24 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
“A ‘red carpet’ is a working girl who’s too good to work the streets”; Director Scott Altman discusses Amazon Prime-acquired debut feature
22 Apr 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Red Carpet
Having begun life in the Irish film industry as a pyrotechnician at Ardmore Studios, Scott Altman left Ireland to pursue a career in directing where he cut his teeth directing commercials and music videos for the likes of MTV.

In 2019, Altman directed a short documentary set against the backdrop of the homelessness crisis in Ireland. Home, which was narrated by Dave Fanning, involved inputs from Academy Award winner Glen Hansard and Academy Award nominee Jim Sheridan, and won Best Short Documentary at the Dublin Independent Film Festival. 

Now his debut feature film Red Carpet, inspired by Los Angeles sex trafficking trade, has been picked up by streaming giant Amazon Prime in all English speaking territories globally and is available to stream on Apple TV in America.

Red Carpet is a crime-thriller that tells the story of Mandy, an aspiring actress, who relocates to Hollywood to pursue her dream but instead gets caught up in the grim underbelly of Los Angeles’ sex trade.

Altman travelled to the US in search of inspiration for his first feature film, spending time in The Bronx, New York City before travelling to Los Angeles where he walked the length of Sunset Boulevard. “At the time I had no idea it was 36 km in length but I was so immersed by my surroundings that I just kept walking,” Scott told IFTN.

“By afternoon, I drifted onto Hollywood Boulevard and noticed the many tourists, street performers, and in contrast to this, many homeless individuals,” Altman continued. “As evening fell, I continued up Sunset Boulevard and saw how another world began to take over the strip. Dealers, pimps and sex workers began to appear and littered the streets.”

“Immediately, I knew there was something in what I was witnessing on the strip and it felt like being in a movie. That got me thinking of various ideas and I felt compelled to structure a story around my experience on Sunset that day/night,” said Altman.

Altman was put in touch with the film’s lead, Wittie Hughes, when he met a rapper named Yella in a bar off Flamingo Road in Las Vegas. “Yella and I discussed movies and screenwriting in depth,” Scott told IFTN. “I told him an idea I had for a film and that I was planning to shoot it when I returned to LA. Yella connected with the story due to a similar family experience and suggested his youngest sister, an up-and-coming rapper/actress named Wittie, for the leading role.”

“That night I spoke to Wittie’s partner and we arranged to meet in LA. A few days later I was back in LA and Red Carpet’s preparations were underway,” Altman continued.

The film was shot over the course of seven days with no rehearsal time spent with actors prior to the shoot; “we literally rehearsed scenes on the spot prior to shooting them. Coming from a background in music videos I had experience of working with little or no rehearsal time.” 

“It’s not the right approach but sometimes you have to work with what’s available to you and just make it work,”Altman explained. “I intentionally structured the story around what was available to me at the time in terms of cast, locations and filming equipment. Many of the actors I cast had little or no acting experience but they had additional talents and attributes which felt right for the project, and added to the film’s realism.

“Initially, I was not going to have a script and instead work by improvising a lot of the scenes and hitting beats in the story,” Scott recounted. “The Duplass Brothers have had a lot of success making their independent films with this approach.”

Altman intended to emulate the Duplass Brothers, who’s approach has proved successful when making their independent films, however this was thrown up in the air by a chance meeting with film director Yann Demange (White Boy Rick, Top Boy) prior to shooting the film.

“I explained the story to Yann, which he really liked and based on his own experience of directing gritty, street-styled, projects, he suggested I put some form of script together,” Scott explained. “I took his advice on board and condensed a script into half the amount of pages; leaving room for improvisation on shoot days while also providing a foundation with more structure.”

“In hindsight, this was the perfect approach for an independent film of this nature,” Altman admitted.

Taking on such an ambitious task doesn’t come without its difficulties with Scott noting that the lack of time, support, and funding, led to a bigger challenge of overcoming the fear, anxiety, and pressure attached to it. “Due to this, I knew I had to structure the story and filmmaking style in a particular way.”

“For example, rather than filming a working girl walking the streets, which would be tricky to shoot for many reasons, I set the majority of the lead actress’ scenes in one indoor location,” Scott told IFTN. 

“Similarly, time was super tight so I knew upfront that the more crew that were involved the longer filming would take. For this reason, I stripped the filming approach down to the bare minimum, literally me, a camera and at times, an assistant, so I could move and shoot as fast as possible,” he continued. “In an ideal world I would not work this way but these are the sacrifices that had to be made to get the film completed with the time and resources available so I’m extremely proud of what’s been achieved,”

The film’s title can be seen from three angles,” Altman explained when asked about the orgins of the film’s title.“Red Carpet can imply a red carpet awards ceremony. It can also represent murder and blood stained carpet. Although, the real meaning is that ‘red carpet’ is a street term. A ‘red carpet’ is a working girl who’s too good to work the streets and for that reason, she only works from inside a brothel, ‘She’s a red carpet’.”

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