Last July, JoBlo.com/AITH correspondent, Serena Whitney got to visit the SILENT HILL set in Toronto, Canada. The film is based on the famous video game, was written by PULP FICTION co- scribe Roger Avary and directed by fanboy maestro Christophe Gans (who helmed the great BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF and CRYING FREEMAN). Gans took some time on set to discuss the film in detail with the journalists on hand and here's what came out of it.
Are you a big video game player?
Yeah, one fourth of my life is in video games.
Did you study this game carefully?
In fact, actually, I played through the first one five years ago and I was half in the game when I called Samuel and said, ĎYou know, we have to do a movie from it.í So we spent five years to talk about this film and just what was very long is to reach the people of Konami and convince them that weíll make something very true to the game because the team of Silent Hill is a team of three or four guys and they are very, very conscious about what they achieve. And they didnít want anybody to screw their work. So it was like a long work just to convince them to accept that weíd do the film very carefully.
Trial and error for other processes of Darkness before settling on digital darkening?
No, we decided- - I was seeing Collateral, the movie by Michael Mann, and I found that there was some amazing moment where basically the high definition was catching any little reflection. I was very concerned about how to transcribe darkness on screen and how to achieve the same feeling that we have in the game, where actually a character can be lit by just a Zippo and nothing else around.
So we made some tests with Dan Laustsen and we found that it was very interesting to work in high definition because weíd obtain very, very clean elements and after we can work and crash into the Darkness as much as we can. Just to give the feeling that we are exactly in the game of an image which is without shadow, but in the same time clearly defined. And I was very happy to work for the first time with high definition and of course all the rest of the film, the Foggy World and the normal dimension, the reality would be shot on stock film. So I think itís interesting to use the high definition specifically for that dimension, the Darkness dimension. So thatís what we tried to do.
Any moments drawn from other films? Concerned that in mimicking the game, youíll look like the films that inspired the game?
Of course Iím a big film buff and when I played through the first game, immediately I saw the reference to Jacobís Ladder, the movie by Adrian Lynn. But in Jacobís Ladder, itís basically two sequences. The sequence in the med ward at the beginning of the film and the sequence in the hospital where actually you see the framework for Silent Hill. But I think that as a great creation, Silent Hill has achieved a complete original world. So basically, I was not afraid to adapt Silent Hill and I don't think that you will find any element from the great film by Adrian Lynn. Jacobís Ladder is absolutely the roots of Silent Hill we all agree, and also something from experimental movies like David Lynch. But I think that Silent Hill is such a beautiful creation that it exists by itself and without any obvious references, so I don't think that you will find any reference into this film from Jacobís Ladder or David Lynch films.
Challenges of making a film from a video game for people who havenít seen the game?
Exactly. Thatís a great challenge and itís why when we started to write the film, we were basically three directors. We were Roger Avary, who is a great screenwriter but also a director. Nicolas Boukhrief, heís a friend of mine. Heís a great director in France and also a big, big video game player. And myself. So we were three guys, three directors, a roundtable, three gamers trying to figure out how to make a movie which can satisfy the game crowd because we belong to them and we donít want to fuck up with Silent Hill.
And at the same time, how to make a movie that somebody whoís not familiar with the game can actually watch. But, as a great game, Silent Hill has a story inside it. Of course, that story is much- - part of the time in the background of the game because you have to play. If youíre careful and if you play again and again through the first one, the second one and especially the third one- - the third one which is a sequel to the first one - - suddenly you realize that there is a huge story behind the game and thatís what we try to explore in the film.
Is this based on Silent Hill 2?
Actually, Iím going to be very precise. Itís the adaptation of Silent Hill 1 with some elements from the third one which is as we know a straight sequel to the first one, and with the look of the second one which is my favorite. But I think that itís not like trying to put three games in one film. We didnít try to do that. We really tried to adapt the first one, but there were so many great elements in the second one and the third one that we didnít resist the idea to borrow some of them.
And also because if for example you read the strategy guide of the third one, youíll see that actually the creator of the game tried toe explain what was happening in the first one. And thatís a very interesting process because the first game looked like a very spontaneous creation, but after they tried to make something with it, tried to create a mythology. And thatís what we are doing with our film, be absolutely true to the mythology that the creator of Silent Hill started to define from the second and the third game.
How hard is it to direct Radha in todayís scene?
