SET VISIT: THE APPARITION
I guess making my first set visit for Arrow in the Head on April 1st was quite apposite. After all, your boy here is a fool, and it turned out to be a hell of a day. Poetic f*ckin' justice!
It was a Thursday, the start of a 3-day Easter weekend. The sun did its best to poke through the dense patina of L.A. smog, not uncommonly, and in the hours leading up to my set-call all I think about was what a privilege it would be to get to witness firsthand what goes down on the set of a major Warner Brothers release. A horror release, no less. Needless to say, I was giddier than a sexless pre-tween TWILIGHT fan, in all their glitterati, say, at an R-Patz signing. F*ckin' amped!
So what's the film in question, you may ask. Nothing less than a awesome sounding haunted house flick called THE APPARITION, written and directed by first-time filmmaker Todd Lincoln. The movie stars Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan as a young couple who become increasingly tormented by a supernatural presence in their home after a college experiment goes terribly awry. Tom Felton, Julianna Guill, Rick Gomez, Luke Pasqualino, Suzanne Ford, Anna Clark, Andrea Harrison, Meena Serendib and Aidee Salgado also play a part in the film, a Dark Castle Production.
Although the movie takes place in Los Angeles, the bulk of filming actually took part in Germany (a topic we'll fondle later). With almost the entire picture in the can, Lincoln and crew just had a few exterior shots to pick up in L.A. before officially entering post-production. The L.A. location chosen was a suburban block in Saugus, California, a destination Mapquest assured me of taking 45 minutes to arrive at. Of course, L.A. traffic's a fickle lover, as evidenced by the over 2 hour travel time it took me reach the set.
When I arrived, I weaved my way through a cavalcade of trailers, motor-homes, 18-wheelers, the works. If there was ever a time for me and my 1988 Mazda RX-7 to feel intimidated, now was certainly that time. Yet, after a few minutes of exchanging pleasantries with a kindly grip, I not only felt at ease, I actually felt like I belonged. This was the place I needed to be!
It wasn't long before I spotted STYD's very own Ryan Rotten milling about near the coffee stand. Having never officially met, I tracked the sucker down and introduced myself. A cooler dude, STYD could not have manning their ship! Shortly thereafter I was met by Gemma Cacho, one of WB's publicity people and more than amiable set-visiting liaison. Over the course of the 4 or so hours I spent on set, it was Gemma who became my right-hand woman, as she couldn't be nicer or more cooperative with me personally, and did the absolute best she could to make sure the task at hand was achieved successfully. Thanks again Gemma, you rock!
It's now about 6:30 P.M., time for the cast and crew to get their lunch fix on. Before everyone piled plates full of couscous and Kobe beef and headed to cafeteria, I came face to face with someone who I instantly thought was another fellow horror news editor. Dude certainly fit the bill: looked young, cool, energetic, but most importantly, the man was rocking a pristine TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE tee-shirt. I knew this was my type of dude. Before even uttering a word to the man, I felt kindred, like I was looking at a friend who I hadn't seen in years. After-all, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is my all time favorite horror flick, and anyone who knows me knows that. So when I found out the dude I was staring at was actually THE APPARITION director Todd Lincoln, two things happened. I immediately felt an even greater sense of calm and ease wash over me. And secondly, since I didn't know much about THE APPARITION going in, my confidence in the quality the final print would engender instantly skyrocketed.
After talking shop with Gemma and Rotten over a cup of tea, it was time to get shuttled up to actual set where an exterior patio scene was being blocked and lit. It was at this point Rotten and I were afforded the opportunity to briefly meet producer Alex Heineman, who makes his producing debut at Dark Castle with THE APPARITION. Prior to making the move, Heineman produced two of the better received horror flicks to come out in recent years, THE STRANGERS in 2008 and last year's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake. Both for Rogue Pictures. He also did the same for Neil Marshall's DOOMSDAY, a flick I know gets more than its fair share of love from us at AITH. Again, with such an impressive track record under his belt, all signs pointing toward THE APPARITION being something special just flashed in hyper-neon.
