DEVIL'S PEAK movie poster | ©2023 Screen Media Films

DEVIL’S PEAK movie poster | ©2023 Screen Media Films

DEVIL’S PEAK, based on David Joy’s novel WHERE ALL LIGHT TENDS TO GO, is now available on demand on Prime Video and other VOD services. The film, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Robin Wright, is a coming-of-age crime drama, set in the mountains of North Carolina.

Griff Furst is one of DEVIL’S PEAK’s producers, and a prime mover of the project. He is also a prolific director and actor.

Speaking by phone, Furst talks about how DEVIL’S PEAK came together, and his career overall.

ASSIGNMENT X: Are you in DEVIL’S PEAK as an actor?

GRIFF FURST: I am, but it’s a cameo. It’s mainly my baby that I produced. The directors like to throw me in sometimes, because they know I’m an actor. But yes, I’m the producer of the picture.

AX: How did you come to be involved with DEVIL’S PEAK?

FURST: It came from a good friend of mine, Josh Kesselman, who’s also my literary manager. He said, “Hey, I have this incredible piece, do you want to take a look at it?” He sent me the script. I read the script [before the novel]. And it was great. So, we spent about four years putting the pieces together, read the novel several times, attached a great director and a great cast, and that’s how that one came about. Which is different than how I usually work, but that one was kind of handed to me on – well, not on a silver platter, it was like on a ceramic platter, and then we had to make it into silver.

AX: How do you usually get involved in a film project?

FURST: Well, I usually am involved with the development process. I read a ton, so it’s usually a novel that’s recommended to me, that I find and get the rights for it, and I build it from the ground up. In this instance, Josh Kesselman is the one who came to the material. He had already optioned it and asked if I wanted to get involved with it.

AX: So, he’s also one of the producers?

FURST: Yes. Myself, the [screenwriter] Robert Knott, and Robin Wright are producers on the picture.

AX: What drew you to it, and what made you feel that this was something that could be adapted, versus something you read, where you go, “Well, that’s great, but I don’t know how you turn this into a movie,” or, “I don’t know how you turn this into a movie without James Cameron’s budget”?

FURST: Well, it didn’t call for a James Cameron budget. It was a real low, country drama. So, we immediately knew that we could do it for the price that we would have. It’s also a very visual story. The novel is so descriptive. The production designer [Lauren Crasco] read the book and it gave her a lot to draw from. And it’s a coming-of-age story, a very dark coming-of-age story at that. I love coming-of-age stories, and I’m always game for a coming-of-age story with great characters and great scenes.

And the [screenwriter] Robert Knott, his previous feature is APPALOOSA, starring Ed Harris, and it’s a great modern-day Western, very poetic. Poetic hillbilly is kind of his brand, so he was the perfect guy for the script. All those things combined made me really want to do this picture. I dedicated a large portion of the last three years to making it happen.

DEVIL'S PEAK movie poster | ©2023 Screen Media Films

DEVIL’S PEAK movie poster | ©2023 Screen Media Films

AX: How did you bring the cast together for DEVIL’S PEAK?

FURST: The same way that we always do when it’s successful. You always have a script, and sometimes the obvious choice for the leading character is not clear, and so you make some offers to some actors. It’s hard to get somebody like that. In this case, and any time I’ve really had success with it, it’s very strategic. Billy Bob and Robin couldn’t be more perfect for the roles. Billy Bob is doing exactly what you want to see Billy Bob do. So, once we started making offers, we went straight to Billy Bob and to Robin, and were very passionate that they were right for the picture, and luckily, their agents felt it was right for them, and they helped us close the deal.

AX: How did you find the young actor who plays your coming-of-age lead character?

FURST: Hopper Penn, who is Robin’s son [with her ex-husband] Sean Penn, is also repped by Josh Kesselman. So, when this script was in its baby stages, we were already thinking of him, because Josh, like a good manager, has been looking for something for Hopper to break out in, and again, it was a perfect role for him.

He was in the family fold, and then we tailored the role even more for him, and for Robin. The role that Robin plays isn’t so large in the book – we actually beefed it up in the screenplay before we offered it to Robin, and we tailored that role for her as well.

AX: Do they play mother and son?

FURST: They do. Billy Bob plays the father. They’re separated, but Billy Bob and Robin play ex-lovers.

AX: Where did you shoot DEVIL’S PEAK?

FURST: North of Atlanta, Georgia, in a place called Cartersville.

AX: Georgia has a reputation as a great place to shoot, because there’s so much production, there are a lot of crew people there …

FURST: It’s true. There are pros and cons to that, because there are a lot of Marvel movies going on, and a lot of huge productions that a smaller production has a hard time competing with. So, there is a huge crew base, but a lot of the great crew gets sucked up by these gigantic shows that shoot for a year. But it’s certainly better than trying to shoot somewhere without a crew base. We did have a fine and a solid crew, but it’s always hard to pull it together when you have a lot of competition. Some insane amount of production is happening. Something like eighty TV shows and movies were shooting while we were shooting. It was nuts.

AX: Your IMDB page shows a trailer for DEAD WATER, which is a modern-day pirate movie. Were you also a producer on that, or was that strictly acting?

FURST: That was strictly acting, which was great. I love strictly acting, because I don’t have any of the normal stresses of a producer. You can just exercise, and hang out with the cast, and get off work early. That was a straight acting gig in the Virgin Islands. It wasn’t a bad gig, either.

AX: You’ve also directed a number of films. Why did you not direct DEVIL’S PEAK?

