Filmmaker Chadd Harbold makes 1960 noir thriller 'Private Property' his own

The Upper Arlington native's stylish new remake screens at the Gateway Film Center beginning Friday and will also debut digitally

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
A still from "Private Property," the new Chadd Harbold film featuring Shiloh Fernandez and Ashley Benson.

As a kid, Chadd Harbold watched movies obsessively, checking out tapes and DVDs from the library and going to screenings at the Drexel, the former AMC Lennox, Gateway and other local theaters. By the time he was 12, Harbold had watched countless hours of obscure indie flicks and foreign films.  

“When you love movies so much, you can't help but imagine what you would want to see in a movie. And then it's a short leap from there [to making your own movies],” said Harbold, adding that he was also an only child and an “emotional teenage kid who wanted to figure out how to express himself.” 

In high school at Upper Arlington, Harbold found classmates with similar interests, such as Colin West and Chad Simpson, and began making short films and attending film programs in the summer. “For my senior thesis, I made a feature that I will never show anyone,” Harbold said. “I was an 18-year-old kid who shot every weekend for seven months and edited it by myself. At that point, my parents kind of knew that I was going to do this.”

Chadd Harbold

Now, Harbold, who stayed in New York after graduating from film school at NYU, has made more than 15 movies as director and/or producer. Most recently, he got the chance to reunite with his Upper Arlington Class of 2005 schoolmates West and Simpson to work on the film “Linoleum,” starring Jim Gaffigan and Rhea Seehorn. And on Friday, May 13, Harbold’s newest film, “Private Property,” will debut digitally and in select theaters, including local screenings at the Gateway Film Center.

More:Colin West's filmmaking dreams come to life in new movie 'Linoleum'

The stylish thriller, which Harbold wrote, directed and produced, is a remake of an obscure, recently restored film noir from 1960. “It’s notable as being the first onscreen performance of Warren Oates, who's a legendary character actor,” Harbold said. “I saw it as part of a Warren Oates retrospective that was happening at Film at Lincoln Center. … I knew nothing about it, but I really loved it. I was kind of blown away by it. And I was looking for something to make after my last film, ‘Long Nights Short Mornings.’” 

After the screening, Harbold couldn’t find Leslie Stevens’ 1960 screenplay anywhere, so he eventually purchased the film on Blu-ray and transcribed all the dialogue himself, pausing the movie over and over again to type.

Once he had the script in hand, Harbold dug in, updating the language and rethinking the narrative structure. While the original movie’s timeline unfolds linearly, Harbold decided to divide the movie in half, first telling the story from the perspective of Kathryn (played by Ashley Benson of “Spring Breakers” and “Pretty Little Liars”), a dissatisfied housewife and aspiring actress who spends her days alone in a palatial Los Angeles home. The second half resets the timeline to tell the story of Ben (Shiloh Fernandez, who also starred in Harbold’s “Long Nights Short Mornings”), the charming but mysterious new gardener.

Harbold also gave some of the characters new traits. “I wanted to make Kathryn more of the main character. … In the original, she's a housewife with not much else going on. She’s unfulfilled, but she doesn't have a dream or anything, so I wanted to give her that,” said Harbold, who wrote Kathryn as a struggling but exceptionally talented actress. “We wanted to give her that dignity, and I think that makes the audience sympathize with her more, because everyone understands the idea of being good at something and no one noticing or no one giving you the opportunity.” 

Working in Los Angeles, Harbold faced all the typical obstacles independent filmmakers face when making ambitious movies with a limited budget. Nearly the entire film takes place in two locations — the main house, and the house next door — but in reality, those two homes were 30 miles apart. “That was a challenge, but a fun challenge,” Harbold said. 

Toward the end of “Private Property,” which also features supporting roles from Jay Pharoah (“Saturday Night Live”) and Frank Whaley (“Pulp Fiction”), the two halves of the film begin to collide, reaching a David Lynch-ian nightmare for the climax, all with the veneer of a 1980s erotic thriller, which is enhanced by the synth-heavy soundtrack of electronic artist Com Truise.

During the editing process, the music, imagery and subtle expressions on the actors’ faces took on more prominent roles. “We stripped out a lot of the dialogue and just let the music and looks and moments tell the story,” Harbold said.  

After finishing the film, Harbold said that comments from his old friend Colin West made him realize that “Private Property” is actually “an unexpected continuation of some of my other work, in terms of time and perspective shifts, and also the dynamics between men and women.”