Longtime production designer Randy Ser unleashes a torrent of terror in Cruiser, his second film as a director after working on films and shows like The Middle, The Mighty Ducks, and My Name Is Earl.
Ser’s new film, Cruiser, follows the unnamed titular character played by Tony Award-winning Shuler Hensley. Cruiser, the character, murders a cop then assumes his identity. It’s not too long before Cruiser’s kidnapped Tara Kirkland (Lori Beth Sikes) and holds her captive so that she can be witness to his martyrdom.
Randy Sur grew up in South Florida, where he recalls, “I always wanted to be a filmmaker. Since I was a kid, I was completely enamored by Universal horror films of the 30s; Wolf Man; Frankenstein; The Mummy; all those characters.”
In the fifth grade, Randy “got into a play in fifth grade, and it hooked me.” Hooked is probably too light a word. “I got an AA with an emphasis in design. I got a BA in theatre from Florida State. Then I followed that up with an MFA in directing from the Florida State School of Theatre.”
“It was a childhood dream,” Randy says, and he’s spent a lifetime living it.
For Randy, he “just wanted to be involved in the business. I knew it was not going to be easy to make a career at it, so I studied as much as I could to see what I could get going.”
After graduating, Randy “came out to LA,” he says, “I got a job with another Florida State alum teaching pre-school four hours a day. A lot of the parents there were involved in the entertainment industry. One of them got me a job in an industrial film.”
“A few months down the road,” Randy continues, “I got a job on a film called Exterminator 2.”
One of Randy’s early connections included designer Julie Fanton. “We ended up working together for 40 years until she retired recently. We worked on things like Darkman, The Mighty Ducks, and The Middle.”
All You Need
Randy’s directed two films. Is it a new goal to go from production design to directing? “I was trying to make the change for a long time. I was the second unit director on Burning Zone, also on a pilot for another series. So, I started branching towards what I wanted to do.”
Randy says he puts a lot of story into his design work. “In my heart, I’ve always considered myself a storyteller, so I wanted a chance to tell a story.”
During this period, Randy met Sam Hensley Jr. “We’ve been producing partners for over 25 years,” Randy says. “He showed me a novel that he thought would make a good movie.”
Sam turned the novel into a script and got it to Randy. “We all met up in Tallahassee and started to move forward with the script. That movie got a way down the road, we raised some money, we started to shoot the movie, and then the money fell out.”
Discouraged, but not defeated, Randy and Sam pressed on, “We wrote All You Need. We went out and raised the money independently and got to make our movie. It starred Kellie Martin, and because of her, we ended up selling the film, and it got a Thanksgiving premiere on Lifetime.”
After that, Randy “got involved in second unit directing on action films. I did all the car racing scenes for a film called Dirt and other films.”
“During all those times,” Randy recalls, “Sam and I kept writing things and trying to get other movies going. We decided at one point that horror was the way to go. Sam had an idea for a look for a found-footage movie, and that’s what we ended up going with.”
Randy and Sam planted the idea of Cruiser, and it began to grow. “It’s proven to be rather timely. It’s a found-footage horror film, but also one that makes people think. A lot of the terror in Cruiser comes from the questions the movie brings up.”
“One question is,” Randy explains, “‘Does God let bad things happen to good people?’ In my estimation, there’s a lot to think about with that.”
In the film, “Cruiser [the character] has a message and has a way he wants that message to be seen. He does that by taking a woman captive who will bring his message to light. The message involves going out and dismembering people.”
“Cruiser’s not looking to become a celebrity,” Randy details, “but to bring his beliefs to the attention of the world.”
The message of Cruiser is what Randy thinks “the audience will be pondering a lot after going on a wild, blood and guts ride.”
Cruiser is a “found footage” film, but don’t let that label leave a lasting impression. It’s more than that. “I think what we’ve done with the film is; it’s not a single-camera found footage story. Part of what drew me to it is that we could tell the story in a cinematic way. Sam wrote it; then, we took it further by having the ability to use all kinds of different cameras; body cams; car cameras; cellphones; fixed cameras in parking lots and stores.”
At the heart of Cruiser is Tara, the woman forced to watch a living nightmare. “The performance by Lori Beth Sikes is going to pull the audience into the backseat with her.”
“I think the terror,” Randy says, “is not only being in the backseat while watching this man murder people but when Cruiser talks to Tara — to us — and we have to stare into his soul through the eyes in the rearview mirror.”
Filmmaking is a process that evolves over time. Randy and company added a new layer to the character based on Shuler Hensley’s skillset, which includes an incredible singing voice. “Cruiser sings in many languages while summarily executing his victims. The music he sings takes him to a timeless place, and he uses it to soothe his victims. These angelic sounds coming out during these demonic acts are also meant to confound the audience and their senses. We do that a lot in the film.”
Darkman is a 1990 action-horror film from director Sam Raimi. It’s a cult gem, and Randy was there every day with the legendary director as a production designer. “Working with Sam was an amazing, creative adventure. He is a man that has a vision, and he will challenge you to interpret and bring that vision to the screen. We’d have so much fun together, acting out scenes, getting so intense we’d knock lamps off of tables.”
“Sam wanted to create a dark, comic book world,” Randy says, “What I brought to him was a love for Universal horror and the looks of those films.”
Randy explains, “I felt that Darkman’s world was between darkness and light, teetering on the brink of life and death, and that played into my favorite film, Frankenstein.”
For Randy, Frankenstein’s influence “showed up a lot in different areas of the movie. Darkman’s loft/lab, to me, was an homage to Frankenstein’s lab and playing with light and dark.”
“We had a two-story fire furnace,” Randy says, “which gave off the light to flicker on Darkman’s face. To me, that was a direct homage to the Tesla Coils in Frankenstein.”
Darkman starred Liam Neeson long before he had that particular set of skills. Neeson’s fame only fueled re-watches of Darkman. “That film still has a huge audience and resonates with today’s younger viewers as well. It just celebrated it’s 30th anniversary the day before Cruiser released.”
“Several films like Being There, Brazil, and Awakenings,” sent Randy’s creativity on fire. Directors like “Sidney Lumet and Stanley Kubrick” also left a long-lasting impression.
“My parents took me to the movies when I was a young kid in the 60s,” Randy shares, “and I watched a lot of films I probably shouldn’t have. There’s a number of voices and films that inspire me to want to tell stories.”
“Two of my all-time favorite horror movies,” Randy says, “are Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. Those horror movies put things into the mind’s eye and then terrify you with your thought process.”
That seed of terror in the mind is alive in Randy’s film Cruiser. “We have plenty of blood and gore, but I think there’s that other side of Cruiser that’s going to go into the viewer. You’ll relive the visual terror, but more so the thought-provoking terror.”
Randy’s not a fan of remakes. However, he does say, “I would love to make my interpretation of Frankenstein. But I’d like to get away from that. Once a story’s told, let it be. I don’t know that as a storyteller that I’d want to remake something.”
Cruiser is out and about on a streaming service or VOD near you. So, what’s next for Randy? “Sam and I are developing some other horror and drama ideas. We’re waiting to see what happens with Cruiser before we commit to what we pull out of the sleeve and put in front of an audience.”
Is Cruiser on your watch list?
Thanks to Randy Ser and Projection PR
for making this interview possible.
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