INT: Andrew Douglas
takes four months to shoot twenty-eight days.
I’m glad they didn’t stay in the house longer.” – Commercial
director Andrew Douglas on shooting The Amityville Horror (his first
Andrew Douglas has spent the good part of his career (perhaps most of his career) shooting high profile commercials for such companies as Lexus, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard. He has a documentary titled SEARCHING FOR THE WRONG-EYED JESUS which will be in limited release around the time of his first feature’s release, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (April 15). Platinum Dunes’ producers’ decision for Douglas to helm the Amityville remake was based on the calm, collected elegant look of his reel. Douglas, a funny and soft spoken Englishman, was more than happy to chat with us for a few minutes and I got the feeling he would’ve stayed longer to chat had he not been filming a movie and all. Actually, security was called on after my repeated requests to hook me up with a Lexus. Damn.
you enjoying this more than shooting TV commercials?
It’s much, much more satisfying to tell stories. Commercials, they’re thirty seconds and at the end of the day, frankly, you’re selling a product. On a good commercial you fool yourself into thinking they’re something else. I mean, they’re beautiful and you try to make them as good as they can be. But at the end of the day they’re still flogging something, making Bill Gates richer or whatever they’re doing. And you do that for a while and you start to feel proud of your work but still a bit dissatisfied.
You never, for example, get to work with really good actors.
You never get a chance to tell a long story and you never get
a chance to hang on what an actor could really deliver.
There are scenes in this film where Ryan’s so conflicted in
his character you know, kind of emoting, that you can hang onto a
shot for more than the length of a commercial. And with nothing,
saying nothing. So I never
get a chance to do that, so that’s terribly interesting. This is a great opportunity also to dive into a genre that I
hadn’t really thought about for ten years, because to some extent
in Europe, you don’t get into the kind of hurly burly of the next
genre picture. We almost
missed all the Scream films to some extent because you just do.
Not everything comes to Europe.
So that was fun to kind of catch up on that.
And trying to stay ahead of the spoofs actually.
you feel you have a good grasp on the horror genre?
That remains to be seen doesn’t it? You know, it was interesting to me to see how the spoofs were actually so good and so sophisticated, that for awhile there it felt as though there was nowhere else to go. And just when you’re desperate in your own film, you look at what Shyamalan did with The Sixth Sense, or you look at The Ring and all of a sudden you feel as though there is another place to go.
you going in that direction?
Those are certainly touchstones, yeah. I think this particular film, because of the people involved, it’s a balancing act between where I wanted to go which is certainly kind of creepy, and creepy as opposed to “slasher”, let’s say. The things I’m interested in is the things that aren’t said and the things that hint to that.
I love this idea that people will leave this film with it not
completely wrapped up. And I
worked very hard to leave certain things, like the source of evil,
kind of open ended. So it
satisfies, I think-I hope it satisfies-but it certainly leaves you
crossing the carpark to go to your car, still rather unsettled.
And I love that cos’ so many films now they just kind of
wrap themselves up and close at the end and you go, “That was
cool, beer?” and I love
this idea that if I can tap the imagery and the performances on some
level, just a bit lower like where The Ring got to, you know, tap a
vein lower than the “boo” scare, then it appeals to me as a
storyteller that I can make someone kind of unsettled for a week or
do you think the horror genre is so attractive nowadays?
Well, I think the reason most horror films work, and certainly horror has worked as genre literature for a thousand years now, is because when it’s good it taps into you below the conscious mind, below the rational mind. Not to be pretentious but it does. I mean the fact that the face of the house, the original house, was so durable was because it looks like a jack-o-lantern. And the jack-o-lantern is durable because it reminds us of Halloween. And it also reminds us of skull imagery. So it’s not that it was that house, it’s that somebody made that house in the original, tap into us in a way that we can’t forget. Like I saw that film when I was a kid thirty years ago. But I could draw that poster now.
