AITH interviews Patrick Lussier
Writer/Director/Editor Patrick Lussier has a new card up its sleeve and that card is an Ace of... WHITE NOISE 2 THE LIGHT. The film which stars the great Nathan Fillion (Serenity) & the cute Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Gallactica) recently opened in the UK on January 5th 2007 (it has yet to secure a US theatrical release). Its a sequel IN NAME ONLY to the 2005 moneymaker, I saw it and dug it (I hated the original BTW). Patrick was groovy enough to take the time to talk heavy shop with us and here's how he kicked it.
What was it about the WHITE NOISE 2 -THE LIGHT script that tickled your fancy when it fell in your lap?
What really surprised me about WN:TL was that it was so different from the first WHITE NOISE. The main character was completely new and the journey he went on was not only unpredictable but unique in how it unfolded and resolved itself.
It's the story of Abe Dale, an average guy in his 30's, who witnesses the murder of his wife and son. The killer then turns the gun himself. Abe's left with no outlet for his anger and despair... except the one he blames for letting it happen: himself. That desperation triggers Abe's journey into a darker world there may be no way to escape.
Were you at all concerned with the fact that although it did good money, White Noise was not well received critically and you were now gonna make a sequel to it?
It's a concern on one hand... you know the original was well received via the box office worldwide but it wasn't so much amongst critics or genre fans. However, audiences did respond to the strength of the 'white noise' concept – messages from the dead via electronic media.
And Matt Venne's script was so original, a completely unexpected approach for the sequel. As a stand alone story it smartly paid tribute to the original in tone and concept but then very smartly leaped off in it's own directions, quickly becoming its own singular journey.
Was there ever a chance of the film only being released as THE LIGHT? Who made that decision?
We discussed it a lot throughout production but ultimately we discovered that WHITE NOISE as a series still held marketing power. The phenomenon of EVP, communications with the dead via electronic signals, static, etc or via other everyday devices proved to be the real hook of 'WHITE NOISE' as a potential series of films.
These films wouldn't necessarily be directly related to each other via cross-over characters but instead via theme and the details and tone of the 'white noise' world, a world where the dead need to communicate with us through the interference created by modern technology. The producers of both films felt very strongly that what they had was a brand name that deserved to be pursued.
Nathan will sooooo get his ass whooped by The Light!
You cast Nathan Fillion as the lead. Was he your first choice and what did he bring to the film/role in your opinion
Nathan was absolutely my first choice. We'd worked together once before and I've been trying to work with him again ever since. From the very first meeting I had on the White Noise sequel I brought up Nathan as the lead of the film. Paul Brooks, WN:TL's executive producer had just had a fantastic experience working with Nathan on SLITHER (if you haven't seen James Gunn's SLITHER, you should – Bill Pardy should be indelibly etched into the pantheon of heroes... or in graffiti outside its gates... either way... very cool film) .
He immediately agreed that Nathan would be perfect for the lead. In terms of the role of Abe Dale, Nathan brought what we needed most – a real sense of the 'everyman', a complete character, vulnerable, strong, damaged, hopeful, devastated, and heroic in the face of something bigger than himself. So much of Abe's journey is one of dawning discovery and Nathan really brought to life this emotionally destroyed man who has to claw his way back to a feeling of self-worth after the loss of his family, only to learn that the truth of his life is far more dangerous than he could've imagined.
I’m pretty sure this was the biggest budget you ever had under your belt. What were the major differences between working on a film of this scope as opposed to say the more che-ching humble Dracula III Legacy?
It was liberating to have the complete support and faith of the producers throughout the making of WHITE NOISE: THE LIGHT. Paul Brooks, the executive producer and Shawn Williamson, the producer were both big believers in the script they'd developed and really allowed Matt and I to continue to shape the story into the best version we could film. There were certain sequences, one specifically, (the hotel scene) that nobody had really done before and I was so lucky to have their trust to shoot it.
And that trust wasn't easy, the engineering and construction to make that scene work were massive for a film of this scale. But the outcome, thanks to Scott Ateah our stunt coordinator, Jak Osmand our special effects coordinator and our amazing art department was truly awesome. When people watch that scene they are shocked by what they see because that kind of thing just shouldn't happen. And we did it. Practically, not as a big massive CG effect.
So in comparison to the humble Drac 3, yeah, this was a great step up. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity and the support to work with a bigger canvas that really afforded every chance to tell a great story.
What were you aiming for when it came to the films scares? Any particular approach you wanted to take?
The scares in the film come from a few different origins. Matt Venne, Tom Elkins (my co-editor) and I discussed one element, the EVP portion of the film, at length and how to best integrate the 'communications with the dead' into the story that evolves differently than expected. The scares needed to be routed in what Nathan's character experiences.
It was critical for Nathan to mark the evolution of his experience with the supernatural elements throughout the film as he gets further and further drawn into this darker world. Each step he takes amplifies the intensity of what he experiences and the messages he's meant to receive. We wanted the scares to really show how Abe's world was becoming unglued and how he was having less and less control over the events around him regardless of how he tried to intervene.
