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quietearth [Film Festival 08.14.09] movie interview horror

Just a couple weeks ago our very own LA limey extaordainare Hal MacDermot saw Grace and loved it (review). Well, as part of the press for the film Hal got to do a round table with the director and star of the film and while time was a bit limited he got in some good questions.

Grace opens theatrically (limited) today, so check your local indie theaters and will drop on DVD on September 15th (pre-order here).

Interview after the break!

Paul, can you talk about the process of expanding your short film Grace (2006) into a full length feature. Also, what was it that appealed to you about monstrous maternity?

On a personal level, it all started when I was 19 years old. My mom told me I had a twin that didn’t make it. So the materiel became compelling on a cellular level for me. The actual creative genesis of the story came 4 years later. I was having a conversation with someone, and it came up that it’s actual medical science that if you are pregnant and you lose your baby, and the child isn’t induced, that you can carry the baby until term and that’s actually a decision that women make more frequently than is discussed around the dinner table. You know, as a genre fan first and foremost, I’m always looking to get shaken up and it’s tough, not a lot of films get under my skin, but this, even as a man, really did get to me. The short came after the feature script. People liked it, it was well received. I got offers to option it, but it’s a more difficult task to get a million bucks to make the film. I took meeting s with directors, but they were not genre guys and they didn’t get it. That you can take an otherwise mundane idea and just blow it open. These guys think, oh it’s a check list “do I have my tits, do I have my blood, do I have my jump scare” and they just don’t get it. I would get notes like “what about if the car goes off the road, and there’s a ditch, and there’s a ceremony happening.” And I’m like are we in The Player right now. If you believe in story then your number one allegiance is seeing that it’s bought into existence and fruition to its maximum potential.

Jordan, when you got the script, did you have any apprehension about your part?

When I first got the script, it was pitched to me as Rosemary’s Baby kind of thing, and I was like “oh my God you guys, I’m trying to get out of genre, what is this?” But my manager said “No this is really special,” and from page 1 I found the character of Madeline Matheson riveting and the choices she was making. So I wondered what kind of filmmaker Paul was, and was this story about motherhood gone wrong, or just selling beats. So we sat down and we talked and talked for hours until his car was going to get towed, and then it was clear to me that he was using genre to tell a really profound story about women and children and sacrifice and love. It was manna from heaven getting this role. I’ve never really gotten to go inside myself in a profound way, and I was terrified of doing that, but I felt comfortable in the context of Paul’s vision, going to a very uncomfortable place.

Paul, could you talk a little about your approach to horror, and the balance between psychological horror and visual shock?

Yeah, I think it’s a dance, I think a lot of it’s intuition, but if you have the shit in your blood you have it in your blood. For me I come at it as a fan first, I know what movies I want to see, I’m disappointed when a movie sucks, it just makes me what to step it up. It’s a matter of exploring your audiences’ expectations, genre audiences are so savvy, they’re expecting certain beats and a certain structure and you know, it’s a matter o f delivering their expectations while at the same time exploiting that space between their expectations and what you’re delivering, you know flipping shit on its head. Like, the question is: shock or suspense? But it’s like obviously shock and suspense, shock when you’re looking for suspense, and suspense when you’re looking for shock, that’s how you do it. It’s a dance. Grace is all about keeping people off balance, it’s about kicking the knees out from under the audience and then cutting open their guts and reaching in and f**king with their soul, I mean that’s how we roll.

Can you talk more specifically about the collaboration you guys had?

Paul: one of the first things Jordan said to me walking in was I love the script so much, I don’t want to screw it up. I said, I’m not a mom either, and I get needing to connect to the materiel, and we talked about that even beneath the power of the uncanny bond between mother and child is this deeper fanatic core that interlinks all the characters, the idea of wanting something that you can’t have. And that defies gender, that transcends everything, and that’s a basic human thing, and that’s how we plugged into it. We really needed to make this authentic. We went to great lengths to go through everything that a new mother would be learning together, we studied natural birthing, to the point where Jordan and Sam Ferris worked with a midwife, learning to move, how to breathe, how to sit.

Jordan: we started with this notion of codependency, which is generally not a very positive term, but the ultimate codependent relationship is mother and child, and that’s codependency gone right, but the way Paul told the story, he created a situation where the codependency was making this woman sick. I’ve experienced where I’ve over given of myself to the point of ruining my own life and relationships, with friends and family, with lovers, and for me it was making the transference to the child. I’m also fascinated by mental illness and those choices, and I spent time with a midwife. She basically told me that the feeling of having the child crown can be equated to the worst cramps you’ve ever had in your life and trying to take the biggest shit.

There are so many modest budget films where you say, “What a good idea, it’s too bad they didn’t have more money.” I’m wondering about the pressure on the set of taking a concept you’ve had for so many years and getting it in the camera with so little time and so little money.

We had people showing up early and leaving late, we had the art department putting shit on their credit cards. Every meeting I took, it was like 24 days shooting (Jordan: that’s what I signed up for!), then they said 22 days, then 20 days and we’ll shoot in Tampa, 18 days, ok we f’d up the tax incentives 17 days and roll with the punches, and that’s really what it was. Embrace and exploit your limitations and let them inform your stylistic choices and deliver, instead of fighting it, what’s the point of spinning your wheels, focus on the problem and that’s what you see, focus on the solution that’s what you get. That and preparation. Like I will never set foot on set without a full blown multimedia manifesto that everyone if fully familiar with. I mean, this film has been storyboarded like 7 times through before I even step foot on set, every department has a 213 page manifesto that has shot lists, like a wish list shot list, and a contingency shot list, like here’s the 16 shots we want, if we can only get 2, then here’s how we do it, there’s my horrible sketches, it has fine art references, photographic references, and video references. By the time we get there, it’s short hand.

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