So it s those kind of subconscious or unconscious images that I was trying to get at. That’s the kind of imagery I’m trying to tap into as visual imagery, and then what I’m trying to tap into from the point of view of the family story, the story of a dysfunctional family, is things that are actually quite familiar with us: being poor, and moving into a place or trying to live in a way that’s slightly beyond our means. And feeling all that pressure. That’s something very familiar to most of us. Maybe coming from a single parent family and then the single parent marries again, you have this kind of conflict with the step-parent, you know, so all these things are kind of familiar to a modern audience, particularly familiar to me, the conflicts that occur between a mother and a new husband and an eldest boy about to hit his teens. It’s wonderfully edible for relationships, so again, using that to try to find the horror in the familiar. It was those ideas that really told me that one of the things that I wanted to do was make this film not so extraordinary like Van Helsing, but to make it more ordinary, more familiar, even though its clearly period. Try and cloud the horror in daylight, not in dungeons, to try and modernize the film and not let it be gothic, not let it be too obvious.
Dunes is producing this, how has Michael Bay been treating you?
He’s a tough guy. It’s very difficult working for a director/producer because Bay is somebody who has a very, very established aesthetic. You know that from all his movies, they look a certain way, they tell a story in a certain way and they’re incredibly kinetic and dynamic. And there was kind of a healthy conflict between our approaches to this film and if we were shooting on the edges of Los Angeles, it might be a different film.
A lot of the first discussion even before we started shooting and the first couple of weeks when we were shooting, I knew that he was struggling to kind of see what I was doing, because he would have had such a clear idea of how he would’ve done it. I had to learn to be a director and be confident-have confidence in myself-and he to some extent, had to learn how to be a producer rather than a remote director and have confidence in his choice of me, so I think for both of us it was kind of a learning experience, who knows, certainly for me it was a learning experience on how to navigate between all these pressures and still try to stay on track with what you both committed to.
approaching this film as if the house is watching the Lutzs.
Yes, that’s one of the stylistic aspects. To me you have to establish the idea that there’s a presence in the house and to some extent that tells you really how to make the imagery. The shot you saw this morning had very much a voyeuristic quality; it wasn’t just a conventional blocking of a scene. It was very much: somebody watched, and as soon as that eye had caused a little bit of grievance, it left.
you stick to the horror genre or will you go on to other types of
There are other types of movies yeah but now that I’ve got my feet wet on this one I would be interested in another actually. One of the first things I said was just when you think something’s dead or a genre’s been tapped out like a coal mine, like a vein, something else comes in from Thailand or from China or from Japan and you go, “You know, I never thought about that really.” The other thing that interested me, once I signed on, and it was only occurring to me when I was reading the newspapers and being here in America, was when all those great films came out in the seventies-- Amityville, Exorcist, The Shining -- the first wave of horror films, it was Vietnam. Vietnam was going on. And it struck me that it’s possibly not a coincidence that we are now remaking these films and there’s this great kind of upswing in very successful horror films because we’re a culture that is actually conflicted. I absolutely feel that. I feel as though to some extent, if you look at what films are successful at the multiplexes, it’s a mirror of culture. And if we’re looking at a lot of horror or fantasy films, it means that something’s in conflict in our culture.
You’re two-thirds into filming, how has the cast been holding up?
I haven’t asked them, I’m struggling on myself holding up. They seem fine to me, they get a lot of time. Production is very generous with cast. You know, they schedule them, they come in for an hour and let them go home. Meanwhile, you’re slugging away on twelve, fourteen hour days. They come in the next morning all fresh, “how is it?” “It sucks!” (laughs). They’ve been playing tennis all morning. But no, they’re great I think. The other difficult thing, for me and for actors-which is a new lesson for me, not so much the actors-you take a story and it seems to me you find the most difficult way of cutting it up. You know, chronologically. I mean literally day one, we shot the first scene of act three. And ever since then it’s been, “Where are we now in the film? How shall I shoot this? How shall I act this?” It seems almost deliberate the way they cut it up. Today, it’s a scene in the first ten minutes of the film, then we jump to a scene thirty minutes later and he’s already borderline psychotic. It’s just mad.
But they’re [the cast] wonderful. All of them. Within three
days I couldn’t imagine any of them being different, and they all
bring something surprising to the film.
Ryan Reynolds especially. He’s
got this nemesis, to some extent of Jack Nicholson.
I mean that’s how high the bar is, for a film like this.
So his was the biggest challenge to try and navigate that
character without going anywhere near Jack Nicholson.
So that was tough.
Is there anyone you want to work with?