Sean McNamara Talks ‘Vindicta,’ Elena Kampouris Collaboration, And Filmmaking Insights

"Vindicta" hits theaters and On Demand October 6 via Paramount Movies.

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Sean McNamara is one of cinema’s hardest working filmmakers. A steady output of movies has led to various explorations in different genres. I thoroughly enjoyed the twisty Dangerous Game: The Legacy Murders and now he returns to the thriller-horror universe with Vindicta. McNamara talked to Find Your Films about his directing process, working with lead actress Elena Kampouris, and why, at times, he feels like a kid in a candy store!

Vindicta centers on a paramedic named Lou (Elena Kampouris) whose life is threatened by a sadistic serial killer. The murderer has an obsession over Lou, and she must figure out how to make sure she survivees the night. The ensemble includes Jeremy Piven (Lou’s dad) and Sean Astin (Lou’s boss). Playing in theaters and available on Digital October 6, Vindicta is another well crafted and entertaining film from director Sean McNamara.

Vindicta is another horror-thriller effort from you, following Dangerous Game: The Legacy Murders. What was the main draw for directing this movie? Was it the blend of genres?

Sean McNamara: Well definitely. I’m just dabbling right now in the horror genre. The script came to me, and coming up with a bad guy that was original. That was the key for me.

I got the chance to go with my family to Italy and (we saw) Michelangelo’s David. I was looking at his face (and thought) that would be amazing. I like all the Freddy movies and all the movies where there is a white mask that always scares you when you see it. I thought this could be a franchise if we could make David be a scary character as opposte to one that’s a lovable character. So that was really fun to figure out how to do that.

***Eric Holmes and I review Vindicta on the latest episode of CinemAddicts:

Elena Kampouris has the makings of a star. Can you talk about working with her on Vindicta?

Sean McNamara: You’re absolutely right and you discovered her early. I had lunch with her the year before, I was doing another horror movie. She sat across the table from me and just that presence she has – I told the producer “She’s going to win the Academy Award one day.” You just have the ability to know with certain people.

And she’s just entertaining. She’s just fun. She can be bigger than life but she can also get really small. She’s in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 which just came out. She’s just super talented. She’s a star and you saw her early because we are going to see a lot of things from her.

Elena Kampouris in Vindicta (Paramount Movies)

Can you talk about incorporating some of the Mandarin dialogue in the movie as well and speak to her physicality in the picture?

Sean McNamara: First of all, when I met her and she was going to do the part, she let me know that she spoke Mandarin. And she showed me this video of her learning these fight (moves) and I said, “Let’s put that in the movie.” We rewrote that in the movie – we did not have that in the original draft.

How often do you get an actress who can do that and she completely blew me away. What’s funny is she is in Italy right now doing another movie and she had to learn the piano. She sent me a video the other day of this massive five minute piece and I don’t think she played the piano before that. Maybe she played a little bit of it. But she learned it so she could film it live. So she’s that kind of an actress where she can do it and she wants to put it out there to the public with the movies she does.

Elena Kampouris and Sean Astin in “Vindicta” (Paramount Movies)

What were the challenges in making Vindicta? There were a ton of interesting visual set-ups with this movie.

So, I always try to approach movies with (the question), “what haven’t we seen in movies before?” I go to the writer and Ian’s a great writer. I’m going, “what can we put in this movie that has never been before?” So when we got into it, and we got into the whole Greek mythology. I also, on that trip, went to Malta and I saw a prison where they had these torture devices. One of these devices is where they had the head crusher or the thing that goes in the mouth.

I hadn’t seen these things in a movie before, let’s see if we can figure out who to put this in. I remember walking through the museum in Malta going “this is so gross and scary, let’s film it.” We brought these things into the script and Ian (Neligh) was great. He was game to putting in anything we wanted in the movie.

You direct movies at a pretty impressive clip and you also have several movies at several stages of development. How are you able to manage your stress level and juggle so many things?

I probably do two to three movies a year or a television episode. But it takes trying to get going – about ten (projects). What you see is the percentage that actually gets made. I just love what I do and there is no time clock on it. I work on weekends and I work on holidays.

