Movies & TV / Columns

David Tarleton Talks With 411 About His New Movie Hunter

February 9, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Hunter Jason Kellerman

The 411 Interview: David Tarleton


David Tarleton is a writer, director, and producer who has been involved in the entertainment business, according to, since the mid-1990’s. He’s worked on TV shows like Dark Secrets and short films like Excluded, Viral, and Pressure. Tarleton is also an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago, where he is also the Director of Graduate Programs in Cinema and Television Arts. Tarleton’s first feature length effort as a director is the upcoming action horror flick Hunter, which is set to hit Video On Demand on February 12th, 2019. In this interview, Tarleton talks with this writer about making Hunter, working with Hunter stars Jason Kellerman and Nick Searcy, and more.



Bryan Kristopowitz: How did you get involved with directing Hunter? Why did you want Hunter to be your first feature film as a director?

David Tarleton: My wife, Adria Dawn and I have a production company together, Tarleton/Dawn Productions, and she was actually originally approached by our mutual friend, Patrick Holland. Patrick said that he knew Jason Kellerman, a very talented actor who had written a great screenplay, and asked if we’d take a look at it. Both Adria and I met with Jason individually, and gave him feedback on his script, which turned out to be Hunter. I was really impressed by the script and the ideas in it from the beginning, and after meeting with both Jason and his producing partner, Morgan Eiland, they asked me if I would be interested in directing. They knew my work from both the short films I’d made, and I was also producing and directing the cable series Dark Secrets at the time.

I was excited to have Hunter as the first feature I’d directed. I’ve been directing and producing all kinds of work – short films, television series, documentaries, web series, but I hadn’t directed a feature yet. This felt like the right project for me – it was a thriller with supernatural elements, but grounded in a kind of gritty realism that appealed to me, and felt like a natural extension of the work I’d been doing. It was right up my alley.

BK: How was making Hunter different than the various short films you’ve made over the years? How was it the same?

DT: As a director, I’ve made both stand-alone short films but also series, both for cable television and for the web. In many ways, the process of making a feature was very similar. I’m a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago, and we were able to work with a lot of recent film alums, as well as a few current students. I’m always excited to work with a younger crew because of their enthusiasm and dedication. We shot during the Polar Vortex, so it was extraordinarily cold, but it helped us create a unique look for the film.

One of the things that was different, for me, was that the post-production period was particularly long. Hunter was a very complex film to make, and it just took a long time, and getting the right people involved to make it into the extraordinary experience that it is. Getting all the pieces to work together for a longer project is definitely more complicated than it would be for a shorter project.

BK: Where was Hunter made?

DT: Hunter was shot entirely in Chicago and the surrounding areas. The gym where we shot the MMA fights is in Evanston, just north of Chicago, and we shot a little bit in the suburbs, but we filmed primarily in the West Loop and the South Loop of Downtown Chicago. In the freezing cold.


BK: How long did it take to make Hunter, from starting pre-production to finishing post-production? Did the story change at all during that time period, or was the story pretty much the same throughout?

DT: It took around 4 years from pre-production until we finished all of post-production. We shot 3-day weekends from January through March, and then for a 9 or 10 day period in March, when I was on Spring Break. We had a 3-day pickup shoot that November, and then Jason and I shot some miscellaneous material together as late as that next February or March. It took about 2 ½ years to cut the picture, about 1 ½ years to do all of the sound post-production, design, music scoring and mixing, and about 9 months to do the color correction and visual effects.

The story definitely evolved over the editing process. The very first assembly of the film was about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and we ended up with a tight 90 minutes for the final film. We always intended the film to be around an hour and a half. Some of that is just pacing and tightening, but there was also several experiments with what the right structure was. We ended up moving some elements around that ended up returning to a very similar place where they were originally designed to be, while other elements ended up in quite different places, and other elements were eliminated. One of the biggest things that I’d say we did during the editing process was about getting each scene down to its core ideas, often simplifying ideas down to their spine. It was a very exciting process, but it took a long time.

BK: What was your working relationship like with writer and star Jason Kellerman?

DT: Jason and I work together really well. I feel like we had very compatible visions for what this project should be. There were things we disagreed about from time to time, but I feel like every time we were able to dig into what problem we were trying to solve, and come up with an idea that was even better than what either of us had come up with. We both wore so many hats, and in different combinations – Jason was sometimes giving me producer notes about Jason the actor in a cut, for example – but I feel like we were able to always make it work. He’s such a pleasure to work with as a collaborator. I feel like our perspectives are very complimentary.


BK: How did you create the look of Hunter?

DT: It was always important to me that Hunter have a very distinctive look, that it not look quite like anything else out there. I tried to accomplish that in a number of ways. The practical production design and costume design was done in a very muted, desaturated palette. When we were scouting locations, I was always looking for spaces where I could play with textures. We also set the film underneath Chicago. We are always looking up at the buildings. Hunter is physically beneath the L tracks or in the underground tunnels on Lower Wacker Drive, that catacomb beneath downtown Chicago. Chicago itself is like a character in the film, and I was always trying to find ways that the film explored the city visually in ways that we haven’t quite seen before. I am also almost constantly moving the camera, handheld, dollies, Steadicam, cranes, shooting out of cars, which creates a kind of frenetic world view that echoes Hunter’s experience of the world.

