gene is in my blood---my mother is a New York Times best-selling novelist---so it was probably a foregone conclusion that I would end up becoming a scribe of some kind!
How did you first get involved/meet one another?
Alexander: We met at LMU in our sophomore year. I remember standing in Blake Simon and Jared Selcer's dorm room in Rains Hall (two of my best friends to this day, both filmmakers) and seeing who, at first, I thought was Justin Timberlake walk in. Peter had a lot of style back then...and enough sneakers to fill a bathtub.
Peter: Man. I still think about that sneaker collection I once had. Especially my rainbow-colored Jeremy Scotts. What a time. But yes, I was introduced to Alex through Jared and Blake. I think one of the first things I said that day to Alex was that he looked like Paul Bettany. We became fast friends and roommates after that---turns out all you need to make friends is to compare each other to celebrities!
What were your initial conversations about Wired Shut? Could you tell me more about the development process?
Alexander: I remember driving back from Washington after screening our short film Ziggy's Will in September of 2018. I was driving up this massive highway through an insane rain storm. I got a text from Peter which had the title, genre, and log line. I think we were both pretty tired of doing shorts and being shoved into "Short Film Block 'A' at 10 AM on Saturday Morning" at film festivals. All of the feature films were always like, "Friday Night Screening: So and So's Debut Feature Film." It became clear to us we needed to do a feature to be taken relatively seriously. A few months after that text, Peter sent me a script in December of 2018, we shot it in March of 2019, and then wrapped on post-production in March of 2020 when COVID-19 hit and the whole industry shut down. The timing was brilliant.
Peter: Wired Shut was fascinating from a development standpoint in the sense that it was completely reverse engineered. Instead of coming up with an overall concept, setting, or character I wanted to explore (which is how I usually approach the things that I write, whether it be a novel, play, or script) and then building out from there, Alex and I looked at it from a completely practical, logistical standpoint---what was a movie that we could realistically do ourselves for not very much money? It had to be contained---something that had very few characters, minimal locations, and be something that we could shoot quickly. And coming up with something that checked all of those boxes that we both actually found interesting was...challenging, to say the least. Then, I learned that a person very close to me was getting massive jaw surgery and her mouth was going to be wired shut afterwards. I realized that this could be a really unique way to approach a home-invasion thriller that hadn't been done before---what would happen in that situation if you were physically unable to speak? And then it was off to the races.
Did you look at any creative references? Films, paintings etc.
Alexander: I love thrillers and, more specifically, home-invasion thrillers. Hitchcock is certainly one of my idols. I remember seeing Scorsese's Cape Fear with Robert DeNiro as Max Cady and having my mind blown. I didn't know you could do that. It didn't occur to me that the final act of a movie can just be absolute, total psychopath-gone-off-the-deep-end, crazy. The story of Cape Fear basically ends when Cady invades their home forcing them all to hit the road. And, after that, it's just a delicious cocktail of utter psychological and physical violence for the rest of the movie. I wanted to do that. Preston is our villain in the film and I think Behtash Fazlali strikes that balance impeccably: a villain who you're equal parts terrified of and entertained by at the same time.
Peter: Like Alex, Scorsese's Cape Fear was a massive influence. We actually watched it together, and when it was finished, we both turned to each other and said (practically at the same time) that this was exactly the type of thing we wanted to do. I thoroughly enjoy writing villains---in a lot of ways, they are much more fun to craft than protagonists---and Max Cady was definitely in the back of my brain when I sat down to write Preston. Also, I adore classic, slow-burn psychological thrillers---taut pieces that ratchet up the tension gradually over the course of the first two acts before exploding into a bat-shit crazy climax, but all without sacrificing depth of character, theme, and emotion. Rear Window, for instance, is one of my favorites of all times with regards to this. People that have seen Wired Shut have also compared it tonally to Misery, which I take as a massive compliment!
What was the most challenging aspect of this production?
Alexander: We shot for two weeks, nocturnally. Call time every day for 10 days was 6 PM and then we'd wrap each day, the following day, at 6 AM. That was brutal. You just go insane. I remember Martin, the cinematographer, and I were figuring out how to light a sauna with a flashlight and we were in stitches for no reason. Peter came in and found us laughing hysterically in this claustrophobic, pitch-black sauna. I think he just turned on his heels and shook his head.
Peter: Those nocturnal shoots were incredibly taxing physically and emotionally. 100%. I suppose that's my fault for writing a movie that basically takes place entirely at night. Also---if I never have to do another piece of insurance paperwork ever again, I'll die a happy man. The sheer amount of mind-numbing paperwork you have to do as a producer is...staggering. Doing Wired Shut gave me SUCH a deep appreciation for the people that make their living doing that type of thing in the industry. Line producing is utterly thankless, and yet so incredibly vital to the lifeblood of a production.
Are you currently working on any projects?
Alexander: In the past year, I've directed 5 music videos, which has kept me very busy. Most recently, my work with Michelle Creber and Ron Kalmakoff, with more to come for both of them. Peter and I have another feature script we'd love to do. I've written a feature script I'd love to do. I'm co-writing another feature script I'd love to do. I digress, until the next feature, I'm on the music videos and writing train, which I love. Features are so fulfilling, but so exhausting and so this makes for great downtime while still getting to be on set and shoot.
Peter: I'm just finishing up my first novel, which has taken up most of 2021 for me. Writing a book is incredibly challenging but I've been having an absolute blast doing it. I also have a slate of completed film/TV spec scripts that are making the rounds in the industry through my representation, and I'm starting to develop ideas for what my next project will look like.