Emergency: Carey Williams, KD Dávila talk Film

RJ Cyler, Sebastian Chacon and Donald Elise Watkins appear in Emergency by Carey Williams, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Carey Williams and KD Dávila spoke with Solzy at the Movies during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival about their new film, Emergency.

Williams directs the film from a script written by Dávila. The film stars RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter, Maddie Nichols, Madison Thompson, and Diego Abraham.

In Emergency, Kunle and Sean are college seniors planning an epic night of partying over Spring Break. While Sean has the whole night completely planned, Kunle still wants to finish his school work because his admission to Princeton depends on it. Upon returning to their apartment for pregaming, the realize their roommate, Carlos, left the door open. But just as upsetting is the discovery of the semi-conscious Emma on the floor. Carlos, who was playing video games, never even heard her walk in. This is where everything begins to start spiraling: neither Kunle and Sean can agree on whether or not they should call the cops. Instead of the police. the trio loads Emma into Sean’s fan. Meanwhile. Emma’s sister, Maddy, realizes she’s no longer at a party and starts tracking her on the phone.

Chaos ensues as Maddy gets closer to her sister because the group keeps moving onto another location. The thrillers, however unfortunate they may be, never stop throughout the ride, which runs a fine line between comedy, drama, and thriller.

Amazon releases Emergency in theaters on May 20. A Prime Video release will follow on May 27.

Carey Williams
Carey Williams, director of Emergency, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Emergency was my third feature of he Sundance Film Festival and it was probably one of my most stressful viewing experiences by far.

Carey Willams: (Laughs) Strangely, I love hearing that.

How sad was it to lose out on the shared communal experience in Park City?

Carey Willams: Quite. I do feel like it’s kind of the film that you do want to see with an audience and get their immediate reactions, either the laughter or feeling the stress of the situation. But I still am thankful that we’re able to get it out to the world on the Sundance platform in this way and even more people can see it potentially this way. It’s so great but yeah, the in-theater thing is, we’re anxious to have that at some point.

G-d willing in May with the release?

Carey Willams: Yeah.

Speaking of, how has Amazon been as a partner?

Carey Willams: They’ve been great. They’ve really supported us and the vision that KD has developed with the script and my directorial choices. They didn’t fire me. I was thankful for that (Laughs). It’s such a weird thing. When you start shooting the film, the first couple of days, you’re like, I hope they like what I’m doing. But yeah, they’ve been great. Our executives over there all have just been wonderful to work with.

What was the genesis behind the script?

KD Dávila: It started as a short film. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to see it at all but we came to Sundance with it a couple of years ago. Was it 2018? I think it was 2018. It was originally a short film and the short film was a standalone short. We didn’t really intend for it to be a feature when we made the short. We went to Sundance with it and we went to South by Southwest and a bunch of other festivals. People kept asking us, where’s the feature? We were like, Oh, I guess maybe we should do that. Carey basically put me on the spot one time and basically announced that we were working on the feature. I was like, Okay, I guess I should work on the feature.

It wasn’t originally intended to be that way. We thought about it a lot and we wanted to keep the tension. The short film was the same sort of tonal tightrope walk of comedy, thriller. To keep that sort of tension, we were like, okay, it should all take place in one night and feel like it’s mostly happening in almost real time. You can see their decisions as they’re making the decisions throughout the course of this night. You understand their thought processes; the dominoes start falling from the decisions that they’ve made.

I guess from a personal inspirational perspective, I’m Mexican-American and I’m from Los Angeles. I grew up as the one of the pale people in my family. Growing up, I saw this phenomenon where my dad and a bunch of the other men in my big Latino family always had to do the strange calculus every time we went anywhere about how am I being perceived. Do I seem like a threat right now? What can I do to not seem like a threat? Even if you’re trying your hardest to seem completely innocent and taking all these extra measures, you can still get pulled over and searched because for no real reason. That was part of the genesis of the idea and that one of the main themes of the movie really is these guys trying to anticipate how they’re being perceived. A lot of the comedy, drama, and tension is mined from that.

I know when they find her unconscious on the floor, I’m like, just call 911 already! The other part of me is like, well, that could possibly go bad.

KD Dávila: Exactly. One of the things that’s a challenge is trying to make sure that you understand their perspective. Yes, it should be easy to call 911. I think a lot of people would find it easy to call 911. But if you take a couple steps back and you look at how this looks, you’re like, Okay, maybe we don’t call and we just see if there’s any other way to deal with this. You start to understand the way that if you had to make that calculation all the time, what does that do to your mind to always have to do that?

How long was the initial cut?

Carey Willams: It was close to three hours.

Oh, wow.

