I think very many of you will remember the incident that sparked shock and outrage across the country after a young girl was strip searched and sexually assaulted in the office of a McDonalds, all at the instruction of nothing more than a voice on the phone claiming to be a police officer. I remember being just as shocked as everyone else and not understanding how something like this could happen or how anyone involved could allow it to happen. I was probably like the majority of the population in believing that I would not have let this happen to me. After a little more living, a little more wisdom and a couple of kids, I’ve learned that without being in that person’s exact situation, you don’t know what would happen and no one should take for granted that they cannot be taken advantage of.
That is why Craig Zobel wanted to make his film, Compliance, which is based on the events from the incident that occured in Mount Washington, Ketucky in 2004. Craig wanted to explain what happened and why it happened the way it did. I was twenty-four at the time this happened and twenty-five when the story aired on ABC with interviews including one with the victim, Louise Ogborn and one with the manager that was on duty and who spoke to the man on the other end of the phone throughout most of the incident. It didn’t affect me the same way that it affected many who were younger than me, particularly younger women. One such woman was Dreama Walker who plays the accused and assaulted girl in Compliance. I was fortunate enough to speak with Dreama, Craig and Pat Healy, who plays the voice on the other end of the phone, about the film and why they felt the need to tell this story.
Craig Zobel (Director)
SI: What about these stories made you want to shed light on everything that happened?
CZ: I remembered the Hinesville Georgia story, but hadn’t heard about the Kentucky case until way after it happened. I was caught off guard with the fact that this had happened multiple times, like seventy times and I felt like that in some ways made it a human phenomenon. That struck me and I kept walking around with that in my head. I wasn’t trying to make a film at first, but I couldn’t avoid thinking about what it meant. There had already been news stories, documentaries and articles written on escapism, but what I felt hadn’t really been talked about, what hadn’t been verbalized, was am I being honest with myself when I say, as I think most people said – certainly I did, that would never happen to me. It was about trying to make a piece that could talk about…are you being honest with yourself that you’ve never been in a situation where you’ve listened to an authority figure and done something you weren’t one-hundred percent comfortable with or that you outright disagreed with because you felt like you had to? We don’t really talk about those things and that was really fascinating to me and I thought it would make a good movie.
SI: My first job was like this at a burger place with a manager who I could see going along with a scam like this. It’s something about these large corporations where you are just taught to do what your told, not to think outside the box and that way of thinking falls to the lower echelon employees as well.
CZ: In the one I worked in there was this mentality that we are creating this branded image and you need to fall in line with what that branded experience is so when you go to this restaurant in Texas it’s the same experience in New Hampshire, that you’re inside of that experience. I was an assistant manager at one of these establishments and it was because the amount of turnover was so intense that I had the most experience at seven months. In order to do that you have all these trainings and the trainings are all about “this is how you wear you uniform, this is how you write demerits.
SI: Getting that power when you’re either young or because you plan on this being your career, can give certain people an inflated ego. Just as you show in the film in relation to the manager feeling like she’s part of something bigger and more important than her day-to-day life can really get to some people like it seemed to do with this manager.
CZ: Right, her whole life she’s probably been told that she was gonna end up good at some point in her life, she probably has a very complicated relationship with her father. There is some gravity to feeling like you’re coming up in the world and there’s nothing wrong with that.
SI: You did a fantastic job delving into the psychology of the whole thing; it’s all over the film, especially with the way that Pat is able to talk with everybody. You didn’t make him sound creepy or like a stalker, you made him sound like a normal guys who was really good at reading these people and figuring out what their weaknesses are and how he could use them or if he could use them at all.
CZ: That was really important to me, when I started trying to write a cop for this particular movie, it was interesting to me. It was like, how do we make it a cop, what does a cop sound like? I started realizing that the only experience I had with how cops talked was through film and TV shows. That’s why me and Pat started sitting down watching tons of episodes of Cops and realized they’re just passive-aggressive. We were all constantly looking at each other on set like, these are not stupid people, these are things that can happen to anybody and how do we illustrate that.
SI: Thank you again for bringing this story back it up. I had forgotten about it and it’s pertinent in my life now as I have a daughter and it has changed the way I speak to her, with regard to the girl who was the victim that said she did what she did because her parents had always told her to listen to adults and that terrified me. Our conversations about respect and listening to adults has changed drastically with this reminder.
CZ: You know, I tried to find a way to put that line into the film. It just never really fit, but I’m glad that you could take that away from this.
Pat Healy (Officer Daniels)
SI: Were you familiar with this story before you got involved with the films?
