6. dec. 2013

Horror-Unrated Retrospekt #2: Et interview med instruktør Patrik Syversen, Courtney Hope og After Dark horrorfilmen 'Prowl'.

Efter 4 år har vi valgt at lukke og slukke for Horror Unrated. Med tiden fik vi hevet en hel del spændende og dybdegående interviews i hus, fra de store kendte horror stjerner til ukendte independent filmskabere. Personligt er jeg meget stolt over den række af interviews vi endte med at få på Horror Unrated, og enkelte står stadig som nogle helt unikke. Bl.a. interviewene med instruktøren af 'Don't Go in the Woods', James Bryan og David Winters - manden bag 'The Last Horror Film', som begge velvilligt satte sig til at scanne gamle billeder filmpris-certifikater ind til os som vi kunne bruge i artiklen. Og danske Heini Grünbaum som i 1999 lavede 'Flænset', gav sig rigtig god tid til virkelig at gå i dybden med sine svar. Den dag i dag er det så vidt vi ved, stadig det eneste interview der findes med ham på internettet.
Af forskellige årsager valgte vi at lukke for Horror Unrated d. 12. november 2013, og da undertegnede tidligere har været skribent for denne fantastiske blog, Sørensen Exploitation Cinema Proudly presents, valgte jeg og bloggens ejer at flytte de mange interviews over på bloggen så de kunne få nyt liv, og forhåbentlig blive læst og nydt af nye læsere.

- Claus Reinhold.

HORROR UNRATED: Patrik and Courtney - welcome to Horror Unrated. It’s great to have you both with us and we’re going to talk about your latest movie Prowl which is part of the After Dark Originals. Patrik, let’s start with you; how did this start for you and how did you get involved in this project?

PATRIK SYVERSEN: Thanks. I got the script from my reps, and really responded to it. It was a lean and straight forward survival horror, but with a strong central character at it's core. Dobré Films took the project to After Dark Films, and then it started moving pretty quickly. Thankfully, the producers involved liked my previous film so within weeks the project was set up and good to go. I think we got word in May 2009, so casting started right away. Then we started shooting in July. Our film was the first of the bunch to be produced, so I'm really glad they're all done and good to go. I can't wait for it to come out.

HU: And you Courtney? How did you get involved in this project, was it through a regular casting process?

COURTNEY HOPE: Yes, I was brought in by Mark Teschner, who I've been in front of for General Hospital many times. He became the casting director on Prowl, read the break down and said he had to bring me in. I read the script and loved it, then met with Patrik and everything just kind of moved on from there.

HU: Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is your first horror film right? Did you have any concerns about that and was it very different from what you have previously done as an actress?

CH: Yes, this is my first horror film. I was so excited about doing a horror film. I knew it was going to be something new and different from the other projects I have worked on so I couldn't wait to get started.

HU: When I first heard of the new Patrik Syversen movie, I thought it was a vampire flick in the vein of 30 Days of Night, but I was definitely proven wrong. So in your words, what sort of film is Prowl?

PS: I like describing it as a coming of age survival horror. It's an intense, character driven horror film about running away and finding your true self through trying times. I wanted it to feel personal, yet tap into very aggressive and primal feelings. Hopefully we pulled that off, so the film works on two levels - a thrilling horror that hopefully taps into some emotional aspects as well.

HU: Courtney, you play Amber, a young girl who wants to escape her sad surroundings and therefore leave for Chicago with her friends. Can you tell us about the character - how you see her and how it was to play her?

CH: Portraying Amber was great. She’s a bit shy and very closed off. She is coming into her own as a young woman, when at the same time her whole world is kind of just falling apart right in front of her. She has a certain drive about her to change the direction that her life is taking that is very humbling. Amber is a very genuine and honest person, what you see is what you get. She isn't afraid of failure, and would do anything to protect the ones that she loves.

HU: So how was it to work with Patrik? How was he as a director and how did the two of you work and collaborate on your character?

