They say doing the same thing over and over and over again but expecting a different result is insanity. Imagine waking up behind the wheel of your car one afternoon, a storm baring down on your location. You sit behind the wheel unable to leave your car as you struggle to gain your bearings before you are all of a sudden pulled into different points of a never-ending timeline. For Amy (Danielle Harris), a security officer (Jeff Denton) and a young woman (Katie Keene) this is their worst nightmare. Reliving the same moments repeatedly, they find themselves trapped in a hospital with a set of deranged doctors and staff. The trio must survive and escape together before each reset of the time loop. As time runs out, they must figure out what is manipulating them and why.
Co-written and directed by Christopher Lawrence Chapman and co-written by Jeff Miller, INOPERABLE is a tense puzzle that challenges the viewer to join the mystery and macabre of Amy’s struggle to find out why she keeps repeating on this time loop. With the release of the film on VOD and DVD Feruary 6th, writer Jay Kay was able to grab Chapman to speak about INOPERABLE. Chapman and Kay discuss Harris’ performance, the magic of a talented DP, misdirection within storytelling, and the power of a fantastic score.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hey there Christopher, thanks for taking the time out to answer some questions on INOPERABLE. First, congratulations on the film coming to DVD and VOD. How does that feel to see it go through so much to be unleashed on the world?
Christopher Lawrence Chapman: It’s pretty exciting in that all the hard work of production, writing, directing and all the post production work is finally able to be seen! I feel like my movies are like a sort of child in that it is a part of me and anytime people talk about it, or I get to talk about it, or people enjoy it, that’s a mission accomplished!
Nightmarish Conjurings: Where did the idea of INOPERABLE come from?
CLC: Jeff Miller and I met on another film I was part of, CLOWNTOWN, where Jeff and I were two of the producers. Jeff knew of some of my past work and asked if I was interested in shooting/directing a horror film. We spoke generally and bounced some ideas off of each other. I love the idea of a hospital where things aren’t going as they are supposed to and mixing it with a natural disaster was a fun concept that I felt would be interesting for our characters to operate inside of. Jeff is very dialed in to the horror genre and had some thoughts and ideas which he felt would help the film when it came to distribution, and I sort of took the ball and ran with it.
As for inspiration, I think it was that Jeff and I got to talking about a project and wanted to make something a little different but still around the horror genre. I drew on an experience I had many years ago where I was in the emergency room of a hospital while a hurricane was spinning to the south and threatening the area where the hospital was located. I thought of how eerie it might be to be trapped inside of a hospital while it was being evacuated due to an approaching storm with some sort of killer on the loose inside.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Can you talk about tapping into the core fears like hospitals, claustrophobia, and time? Does the story reflect fears you two share?
CLC: I don’t know about Jeff, but hospitals always creep me out, and I’m guessing other people aren’t too fond of them either! But the thought of being in a hospital, being evacuated, during a hurricane just seemed very freaky. I love being outside, so the idea of being trapped inside of something, especially an eerie hospital, doesn’t sound like much fun to me. The idea of mixing up time, as well, is very unsettling. I wanted to have a cool story, but with most horror the characters have to escape the situation in only three dimensions. With INOPERABLE, Amy must escape time as well, which is basically impossible. Well, at least with our current understanding of physics anyway! I wanted to layer on the fears, and if you take a creepy location, claustrophobia and a non-lineal time line, you get a rather disturbed situation.
Nightmarish Conjurings: This film is a puzzle assembled right before your eyes. How does a film like INOPERABLE come together in the pre-production and planning stage? How long did it take to reach that final shooting draft where it all connects?
CLC: It was pretty complicated to plot a course in pre-production. We decided that we would shoot in story/script order, which, in theory, would make the production/principal photography easier. Everyone really had to be on their “A” game, but the way I make films, we give ourselves plenty of time in pre-production to work out those details and put out fires before they start. Also, its hard to really plan out shooting a film like this, until you are actually on location and see the hallways, rooms and overall feel. Our DP, first AD and Production Designer really hustled and overperformed to keep up with the stirred-up time lines. Our Script Supervisor and I were always cross-checking the shots/script to make sure we weren’t breaking any of the scripts time lines. It might sound sort of crazy, but on the set of INOPERABLE, after working that long on the shoot, one kind of forgets the normal constraints and pre-conceived notions of time and embraces and understands the time lines set forth in the script. In a very sophomoric kind of explanation, shooting INOPERABLE kind of tests the abilities of humans to detract themselves from time’s lineal progression.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Can you talk about shrinking the amount of time for each reset that the character of Amy (Danielle Harris) is given when she returns back to the hospital?
