Movies & TV / Columns

Roxy Shih Talks About Her New Movie Painkillers

February 28, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The 411 Interview: Roxy Shih


Roxy Shih is an award winning writer, producer, and director who has been making movies, both short length and feature length, since at least 2010 (according to imdb). Shih’s latest feature length project is the thriller Painkillers, which is now available on various Video On Demand platforms, including iTunes and Amazon. Shih recently talked with this writer about making Painkillers, the difference between making short films and feature length films, and more.



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

Roxy Shih: I got involved when Luke Barnett and Vince Masciale from Lone Suspect approached me early 2017 with the project. He heard of me from director Tony Valenzuela of BlackboxTV, whom I met while touring with my directorial feature The Tribe back in late 2016. I pitched my version of the film to Lone Suspect and Giles Daoust (producer/writer from Title Media) and they ended up
selecting me for the project!

What initially appealed to me about the project was that it was a genre film whose main focus was on coping with grief. When you get the opportunity to work with a grounded script, it just opens up the possibilities for your approach. It is easy to fall into a stereotype or certain tropes of a genre, so when the producers hand over the story for you to explore in a refreshing way, I think any director would jump on that.

BK: How did you cast Painkillers? How did Mischa Barton get involved?

RS: It was a very collaborative process with my producers; we basically came up with a list of who we wanted to approach and what the ensemble would look like. We first casted Madeline Zima, then Grant Bowler, Adam Huss, then finally Debra Wilson. Filmmaking is so beautiful because you get to collaborate with the actors to help unveil the initial layers, and then continue to discover more about these characters from the start of principal photography to wrap.

As for Mischa Barton, we didn’t cast her until we started principal photography. We were so excited she was interested and was able to come on to be a part of our project so last minute! She flew in from New York for a day and we shot her scene in four hours.

BK: Where was Painkillers filmed?

RS: Painkillers was entirely shot in Los Angeles (bring work back to California)! Various locations in the Valley (Remmet Studios), North Hollywood, Downtown LA, and Griffith Park.


BK: How long did it take to make Painkillers, from finalizing the script to completing post-production?

RS: I was announced officially around April 2017, we went into principal photography that August, and we finished the film around March of 2018.

BK: What was the hardest part of making Painkillers? The easiest?

RS: Well, the hardest part was that we had to shoot everything in 15 days. I didn’t get a lot of prep time with my actors but when you’re working on a low budget scale you need to know what your obstacles are especially with time and preparation. The best part is that I had an incredible team; from my producers to my cast and crew; everyone was incredible diligent, hard-working, and went above and beyond what was expected of them. It is a real privilege to experience the spirit of indie filmmaking. It truly is one of a kind.

BK: How did you come up with the tone for Painkillers? Was the sort of realistic portrayal of a supernatural occurrence always in the script or was that something you wanted to do after reading the script? It’s a fascinating way to do a “vampire” movie.

RS: Thanks so much for the kind words! A lot was already established when I got the script. The producers wanted something in the vein of Nightcrawler, Donnie Darko, and Memento, which are all incredible dramatic thriller films that I’m a fan of. We used that as a sounding board then when we moved into pre-production the film naturally took form with the help of my production designer Traci Hays and cinematographer Felipe vara de Rey. We all wanted to do something that was different and pushes the boundaries on how we look at genre films. Tone-wise, the film itself is not focused on the vampire element, it is a film about coping with grief and the paranormal elements are just tools we used on the side to elevate the world of the film. It’s important to be aligned with the vision of the producers and the rest of the team so you all know what kind of movie you are making from the start.


BK: Do you consider Painkillers more of a drama with fantastic elements or is it more of a thriller? Is it right to call it a kind of horror movie?

RS: To me, it’s more of a drama than a thriller. It’s centered on our protagonist who is battling his morality in the aftermath of a terrible loss. How the film took on a thriller structure came quite naturally when we started shooting it; we utilized John’s paranoia and desperation to up the stakes. To be honest, I’ve never seen Painkillers as a horror movie, the only way it’s associated with the genre would be from the vampire lore.

BK: You’ve directed a number of short films in your movie making career. In general, how different is it making a short film as opposed to a feature like Painkillers? How is it the same?

RS: Honestly the only difference is that on a feature you have a longer schedule and there are more voices involved. The short films I made in the past were primarily for me as artistic outlets, but features are a business with real investments and stakes. Both have their own sets of obstacles but I personally prefer working on features; it’s a lot like camp and you get to spend more time with the crew and the characters. Shorts are, well, short (haha), so in the blink of an eye, it’s over! I like having things planned out with a finish date so on features there is a real set schedule on when the film needs to be delivered, and sometimes with shorts it can drag depending on your variables of money and time.

BK: What was the blood made out of in Painkillers? Was it as disgusting on set as it appears on screen?

RS: I think it was made of a mix of red corn syrup and chocolate syrup. It was incredibly sweet and Adam was a champ in gulping it down for some of those intense scenes. I remember Grant got really hyper after drinking it for a scene and that was quite funny. For some of the close ups we used some chunks of bread to give it a “chunkier,” more coagulated look. Some thought it was gross on set, but I’m on the side of Hitchcock where he says, “blood is a bright, JOLLY RED!”

BK: Any moviemaking heroes?

RS: Luca Guadagnino, Alfred Hitchcock, Jane Campion, Park Chan-Wook to name a few.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

RS: I’m currently attached to a couple of projects and have a few that I’m developing. I’m really hoping for one particular project of mine to get the greenlight; it’s a Taiwanese ghost story that has cross-cultural elements to it. It’s very personal film and a labor of love.

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

RS: I hope that they take away that at the end of the day, you always have a choice. Regardless of your past choices, regardless of your circumstances, you have the willpower to make the change in the present.

BK: Have you ever played the “turn the headlights off briefly while driving at night” game?

RS: Oh my goodness no! Haha, I’m a big scaredy-cat, I make these genre films because I’m too scared to do these things in real life. I get my thrill by making my characters do it 😉 Now that I think about it, maybe I should put a line after the credits that say “please do not try this at home.” Don’t want a lawsuit!



A very special thanks to Roxy Shih for agreeing to participate in this interview and to Justin Cook for setting it up.

Watch Painkillers here

Check out the Painkillers Facebook page here.

Check out my review of Painkillers here.

Check out Roxy Shih’s official website here.

Images courtesy of Roxy Shih, Lone Suspect, Title Media, and Vision Films.