CH: Working with Patrik was a blast. It was very interesting. He is so smart and extremely talented. He definitely has a different way of directing than I had ever experienced before. He knows what he wants and it will get done. When we got to Bulgaria, we sat down and talked about what we wanted out of the character and the film and how we were going to make that happen. We each tossed our opinions and ideas out on the table and just kind of worked from there to create what you see in the film.
PS: As the project moved pretty quickly, we had limited rehearsal time. That meant a lot in the casting process, so finding the right actress with the right tone was key. Courtney had a lot of the sensibilities and the same naive approach to things as Amber, so that really kickstarted things. Finding a personal approach is important, and Courtney was 19 at the time, and you can't fake that look in her eyes. So we talked a lot, about her and her character, and tried to find a common trust, and a way to incorporate her personal experiences into the character. For example; the film was shot in Bulgaria, and Courtney had never been out of the US, so she sort of opened her eyes to a new world throughout the shoot. We tried to shoot the film almost chronologically, so I guess she sort of grew through the process, which was important for the film. The last scene in the film was the last one we shot, and I think it shows. She's been through some heavy shit. At times I pushed her hard, and it was pretty draining during certain scenes, but it paid off. We're good friends now, but we went through lengths to push her into the emotional state she was in.

HU: Okay, so this was your first time in Europe, Courtney?

CH: Indeed it was. It was fantastic. I was sad that I didn't get to explore much around Bulgaria, since we were on such a tight shooting schedule, but from what I did see it was very eye opening. It has really beautiful scenery there with all of the rolling hills and old factories. I think it made that much more of an impact on the film and the characters, since it was so foreign to us. Especially to me being one of the only ones from America. We had ADR in London, so I stayed there for a week and explored where the rest of my cast mates were from. It was incredible, and made me want to travel a lot more.

HU: Patrik, in the first act, the film is very dedicated to the focus on Amber as a person – who she is and how her life is, and we’re also introduced to her mother etc. I mean, we really get to know her and the first act has more of a drama-feel to it – something you rarely see in horror films. Was that important to you to do this and to get more into the life of the protagonist?

PS: Yes, setting up the characters in the beginning was definitely important. The main reason I wanted to do the film was that I felt that it was a very direct coming of age story that I could relate to. Being a survival horror movie, it's intense and scary, but still I wanted it to be close to home and heartfelt. Plus, when you set up characters, you want the audience to root for them and go through the same things as they do. The better you try to set them up, the more impact the inevitable terror will have. And in the end it's all about engaging the audience on a primal level without intellectualizing or underestimating them. Hopefully we pulled it off; making the film scary and horrifying, yet keeping the audience engaged in the arc of the central character.

HU: I totally agree. You know, even though I love movies like Friday the 13th and Don’t Go in the Woods, the characters are always just there without any background story or any insight into who they are and what their dreams and goals are. They seem to serve more as disposable bodies for the killer to slash up. But in Prowl and with Amber, you went the opposite way and really gave the audience a character to identify with.

PS: As mentioned before, identifying with the character means you care when they are in peril, and that is key. It means you want them to survive, and that you're in their shoes, instead of observing. As much as I love straight forward slasher films, I feel the best horror films are those that express something, and tell a story. It doesn't have to be complex, but a good story is always about the themes and the lead characters arc. The actions in a horror film are means to expressing those themes.

HU: Courtney, I’m guessing that it was also great for you as an actress to be able to portray a well-written character and be able to act on more levels?

CH: Absolutely. It definitely gave Amber a lot more dimension and gave me a lot more to work with. She has somewhere she's trying to get to, and a true passion for why she is leaving. It lets the audience see her in a different light and as a real person, which allows them to connect with her better and truly care for her. And it definitely makes her evolution to the person she becomes in the end, that much more powerful.

HU: Yes indeed it does. When I saw Prowl, I remember thinking to myself that the acting performances, and especially the ones by Courtney and Bruce Payne, were extremely natural and realistic, and I had the same feeling back when I watched your first movie, Manhunt. Is it a gift of yours or one of your forces as a director to get these very realistic performances from the cast, or are you just lucky to get the right actors?

PS: Thank you so much! Whether I do a good job is up to others to decide, but I put a lot of effort into casting and finding actors who have the right chemistry, with both me and the other actors. I always approach a project based on themes or characters, so it's important to me to tap into that before the shoot, to make sure we're all on the same page. All fundamental questions have to be answered before you're on set, and by doing that, you have more time to talk about nuances and the details. You also get some space to play around, and that makes for some interesting interactions if the characters are clear enough. So, we talk character, find different approaches, and try to make it feel organic. I like shooting what's written first, and then stray away somewhat while still keeping the same momentum and structure of the scene. By doing that, you get organic reactions, and hopefully that pays off in the final film. I also like to tweak a bit with the dialogue to make sure it fits the actors’ mannerisms and energy.

