Interview: Director Pamela Romanowsky for THE INSTITUTE

Rosewood Institute holds many dark secrets as it's patients are subjected to bizarre and increasingly violent pseudo-scientific experiments in personality modification, brainwashing and mind control.  For the release of THE INSTITUTE, which is based on the terrifying true events noted above, we spoke with up-and-coming director Pamela Romanowsky about her latest film, what it was like to co-direct with James Franco, and working within the horror genre.   

Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Pamela, thanks so much for speaking with us today!  To start things off, for those not familiar with your latest film, THE INSTITUTE, can you tell us a little bit about it and what inspired you to want to take on this project? 

Pamela Romanowsky: While we were shooting THE ADDERALL DIARIES (and in the years since), James and I made a tradition of going to midnight movies at a theatre we both love in Brooklyn. Naturally, a lot of that programming is horror, and so we both started to think about taking a little trip into the horror realm.  What started as this crazy experimental side project became a film (the film was actually developed as a pilot, rewritten the night before we started shooting, and then made into a film in the editing room) and we had a lot of fun with it along the way.  I was a Psychology major in college, so the exploration of the dark parts of psychiatry and the history of the science really appealed to me.  And as a filmmaker, I really love to think about how to represent psychology (the character's state, memory, identity, presence) in a cinematic way. I also loved the way James and the Ragers had found an organic way to weave classic horror literature in to the script.  Many of the key scenes are adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne stories.  I love Isabel's character, how she's the only sane person in a crazy place, and a woman who refuses to live the boring and constricted life that was expected of her. Throughout the film, her character adopts several different identities as part of her "treatment," and that was a really compelling thing for Allie and I to track and figure out. 

NC: You once again teamed up with James Franco to co-direct this film, what was it like working with him again on a project and how were you able to bring both of your ideas together? 

PR: James is one of my closest friends and a frequent collaborator, which is why I agreed to try co-directing.  I'm not sure I'd do it again, because everybody has a different amount of prep work and chaos that they're comfortable working in, and I'm much more of a preparer. But it is cool to exchange processes and ideas with another director, especially an actor-director like James who's had the opportunity to see some of my directing heroes work.  The way that we each arrived at solutions and ideas was very interesting, and when we disagreed we would both have to understand the other's thinking.  We also kept each other laughing during a very fast and challenging shoot.  When he wasn't on set, I directed solo.  He did much of the development, and I did the editing, post, finishing and release. 

NC: What was the casting process like?  Did you have anyone in mind for specific roles? 

PR: Casting was really James' territory.  he had already begun developing for the project before I joined on, so he had a lot of the cast in mind.  I asked to bring Tim Blake Nelson, a mutual friend, on because I'm a huge fan of his and had been dying to work with him.  He's a great actor and a great director, and I learn so much from his thoughtful insight on both crafts. I was also really excited to work with Scott Haze, another James friend, because I loved his work on CHILD OF GOD and think he's incredibly talented.  I didn't know Allie when we began shooting (she just reminded me she was cast four days before we started shooting) but we became fast friends and I really admire her focus and intelligence.  She did some really great work with a complicated character.  Isabel has sever different identities throughout the course of the film, and it was an interesting challenge for me and Allie to track those discrete personalities and the transitions between them.

NC: What were some of the challenges you faced during filming?

PR: We shot the whole film in two weeks, almost exclusively over long nights, confined to a single location except for one very cold night in the woods.  It was a tough shoot because of how quickly we had to move - at the time the script was 120 pages, so we were often doing six to ten scenes a day.  Everyone worked so hard, and it's tough to tell an actor or a production designer that we just can't take the time for another take or another 20 minutes to let the paint dry.

NC: THE INSTITUTE could be categorized as a horror film, is this genre one you've always been interested in doing more work with?

PR: Making a horror movie was cool!  It's not my usual genre, but it's great to have the opportunity to stretch as a filmmaker, and to think in new ways.

NC: Last but not least, what can fans of yours expect from you in the future? Do you have any upcoming projects you are working on?

PR: The upcoming project I'm most excited about is a short film for Refinery29, called KHETHIWE AND THE LEOPARD.  We just got back from from a thrilling and wonderful month of prep and shooting in South Africa, and the film will come out at the end of April. The film is in Zulu and stars teenagers and a real leopard - a first for me on all three fronts.  I really fell in love with South Africa and so enjoyed my time there.  

To stay up-to-date with Pamela's projects, make sure to follow her on Twitter @promanowsky. THE INSTITUTE will be released in select theaters on March 3rd, 2017.