CLC: Right, basically the hurricane and time is speeding up, so she’s not only competing against being “reset” back into the time line, but that time line itself is speeding up. It is also a motivation to solve the hospital “riddle”, or what have you, quicker than you may feel comfortable with, or simply quicker than your brain allows you to. Practically, within the story, the energy the hurricane carries with it, and it’s “stirring” of time, will pass over, and beyond, the location at one point. If that occurs, Amy’s ability to solve the riddle and escape will be gone. Also, when a hurricane gets closer, for the most part, the winds pick up in speed and intensity, like time does inside of our hospital.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Can you talk about the cast and how this ensemble came together to create a very tense and smart narrative in these characters?
CLC: I had a lot of discussions with the cast way in advance of filming. I wanted to make sure that most of their questions were answered and they could really practice becoming their characters. One particular actor actually came with me multiple times to set during pre-production design and really connected with the location and the “misery” we were trying to depict. She was very method in her craft and it was sort of freaky to watch the transformation. As for the hospital “staff”, we wanted actors that didn’t look “scary” or typical cliche horror “bad guys”. I wanted the staff to look calm, and more or less normal in that a patient entering a typical hospital might encounter a doctor, nurse, or other staff member who looks like our “staff” look. In fact, two of the actors were actually medical professionals in addition to being actors. I feel that when the potential “bad guys” don’t actually look scary, when things go bad, their more normal looks make what they are doing all the freakier. When describing the casting of the staff, I drew an analogy to the movie JAWS and asked this question, “why would someone want to go swimming in a turbulent, cold ocean with jagged rocks lining the approach?” They wouldn’t, which is why we see the ocean in JAWS as inviting and calm. In a nutshell, I wanted the staff to be believable and authentic.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Speaking of the cast, Danielle brings a lot to this film. What was it like to have her play the key role of Amy and what does her name do to sell this film?
CLC: Jeff and I knew we wanted a strong female lead to drive the story forward. There were names discussed, but ultimately, we decided we really wanted to work with Danielle. Jeff is very dialed into the horror genre and I must give him the credit for most of these selections. She was wonderful to work with. She is very professional and really knows the genre inside and out. She was very believable, I feel, as Amy and showed the viewers that Amy grew with each reset back into the hospital. Toward the end, my goal was for the viewers to really pull for Amy to escape. Speaking again of Jeff, he knew who would help drive distribution and who fans would like to see, so again, credit goes to Jeff!
Nightmarish Conjurings: Can you talk about the FX makeup work that we see throughout from Robert Kurtzman’s team in INOPERABLE? What does it do to a film to have such a professional team on the production? How much room did you give them to fully reach that visual potential?
CLC: Oh yeah, they are truly amazing! Other than reviewing what we wanted with the story and script, the only real direction I gave was that I wanted the FX to look realistic and slightly subtle. I did want to push the envelope of specific gore shots a tad, but I didn’t want to overdo it. For other shots we wanted more understated, especially with the needles. They are so wonderful, and honestly, they would have done perfectly even without my initial comments. I would really love the chance to work with them again, and they are icons in the horror genre.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Giorgio Daveed is a producer on this film as well as the editor and DP. Beyond yourselves, what did Daveed bring to this production and how does having someone so connected on each level affect the film as a whole?
CLC: I love a DP that is part of the production because they need to connect early on with the project. With Giorgio, early on I wanted him to have access to what gear/equipment/lighting he needed to accomplish the mission. I didn’t micromanage his department and I feel that allowing artists to do their jobs is critical. I wanted him to come in early on while I was full speed ahead with the location search, and once I found the ultimate location, he was inside of it as much as anyone.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What was the thinking with light and color for INOPERABLE being in one primary location? Any hospital genre films influence you?
CLC: We wanted the viewer to feel a little uneasy from simply being in the location with the characters, even before the horror begins, so we wanted to keep the feeling inside of the hospital a little stark and claustrophobic. Hospitals have a sort of feel, and you would know you are inside of one, almost by the colors and lighting alone. We played on that and added in a little more of an uneasy feel. As for films that influenced this, I didn’t have any in mind, which may have added a little bit to the originality of INOPERABLE‘s style.
Nightmarish Conjurings: The score for INOPERABLE is the pulse and primary tool to take the emotion of the film to certain levels. What made Jonathan Price’s body of work, experience and approach fit the vision you two had?
CLC: I had worked with Jonathan on a project before and was very happy with the results and his work ethic. After the initial talks, he took our feelings and the film, and ran with it. Like working with other artists in films, I feel that letting a composer connect to the film and put forth their best, unconstrained, effort really makes for a better end product. The score, like the film, is a bit of a mental journey and the score definitely highlights and extracts emotions to help guide the viewer along as he mixes in a heavy guitar with subtle piano to really sell the emotions.
Nightmarish Conjurings: How powerful and crucial is the sound design to this film? Is this the most detailed part of the film?
