“Black Site” director Sophia Banks is hoping her new $10 million action thriller “Black Site” is the little movie that could.
“We’re not trying to be an $80 million action movie but we want to make this genre accessible for people,” Banks tells me. “It OK to shoot an indie action movie. As long as you take people on a good ride, then that’s all we want. We just want people to have fun and go on a journey.”
In “Black Site,” Michelle Monaghan stars as Abby Trent, a CIA agent based at a top-secret black site who must hunt one of their most notorious detainees (Jason Clarke) after he escapes from his cell and goes on a killing spree.
I recently caught up with Banks and Monaghan over Zoom.
How did it all come about?
Banks: I did a couple of shorts. One premiered at Tribeca called “Proxy” that got sold to Anonymous Content. CAA brought me “Black Site” written by Jinder Mahal. I looked at it and I was like, “This could be really cool, but almost impossible to do because it really should be like $30 million.” Then I spoke to my one of my mentors, Phil Noyce, who introduced me to Jason Clarke and then I spoke to the amazing Michelle because I wanted someone who was kick-ass. We shot during COVID in Australia during quarantine. We had five days to rehearse and we were like, “Let’s show them what two women can do in this space.”
Monaghan: Throughout my career, I’ve kind of dabbled in all the different genres, like comedy, action and drama. But I’ve never played the female protagonist, the female lead, in an action film. I was excited to work with Sophia when I watched “Proxy.” We knew it was going to be a challenge and it was going to be really quick. Twenty-six days for any film is a challenge, but for a small budget like ours, there were a lot of alarms.
It’s an action movie and a thriller, but it also feels like a horror movie because Jason’s character is like a serial killer on the loose.
Banks: We realized that he was going to have to kill like an animal when audiences first see him, or no one’s going to be afraid of him. So that was on purpose because we had to essentially make a man a monster and he has to kill like he enjoys it. Jason, being the incredible actor that he is, was able to embody that. We just sort of put him in the shadows and didn’t let him talk a lot and made sure everything he did was vicious.
How much fake blood did you use?
Banks: I don’t like a lot of blood, but it was necessary. It wasn’t to be theatrical. We had to do it for the story, or otherwise you may not have been frightened of Jason. But yes, there was a lot of it
Michelle, looking back at your career, were there times you could not have imagined having a woman director on an action movie?
Monaghan: I’ve been doing this for 20 years and if I’m really candid, I can’t even believe I’m still working. I’m so grateful, honestly, to have this job. But over the years, the opportunity to work with women in any genre has been so limited. I really had to seek those opportunities out and really find those filmmakers. And, frankly, some of the experiences I’m most proud of have been my collaborations with female filmmakers.
Is this the start of a franchise?
Banks: It’s interesting as a female breaking into this space, because it’s quite tough. If I’m honest, it’s set up for Abby to go on and on. And we would love to work together again and be able to show people what we could do with a larger budget.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
“Black Site” is available in select theaters, on demand and in Redbox kiosks.