Thatís interesting, to actually create a sequence of suspense with the monster not moving. Of course we are all seeing a lot of movies from Hollywood and we know that today is make of the movement and the fast cut and everything. I think itís interesting sometimes to create an interesting film just the opposite. I like this idea that thatís a suspense scene among people who are almost not moving. I think itís interesting.
Why cast her?
Itís a matter of feeling. If you play Silent Hill you know that each character has a very special poetic quality. They are both twisted and sophisticated. We tried to keep that in mind when we did the casting on this film, not try to go necessarily to a big name but interesting actor which actually has developed their talent in independent movies, like Alice Krige or Deborah Kara Unger. Jodelle Ferland. I mean, they are not like the usual name, but at the same time, you know that they are going to bring something special to the film. The film was entirely financed just on the title, so why resist the temptation to have great casting? And not only a bunch of name flavor of the month thing. Thatís the idea. And when you look at a great movie like for example Mulholland Drive by David Lynch, you know that the casting is interesting because it has an age. Itís made with a certain idea. And thatís I think very close to what we tried to achieve here.
How much gore?
I think that Silent Hill is not something gory. Itís more disturbing. I was afraid when I played Silent Hill because itís constantly disturbing. We understand more or less what happened to the little girl and what they did to her. We tried to keep that disturbing quality but yes, the movie is going to be sometimes very gory.
Will this movie be PG-13?
No. Itís impossible. This one is impossible because we have not only gore sequences, but naked sequences, people naked.
You will see. And the imagery is disturbing. I think the imagery is much more like something you can find in the last novel by Clive Barker. Itís definitely not PG-13. I have nothing against PG-13. Sometimes you have a great movie like The Others which is a great film and itís a PG film. Itís not even a PG-13, itís a PG film and itís frightening and itís great. But this one definitely not. The people who played through the game know what it is. Itís about a ritual where actually we burn a little girl of 10. So I don't think itís a PG-13 movie.
How do you balance looking good and being genuinely scary?
Itís difficult to say now because Iím right into the process and itís difficult for me to say oh, itís going to be absolutely scary as the game. I hope itís going to be scary as the game and Iím doing everything for that. But at the same time, itís difficult because we know that the game is not only a great imagery. Itís also the sound. The sound is amazing in the game and the music. And of course, by the way, the music in the film is going to be sung by Akira Yamoaka. Thatís the guy who composed for the game because I know that all the fans around the world, thatís the first requirement, that the music. Itís a masterpiece. Itís a beautiful soundtrack and actually I love to use as temp music the original Silent Hill 2 and 3 soundtrack. Itís great because immediately we can see if we have really achieved something close to the game because the music is one of the essence of the game.
Explain the four versions of the world?
Itís not only an idea in the game, itís an idea of the game. The game is built on different levels and I think that people enjoy the game because intellectually itís very refreshing and very challenging to just superimpose action and level and structure and architecture. You have plenty of game playing on that and Silent Hill is one of the most challenging because you can be in a world and suddenly youíre in a different world with the same structure of the one that you have just explored. We tried to play with that a lot.
But creating the four looks?
Basically, sometimes we had four different versions of the same set. I think itís cool because when you try to make the adaptation of a video game on screen, itís not only try to transcribe the story or the atmosphere but transcribe also the pleasure. And for me, I have not seen any movie for the moment adapted from the game which actually gave me that feeling. Sometimes a movie which is not adapted from a game gives me the feeling of a game. For example, Starship Troopers. In Starship Troopers, I have the feeling of being inside a game. But most of the time the movie adapting the game just uses the title and bastardizes it.
They donít appreciate games as an art form.
Exactly. Iím very respectful, I think itís an art form and Iím very humbly trying to reproduce not only Silent Hill the game, but the experience which was my experience in Silent Hill. Thatís what I tried to achieve and thatís not easy, but I think at the worst, the movie will be extremely respectful.
Are there any good video game movies?
For the moment, no.
Are you doing any POVís from the game?
For the moment, I can tell you one part of the film is shot with crane simply to reproduce the isometric point of view. I started to do that on Brotherhood of the Wolf on some sequences. Here itís extensive. You will see itís extensive. You are going to see crane movement flying around everything and it was fun to reproduce that. We even built sets which actually are moveable just to have amazing crane movements which reproduce exactly some of the crane movement that you saw in the game.
So we went very far with that. By the way, in the film there is 108 locations or set pieces. So basically itís a movie of 110 minutes I think, so basically you will have an average of 1 set per minute and itís really big. But simply because normally, a normal film is confined to a room, to a house. But we have never seen a whole film with a complete town like that, so it was a huge challenge in terms of production design especially.