FURST: I do direct, and I love directing. But as strenuous as producing is, I feel that directing is even more strenuous. I like to mix it up. I always want to do the thing that I’m not doing, which I think is part of the human flaw and condition. When I’m acting, I love it, but sometimes I hunger for more control, which means directing. And then, when I’m directing, it’s a lot of pressure, and so then I want to produce. And then when I’m producing, I want to direct. So, there are certain projects that I decide I’m either producing or directing, sometimes writing, sometimes editing, but really, I love collaborating with amazing creatives. So, if I can get really cool people, like [DEVIL’S PEAK director] Ben Young – I was a big fan of his previous movie, HOUNDS OF LOVE, which was an Australian picture. If I could set something up where I’m collaborating with tremendous artists that I respect, then that’s good motivation to produce.

AX: What are the different satisfactions of acting, directing, and producing for you?

FURST: They’re all so closely related for me. If I’m examining something as an actor or a director, I treat the process similarly. I think acting is the most satisfying, because there’s so much that goes into it. Physically, you have to be in a certain shape as you build the character, and then you get to see it come to life through the projector.

Directing – whenever I wrap, my a.d. likes to take pictures of me. Because whenever I wrap, it’s like an athlete playing in a professional game. You give it everything. So, whenever we wrap on the last day, you can usually find me laying down somewhere on the grass for a couple hours, just letting my body recover. So, that’s always satisfying, just to get the picture in the can, because it’s such a long journey to do it.

And then producing, that’s more like a marathon [laughs]. It’s never over. Even when it’s delivered, even when it’s in theatres, or available for streaming, you’re still dealing with so much for years and years after the picture is actually complete. So, “accomplished” is probably a better word than “satisfying.” Because it’s hard to find satisfaction as a producer, because you never have a minute, even after the movie is complete, to fully enjoy the achievement. It’s still a great, accomplished feeling, I would say, to get it done and through its different stages, but it’s never over [laughs]. I’m still dealing with movies that we finished ten years ago.

AX: You produced the first horror entry in the BRING IT ON franchise last year, BRING IT ON: CHEER OR DIE …

FURST: I produced that picture, rewrote the script, worked very closely with the director [Karen Lam]. I was the only producer on that picture. On DEVIL’S PEAK, I had three producing partners, with varying skill sets, so we split the duties. On BRING IT ON, I was the only producer. So, I’d get into directing second unit, and I’m tied to the hip with the director, because I’m the only person that she has to lean on.

AX: DEVIL’S PEAK, despite the title, is not horror …

FURST: There are definitely some thriller aspects to it, but there is no horror to be had. It’s a really tense drama.

AX: However, you do a lot of horror material. Is that a preferred genre for you?

FURST: I do love horror. I’ve been a huge horror fan ever since I was a kid. I had dual VHS tapes, and I’d ride my bike to the video store every day, get any horror I didn’t have, dub the tape, and watch it a hundred times. I’m a huge fan of horror.

AX: You worked with low-budget horror studio The Asylum for a while …

FURST: At the beginning of my career, I did. They found me when I was fresh out of high school, and they held me tight for about six or seven years, and I probably made a hundred movies for them in that time [laughs].

I have a lot of love for those guys, because they gave me some of my first opportunities to direct. And then, in 2005, I had made their biggest-budget movie to date, which was a whopping $500,000. It was called PREHISTORIC when we made it, and they released it as 100 MILLION BC, in true Asylum fashion.

When I was editing it, like two o’clock in the morning, and David Rimawi, who’s one of the owners, he’s sitting there with me, watching, he really liked the movie, and he’s like, “I don’t think you should work for us anymore.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” I was having fun, I was in my mid-twenties and directing and producing. He was like, “I think you can do better stuff, I don’t think you should work for me anymore.” So, I didn’t, and it was the right call, and I’m very thankful. Because I love doing that kind of work. I would have done it forever.

AX: Your next few acting projects are IT’S TIME, CLOSURE, DEEP STAGE, and UPPERCUT …

FURST: That’s correct. Three of those have already been shot, and we’re waiting on release. CLOSURE is a really cool picture. It’s similar to GONE GIRL, and I’m one of the leads with a couple of really great actresses, and it’s meant to shoot this summer in England, so I’m excited about that one, to get back in front of the camera.

AX: What else have you got coming up?

FURST: 57 SECONDS is being released September 24 of this year. I’m really proud of that one. It’s a science fiction movie starring Josh Hutcherson and Morgan Freeman. It’s about a man, Josh Hutcherson, who finds a ring that allows him to reset time fifty-seven seconds. And he quickly finds his way into the affluent part of society, but then it even more quickly leads to his downward spiral. So, it’s a character study/science fiction/action thriller. I produced it, I worked on the screenplay, and I also have a really significant role. I play a madman. It was a lot of fun.

There is another project coming out, but not until 2024, which is HALF BAKED. I’m really excited about that one. I am the producer. It’s probably my favorite cast I’ve ever had. It’s a sequel to the Dave Chappelle comedy from 1998, and I’m very proud of that movie. I love comedies. I never get to do comedy, until now, and so, HALF BAKED I think is something that everybody’s going to love, if you appreciate a good stoner comedy.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about DEVIL’S PEAK?

FURST: What would I most like people to know about DEVIL’S PEAK? I’m more interested in what people think about DEVIL’S PEAK when they see it. I don’t think there’s anything to know, except if you’re a big fan of Billy, which I am, not only is Billy the star of the picture, he’s also an Oscar-winning writer, and he did a lot of work, particularly on his character. So, you get some of that Billy Bob genius in the writing and in front of the camera, seeing him do what he does best, which is playing a very intimidating and dangerous Southern man. If you like seeing Billy return to more of a SLING BLADE thing, then it’s definitely the movie for you.

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Article: Exclusive Interview:  DEVIL’S PEAK Producer Griff Furst on new crime drama starring Billy Bob Thornton

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