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Richard Ramirez

Interview: Megan Griffiths takes ‘The Night Stalker’ to Lifetime

Bellamy Young in ‘The Night Stalker’

The Night Stalker, the fourth feature by Seattle-based filmmaker Megan Griffiths, is skipping theaters almost entirely to premiere on the Lifetime Network and stream on Lifetime Movies, their online subscription service.

That wasn’t always the plan. The film was made as an independent feature with the intention of a theatrical release. “You like the idea of having it on a large screen,” says Griffiths, a Seattle-based filmmaker who grew up in Southern California during the reign of terror of Richard Ramirez. But increasingly audiences are turning to cable, and VOD and streaming services, for their new movies. Many independent films arrive on VOD day-and-date with their theatrical debut.

The Night Stalker made its world debut at the Seattle International Film Festival on June 4 and began a limited theatrical run in Southern California theaters a week later, but for the rest of the country it debuts at 9pm on Sunday, June 12 on the Lifetime Channel and then becomes the newest addition to Lifetime Movies.

Griffiths discusses the trade-off, including the benefits, of releasing her new film to Lifetime, a channel with a great track record for supporting women filmmakers, in the second part of my interview with Megan Griffiths (part one is here).

Sean Axmaker: Tell me about the brief theatrical release for The Night Stalker. Is it only on Southern California?

Megan Griffiths: Yes. It’s opening in Orange County, which is an area where Ramirez had a lot of impact, and there’s a legacy to that there where a lot of people are familiar with him and interested in his story and we figured it made sense to bring the story back there for this limited theatrical release. We always wanted to get some sort of theatrical run but it is getting trickier these days.

SA: You shot this as an independent feature and I assume you always had your eye on a theatrical release.

MG: It’s funny because I always say that there isn’t anybody who got into film to have their movies watched on a phone or an iPad. You like the idea of having it on a large screen where it’s so immersive and you’re in the dark and no one’s on their phones or checking their E-mails during the movie. That’s really the way you want people to watch, where they’re focused and into it, and as soon as you leave the theater all that goes out the window and people watch in this half-registered way. Ideal world scenario is that everybody is riveted, you have their undivided attention, and we’re naturally moving away from that, which is kind of sad. I’ve been going to a lot of screenings at SIFF and marveling at how full every screening has been and how much there is still an audience that at least comes out once a year to fill theaters and watch movies. It doesn’t happen very often. I’ve had those experiences at festivals but I’ve almost never had the experience of a full theater even on an opening weekend for a movie just because of the nature of all the different competition for people’s attention.

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Megan Griffiths: A fascination with ‘The Night Stalker’

Lou Diamond Phillips is Richard Ramirez in ‘The Night Stalker’

Megan Griffiths debuts her fourth feature, The Night Stalker, at the Seattle International film Festival on Saturday, June 4. It’s the story of Richard Ramirez, who was branded The Night Stalker during his 14 month reign of terror in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1984 and 1985, but it’s just as much about how his actions reverberated through the culture of Southern California.

“Everyone who I’ve encountered who lived in California at all in the eighties have these visceral memories of that summer,” recalls Griffiths. “I lived in Riverside and he never came to Riverside but it felt like he could.” The story made national headlines but he the effect on those living in Southern California was immediate and powerful “I didn’t remember seeing that explored and I was interested in that and wanted to explore it.”

Lou Diamond Phillips plays Ramirez at age 53, after spending 23 years on death row, and he looks eerily like the real-life Ramirez, and Bellamy Young (Scandal) is a lawyer named Kit, a fictional character created for the film who interviews Ramirez in the hopes of getting a confession to murder he was never prosecuted for. Ramirez demands a trade, that she spill her own secrets, and the film becomes as much if not more about her. Chelle Sherrill plays the young Kit and Benjamin Barrett is the 26-year-old Richard Ramirez.

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