As we let Heineman get back to monitoring dailies, Rotten, Gemma and I shuttle back down to the parking lot. Rotten jets, Gemma and I wait around for a few minutes while MTV interviews THE APPARITION leads Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan. It's at this point I reacquaint with Paulette, whom I briefly met along with Gemma when I first arrived on set. Mrs. Paulette, who's been working for Warner Brothers for many years, couldn't have been nicer, more cordial or more professional. Honestly, it's people like this who suffer from the bad name given to show biz by spoiled, jaded, highly cynical divas, power-players and other various malcontents. Here's a woman who's been grinding at her craft for years, yet still retains the infectious enthusiasm of a person on set for the first time. The stories, the warmth, the guidance... for that I'm truly grateful! Little did I know that gratitude would multiply fivefold about an hour or two later.
Whisked back up to the set, I'm now afforded the opportunity to witness some firsthand filming. As I mentioned prior, all that's left at this point to shoot is exteriors to match what's already been captured on the elaborate German set. As such, the particular scene I got see go down took place on a backyard patio at night. It's now roughly 10:00 PM, a smallish crew on-hand included Lincoln and Heineman of curse, as well as Director of Photography Daniel Pearl (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 1974, 2003), not to mention about a dozen other various crew members. Needless to say, being given the chance to see Lincoln and Pearl in action just about reduced me to Travolta on an all-male cruise.
So what does this particular scene entail, you may wonder. It's pretty simple, really. What we have is a well paced tracking shot, sans dialogue, where Sebastian Stan's character, Ben, vets a mysterious noise he hears in his backyard. Equipped with a lantern and aluminum ball-bat, Ben first walks right up to the lens, where the bright refraction of light illuminates his face. He holds there for a hard beat or two, then ambles his way across the patio, eerily dragging the tip of the metal about against the concrete. When he reaches the other side of the patio, a detached security camera is found on the ground, mangled, masticated. Ben slowly picks up the camera, examines the damage, then coils up the electric cord from where it was unplugged. And while that may seem an innocuous scene on paper, the way it was shot, the deliberate pacing, the minimal use of sound, the framing...all of it plays to heightened level of suspense most films of this ilk tend to skirt these days. In an ADD world of MTV editing and an image-a-second mentality, here's a scene reminiscent of old school horror, where it's much more about mood, atmosphere, tone, and a true evocation of dread as opposed to cheap, instantly gratifying shock-visuals and exorbitant gore. From what little I saw, THE APPARITION gets it right!
After witnessing a few takes, both through the window and from a pair of playback monitors, star Ashley Greene was more than kind enough to give me a few minutes out of her hectic schedule. You see, it's getting late in the night and Ashley has one final scene to film before shooting wraps and the cast and crew break for a three day weekend. No doubt exhausted (still breathtaking though), Ms. Greene could not have been more of a sweetheart. She was funny, smart, affable, completely accommodating of my questions (even the more impish ones), and way more down to Earth than you'd think a fast-rising star of her caliber might be. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Ms. Greene again, her presence and attitude did nothing short of floor me! Here's a recap of our brief conversation:
So what drew you to your character in The Apparition?
In this type of film you don't generally find this kind of character because Kelly's a really driven, strong willed, kind of sound and sarcastic, very proactive character. But she still has the...she's really likeable, really fun, very much a level headed character. So she kind f encompasses that everyday girl and that girl that every guy I think is looking for. So it's a very nice balance, I think.
And what drew you to the script? Was it the character or was it something else?
It was a mix of everything really, I mean...you know, when I read a script and I care about what these characters are doing. That's kind of number one for me. I care about the plotline, and what's going to happen. I'm interested. I don't put it down. And once I figure out that I'm interested in it and there's something I relate to in the script, it kind of comes down to meeting, sitting down and talking with the producers and what one point with the director to see what his vision is on it, because no matter how good a script is written I think it can be butchered by directors, or producers, or studios. So yeah, I sat down and spoke with Todd, and kind of went back and forth about what his vision and how I saw things. And that kind of sealed the deal, because whenever I did chemistry read he was very open to ideas that I had and talked me through things, and made it clear that he was about performing and collaboration. I mean, he wrote the script as well, so we didn't have to worry about offending the writer, because the director was in fact the writer, so. That and just you know, he fought for me on this one!
