I can comfortably admit that I grew up before the age of the personal computer, the internet and social media. I’ve seen the impact and the changes in youth – glued to their phones at every given minute. They’re looking for likes, for a thumbs up or a new follower. I get it, I really do. When I was a teen, it was rock music, disco dancing and roller skating on weekends. When I look back, I might’ve been a little obsessed with it. The biggest difference however, is that I didn’t care who shared my interest or liked my passionate novice drum solos as a teen. I was comfortable living in my bubble because it was mine alone and my friends had their own bubble.
Times have changed and everyone wants to be famous, for at least 15 minutes… according to Andy Warhol. If you do open yourself to the public, you need to be prepared for the consequences and the negatives of social media. When the public can respond with anonymity, it can attract negative and spiteful remarks, which can attract other negative attention. Worst case scenario – some people are sent death threats. If you’re an avid social media user, this is nothing new to you but the world seems to be getting more extreme with anonymity. Films are a great platform for sounding the alarm and bringing attention to important issues. Filmmaker David Lipper is sounding that alarm in his latest film, Death Link.
In the age of social media, teenagers tell the story that they want people to see, with each video more daring than the next. But in this small town, a series of staged “murder” videos are turning very real. The film is produced by Tina Sutakanat, David Lipper and Kipp Tribble, along with Executive Producers Tim Alek Mulley and Bob Daly Jr. David Lipper (Full House, Frequency) also directs and acts in this suspense filled film. The rest of the cast includes Elise Luthman (The Politician, Do Not Reply), Jessica Belkin (Reboot Camp, American Horror Story), Riker Lynch (Glee, Dancing With The Stars), Matt Rife (After Masks, Wild N Out), Isabella Blake-Thomas (Secret Society of 2nd Born Royals, Shameless), and Alli Simpson (Filthy Rich and Homeless, Hacking High School), Adam Garcia (Murder On The Orient Express, Coyote Ugly).
Gravitas Ventures is set to release the film on Tuesday, November 30th on all transactional VOD platforms – iTunes, Amazon, Fandango, Vudu, and all cable and satellite pay per views. Check out the trailer below:
David grew up in Montreal and moved to Los Angeles immediately after completing his BFA in Musical Theater from Emerson College in Boston. He was given the starring role in the Kaufman/Bright/Crane pilot, Reality Check, playing opposite a young Tiffany Thiessen, Giovani Ribisi, and 2-time Oscar winner, Hillary Swank. Lipper was on Full House, where he played D.J.’s boyfriend, Viper for the final season where he got to showcase his musical theater roots by playing in the show’s band, with John Stamos. He was also my extremely interesting guest. Roll the tape!
HNMAG “On top of acting, you also directed and produced this film. You really wear a lot of hats.”
DAVID “It’s just been this natural progression to thinking outside the box, staying relevant and staying busy. Acting has always been my main source of income, but one day while on set, the shoot was delayed and I found myself reading a book on writing. I wrote a script and that movie is coming out later this month; it’s called The Christmas Letter. It was for CBC and I was the writer, producer and lead actor in it. A friend approached me to co-write a film together. He said I could star in it, produce it and he’ll direct it, so we did – it’s called The Unwilling and it won a lot of awards. It’s doing quite well on the AVOD market and our Youtube channel has had over 6 million views. I’ve written 2 films now and started to get an idea of how to produce films and put them together. The natural progression was directing. I’d been an acting coach for a very long time and Ivana Chubbuck was a mentor to me that I consider to be the best in the world. I’d been workshopping some scenes from Death Link in a class and the writer walked in. He asked why I wasn’t directing it, which encouraged me to take it on. My intention was to knock the fight scene off on day one, have it finished and move on. By day 5, it was March 15 and I turned on the TV. The world is collapsing and we had no idea what was going on. As soon as we stopped to take a breath, we realized we were in trouble. Alli Simpsons’ mom calls and says she wants her daughter home now, before they stop flights back to Sydney. I had to take everything I had planned and throw it out the window. My living room floor became a stack of scenes and I knocked out 3 locations, doubled up some locations, and I shot Alli out in 2 days. It was an incredible challenge but if I can direct under these conditions, I can direct under any conditions. So, I directed another film, Wolf Mountain, which I’m finishing next week.”
