Ahead of it’s World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, Craig spoke with director Brian O’Malley about his new film THE LODGERS and discussed everything from Gothic horror to the challenges of filming in a decrepit mansion.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Since you normally have a hand in the scripts of the movies you direct, what was it like directing someone else’s writing?
Brian O’Malley: On the script I didn’t have any hand in the writing, it was actually David Turpin’s work and it took him about a year to write and develop it into a final product. I did have some input on the climax because I wanted to take it to a stranger place, but since we are a modest movie I also wanted to make sure we had an ending that we could achieve on our budget. The finale of the film did change quite a bit and I think that we ended it the strangest way that we could so I’m very pleased with that.
NC: What was it like storyboarding this out?
BM: When you start storyboarding it’s liberating and exciting as you can feel the film start to come to life. What I did do this time that I didn’t do on Let Us Prey is I did my best to draw the earlier boards as quickly as possible so that I would leave myself room later on in our tight schedule for the other storyboards. This proved advantageous because by the time we had our location I had storyboarded about half the movie and then I had to go back and alter some of the storyboards to reflect the layout of the house more accurately. It was really useful because then I could work on the camera angles based on what I knew was actually there occupying the space. That experience was different from Let Us Preybecause I had storyboarded out most of Let Us Prey before we actually built the sets and the sets for that feature were able to reflect what I had drawn.
NC: How did you achieve some of the long and elegant camera shots within the confines of the house?
BM: Well, actually, it’s a larger space than it appears in the movie. If you take the dining room, where they have breakfast in the morning, it’s a very large room. Even though the house is very decrepit and old and decaying it’s still very, very elegant. Therefore, I wanted the visual style to be very elegant to match so I filled the movie with all these sweeping camera moves and dolly shots to really show off the space. The real challenge with the house was the fact that it was basically a living museum and it is extremely delicate. When we were upstairs we couldn’t lean on any of the walls because there is a fear that they might collapse and then the ceiling might collapse too. Then around the upper level it wasn’t what it once had been so only one person was allowed on that level at a time. This made it a little tricky when we wanted to get the shot overhead looking down at the trapdoor on the floor as we had to send the grip to get that shot by himself because it would not be safe for anyone else to go with him. Beyond that, the house was so beautiful; kind of anywhere you looked you could get a great shot.
NC: Where did the visual design of the world beneath the trapdoor come from?
BM: I don’t want to give too much away, but in the script the clash that is encountered when you enter that trapdoor is very much present. From there it became an instance of filming the background place that we needed first and then separately shooting the actor we needed in the scene. Then once we went into that final space in the climax, we toyed around with what that should look like for a bit until we decided that we wanted to end it in a space devoid of anything and even somewhat devoid of color. We chose to do this because we were concerned that if we took that final space anywhere that would demand too many special effect, then the visual palette could fall down and we might lose our audience. Therefore we kept it very, very simple and very stark to keep the audience on board and maintain the quality within the boundaries of what we could achieve from a production values standpoint.
NC: Was the muted color palette on purpose or a result of the space within which you were working?
BM: That was very intentional. We were shooting quite a bit in the countryside or in the forest so there were lots of greens and a lot of very warm light while we were filming. We decided during the editing process to keep it all very muted because the nature of the film is a Gothic ghost story and we felt strong colors would pull you out of the film a little. Then inside the house, the director of photography used green gel on the lights because it muted the colors. This also gave the inside of the house a little green tinge which we used to tonally draw all the other colors together. With the brown of the staircase and the drab colors of the walls having that little bit of green in the light field helped to bind the look together a little bit better. I also felt it helped to emphasize the period texture of the house and the sense of decay. Then wehn we were doing the color grading we didn’t have to alter it that much. For the most part what you see is very much what it looked like on the day we were filming.
NC: So did you enjoy working within this time period?
BM: I’m a massive fan of Gothic period ghost stories which is one of the reasons why I wanted to do this movie when I read it. I am the guy who would kill to see this type of movie because I absolutely adore them. It was also the first time I got to film a period piece set in Ireland. It’s funny because you go to Ireland thinking of the pictures you see, but when you try to do a period piece set in Ireland by yourself it is quite difficult to make it look authentic. Luckily we had great production design and wardrobe to bring it all to life. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but I have to say that the interior of the house was the part I enjoyed the most in terms of the period atmosphere.
THE LODGERS will be premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8th