Nice! And he let you kind of make the character your own, how much did you have to stick to the script?
I mean, you always stick to the script, but there's definitely little tweaks and changes and things that you realize along the way. The other great thing is we sat in Germany and picked the script to pieces, and the three of us basically went over it and over again and really exhausted every option and pieced together the best possible way to make this film incredible, believable, relatable, because we very much want it to be more of a psychological thriller and want people to see if first almost as a drama and there's this added in terrifying thing that haunts us, rather than it being a slasher horror film.
Very cool. Now you've done horror movies before, obviously the whole TWILIGHT thing. How do you approach playing this character, is it different than say, the Cullen character. Is it a little bit more like Summer's Blood?
It's funny. I'm always attracted to differences in characters 'cause I don't really ever want to play the same character over and over again. And Summer's Blood was kind of the only true horror film I've been a part of. Twilight's more about this kind of love story than it is about actual vampires. My character in particular, Alice, is this perky, positive vampire. So, with Kelly it was just about trying to figure out what I would do in this situation and base this character around what Todd had written and then add in real life experience. And I wanted to create this character not thinking about anything else but this relationship with Ben. And then let these outside things come to affect me rather than saying this has to be scary. In this film, there's no acting for the thrill or acting for effect, there's no horror in our acting, they've made the atmosphere really great for us to really just be there, in the moment, deal with these issues as the couple would. The way it's being shot, it's just creepy as hell! The house lives and breathes, I mean, the house is a character of its own.
And you shot that in Germany Right?
Anything weird or creepy go down on set? No, nothing?
No, but you know, recently my dog has been barking at corners and walls and things and it creeps me out because they say the dogs can see ghosts and things that we can't see. So, perfect timing!
And finally, independent of the movie, are you fan of horror movies in general? Do you have a favorite?
Yeah, as a child growing up, I was a always big fan of horror movies. When I moved to L.A., living alone, I shy away from them. I shy away from things like SAW, really sadistic, twisted movies, kind of gory type films. I'm not a fan of. But I love thrillers, psychological movies. Of course all the old school like, before we started filming we they had us watch the shining, Poltergeist, Rosemary's Baby, Don't look now, Close Encounters...and those things I like because I think it's you creating this thing, it's your fear and it's more about the mind than seeing someone get stabbed.
Like I said, one super-cool chick! As Ashley goes off to run sides for her upcoming scene, I mosey back to the monitors to see how the patio-scene is progressing. Now past the tracking portion of the shot, two cameras are locked on Ben as he wrestles the camera-cord. One captures his facial reactions, the other focuses on what his hands are doing with the camera. I only note this because it's fascinating to see how these guys are already thinking of how the footage will be cut. It's an interesting study in editing, instead of shooting multiple angles in multiple takes, Lincoln, Pearl and company are filming multiple angles in a single take, which clearly shows how prepared they are in terms of how they want the final scene to play onscreen. I never got the impression they were just filming a bunch of random angles with the intention of hopes of "finding" their scene in the cutting room. No, I got the feeling these guys had a precise vision and an even more calculated game-plan going in. Even more reason to believe we as filmgoers are in good hands!
Only moments pass before the cast and crew break. The scene isn't quite wrapped, so the respite most likely due to a magazine change or readjusted light fixture. Either way, it's at this time Paula was kind enough to ask Sebastian Stan for a few words. Dude was more than obliging, even so cool as to direct our conversation outside, where we chattered for a few minutes in the driveway. Here's the nuts and dick of the convo:
What drew you to the script for THE APPARITION?