David adds that being an Indie filmmaker forces you to be more creative and work within your parameters, while not being married to the script. “It takes out-of-the-box thinking and it takes a certain individual to say, ‘okay, things changed, let’s adapt and rethink this’. I believe it makes you a better director, unlike some filmmakers that have unlimited budgets and unlimited scope… it shows. The work gets scattered and there’s a lot of footage that’s unnecessary.”
HNMAG “How did you come across this screenplay for Death Link?”
DAVID “Dustin and Duncan were close friends with a mutual friend of mine – Seth. Seth had been telling me about this script for years, in fact there’s a reference to Myspace (laughing). I have to give these two guys credit, they were ahead of their time. After we modernized it with Instagram and video chats, we still had texting on the page, so we changed that to video chatting. I didn’t know what it was going to look like, until everyone started using Zoom. I called my VFX guy and my editor to tell them, this was going to be the template. There was a very interesting subplot that also happened in the film; Steven Clark, plays the victim because he was the best actor, but through speaking with him, he had shared a very personal story about being a Black gay man in school and being picked on. The team suggested I don’t cast a Black kid as the victim because I’ll bring race into it. I said, it’s going on anyways, so let’s talk about it. We have white privileged kids picking on someone that’s different. The next thing I know, as I’m editing – Black Lives Matter happens and they’re marching down the street, saying we need to start a conversation about white privilege and racism in America. Everything was happening in real time.”
HNMAG “You act in this film, as well as direct and produce. Is it difficult to switch gears from actor to director?”
DAVID “It’s a great question. I’m a huge Woody Allen movie fan and how did he play the lead while directing? In my head, it can be done but it is a challenge. The first thing you need is a very articulate shot list that your 1st AD can understand. If you don’t have a confident AD that can control the crew and captain the ship while you’re acting, then you’re in trouble. I had a very good 1st AD on this film and she was fantastic and it worked beautifully. It’s been difficult, having done it again and Wolf Mountain was a more challenging shoot. I always tell myself that I’ll only cast myself only if I’m the best one for the job and I felt like this was a character that I could really lay into.”
HNMAG “How did you finance this film?”
DAVID “These 5 films that I’ve made during the pandemic, have all been independently financed. My main financier on Death Link was Tim Alek Mulley and he was also involved in backing Reboot Camp. He’s more than a financier/executive producer, he’s very involved in the shooting. He’s also my drone operator and my VFX guy. He did the bulk of it in this film. I’ve managed to pull independent financiers together and people can invest from 25,000 – 100,000. Steve Gentry, who’s in the construction business, has also been involved in most of my films. I make my films very economically; every dollar is maximized and there’s no waste. Bob Daly jr. has especially helped me, he’s the son of the famous Bob Daly that ran Warner Brothers for 25 years. He’s well versed in the movie business and approached me 6 months ago to suggest that we form a company together. That company is Latigo Films and it is attached to this film and it just finished another film called, My Favourite Girlfriend. We have an entire slate of films we’ll be shooting in 2022.
HNMAG “How do you determine which role you’ll be playing in each project?”
DAVID “I always wear my producer’s hat first and make the decision – what’s best for the film. I was going to direct a film, Hunt Club – which was slated to shoot in February of 2022 but I felt that it needed a female director. I’m taking it project by project to see what’s best for each project, what’s going to attract the best cast and where I can be best utilized to serve the film. I want to make the best decisions that I can to make the best films I can.”
HNMAG “How many days did it actually take to shoot Death Link?”
