Eric Red Blog entry: We’re five weeks into shooting and the results have been amazing. Most of the major scenes are in the can. A few still to go. “100 FEET” is definitely the best film I’ve directed.
This is an elevated and classy horror film, where tension and terror derive from character, suggestion and atmosphere. The film does not rely on gore and body count like other recent films of the genre, but when it does get bloody, it gets shockingly bloody. “100 FEET” will make you believe in ghosts, but unlike the random unreasoning malevolence of the J-Film spirits, our ghost has a legitimate grudge and it is very personal.
I’m shooting the film in Super 35 widescreen with a realistic and elegant look. The visuals have a gritty contemporary edge, but also a classical 19th Century ghost story feel with many scenes shot by candlelight in the turn of the century New York brownstone where the story takes place. This is an old school style film that utilizes long uninterrupted camera takes that focus on performance and atmosphere. However, the horror action scenes are filmed in a hyperkinetic contemporary manner. In this way, the film will hopefully be a satisfying visual fusion of the classic and hip.
In Hitchcockian fashion, the main character Marnie Watson is a flawed heroine whom the audience identifies with precisely because she is not perfect. An abused wife, she is determined not to surrender to the continued torment of her abusive husband from beyond the grave. Marnie is a good human being at heart, who must for the first time stand up and fight for herself and through the ordeal becomes a stronger person. Her wedding vows of Till Death Do Us Part take on new meaning in this story, forcing a reckoning with her husband and the unresolved issues of their marriage, even after his death. To survive, Marnie must overcome her inner and outer ghosts while under house arrest in order to be free to start a new life. All the characters in this film are etched in shades of grey, like real people are, and we understand everyone’s point of view. Even the Ghost has a legitimate beef.
The cast has exceeding my expectations. Famke is a total professional, with tremendous focus and emotional depth and she always nails it in two or three takes, sometimes one. She can act volumes without saying a word and there are many scenes with her alone in the house where it is all looks and glances that convey what is going on inside. True film acting. Famke brings a great everywoman quality to the role. As an actress, she has great instincts for the part and the reality of the situations. Because she is in every scene and nearly every shot, it is an acting triathlon for her and she has been a trouper. In fact, she and Bobby Cannavale did most of their own stunts a big fire sequence! Bobby brings plenty of menace and edge to Detective Shanks but his strong human instincts as an actor have brought a genuine compassion and likeability to the character. Pare is astonishing.
Few actors in the world can generate pure visceral emotion and physical presence like Michael can without a word of dialogue, which is why I cast him as the Ghost. The Ghost doesn’t speak and must convey almost Kabuki theatre emotional states in looks and glances. Also, Michael is one of the most down to earth guys around, and everyone on the production loves him. I’ll use Pare in every picture I do, although the next time I’ve promised him after having him play a werewolf and ghost, I’ll cast him as good guy!
Of course, the film’s effectiveness depends on the realization of the ghost. Again, we’re going old school. The ghost is created on screen using Special Makeup Effects, not CGI or digital effects. I hate CGI. Paul Jones, our FX wizard, has done a world-class job in creating some truly freaky and startling ghost effects, using prosthetics, animatronics and puppetry.
Some of the ghost appearances are going to make the audience jump out of their seat. In-camera effects, including alternating shutter speeds such as undercranking, are used to create an eerie, unsettling sense of movement for the spirit. Michael Pare’s performance has been key in creating visceral presence through frightening fury, malignant possessiveness and sudden savage violence. Additionally, there is a hauntingly sad and melancholic aspect to the ghost, a tortured spirit unable to let go of his rage and be released into the afterlife.
Scheduling requirements meant we had to film the Brooklyn, New York scenes in the middle of the shoot. This wound up being a good thing because the change of scene was a welcome and stimulating break from the insular stage filming. However, it was demanding on us to finish shooting in Budapest on Friday, fly to New York on Saturday, prep and shoot for a week, then fly back to Hungary the next day and start shooting again immediately. Jet lag is for sissies! Now we are back in Budapest finishing up the film. Filmmaking of course is very hard work, requiring boundless stamina and professionalism. I’m shooting this picture in about 30 days, and 6 days weeks of 12 hours days. It keeps you on your toes.
The week of shooting in New York really sells the film being set in Brooklyn. We shot a number of big crane establishing shots of the house and street in Fort Greene Brooklyn on a block of beautiful old brownstones. I filmed the opening credit sequence where Marnie is driven home from prison on the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway to Fort Greene. The car passes the huge Calvary cemetery, which stretches for miles, and the ghostly reflections of the city play across the windshield in front of Marnie’s face, as she stares out while lost in thought. During the film, when the characters look through a window in the house stage set in Budapest, we cut to street shots filmed through the windows in Brooklyn, so the integration of location and set should be pretty seamless.
I think when people see the film they will assume we filmed it on location in an actual brownstone, which would be impossible because without being able to fly the walls we could not have achieved the enforced claustrophobia of many of the scenes. You can’t beat the production value of location filming to create a gritty reality and sense of place for the audience. I told the producers up front there was no way I was shoot this picture in Toronto or Vancouver. This is a New York movie, baby. Of course, the stage interior stuff wouldn’t have mattered where we shot it.
I’ll continue to post regular journal entries on the blog as filming continues.
Now it’s back to work!