CLC: I personally feel that sound is as important as cinematography. Most viewers can recognize bad sound. They may not know what is wrong with it, or why, but sound can ruin an experience quickly and easily. We took great efforts to isolate exterior noise while on set, and once we got to post sound, I think that paid off. As for the sound design itself, we really try to keep the quality of the film as high as our budget allowed, and this was no exception. Especially with being inside of our location, like lighting, sounds reveal the eeriness and realism of being inside of the hospital. We can almost close our eyes and would instinctively know we are near a nurse’s station, patient room, or surgery suite. Throw in the hurricane, hospital announcements, and other fun little things, and selling the story to the ears was really critical. For those out there who haven’t seen the film yet, make sure you try to watch it in the 5.1 sound mix we cut it in. You can hear all this eerie creaking of the building and noise of the wind outside beating against our hospital. Of course, this was all designed in post, but I think it really felt real.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Can you talk about the tool of misdirection for this film and what it offered you in cultivating this story?
CLC: I wanted to lead a viewer down a path that may not initially make sense. Since Amy herself is trapped inside of a horror story, I wanted, to some degree, play with the viewers conceptions and the natural tendency for an audience to try to figure out what is going on and to try to predict the ending. I wanted to confuse the viewer, to where they may ask themselves, “why does she or he keep saying that?” or that camera move looks familiar from a scene before. But, upon nearing the closing of the film, the eeriness of familiarity creeps in and at the end of the film, it all makes sense…or does it?
Nightmarish Conjurings: Can you talk about the location and the canvas it offered? What went into making it authentic?
CLC: It was actually an empty building and production design (Bobby Marinelli) and his team turned it into a hospital. At one point, many years ago, the location had been a functioning hospital, but then was a government administration building, and then finally vacant. We resurrected it and with proper production design, turned it back into a “hospital”. After shooting, it was slated to be demolished.
It was fun shooting there. The building had character and one could feel the eeriness and loneliness in simply being inside. Personally, I felt really connected to the building since we were likely going to be the last real bit of “liveliness” and activity this old building would ever see again. The building, in my opinion, really helped sell the story. I believe that location scouting and securing the use is very important in filmmaking, especially at the non-big studio level. The proper location can really help sell the story and in our case, the location was such a critical part of the story.
Nightmarish Conjurings: It is such a puzzle that makes the viewer work for the final resolution. How has the audience reaction been to this challenge?
CLC: Thank you for saying that, as this was a huge part of the design. The people I’ve heard from really like the film and especially the ending. Most remark that they weren’t able to predict the end and love the way it was tied together. It’s funny because some non-horror film critics were obviously confused by the film, which was a little frustrating for me, but the horror genre critics and reviewers gave it overall very positive reviews and told us that they really enjoyed it and look forward to watching it again. It really is a puzzle and designed to be that way. We give you some pieces here, and some pieces there, but not too much. We don’t want a few people sitting around where one blurts out something like, “oh yeah, I bet this happens at the end”. I think when you watch it a second time, it might actually be more interesting than watching it the first time, because you are now on the look out for all the subtleties and little hints.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I love the payoff of the final act of the film. Was the final act of INOPERABLE always meant to be fully transitioned over into horror? Is that the original ending to the film?
CLC: Thanks! It was really fun shooting the final scene. Actually, what the intent was, is that even with the ending how it is, there are actually two possible situations and interpretations of the ending. One of the interpretations is more obvious and final, and that is the interpretation we wanted most people to latch on to. However, there is another interpretation that I designed into the story, one that is much more sinister. Can you guess what that alternative might be?
One interpretation of the ending is that all of this was inside of Amy’s head. Jen and Ryan were merely photographs inside of a magazine, and Amy imagined the whole thing as a deeply disturbed psychiatric patient. This is fortified by the scene with the backstory of Ophelia and the interaction Amy has with her mother. I would imagine that a psychiatric patient may imagine scenarios, while “trapped” inside of a legitimate hospital, of ways to escape, reasons and the wherewithal to do so, and motivations of a law enforcement officer and pretty make-up model needing her help. After all, what better way to shine than to save a cop and model, one who is strong and brave and one who is pretty and sweet. After all, it was all a mental concoction inside of Amy’s head.
However, there is another possibility. Maybe Amy is still trapped inside the demonic hospital. Maybe the staff are demented and the hurricane really did disturb a quantum time lab at Fort Miller. Maybe she is simply waking up again, now heavily medicated, inside of another hospital room, and she must attempt escape again, over and over, for eternity. Maybe she smuggled that scalpel into her magazine, and used it to kill the orderly, only to attempt to reunite with Jen and Ryan to try to escape again.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Thank you for such a great chat and congrats again on the film!
INOPERABLE is now available to rent on VOD and own on DVD.