Needlestick is a 2015 [released 2017] American horror thriller film written, produced and directed by Steven Karageanes, making his feature debut.
Veteran genre composer Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th and sequels) provided the movie’s score. Cinematographer Bryan Greenberg’s previous horror work was on Simon Says (2006).
Lance Henriksen (Daylight’s End; Stung; Aliens), Harry Lennix (The Fright Night Files), Jack Noseworthy (The Nurse; Fear Itself; Event Horizon), Michael Traynor (The Walking Dead), Jordan Trovillion (Eloise; Kampout; Fractured), Katie Savoy (Crush the Skull), Cindy Chu, Anita Nicole Brown, Rob Putansu, Tim Kaiser, Alara Ceri, Lena Drake, Linda Boston, Richard Goteri, Wayne David Parker.
Alexander Crick MD (Henriksen), a famous heart surgeon, makes the greatest discovery in human history. But to extract it kills the patient. If he only gets a little more serum, he can mass produce it. Crick has only one night to protect his discovery and save himself from his double-crossing CEO.
Out of desperation, he locks down South Union General Hospital and sends his son in to capture more subjects… then blow the hospital and any evidence against him out of existence.
However, his prized student, Everett Barnard (Traynor), is still inside South Union, hiding with his passionate ex-girlfriend nurse, his spunky resident friend, and a young suicidal dancer who is dying before their eyes. They must race against the clock to escape the hospital and confront the once kindly surgeon who has turned into a desperate maniac willing to do whatever it takes to protect his gruesome work…
Director Steven Karageanes has provided this exclusive insight into the production of the film:
Needlestick started as a project in 2008, but my filmmaking path started in 2004 after I was diagnosed and treated for adult ADHD. Up to that point, I had been a successful sports medicine physician in Metro Detroit, covering pro and college teams, writing textbooks, and training fellows. But I felt miserable. I didn’t know what was wrong until my ADHD diagnosis.
Once treated, I realized that something all my life was pulling me towards performing arts. So I started studying at Second City Detroit. After 3.5 thrilling years there, I wrote and shot my first short film, American Piety, which screened at festivals in Cannes, Monaco, LA, and NY. That gave me the confidence to move to a feature.
My inspiration for Needlestick came from watching scientist Craig Venter’s group publish the first decoded genome in 2007. Numerous groups of scientists were racing to be the first to decode our DNA, with untold riches awaiting those who could exploit this achievement. So, as in many films, my script started off with a simple premise: What if a doctor became corrupted in the race to help others? How much harm would a doctor do to develop something for the perceived good of mankind? How slippery of a slope is this?
The struggle with such a topic was how to make the story and dialogue flow without getting bogged down in medical minutiae. I did improv sessions and read-throughs with actors and actresses to try to streamline those elements so that people got the idea without having to face a barrage of unfamiliar terminology. Plus, I think the actors appreciated that as well.
The budget was going to be very low, as I had to raise the funds myself, so I made the story work as a contained system within one location. We shot at the hospital I then worked at, Detroit Medical Center, which had three floors unused in a hospital building that was closed a decade prior. Numerous films shot at the Detroit Medical Center during the heyday of Michigan’s film incentive program (2009-12).
I am grateful for the program, because it helped me raise money to make the film, giving investors a guaranteed return of some kind on their investment. However, the constant political sniping about the program got into the trades and local papers, which scared off production companies, which made the program less effective, which gave politicians better cover when they finally defunded it.
I understand the pros and cons of the incentive debate. But in Michigan’s case, they set this program up and then beat on it constantly until they had enough justification to end it. That seems like a huge waste of money in the first place. If they wanted a serious film industry that had an in-state infrastructure, with crew, studios, builders, craft services, and so on, then build the program and let it run for a few years. Michigan never did.
The set we used in the ICU scene was built by the crew of the ABC show Detroit 187, then they left it behind. We used a surgical center in Farmington Hills as the visible face of South Union Cardiac Hospital. We didn’t want a large general hospital because it would be too hard to explain how the hospital was shut down. Many surgical hospitals shut down parts of the facility at night.
I wrote my initial script in 2008, using a concept that an enzyme could perpetually repair DNA mutations to hold off aging. These enzymes already exist, but not in a way where we could use it like in my story. Then in 2010, where I saw a guest on the Colbert Report, a scientist at the Dana-Farber Institute in Boston, who announced his group was working on isolating an enzyme from mice that would prolong aging and repair tissue damage. Life imitates art, I guess.
A group in Birmingham, Michigan wanted to put on a film festival, due in part to the interest generated from the state’s film incentive program. It ended up being a festival to honor the work of Birmingham native and famed crime novelist Elmore Leonard, whose books were turned into numerous films and TV shows like Out of Sight, Justified, Get Shorty, and 3:10 to Yuma.
Because of my prior festival experience, I was involved in planning, running the screenplay competition, and producing a tribute video for Leonard. Not only does Leonard’s writing style influence my work, but I met an entertainment attorney and indie producer/sales agent at his festival who were vital in getting Needlestick up and running. So, without Elmore Leonard, Needlestick may never have been made!
Michael Traynor saved Needlestick’s production from certain doom. We had cast a Canadian lead actor for the film to play the lead opposite the legendary Lance Henriksen. But three days before the start of shooting, he informed us that he didn’t have his work visa yet. Plus, the character of Everett shoots on every day but one. So Dwjuan Fox, our producer, called Michael, who he knew from prior work. Michael read the script two days before shooting, flew in the day before, and started shooting the next day
Like a true professional, Michael owned the role from the first minute. He was so into his character that when Michael celebrated his birthday during the shoot, the crew inadvertently sang “Happy Birthday Dear Everett…I mean, Michael!” He centered the film, gave a solid rock for everyone else to work off, and helped the younger actors on set stay loose and focused. So when we saw Michael’s success on The Walking Dead as Nicholas, we felt tremendous pride for him.
When we looked at the film’s early cuts, we knew we needed a composer who really knows how to support the tension in a scene and build suspense while creating a macabre atmosphere once the hospital power is shut off. I had seen all the Friday the 13th movies growing up, and when our sound editor told me he knew Harry Manfredini, we realized that he was the man for the job!
Steven Karageanes, Horrorpedia © 2017
Detroit, Michigan, USA