PH:With Craig, I’m always hearing about these strange things. These hard to believe stories have become his mission and he’s enlisted me. I only really knew the bare bones of the story and read the script and thought, I don’t know how this happens, but let’s figure it out. Even in watching it and going around the country showing it and doing Q&As with people like you, I’m still discovering more about it.
SI: I was exceptionally interested in the film because there were so many missing pieces to this puzzle.
PH: We read all about the case and you can see the video and there are court transcripts of people describing what they were told over the phone, but one thing we don’t know is what he actually said and that was the biggest thing, to write that and to be able to portray that in a way that was convincing because we don’t really know. It’s a huge leak of logic as t how that happened, if you put all the pieces together you can see it.
SI: How was it playing the role of this creepy person?
PH: It was an uncomfortable thing to play. You’re in those feelings of anger and hatred and self-loathing for twelve hours a day for three weeks. I’m doing it the whole time, I’m there the whole time in every scene doing this with them (the other actors) and being filmed. It wasn’t like I could just show up in my pajamas and run the lines, I had to be there in it…so we could get honest reactions. It’s worth it to go through feeling that way for a few weeks to create this film rather than something that could have been exploitative or cheap thrills. It’s a really honest examination. To me it’s scarier that the guys is normal, it’s more frightening. One of the things in the film is it is the horror of every day life, just regular people and what they can do to each other.
SI: It shows how far people will go and how many people will turn a blind eye to something like this going on under their noses. My best hope would be that the ones who were there and didn’t get involved learned if they were ever faced with something like this again that they would take action.
PH: That’s what I hope audiences take away from this movie, that’s why I’m involved with it. I hope that people realize that we are all susceptible to something like this under the wrong circumstances. I’m saddened a lot just like everyone else about why people do the things they do, but I’m also curious. No one just wakes up one day evil or whatever that is, there are reasons. We are all responsible for our own actions at the end of the day but we don’t come into the world fully formed. We are affected by people and things and that’s how and why we do the what we do and sometimes we take that out on other people unfortunately, it’s kind of the way of the world. I think this movie is an intelligent exploration of all of those ideas and I hope it enlightens people. I know that it’s disturbing and people are bothered by it but I hope that at the end of the day people are able to take away something that helps them.
Dreama Walker (Becky)
SI: Everyone seems so appalled that the original victim went through with everything the way she did, but when you are that young and that scared, you don’t know what to do. Did you speak with anyone who was involved with this originally?
DW: I have a lot of empathy for the victim and did in 2004 when it happened (Dreama was the same age as the victim in question when this even occurred), this isn’t something that she wants to rehash or relive. I actually read that she is married and has a family and I’m sure this isn’t something that needs to be brought back on the table again.
SI: You are nude pretty much through the whole film. How vulnerable did you feel and did that add to being able to relate more to the character?
DW: It absolutely did help to make me feel uncomfortable and exposed when no one else was naked and it wasn’t a love scene. That definitely aided in the feeling that the walls were closing in and that I was all alone on this journey and also that I had done a very bad thing.
SI: With all of these things in mind, did you take part in the film because you feel some kind of public responsibility to bring attention to this?
DW: I had a real interest in the blanks and how things escalated to the point that they did in the whole incident and I also felt a tremendous desire to try to justify it to people and kind of say this is how it got here and this is why. Everyone’s reaction is “I wouldn’t do that” and I think it’s really easy to say that when you’re presented with the whole picture. But truthfully I don’t think anyone knows what they would do if they were in that position.
SI: Where did you pull from for the more difficult scenes? It really does seem like you are completely exposed and in a very uncomfortable situation.
DW: I pulled a lot from some of my own personal experiences. Obviously the situations in the movie were a lot more extreme, but I feel like it’s a very primal subject to deal with (responding to authority). I thought there was probably a movement in the victim’s mind that she maybe thought to herself on some level I’m guilty of this and this needs to happen. There was a component of “this is what I have to do”.
Going in to watching Compliance, even knowing the story and knowing what the conclusion was, I still had a ferocious knot in my stomach. Knowing what was about to happen throughout the film didn’t make it any easier and certainly didn’t make it less interesting to watch. The anticipation of what comes next is almost worse than not knowing what is going to happen. Everyone involved in Compliance worked hard to make this film true to the events that occurred in 2004. This effort was not about turning this story into a thriller or any kind of horroresque story, but to show the world that denied they could be taken in by such a scam that this situation was not as black and white or cut and dry as we would all like to believe. Situations such as this can devolve very easily and quickly and the last thing anyone should believe is that they or anyone close to them is immune to this kind of abuse of authority. Everyone has to be responsible for themselves and those around them and should be aware of what is going on and most of all be able to speak up for themselves and others no matter what the situation.
See Compliance in limited release starting August 18.
What kind of requests have you encountered at work that you weren’t comfortable with?