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In Features, Issues

GROUND CONTROL
Patrick Stettner's architectural thriller, The Business of Strangers

Patrick Stettner, center, on the set of The Business of Strangers. Photo by JoJo Whilden.

Like a lot of first-time writer/directors, Patrick Stettner wrote a script that, he thought, "would be very easy to do — it’s mostly two characters and one hotel." Why then, does producer Susan Stover, in discussing the production, talk about "the months of scouting and a location budget much larger than your average $2-million film?"

Says Stettner, "In pre-production, as we got specific about the other aspects of the movie, we got specific about locations." And, as Stover notes, that meant finding the perfect sports bar, the perfect swimming pool, the perfect atrium lobby — a search that had them splitting the single businessman’s hotel location five ways.

The Business of Strangers, Stettner’s feature debut, stars Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles in a disturbing tale of feminist revenge — Persona meets Straw Dogs. For its depiction of two women who bond violently while drifting through the male-dominated world of modern business, Stettner wanted to place his characters in locations frightening in their cheerful neutrality. "I was interested in these buildings’s use of glass and neutral colors, which are demographically tested to be pleasing. And it was hard when designing the film, because you don’t want the walls to be ugly. It was my aesthetic dilemma. How could I be aesthetically pure to my idea, to this idea of the mundane, and still have the characters pop from the backgrounds on film?"

Stettner wound up splitting the difference, accenting his found locations with key props and dressings. And by shoot’s end, after Stettner had switched from wide-angle lenses to long lenses – "obliterating the spaces and just focusing on the actresses’s faces" – the production had moved onto a soundstage so Stettner, d.p. Teo Maniaci, and production designer Dina Goldman could exert total control over their surroundings.–Scott Macaulay

The Business of Strangers premiered in the Sundance 2001 Film Festival. For articles on other Sundance 2001 films, see the Winter 2001 issue and our Additional Online Coverage.

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