As the title indicates, "96 Minutes," a new thriller written and directed by Aimee Lagos, shows how the lives of four young people change in under two hours. The story focuses on Carly (Brittany Snow), a college student whose world revolves around school and pleasing her parents. Based on decisions made during the day, Carley crosses paths with Dre (Evan Ross), a bright high school student seeking a better life for himself.
The fallout from that devastating 96-minute encounter permanently changes the lives of Carly, Dre, and two of their friends. When reached by telephone, Lagos said the most important thing for her to do was keep the piece authentic and true-to-life.
"Ultimately, in a situation like this, there really are no winners once you get into it," she said. "It's 'lose-lose' and [the film] becomes more of a character exploration of how these young people handle how they got themselves into this situation; how they get out of it and; ultimately, how they try to move forward."
"96 Minutes" Documents a Series of Choices
While Carly and her friend Lena (Christian Serratos) are leaving a bar one night, Dre is showing his cousin Kevin (J, Michael Trautmann) a part of town that he didn't know existed. The choices each character makes leads to a confrontation and, ultimately, a life-or-death struggle inside a car.
Lagos points out that both Carly and Dre are on very specific life tracks. Each of them is headed in one direction when life happens. They can then choose to stay on course or switch to a different path.
"Obviously, they make a lot of choices throughout the film and end up in a very different place from where they began," she explained. "It's true -- something like that happens and it completely changes your life. Very often it is the small choices that are changing the course of their day. Life is always that way."
Lagos Inspired By Personal Experience
While attending Washington University in St. Louis, the director did neighborhood stabilization work in the community and also participated in after-school programs with local kids. A scene in "96 Minutes" shows Dre being accosted by the police as he walks home from school.
Lagos revealed that a lot of the children she worked with were also stopped by the authorities in the same abrupt manner.
"It really seeps into their psyche in such a strong way about who they are and how the world sees them," she explained. "It's really one of the big reasons I wanted to tell this story in this way. With all those kids that I knew, I saw how it affects them."
The director points out that during her years at Washington University, there also was a string of violent events that happened on and near the campus. One carjacking incident involved young children from the blocks in which she had worked.
"Knowing people who had been victims of horrible crime and my close ties to the community and the kids that were involved in these things [made me want] to tell a story that explored how that happened," she said.
Technical Inspiration From the "Batman" Movies
The core sequences in "96 Minutes" take place inside a moving vehicle. To properly film the actors, Lagos had her crew build a car that could be driven from the roof.
"All of the actors could be in the car with myself and the [director of photography] shooting the scenes while the car was being driven through the city by a guy in a cage on the roof," Lagos said. "We had sort of a lighting rig set up around the car to give us the light we needed in the interior. We had a platform on the back where we had our sound guy."
The director explained that by scouting the lighting in various areas, the crew could drive on pre-scouted loops through the city to get the shots they wanted.
"[The car] really freed us to get a lot done in a short period of time," she said. "It was inspired by one of our producers, Justin Moore-Lewy. He had visited the set of 'Batman' and saw that they were [using this]. He asked 'Why can't we do this?'"
"96 Minutes" opens in limited release on Friday, April 27.
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