DAVID “We did a 6-day week after that first five days, so my total shoot days were 11 but then I had some pickup shots and B-roll.”
HNMAG “You had a couple cast members from other countries in this film. What was the decision behind that?”
DAVID “Alli Simpson along with Jessica, Riker Lynch and Matt Rife – these kids are influencers who are actors but also have big followings. Alli has over 1 million followers and Jessica has around 3 million on combined social media platforms. I wanted some authenticity with the cast, who were actual influencers but were also perfect for the roles. Alli is also represented by my manager, so I asked who she had and she recommended Alli. Adam Garcia was a happy coincidence; he was in town for talks on a CW series and we have a mutual friend. I was having a really hard time casting the psychiatrist and Adam had literally just finished doing Shakespeare in the West end. I asked him if he’d be in the film and that I could shoot him out in 1 day. Adam was one of the few actors that could’ve pulled this off in 1 day. He really added credibility to our film. I really got lucky.”
HNMAG “In the film, you have a sex scene with a much younger woman. Are those scenes awkward?”
DAVID “We’ve got this down to a science and my first thought is always to create a safe place for the actress. Which meant that we choreographed the scene in a rehearsal, we shot listed the scene and we went through the shot list with the actor and an intimacy coach. She has a safe word that I don’t know and should she feel uncomfortable at any moment, she can say that word. We had to watch the camera angles because we didn’t want to show any nudity but we still wanted to be sexy while still being respectful to the actress. Alli expressed a lot of appreciation for how comfortable we made her feel in that scene. We rarely did 1-2 takes for each setup, and there were several setups to that scene.”
HNMAG “Was the entire film shot in the LA area?”
DAVID “Yes, all shot in LA. The ranch, where you see all of the beautiful mountain shots, was in Castaic, which is by Magic Mountain (amusement park). It’s within the 20 mile LA circle.”
HNMAG “Did you have a hand in picking all the cast?”
DAVID “I did the casting for the entire movie. Jessica Belkin was my first choice. She played my daughter in a film I did for the Lifetime network, called Sleeping With My Student. She wanted the role of Tabatha, which opened up a contrast in casting Elise Luthman. Pam Fisher is an old friend of mine from my theatre days and is now the head of the A3 Agency that had sent me some people to look at, including Heather van Zee. She really hit it out of the park and I found two really good actors from Pam.
With auditions, you can really discover new talent, like Wes Newman and Steven – who plays our victim. Matt Rife came from the same agency as Steven and he did stand up comedy. I’m a comedy guy and have a background in comedy sitcoms (Full House), so if I’m going to make a horror film, I want to have some fun. My casting director was also phenomenal and the amount of work they take on is incredible. I might see 50 of her selections, but she’s going through thousands.”
HNMAG “What is the most extreme sport you’ve ever participated in?”
DAVID “I’m a hockey player, I’ve played varsity hockey in College and I play 3 times/week whenever possible. That 1 ½ hours of hockey is everything to me, where I can let it all out. I’m nursing a pretty banged up hand today from yesterday’s game. I’ve gotten cross-checked, slammed in the head and tripped into the boards. Hockey is not for the meek. You’re not suppose to be hitting in the league I’m in, but you’re flying. I’m a speed guy and my hockey is from the Bob Gainey school – go fast down the wing, pass or shoot. I’m usually flying pretty fast down the ice, so if I hit something or someone, it’s going to hurt. I’m also a die-hard skier, that likes to climb to the top and fly off those cliffs and into a nice fluff of powder. At my age (52) you’d think I’d start to slow down but I guess I still enjoy some of those extreme sports, so you’ll still find me in the hockey rink and on the slopes.”
David told me Death Link will premiere Nov. 29 at the Chinese Theatre in LA. The cast will be there and he’ll be there. I love that theatre and can’t think of a better venue to watch a premiere. Living the dream, I’d say. Good on you David and the rest of the crew and incredible actors/talent that bring their best every time!