Now I have the advantage of I can take days off in the week if something else comes in. But when you love it, it comes naturally. I also try to work with people who love what they do.

Is it stressful? Yeah because the clock is running but there is a rhythm to it. Pre-production you are figuring out who to put in it (and) finding locations. Shooting is really hard. Those are 12 hour days when you’re just going at it. Then there’s post, where in the editing suite I make sure there’s a couch where I can be editing and I can take naps while the editor is putting certain things together. So there’s a rhythm to it that makes it work.

When you work with great people, it’s easy. You just encourage their craft. I can’t do what any of my crew does. They’re experts at it. All I say is “I was thinking of this” and they come up with a way on how to do it. When you have a crew, that’s how it de-stresses you and makes it work.

Jeremy Piven in “Vindicta” (Paramount Movies)

Is being egoless a part of being a successful filmmaker, especially since you have to collaborate with so many people?

Well, you bring up a good point. I always love when I hear about directors who bring “the vision and everything is about the vision.” My process is different.

When I read a screenplay or when I read an article on Wired magazine or something, I have an idea that this would make a good movie. And either I write it or we get somebody to write it and that becomes the thing that we follow.

I have an idea of what it should be or where we will shoot it. But when I bring in the production designer which is the first layer, they come up with great ideas. I did a film where we shot it in Versailles. I thought we should go over there and take some photographs and (the Versailles representatives) said “You can actually shoot here.”

The vision comes as we are making the movie. We’re pushing for the extreme of what’s possible. Now with CG, which I totally love, everything is possible. It’s just amazing what you can do now so anything you or you crew think of you can execute. And it looks completely real.

My vision is to bring these great collaborators and once you get to the set, you get the actors. They’ve done their homework. They have ideas. The costume designers have ideas and they bring it to you. You’re like a kid in a candy store. To me it’s about bringing great people together and collaboratively coming up with what the vision is.

Elena Kampouris, Sean Astin and Travis Nelson in “Vindicta” (Paramount Movies)

So there’s not a “my way or the highway” attitude to the way you work, which is great.

Look, if you’re James Cameron and you have this vision of The Abyss and there’s things that nobody could have ever thought of. Or George Lucas, but I even think he was collaborative. He brings in model makers and comes up with ideas. I think that’s the only way to really get a lot of great stuff. You can only be an expert in so many fields. You need to get a crowd around you that really know their stuff and they one up you.

Together, we all look at the screen at the end of the day and go “Wow, everybody brought this idea to a whole ‘nother level and made it cinematic.

Last interview, you recommended Spare Parts and I still haven’t seen it. My co-host saw it and loved it. What’s the next movie of yours that you would recommend for people to see?

I find all the work that I do, it’s pretty consistent. What I found is depending on how much marketing comes out behind the movie . . . for example Soul Surfer had tons of marketing so it reached a larger audience.

In the (fantasy) world, The King’s Daughter with Pierce Brosnan. That’s a movie again it was coming out during the pandemic and it was not released in the way it was thought to be released. That’s a story about a mermaid living in Versailles. It’s another fantasy film, so that’s one I think people should check out. The King’s Daughter with Pierce Brosnan and Kaya Scodelario.

What keeps you motivated as a filmmaker since it seems you’re consistently working?

My dad gave me my first camera at 12 years old. We went to Ireland and he gave me a Super 8 camera and I started shooting.

It’s just fun and it is a way to see the world. I do the same thing whether I am shooting in L.A. or Atlanta or in Australia. My life is in hotels but then I get to go on ssets and meet these amazing people. And then I still watch films.

Believe me, I watch a film 100 times by the time an audience sees it. And I still get moved by it. I always said if somebody would pay me to go to the movies – I would happily just go to the movies and watch. Because I love watching movies so much. I wouldn’t be a critic – I don’t want to say good or bad. I just want it to roll over me and just move me like it does.

Short of that, I get to go to the movies every day making a movie. I just see it in smaller bits and pieces and then put the whole thing together.

Sean thank you so much for your time and looking forward to interviewing you for the next one.

Keep an eye out for it! Take care.

Vindicta hits theaters and Digital on October 6.