Beyond the EVP the film has an overwhelming sense of dread. Abe's life changes after he has a 'near death experience.' How it changes and the implications of what he experiences give way to a collision of hope and doom. Every time Abe thinks he's found a solution or that he can actually change the outcome of events he's thrown a wicked curve ball that sends him spiraling.
Left to right: Matt Vennes (screenwriter), Nathan Fillion (star) and Patrick Luissier (Director) on the first day of the WN 2 shoot.
What would you say was the hardest scene to stage and shoot?
There were several difficult scenes to shoot. The train sequence was tricky mostly for the logistics of rain, night etc. But the hotel scene was likely the hardest. Hundreds of extras, very complicated stunts that hadn't been done before, huge sweeping camera moves all with very limited time to shoot in the confined space of a heritage building in downtown Vancouver.
Now if you enter the lobby of the Orpheum theatre (who were absolutely amazing to our production, btw), you think... 'wow, tons of space.' But put a crane, a crew, tons of extras, equipment, platforms, etc, and it becomes very cramped very fast. Luckily the entire sequence went off without a single problem (other than the always converging walls of time).
Being that you are also an expert editor, what extra ammo do you feel that brings to your directing skills when on set?
As and editor I'm lucky to know what I need to make the sequences work and exactly (most of the time) how it will go together. This really made for streamlined communication with the Director of Photography, Brian Pearson and the cast in describing exactly how shots would be used and not just what I wanted each shot to look like. My co-editor, Tom Elkins, was also instrumental in this as he'd cut while I was directing and turn scenes around quickly that we could show the cast and crew.
This allowed everybody to see what it was we had in mind for the final film. The more inspired the crew became the more outstanding things they contributed. There's a few big montage sequences in the film that were all crafted in advance, building backwards for the transitions and the resulting epiphany that occurs on screen. Mapping those scenes from a final cut perspective, given the limited production time we had, was critical to avoid shooting excess material that would only land on the floor.
Looking back at the White Noise 2 shoot, is there anything you wish had gone down differently?
Even though hindsight has a badgering clarity that never fails to haunt us afterwards, it's important to remember the chain of events that led to every on screen moment regardless of how much we may second guess it or not.
Ultimately, I'm thrilled with the final outcome of the film as is Matt. It's fantastic to have the writer believe so strongly in the finished product because it started with him. Long before the rest of us came on board there was only this amazing story in Matt's head. To hear Matt say how proud he is of the film and how it exceeded his expectations, well you can't really ask for a better review than that.
What would you like to hear audiences say coming out of THE LIGHT screenings?
I'd like to hear more of what we heard when we previewed the film. First, people were really surprised by how different this was from the original. They thought it was far superior and really stood on its own as a supernatural thriller with a very unexpected story. The audiences loved both Nathan and Katee Sackhoff, the female lead in the film.
I really want audiences to see both actors in a new light, both doing something different than what they're known for. Katee's character is so completely different than Starbuck on Galactica, I know her fans will love seeing her this way. She has such an amazing screen presence as does Nathan. The two of them together had the type of chemistry you pray for. And for them, it was effortless. Finally, I really hope audiences enjoy the thrill ride and the twists and turns of Matt's amazing story.
On the run from...I won't tell...
What’s next on your agenda, directorial wise, any other genre projects in the wings?
I've been meeting on several things. Haven't locked into what's next but there's one thing in particular that would be amazing. Still, I'm becoming more and more superstitious so I'm gonna keep quiet for now.
Which brings me to: you seem to operate mostly within the genre, what is it about horror that cranks your dial?
I've loved working in the genre. Since I was a kid these films have always drawn me, scared me and kept me riveted to the screen. There's something so unique about horror, thrillers, movies about the unknown, about what scares us. Because there is so much in the world to frighten the crap out of us, from cancer to politicians to the food we eat, seems there's no end of real life things out to get us.
The genre is a way to embody that fear, personalize it, and make it something that can be fought, challenged, and every once in awhile, vanquished. And when it comes down to it, I like to be scared. I like the mechanics of fear and tension, both as an editor and as a director. There's something so satisfying about crafting moments that can elicit such strong reactions from an audience.
Christmas just passed; is there a present that you got that stood out from the rest?
Two – a box DVD set of FORBIDDEN PLANET. I saw that film when I was 4 and can still remember them blasting lasers at that invisible monster. As a kid I remember thinking that 'how can you fight something invisible? I don't have lasers, I won't even know where it is. It could be in the room I'm in right now and I won't know it!' Ensuing years of trauma followed that event. And now I can face those fears once more.
And a book called “What would MacGyver do?” My first editing job was on season 4 of MacGyver. It's amazing to see how that show has become part of the public lexicon. The duct tape, the swiss army knife, the mullet... with those you can change the world.
like to thank Pat for checking in and would like to wish him the best with
THE LIGHT. Its a good film and deserves to be seen.