Carey Willams: I remember saying to my editor, this movie will never be less than two hours. (Laughs) Cut to: the movie’s an hour and a half.

KD Dávila: It works.

Carey Willams: There’s so much that we shot and we put in there. When you start to get in there, you’re like I hate to lose it, but it’s got to go. The film is bigger than those individual moments that we fell in love with either from shooting it or in our edit bay, oh, this works. Well, for the whole film, we had to go, well, let’s make the tightest most tense version of this we possibly can and not lose the heart of the emotional beats and the friendship between the guys. That’s what we ended up with so we cut our movie in half.

What was the biggest moment that you really didn’t want to lose but ultimately had to cut?

Carey Willams: Oh, gosh. Well, there are a number of them. A lot of party stuff. But there’s a funny scene with a junkie character that was in the film that really makes it look worse—from the perception of the Karen’s, the people that are watching them in the park, makes it look worse, what they’re doing. But ultimately, as funny as it was, we had to let it go because, again, these guys have to keep going. They need to get her to safety and also, they want to get on with their night. It just kept us there a little longer than we needed to be but we all thought it was hilarious. KD, for you, you’re probably are like—

KD Dávila: It’s funny because you would think that I would miss things I’d be like—but I don’t know. I think that the choices that you guys made in terms of cuts, they were all good incisive cuts. It felt like it kind of was a shaving of random things throughout. It wasn’t like a major chunk was taken out. I think it works.

Carey Willams: That’s because—a really great script.

Can you talk about working with the cast?

Carey Willams: Yeah, working with this cast was a dream. It really was. They were so engaged and they brought so much talent to each character. I oftentimes found myself in awe of just the suggestions that they had of each character. You really felt like they thought wholeheartedly about who each character was and they were living each character. I often just got out of their way. They had ideas of like, Hey, want to try this? Of course, let’s try it and oftentimes it was money. It’s like, alright, that’s what we’re gonna do. We’d also do exactly what was on the script, too, but they just had such great ideas. They all got along so well, which was really, really, really key. They hung out a lot, and they really—

KD Dávila: You could tell.

Carey Willams: They built that camaraderie amongst themselves really good. I think that speaks to speaks to them as people coming in and not knowing each other before and being open to hanging out and getting to know each other. They clicked really well so it was a dream.

Pandemic aside, what was the most challenging aspect of the production?

Carey Willams: Every project has all these challenges. I can’t really pinpoint one that was bigger than the other. You just take them as they come. It took us a while to get going because of the uncertainty of Covid. Where will we shoot this film? How do we build the infrastructure to handle Covid? Shooting nights, that was a challenge. This movie is all night exterior, really.

KD Dávila: You’re welcome. (Laughs)

Carey Willams: That was a challenge. There were definitely a lot of nights when it’s cold, wet in the woods of Atlanta, where we got a snake wrangler on set to watch out for any snakes and we’re freezing. But yeah, other than that, I don’t think there were any big challenges that we faced.

What do you hope audiences take away film the film?

KD Dávila: I hope that they are entertained and moved at the same time. We wanted to build something that was a meditation on a social issue, which is always  a challenge in making it not, I guess, preachy or making it something where—we didn’t want to feel like homework to watch a movie about a social issue. We wanted to make sure that it was going to be entertaining and cathartic for people who’ve been in this position before. I mean, not the exact position the characters are in, obviously, but who’ve been dealing with having to think about how you’re perceived all the time. We wanted this to feel like a movie that understands that and is for people who’ve been through that before and not just teaching you about this moment. It’s a cathartic thing for people to watch, who’ve lived it. I think that was important to us. That’s something that I hope people take away is that we really thought about it, that you care about the characters by the end, and you understand their points of view. That’s what I think.

Carey Willams: To couple that—everything you said, also, to raise the questions for people. Like you said earlier, why don’t they just call the cops? There are many people that would feel that way. But to raise a question, hopefully, by the end, why did you feel that way? Also, other people that would say, oh, they definitely can’t call the cops—to maybe have a conversation with them about that. For young black men to see a representation of real nuanced friendship—I thought that was very important for me and I really focused on that. To show that it’s okay to tell your friends you love them and be emotionally open to your friends because I think we often are taught to be very hard and not show emotion.

Hopefully this—with our end and where they end up in the catharsis that they have after this night, it will speak to people to be like, this is okay. Seeing these men hug each other and tell each other that they love each other touches me and I think I can do that with my friends if we have disagreements about something, and so on. That’s what I hope. There’s a lot in this film that you can really kind of, hopefully, latch on to as something to have a discussion point. I hope there are a lot of discussions that come from it.

Amazon Studios will release Emergency in theaters on May 20, 2022. The Prime Video release will follow on May 27.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.