HU: Now, we were speaking of drama just before and I noticed you also incorporate these dream-like, maybe even subconscious images several times through out the film where we see Amber running in slow motion – escaping. Again, this is a very different touch from the average horror flick. How did you come up with this, and what’s your idea and interpretation with these scenes?

PS: I wanted a recurring motif that sort of crystallized the entire film, so we did some shots of Amber literally running away. She's always on the move, always escaping. Getting back to that in certain key scenes, meant we could follow that red thread. It also gives the film a subjective approach. The film has to be Amber's story from the get go, and we tried to make her relatable and accessible.

HU: Okay, well it certainly works well. We also have to talk about these fierce and bloodthirsty creatures. How did you come up with their look and is there any deeper meaning behind the way they look and move?

PS: The creatures were initially written differently, but we had lots of restrictions in both time and budget. The film was always intended to have a realistic feel, even though it's a creature film, so we decided to go with a simple and straightforward approach. Stripped down, raw and in your face. Sharp fangs and rapid movements were key elements, so focusing on that, and making sure you hold back on how much you see them was important to make the creatures and situations seem plausible in the universe we established.

HU: So how the shoot go in Bulgaria?

PS: We shot the film in 19 days in Bulgaria, with an international crew and UK and US actors. I'm Norwegian and so is my DP, so it was a special experience. It was a pretty tight schedule, 109 pages in that short amount of time, so it was pretty harrowing at times. We shot a lot of the film in an abandoned steel factory, a lot of nights and effects and emotional scenes, so it was both draining and rewarding. Two hours of sleep at night, working on shortlists, meetings with the departments and shooting the rest of the time. It was a crazy three weeks, but it really makes you focused on what you're doing, because you have no choice, and there was no way we were going over budget. It really forces you to stay true to your intentions, yet be creative if things don't work out the way you thought. Everyone was really dedicated, and I'm really thankful for that.

CH: Yes, it was very fast paced and very long and exhausting days, but I think it worked with the film. The more tired and drained we all got, so did our characters. The places we shot in were very extreme and crazy as well. By the end of the shoot we had all night shoots, and would sleep during the day. This made it really fun for the cast and crew walking around these creepy places at night. We would play a lot of pranks on each other walking through the dark factory or across the fields at night. Getting the creatures to jump out at people and scare them, and having all the stray dogs that just run around everywhere. It was so fun.

HU: This is you first English language film. How was it to direct and communicate in another language than Norwegian?

PS: Doing a film in another language was surprisingly easy. In the end it's all about personal chemistry and communication with the actors. Casting is important, and finding a tone and sticking to that has been key. All the actors and crew have different sensibilities, no matter what language you talk, so it's all about making sure everyone is making the same movie. You sort of adapt to these feelings. Some people need one key word or just a look. Some need a more detailed breakdown of my vision. But when it all boils down to one thing, it's the universal language of emotions. And the technical stuff of course.

HU: Courtney, I’m guessing you had to tap a bit into your violent side when it came to the brutal and gory scenes, which are not for the faint of heart I might add. Were you OK with these gory and violent scenes and what’s it like to act out such extremities?

CH: Absolutely. I am not a really angry or violent person at all, so this was a stretch for me. It was great once I connected with the feeling I was trying to achieve. It was a place I rarely ever go inside of me, so once I got there, I just let it all go. It was so real to me that it became very gut- wrenching.

HU: Trust me – that shows on screen. So what are your thoughts on the film now that it’s done? And are you open to do more horror in the future?

CH: I think the film looks fantastic. I would absolutely love to do more horror films. They are just so different and require tapping into a lot of emotions that most people don't connect with everyday.

HU: What about you Patrik, I know you’re working on a couple of new films which are far from the horror genre. Does this mean you are done with making horror movies?

PS: Definitely not! I love horror, and I’d love to do more. Hopefully my next project is another horror film. In the end it's all about telling a story or conveying some sort of emotion, and after having done a comedy and a drama, I'm more than ready to make bigger and better horror films.

HU: Okay great – that was it from me. Thank you both so much for your time and the best of luck to you both with future projects.

PS: Thank you! And thanks for the kind words. It means a lot that you liked the film.

CH: Absolutely. It was great talking with you!

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