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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 02.20.18] thriller

Tim Hunter has been working in film and TV for over 30 years. He made his debut in the early 80s with a couple of feature films including River's Edge, a crime drama starring Keanu Reeves in one of his earliest memorable performances.

From early in his career, Hunter moved between film and television though for the majority of the last 20 years, he's worked almost exclusively in television with the exception of Looking Glass which marks his return to feature films.

Nicolas Cage and Robin Tunney star as a couple trying to regain control of their lives after a family tragedy. They pack-up their life and move to a small town to take over management of a motel. It's a radical departure from their previous life but the two adapt quickly to their new reality - until Cage discovers a secret tunnel leading behind one of the rooms and giving him full view of the events unfolding in Room 10 through a mirror. Needless to say, he sees some things he shouldn't, makes some wrong assumptions and gets himself into a heap of trouble in the process.

A thriller which explores a man's voyeuristic tendencies, Looking Glass delves knee-deep into a relationship in turmoil and makes some interesting observations on how both parties deal with their trauma.

Featuring solid performances from Cage and Tunney, Looking Glass is far more nuanced and interesting than the synopsis suggests and I suspect that has a large part to do with the direction.

I recently had a chance to speak with Tim Hunter on his return to feature film, his inspiration for some of the movie's key scenes and he has some great advise for aspiring filmmakers. You can listen to the full interview or read a truncated transcript of our conversation below.

Looking Glass is now available in Theatres, on VOD and on demand.

You've been working in TV for a while now. What was it about this particular project that appealed to you?

Well, the producer brought me the script with Nicolas Cage already attached. As you saw from my resume, I haven't done a feature in a while so I was excited to do a feature and especially excited to do a feature with Nicolas Cage in the neo noir genre I really like. It kind of fell into my lap and I couldn't have been happier to take it on.

You mention that you haven't done a feature in a while. Is there a difficulty or ease with which you move from TV to features? Do you find there's a learning curve when you go back into film?

No. I think that the learning curve is in doing television because you're on such a tight schedule usually having to shoot so many pages a day. On a TV show you can literally be shooting 7, 8, 9 pages of a script in a day whereas on a feature, even if it's a small feature like this with a 20 day schedule, you're shooting 4 or 5 pages a day so the learning the curve is more in TV to be able to shoot that amount of a script and still prioritize to make it in a stylish way or make it good or capture the essence of a scene.

Going back to features, there's not that much to learn but you have more time to rehearse, to map out more difficult shots, to explore a scene a little further and that of course is the luxury of features compared to TV.

Would you say TV is a good preparation for making films, especially in today's market where there's more opportunity to direct small features?

Yeah, I certainly would. The director John Dahl once referred to doing TV as developing "floor skills" to just be able to work that fast with actors and crew. It's very good preparation to do independent features.

I certainly envy people who start out in small features like Sean Baker who did The Florida Project which is such a wonderful film, and before that he shot a film on his iPhone. I don't know that everyone needs to do TV first but I think that if you're following a similar trajectory to what I'm doing, doing TV is is a really good training ground for being able to prioritize and move quickly on an independent feature.

I love the look of the film and particularly visually striking are the scenes in Room 10 where most of the gritty action happens. I'm curious about the composition of those shots and what you had in mind, what sort of inspiration you had in mind, when talking to your production team and your lighting crew and your DP, about how to capture those scenes.

The thing that really surprised me about those scenes is that I never expected to feel that icky watching the scenes from the perspective of Cage's character. There's a real intimacy to those moments and it really feels like you should be there.

Well that's good considering there isn't actually that much nudity in those scenes. I wanted to find a dramatic intensity for them without there being a whole lot of gratuitous nudity and we worked out dramatic situations for both of those scenes with the actresses. We had a back story on each of them and a kind of an emotional context. The second scene interested me, the one that starts out with almost a little bondage play and then it turns out to be a whole different kind of performance.

Because he's looking through the mirror, I wanted to keep as much of it as possible from his point of view but we did cut into the scenes of course and go into close-ups selectively but constantly trying to maintain his point of view.

In terms of the overall look of the scene, I was certainly very influenced by a certain amount of modern still photography. Patrick Cady, the camera man and I, were looking at a lot photographs by a guy named Todd Hido, who takes photos of motels and train stations and washes them in colored light so that they have a very real but also very surreal quality to them. And on the interiors we were looking at William Eggleston pictures, we were looking at Nan Goldin pictures. The opening image of the sex scene between the two women who are first seen sitting up in an embrace on the bed, that's based on a van Golden image from one of her books. I thought that was a good place to start because it was emotional and it expressed need rather than just the sex performance.

Was there one scene or a serious of scenes in the film which was particularly difficult to capture and how you broke through to get the shot that you needed?

It's hard to say. Certainly we rehearsed the sex scenes to the point where the actresses were comfortable so that took some doing. The scenes where he's going through the tunnel between the basement and the back of the hotel room - that was a set that we built and I wanted to vary those scenes to some small extent so that they weren't repetitious so we mapped all of those out carefully.

If you could give one tip to a young person interested in directing or a young director trying to find their footing in the industry, what would it be?

I would just say start making films any way you can. If the young filmmaker's orientation is to get into it through story then find a short story, find a book in the public domain... there's no way to make films but to make films so I just think that if it's through writing your way into it or directing your way into it in any means you can, I would just say persevere and never give up. I mean, I'm an old guy and here I am making an unexpected feature and I couldn't be happier.

Looking Glass is now available in Theatres, on VOD and on demand.

Recommended Release: River's Edge

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