John Swab Interview: Ida Red | Screen Rant

Writer and filmmaker John Swab has been at the director's chair for such movies as Let Me Make You a Martyr, Run With The Hunter, and Body Brokers. His latest is the action-crime thriller Ida RedThe film marks Swab's first foray into action movies, with a fittingly edgy tone for its story.

Josh Hartnett portrays professional robber Wyatt Walker, whose mother Ida "Red" Walker (Melissa Leo) still oversees the family crime operation despite being behind bars. However, she also has a terminal illness. With Wyatt determined to free his mother before she dies, he steps into a daring job to bust his mother out of prison and make off with quite a big robbery payout.

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We speak to John Swab about the making of Ida Red, the different influences he had in making the film, and directing Ida Red with the challenges presented to the film by the relatively early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screen Rant: How did Ida Red first come about? 

John Swab: Ida Red came about after we finished the movie before this, Body Brokers. Jeremy Rosen, my best friend and producer, we kind of sat and decided we wanted to do something in line with the movies that inspired us to make films, basically an homage to crime thriller classics from the 70s and beyond. So, that's where it really came from.

Did you have to deal with the pandemic during the making of Ida Red? 

John Swab: Yeah, we were actually the first action movie to shoot in the pandemic. We started in July of last year, and I think the only thing that had shot other than us were a few small Hallmark movies and the movie Songbird. Other than that, we were the first movie out. It was quite the experience.

What sorts of challenges did that bring about during the making of the film? 

John Swab: I mean, a lot of the parts of filmmaking that make it so special is the camaraderie with people and the family element that comes about with being on the ground with the crew and the cast. Everybody gets really close and gets to hang out and spend time together.

But during the pandemic, obviously, everybody when they weren't working, they were isolated. It was everybody's first job back on the crew and the cast. So, it was unique where I got a lot of time to prep with everybody for months and months and months, so we were all very prepared, but we didn't really get to have the catharsis that you usually have on a film set where you get to go hang out afterward.

Your cast includes Josh Hartnett, Deborah Ann Woll, Frank Grillo, and numerous other stars. What was it like working with your cast, the pandemic aside? 

John Swab: I mean, it's always flattering and surreal at the same time when people like that show up and are excited to make your movie. Frank and Melissa [Leo] I worked with before and we've become really close, and it's nice to work with people who feel like family. Everybody else that came on, Josh, Deborah, Sofia [Hublitz], and [William] Forsythe, it was really cool to have these world-class actors come down and give their all to something I wrote.

You also make a small appearance in the movie as Jerry. What can you say about appearing in the movie that you're also directing?

John Swab: Well, I was in the movie for maybe under thirty frames, so it wasn't really a huge undertaking. During the pandemic, extras casting was getting kind of dicey, and they don't want us to bring in strangers off the street, and I look like someone who works in an auto parts store, so I just hopped in front of the camera and read a line.

I've done it in other films, and I think it's really important for anyone who's not an actor to understand how nerve-wracking and terrifying it is to be one. So, it's always a nice reminder, even when it's one line like in Ida Red.

Did other crew members appear as extras due to the extras situation with the pandemic?

John Swab: I'd say about ninety percent of our extras in the movie are crew members. Like I said, we were the first kind of test case for this kind of production and we didn't want to take any chances. So, most people on-screen who aren't principal talent were mostly crew members.

What else really stood out about the making of Ida Red in comparison to other movies you've made? 

John Swab: You know, I'd never made an action film or a movie with action elements like this, so I wasn't really sure about how to approach it. But I really found that I enjoyed it a lot. I'm in prep on another film right that's got a lot of action to it. So, I really enjoyed exploring a new genre in terms of focusing more on action set pieces and things like that, and that was pretty memorable for me. Also, just the relationships I got to have with the cast and crew on this film because of the pandemic and how much time we got to spend prepping it was also very memorable.

With Ida Red being your first action movie and one you mentioned you're prepping now, is this a genre you'd like to continue working in? 

John Swab: Absolutely. The crime action-thriller genre has always been my favorite, and now understanding the sensibilities of how to approach one from a filmmaker's standpoint, I really quite enjoy it a lot. So, the path I'd like to pursue, at least for the time being, is getting more into that.

You also wrote Ida Red in addition to directing it. What was the genesis of the story? 

John Swab: Well, like I said, Jeremy and I had a conversation right after we wrapped Body Brokers. We were both pretty exhausted from the experience because that movie had a lot of responsibility in terms of the truth in it and telling this really heavy story that impacted a lot of people's lives. Our conversation was about, "Let's do something for ourselves that doesn't have the burden of responsibility that the last film did."

So, that kind of started it, and then in thinking about it, I was rewatching a movie called Out of the Blue that Dennis Hopper directed, and there's a great scene between him and Linda Manz in prison. They're communicating through glass, and I just thought it was such a strong image and really powerful, and that image kind of birthed the idea of Ida and Wyatt and them being separated between this barrier. From there, there are very direct homages in the film to other films, and I wasn't shy about doing that and making clear that I'm really trying to pay tribute to a lot of the things that inspired me to get into this.

After Ida Red, what other projects do you have coming up? You mentioned you're prepping another movie right now?

John Swab: Well, in between Ida Red and that one, we actually shot and just completed post on a movie called Candyland, which is kind of a throwback slasher movie. Our goal is to make it feel like a lost movie of the 90s. It's a lot of fun, it's really, really wild, and it's about as graphic as anything I've seen, so we're really excited about that, it's going to be a lot of fun.

The next one I'm prepping for right now is a film called Little Dixie back in Oklahoma.

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Ida Red is now in theaters and on VOD platforms.

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