I kind of liked that it was a little different than your usual horror movie, it was way simpler, in a way. It's more about these two people and their relationship and then basically all this other crazy stuff happens. But it wasn't trying to make...it was just kind of letting me...for myself figure out what I'm scared about. It wasn't like telling me, like, okay...this is a scary moment now.
What about your character, can you tell us a little about him?
His name is Ben Curtis. He's just like this simple guy, he went to college, he's really smart, he kind of had his life set on a path, and then he just kind of got thrown a different fork in the road and he went a different way and met this girl. Right now he's like "I don't really know what I'm gonna do with my life", all he kinda knows is that he cares about this girl and they're moving in together. And so he's like, let's focus on all that, but he's trying to figure out if his life is gonna work out. He's got some issues because they're living in her parents' house, and so they're not exactly very rich I suppose, but they love each other so that's all he cares about at this point.
Tell me man, I know you did some of your own stunts back on The Covenant, the only other real horror movie you've done. Did you have any cool stunts you did yourself on this movie?
Nothing like that, but I got to drive this car, it was awesome. It was like this pickup truck. It was in the parking lot. I had to like jet it back and do 360 or whatever and howl out!!! And yeah, that was a lot of fun!
Nice, nice. What about filming in Germany, what was that like? Anything weird happen?
Germany was crazy, in the fact that we're trying to shoot a movie that's supposed to be in California. Plus we were in the studio... How did that affect you, did it change your performance? I mean, it didn't really...honestly, they built this house, the details were just like...you couldn't even tell. but every time you came out of the studio you'd be in the middle of snow and there wasn't a lot of sun. I think that a lot of sun definitely affects everybody! But we were working a lot, and didn't really get a chance to see a lot of the city, but whatever tiredness we had or lack of sun, we just tried to use it, bring to the movie.
Cool man, let me get you out of here on this. Tell me, are you a fan of horror films in general and if you are, what are some of your favorite horror movies?
Oh for sure! Yeah I mean, I love THE STRANGERS, and I love that movie THE ORPHANAGE. PAN'S LABYRINTH was really good. I mean, you know, like THE SHINING, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, there's this movie called DON'T LOOK NOW.
Oh that's a good one! Ashley was saying Todd screened it for you guys. A helluva flick:
Yeah I know, that one's so crazy. That last scene! Yeah, Todd had all these this list of movies, like I had never seen POLTERGEIST. I had never seen uh...there's another one but it's escaping me right now. But TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE...
That's my favorite Bro!:
It's SO weird. It's like no matter how many times you remake it, the original is still crazy. And what's even more insane is our D.P. worked on it, so I keep asking him, so like "did you know what you were doing" and he's like: 'I don't know man, I had $1,000 dollars and was just showing up to work. I was 22.'
Very cool. Alright Sebastian, we'll get you out of here on that. Thanks a bunch for taking the time man, I really appreciate.
Yeah, cool man, no problem. Have a safe drive back!
Jealous ladies? Good, you should be. This Sebastian Stan is one cool mothaf*ckin' cat!
Now nearing 11:00 in the P.M., it's not but a few minutes longer until I, along with the cool dudes I met from MTV, are shuttled back down to the parking lot. But before we do, I get yet another chance to compliment director Todd Lincoln on his TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE t-shirt, and since there's a few minutes of down time before setting up the next shot, Lincolns was opened up a little about his love of the 1974 Tobe Hooper masterpiece. Now this is just a tease, because we've got a full interview with Lincoln to be posted separately, but he also discussed how adamant he was about securing Daniel Pearl as his cinematographer, and how Pearl's knowledge and use of old and new visual styles was something they set out to exploit early on. So keep posted for all that!
As the night nears an end, I give Gemma and Paulette my heartfelt thanks for being so helpful and accommodating. They went out of their way to ensure my time on set was fun, insightful, and in a weird way meant to be. I hop back in to the '88 and burn off into the Los Angeles night.
I also want to express my gratitude to Alex Heieneman, Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan for be so gracious as to give this humble schlub a few minutes. You guys rock!
THE APPARITION hits theaters August 24th.