Use Me: Breaking down the docu-thriller with director and star Julian Shaw

Photo: Use Me -- Image Courtesy Gravitas Ventures
Photo: Use Me -- Image Courtesy Gravitas Ventures /
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Use Me
Photo: Use Me.. Image Courtesy Gravitas Ventures /

1428 Elm: Were you guys always intending to turn this into a thriller, or did it genuinely start as a documentary?

JS: It truly did start as a documentary but honestly only for about three days. I went to see her, I met her family, and I was like, “this is going to be a boring documentary.” I felt she was too well-adjusted.

There was a lack of inner conflict. She was very strategic about what she did. She was very confident and good at her job. For me, having made a documentary before, I thought, “this is going to start to get boring after 15-20 minutes.” I just know what it takes to hold a story. I’ve done it before. You have to keep people’s attention for an hour. It’s not easy. You need that conflict.

But, what I did see is that she had this “x-factor.” She kind of had star power, and she was great on camera. We had a great repertoire and connection right off the bat. I thought okay, here’s someone I would like to collaborate with, I don’t know what that would be, but I don’t think it’s going to be a simple documentary.

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Then it just started coming to me piece by piece. I delved deeper into her world. I started thinking, “what would happen in the worst-case scenario in this world? What if it did all go wrong?” Then the story kind of started writing itself. I went through a lot of different versions. It ended up with me becoming a bigger character in the story. I was the outsider coming into this world, so I would be the one changed by it.

Ceara is quite fixed in what she does. She knows who she is; she knows what she does, she’s the solid core. Whereas I’m this guy coming in with my camera who gets in completely over his head because he’s out of his element. That naturally came together, and it kind of mirrored reality to be honest.

1428 Elm: Why did you decide to play yourself instead of a fictional character?

JS: Good question, I think because it started as a documentary we decided to continue in that vein. It’s funny because people who have seen the film tell me I’m nothing like the guy in the movie and I’m like, “you’re right.” I like to think I’m a sweeter, nicer person. The film is like; it’s a dark thriller. I look at the dark aspects of myself because I found that interesting, and maximize those and explore them and push them to the max.

I guess I felt I might as well use my name because I thought, well, maybe I have this potential in me. I think we all have dark potential in ourselves. We can act a certain way under pressure or if we have a burning need, we can act in unethical ways. I felt comfortable keeping my name. Ceara’s real name is not Ceara. I guess I’m the only one who has their real name in the film. I don’t know, it just never changed.

Use Me
Photo: Use Me.. Image Courtesy Gravitas Ventures /

1428 Elm: I think you playing yourself adds to the tension of the movie. You never know when the film is going to turn into something darker. 

JS: That’s the thing, we tried to be transparent and say, hey this is a movie, and it has a fictional storyline. Then people watch, and they’re expecting a movie but are then amazed by how real so much of it is, or seemingly real. For me, I liked that interplay of what is real and what isn’t because it mirrors her line of work.

Men are paying her to bring a fantasy to life. We know it’s a fantasy, but while they’re engaged with her, they want to believe it’s real. Whatever your fetish is, whether it’s a ruthless woman cleaning out your bank account, or she’s dominating you in some way, if you’re paying for that, it’s like a suspension of disbelief.

When you’re watching a movie, you want to forget you’re watching a movie and get caught up in the story. You want to believe she is that character. I love that line of fiction and reality in her work. It’s such an uncomfortable line. I wanted to make people feel uncomfortable in the same way if that makes sense.

1428 Elm: I think it does. You’re watching it and you’re like oh this is a documentary but at the same time you know something is going to happen. It creates strong tension.

JS: That’s so nice to hear. We spent a lot of time editing to get that balance right, believe me. I had an amazing editor and we spent a lot of time trying to find the balance between truth and fiction.

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1428 Elm: I think you guys struck that balance well. I enjoyed the film immensely. Good luck with the movie, and thanks so much for chatting with me!

JS: Thank you. I appreciate that and I appreciate you spreading the word.

Use Me will be available to purchase on Blu-ray and through digital retailers beginning on November 26.