On top of all of that work on set, a big influence on the look of the film was the work that I did with Bob Sliga, our brilliant colorist. I worked with Bob for around nine months creating the final look of the film in color grading. This was the most extensive color grade I’ve ever supervised for a film, and we really explored just how far we could go with color and shadow. It was really exciting what we were able to accomplish, in terms of the final look.

BK: How difficult was it to find the right balance between the world building/establishing the Hunter character’s background and situation and the horror action?

DT: One of the challenges that we had is that the film always wanted to explore things maybe a little more deeply than a run-of-the-mill thriller would do. We were really interested in Hunter’s psychology as someone who had been deeply wounded by what he had gone through. We were excited to externalize Hunter’s internal psychological challenges as someone suffering PTSD, and to explore his condition and journey. We wanted to create mystery around what had happened in Hunter’s past, why was he the way he is now? What had happened?

At the same time, we felt that we wanted audiences to be thrilled by this thriller. We have action scenes – both MMA cage fights, as well as fight scenes on the snowy streets of wintery Chicago or in dusty, ancient warehouses. There are chase scenes, where Hunter is being pursued by the police, or pursuing others. There are moments of terror, when Hunter, or other characters’ lives are threatened.
We had to fight to find the right balance throughout, so that we could explore the deeper drama elements, while keeping the intensity high and the excitement ongoing. Hopefully, we succeeded.

BK: What was it like working with Nick Searcy?

DT: I loved working with Nick Searcy. He was such a professional. He came to set ready to go, having already worked on his dialect with coaches, and brought a breath of ideas for his character. He came up with the idea of his character sniffing his victims, for example, which just made his villain even creepier and more distinctive. Having worked with him, I now appreciate professional wrestling even more than before. I think he really brought an incredible commitment and dedication to his performance that audiences will really love.

BK: Is this the first in a potential series of Hunter movies/stories, or is this a one and done kind of thing?

DT: I would love to see more Hunter stories! Our feeling, even from the beginning of talking about the project, was that there’s the potential for ongoing Hunter stories. I hope that this is the start of something even bigger. I’ve talked with Jason about it – I have some ideas, and I know that Jason has worked out a whole longer arc for the character that could potentially be explored across multiple seasons of a series.

BK: Any moviemaking heroes?

DT: There are so many filmmakers that I love and who were so influential on me. In no particular order, I love Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, Terry Gilliam, David Fincher, Luc Besson, Tim Burton, Guillermo del Toro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Hayao Miyazaki, Errol Morris, Jim Henson, and so many others. I’m a fan of movies.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

DT: My wife Adria and I are currently developing a new feature psychological thriller that we hope to be able to shoot in the next year that we are really excited about. It’s about an actress, starring Adria, and it’s very dark.

I’m also finishing up a series of short films that will be coming out later this spring. I executive produce the comedy web series Dorkumentary with my wife, and we’ve got an episode currently in post-production. We’ll be shooting a short film about school shootings in May with middle school and high school age kids.

I try to stay busy.

BK: What do you hope audiences get out of Hunter?

DT: I hope first and foremost that audiences are entertained. Hunter is a thriller, and I hope that audiences are thrilled by the experience. I want them to empathetically go on this journey with Hunter, who is complex, and not a simple one-note hero. He’s deeply flawed, and I hope that audiences go along with him on this journey. I want them to be scared during the frightening bits, excited and sometimes disturbed during the fights. I hope they are moved by the characters’ emotional journeys. Maybe they will even be a little bit changed by the end, looking at the world just a little differently than before.

BK: Do you think it’s possible there are guys like Nick Searcy’s Volakas out there in the real world?

DT: I sure hope not, not in a literal way. But I always approached those characters as a kind of stand-in for a very virulent strand of toxic masculinity. I feel like sometimes the best ways to look at the dark parts of our society are through a fictional lens. In the same way that Aesop’s fables allow us to see the flaws in people by representing human characteristics in animals, so, too, can we use fictional villains and monsters to explore what is monstrous in the human condition. So, while I don’t think there is a literal Volakas out there, there are lots of metaphoric Volakas’ in the world. And, like Hunter, it is important for us all to stand up to them and what they represent.



A very special thanks to David Tarleton for agreeing to participate in this interview and to Liz Rodriguez for setting it up.

Hunter hits Video On Demand starting February 12th, 2019.

Check out my review of Hunter here.

Check out the official Hunter website here.

Check out the official Hunter Facebook page here.

Check out David Tarleton’s official website here.

Check out David Tarleton’s imdb page here.

All images courtesy of David Tarleton and Random Media.