INTERVIEW: Director Peter Winther talks about his movie ‘Painkillers’

(RLJ Entertainment)

Painkillers tells the story of a military unit that wakes up in a hospital after a mission. None of the soldiers remember their mission, and they are given experimental drugs to help regain their memories safely. As they begin to remember, they realize there is more to the mission, and the facility, than they were initially told.

In Part 1, I talked to star Tahmoh Penikett. Here’s Part 2 in which I speak to director Peter Winther (The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, The Patriot) about his film and his vision for it.

PM: Hi, I’m Jessica for How are you today?

PW: I’m doing great. How are you doing?

PM: I’m doing awesome! So you’re the director for Painkillers. Can you tell me a little about the film?

PW: The story’s about a squad of U.S. soldiers that recently came back from a secret mission in Afghanistan, but now they’re in a military hospital because they can’t remember what happened or even what their mission was. So they’re trying to get back their memories and find out what happened because not only did they not get the package they were supposed to retrieve, but three of them are missing. So it’s a story about how they slowly start to remember, then they realize nothing is as it seems, and things are about to get crazy.

PM: What drew you to this project?

PW: You know I’m a big fan of science fiction and I’ve had this story in my head for a long time. I was a producer on Stargate, the movie, way back in the day, and this film has kind of similar elements. You know, “What if we do something like this?” So the opportunity came up as I wrote the script and then we had some producers that liked it, including my brother Lars. He does a lot of Marvel films, Ant-Man, and he just finished Captain America: Civil War. So you know we had this idea that we were able to put together with some other producers out of Canada like Peter Horn, so I wrote the script and we made a cool indie sci-fi film.

painkillers peter winter erica durance lesley-ann brandt tahmoh penikett
RJ Entertainment

PM: I gotta say, I really enjoyed it.

PW: Oh, cool!

PM: Did writing the script make it easier to direct? Did that help you out, having a clear vision?

PW: For me it really helps. Since I’m a filmmaker but sometimes I direct, sometimes I produce, sometimes I write, it just depends what’s going on with the story. For directing, I need to write it because it just helps. Because you know when you write the script once, then you go through it over and over again, like okay I’m gonna read the script in this character’s voice, then the other. So that gives you a lot of information and it makes you have to be an expert on the script at all costs. For me the only way to do that is to also write it, and then it gives you all the information that the actors need for all their intentions and their needs on set, as well as the crew. I never even had the script on set with me because I knew it by heart, you know? For me, that really helps me with directing. I don’t have to refer to anything because I know it.

PM: What was your favorite scene to shoot?

PW: That’s a tough question because on the one hand I love shooting action, so the gun battles in the hills of Afghanistan were really fun. But then I also love, there’s kind of these great moments between Tahmoh Penikett and Erica Durance, especially when she reveals her secret to him, two actors at a table just going at it, one on one – I get equal joy in that. Probably those two worlds right there would be the most fun I had.

PM: What was the most challenging thing about this film?

PW: The challenging thing is, that if you had budgeted that script in a normal fashion we’d have a lot more money and time to shoot it. So that was a challenge, but you know I took it almost like a film school exercise, like “Okay, so you only have this much money, what are you gonna do?” So it really helps with your problem solving. Sometimes, with the bigger budget movies that I’ve worked on, you can rely on the special effects to carry the day. Sometimes those movies have literally thousands of visual effects and they can really wow the audience. Where for us, we’re talking maybe a hundred effects, and you have to really pick and choose your moments. So what had to carry the day was the acting, the emotional line of Tahmoh’s character, of him trying to protect his daughter and take care of his daughter no matter what the cost. Or “What is too much of a cost?” is sort of the decision process he’s going through with that. And that had to carry the day, and hopefully it did, the acting was good. And that was the choice, and it was fun, and that was one of the biggest challenges. My tendency is to go big, from my days working with Roland Emmerich. I was like, “Let’s go big!” but, oh, we can’t. So everyday you kind of have to figure out what to do. I found it challenging but fun.

painkillers guts leslie-ann brandt guts masters julia voth
RJ Entertainment

PM: The small moments, especially with him and his daughter, were my favorites. I really like father-daughter things.

PW: Yeah, for me anytime you can get an emotional moment – I mean, even like Independence Day, which I was a producer on, the moments people remember – I mean I guess people do remember the White House blowing up, because there were lots of destruction movies going on back then – but otherwise most people remember the speech the president did.

PM: Oh, yeah.

PW: You know, because it really stirred your emotions, and I mean that’s what I’m looking for in a movie. I love big visual effects movies and all that, but we all wanna have our heart pulled a little bit as well, in fact primarily, and then have everything else as a bonus. That’s what we went for and I’m glad you like that, because for me the father-daughter story, that’s what the movie’s really about.

PM: I totally agree with you, you want the emotion.

PW: Absolutely.

 PM: My last question is, what kind of emotion are you hoping the audience has about this film? What kind of reaction do you want?

PW: I mean, you’re always looking for that universal emotion. While his story’s a very specific one, where he feels a lot of… you know for me, I’m in the entertainment business, so we’re on the road a lot, because you rarely shoot in the city you live in, you’re like a circus performer, so I have a lot of friends who are like that. Parents who are missing moments with their kids, and all that kind of stuff, and that’s a little bit of metaphor of what Tahmoh’s going through with his character. A soldier who’s always out there and missing these moments and trying to find that balance between the professional life you want and being there for your loved ones. I think it’s a universal thing and it’s a struggle our lead character’s going through, in a different kind of world. But that’s the core of it. The core of it is trying to find the balance of your life that we’re all trying to strive for. So hopefully people will get that.

PM: I think they will. Thank you for speaking with me. I know you do a lot of producing, but I hope I’ll be seeing more directing from you if you choose to do so.

PW: You will be. In the next year – I have a couple of things I’m producing right now – but by the end of next year, early the next, you’ll see another film from me for sure.

Painkillers is available now on DVD and Digital Video.


About Jessica Gibson

Jessica Gibson
Jessica is a Midwestern girl living in the outskirts of Seoul. In between teaching classes and meeting friends, she likes movies, traveling, and fighting her cat for the warm spot in front of the space heater.

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