Selection of your production designer?
Sheís a genius (Carol Spier). Sheís a genius and I love her work for so many years, especially her work with David Cronenberg. I think sheís the right person and I was very happy to bring her on my project because for a production designer, itís like a dream project. We have so many sets to build, so many things to joint. You will see sometimes there is one movement and you have three different locations, all blended in the same movement. We had to do that because Silent Hill doesnít exist, especially with this three or four different dimensions.
Are you building them in sequence?
Sometimes I am joining a set on studio with a location that we have completely revamped. All the combinations are possible, but all the film has been storyboarded very precisely and we are following the storyboards like a bunch of maniacs, because if not weíd be lost. Weíd be completely lost because we have not only to deal with all the sets, but we have to deal with all different dimensions. Weíd be completely lost if we were not following that precise storyboard. What we did before the film is almost like for an animation film. Everything was designed very, very precisely. You should see the boards. You will see thatís exactly the shot you are seeing on the screen.
How closely does the production design follow the game?
Oh, very close. My word on the film was follow the game. We all love the game. Of course we have sometimes to adapt simply because itís 3D and suddenly you have to build something, but yeah we follow very closely. But you can see that. The color and everything is very, very scrupulously reproduced. But Iím a gamer and Iím a very strong fan, and I really want to see the game on screen. I would be so sad if itís not the game.
Whatís one thing you had to change?
As I told you, something which can surprise the people who love the game is the fact that now the story in the background is in the foreground. But thatís of use. So itís not going to be only somebody walking during one hour and a half. Itís impossible. We had to bring that story at one moment more in the foreground. But anyway, there are two reels in the film which are exactly like the game: Somebody alone in the street, in the town, in the Darkness. I hone that to the game to make two reels of pure gaming experience. But if not, we talk about the mythology as I said. I talk about the mythology that the people of Silent Hill, the original creators start to define with the third one. We start now to explain what happened to the town.
In the game the main character is a male. Why female leads for the film?
Yeah, itís almost entirely female characters. Itís difficult to explain. When you see the film, you will see exactly what I mean. I had to explain to myself some of the elements of the game and I suddenly realized it was not only me, but Roger Avary and this other writer Nicolas Boukhrief, that actually we were dealing with a complete feminine world. And we decided to create a feminine dimension of Silent Hill. Itís difficult to explain, not revealing what happens in the game, but I have that feeling that the way to explain Silent Hill is very feminine. You will see, but actually when you look at the game, the heroes of the game act like women even if they are guys.
They are caring about a child, they are very sensitive and they are crying, so basically they are like cardboard on feminine character. If you take off the appearance, you would see that they are acting like women. And I can say something, all the film is about motherhood. All the film is about motherhood, about being a mother and being a daughter. All the film is about that because I have the feeling after I played through the four games of Silent Hill, itís entirely about that. Thatís one of my decisions when I had to adapt Silent Hill is insist on that idea, on that theme of motherhood. Letís see what the fans will think about that.
Did Roger Avary write the whole script?
Oh, I wrote with Roger and Nicolas, we wrote basically the whole story. Then Roger Avary worked a lot on the dialogue. Of course heís a great dialogist so that was the way to work together.
Cheeseburger in Silent Hill?
[Laughs] I don't know.
What other games do you play?
2 is my favorite. Thatís my favorite game of all time.
Oh, Iím a big fan of Metal Gear Solid and Quake. Iím a big fan of RPG of course. Especially the Squaresoft RPG, Final Fantasy. I like all types of games except maybe race games.
What would a non-gamer get out of the movie?
Like I said, we bring the story very much in the foreground because itís not only a movie for the people who like the game. Itís also a movie for a large audience. Thatís one of the reasons also we decided to go to a completely feminine cast, to create something very attractive and sexy in the film, but in a subtle way. You will see but itís definitely a movie that people who donít know the game can watch.
Favorite scene in the movie?
My favorite scene in that movie, itís difficult. I have some scenes that I like but in the film I have to transcribe hell and purgatory. The Darkness is hell and of course the foggy dimension is Purgatory. At one moment I have to shoot something which looks like heaven. I think thatís my favorite sequence in the film. Itís a small sequence, but thatís my way to shoot heaven.
I would like to thank Amy Conley from Sony and I would also like to thank all the other journalists that made this a set visit a very memorable one!!