Imagine learning one day that sleep is no longer an option. Imagine the utter chaos that would unfold as our bodies and minds start to break down. That’s exactly what happens in Mark Raso’s AWAKE when a mysterious catastrophe wipes out all the electronics and takes away humanity’s ability to sleep. When Jill, a former soldier, discovers her young daughter may be the key to salvation, she must decide: protect her children at all costs or sacrifice everything to save the world.
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings had the opportunity to chat with Director Mark Raso about his nightmare-fueled film. During the interview, we talked about everything from the research into sleep deprivation, the technically challenging car scenes, and more.
Hi Mark, thank you so much for speaking with me about AWAKE otherwise known as my worst nightmare (no pun intended). What inspired this story?
Mark Raso: This kind of mother/children survival story was [one] I’d been working on for a long time but I didn’t quite have the context of it, I just kind of had this end of world scenario: What would you do if you thought you weren’t gonna make it but potentially your kids were. How do you prepare for that? Then when I met with… it started at the Mark Gordon production company they had this idea for this script about what if a solar flare happened and no one can fall asleep, that’s all they had, that one line. Basically, I went home and I thought about it and thought about this idea that I had had and if there a way to merge these two ideas together. That’s really the genesis of it and that’s kind of where it came from.
Two of my favorite scenes from the film include the use of a car, the first being a crash on a bridge and the second being an attack on the family. Both are filmed in a way that feels like we, the viewer, are going through this experience with the characters. How challenging was it filming those scenes?
Mark Raso: Definitely the most challenging parts of the film. It’s funny because you shoot for a certain amount of days and then you spend big chunks on these little set pieces, so to speak. I’m glad you had that reaction because it was very important for me [to have the viewer] in the car with them when it happens and to get that feeling. That [opening scene] kick-starts the way the movie is shot. From beginning to end we are with these characters, we’re feeling what they feel at every step. It was very technical, very challenging, very exciting. I had to do a storyboard as well as this thing where we draw what it’s gonna look like and do a video of that. Then [we] pitched it to the producers and then, eventually, to Netflix and everyone was on board and said, “yeah, go for it. This looks completely awesome and crazy.” This movie is about a family journey but it’s also fun to break out and technically do some fun, cool stuff.
When it came to sleep deprivation, was there a lot of research done in regards to how it affects our mind and body? Additionally, when it came to filming, was it done in a linear fashion to make the transformation easier on the characters?
Mark Raso: A lot of research, a ton of research at the scriptwriting stage, at the filming stage. One interesting thing is that you can get a good chronology of what the symptoms are going to be and in what order, but for different people they happen at different times. We talk about it in the film a little bit, but like blood rushing through the head, lack of oxygen, inability for the brain to clean itself. So there’s a bunch of stuff going on that we researched. In that sense, it’s very factual and very technically correct and the stages of what would happen. Unfortunately, we didn’t shoot in order so we had these boards where we printed off the symptoms and what it would look like after what time and everything. We put them in the green rooms and on set so people could be constantly reminded about, “Hey, more tired” or “You’re tired here” etc. The main actors like Gina [Rodriguez] and Ariana [Greenblatt], were on board, they got it all there, they came prepared. It’s more the extras or the people who come in for a day or two.
The film explores family dynamics during an unimaginable time of chaos and terror. That said, what do you hope people take away from this film?
Mark Raso: That’s a good question. My intention going in was I had this feeling and it’s actually been accelerated in the past year with the whole pandemic and everything, but maybe we’re kind of moving in the wrong direction as humans, you know? It’s time to take a breath and evaluate and see what we can be doing. This film is a journey that for me takes us through all the avenues and all the things that are kind of not functioning so well with the world right now. We live in each of these areas and come to a place at the end where we say it’s time, for a lack of a better term, a certain rebirth. So I hope people can just appreciate the good things in life and not focus so much on all the negativity.