Rebel Ridge | Jeremy Saulnier on the “tumultuous” production on his Netflix thriller about “a militarised police force” (exclusive)

Rebel Ridge director Jeremy Saulnier
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Jeremy Saulnier’s thriller Rebel Ridge was disrupted by the pandemic and the sudden departure of John Boyega. He talks exclusively to us about its “tumultuous” production.

With such taut, superbly-shot thrillers as Blue Ruin and Green Ruin to his name, interest has been high in writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s next film, Rebel Ridge. Bankrolled by Netflix and originally due to begin filming in April 2020, however, its production was beset by problems, including a pandemic-induced delay and the sudden departure of its star, John Boyega.

Speaking exclusively to Film Stories, Jeremy Saulnier – who’s promoting a new home release of his 2015 thriller, Green Room – described the making of Rebel Ridge as “tumultuous.”

“We came back three years in a row to make that movie,” he adds.

After Covid-19 saw Rebel Ridge’s production delayed in 2020, filming commenced in Louisiana the following spring, with Don Johnson, James Badge Dale, James Cromwell and AnnaSophia Robb among its starry cast.

A few weeks into the shoot, however, Boyega had left the production, with “family reasons” cited for the star’s sudden departure. (Rumours circulated that Boyega left because he was unhappy with the script – something his management strenuously denied.)

Saulnier didn’t mention John Boyega by name in our conversation, but he did allude to “an issue that shut us down in year two.”

That shutdown lasted around 11 months as a replacement for Boyega was sought; British actor Aaron Pierre was eventually hired, and filming commenced again on the 25th April 2022. Having previously appeared in TV’s Krypton and Garth Davis’ sci-fi film Foe, Pierre isn’t as big a name as Boyega, but Saulnier has nothing but praise for the actor; “It was a very special opportunity to showcase him in his first, bigger lead role in a live-action movie,” the filmmaker told us.

Saulnier also revealed that the budget on Rebel Ridge is rather higher than the $25m previously reported by such outlets as The Hollywood Reporter.

Said Saulnier, “Whatever happened to us along the way, it allowed us to cast a young man, Aaron Pierre, who’s on the rise, who would not normally be allowed to helm a – I think the budget’s $40m, $37m, whatever it is – [film].”

This isn’t a vast budget by Hollywood standards, but it’s by far the biggest project Jeremy Saulnier has made to date – his previous film, also for Netflix, was the atmospheric thriller Hold The Dark, which he once said was made for “under $15 million”.

Details of what Rebel Ridge is about have been kept under wraps over the past three years. An official synopsis simply reads, “Rebel Ridge explores systemic American injustices through bone-breaking action sequences, suspense and dark humor.”

Saulnier was keen not to divulge too much more than that, but when asked whether it shared a similar sense of isolation to his previous films, he told us that Rebel Ridge is “the opposite.”

“The latest movie [Rebel Ridge] is the opposite – it’s actually hurling someone headlong into… it’s still a small town, but it is bureaucracy, it is the justice system, it is a militarised police force. All these things that go down. But it’s a lot of interactivity and talking and fighting. And it’s much more thrust into the mix. So maybe I had my fill of [isolation] and I wanted to go a different direction.”

Filming wrapped on Rebel Ridge in July 2022, with Saulnier announcing the milestone on Twitter/X; “Third time was indeed the charm,” he wrote at the time.

Since then, the film has reportedly been test screened to positive reactions, and Saulnier says that it’ll be getting a sound mix “in a couple of weeks.”

And, despite the tumultuous production – which saw him “slamming right into the Hollywood I’ve tried to avoid” – Saulnier says he’s excited about the resulting movie.

“I think I’ve had enough time with it,” Saulnier said. “It had a tumultuous birthing process, but because of that, it’s my first movie where I’m fully at peace with it at the release point – whatever that might be, we have not found the release date yet.

“I didn’t fully appreciate Green Room for what it was until years after I made it… With Rebel Ridge, I’m like, ‘No, it’s not a perfect film, but man, it’s the best it can be’… For me to call my agent say, ‘Hey, guess what? Like, this film isn’t at all a piece of shit’ is a big step forward. So I’m very excited to share it.”

Green Room Limited Edition is released on 18th March from Second Sight Films. We’ll bring you our full interview with Jeremy Saulnier next week.

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