by Staci Layne Wilson
Staci Layne Wilson: I guess my first question is really… who is this movie for? It's always difficult, that line between PG13 and scary.
Todd Lincoln: To me it's for the horror fans. It's for the paranormal community and the paranormal fans, and I think it's something that could also turn out to be for a new generation of horror fans. For a new decade and in some ways you could see it as for those of us who haven't seen hundreds of thousands of horror films. When you've only seen five horror films, and you come to see this, it can also be like a starter film, their sort of gateway drug.
Somehow it's a movie for teenagers in a way, but there weren't parents involved. These are young people, but on their own. It didn't have that aspect, and also it didn't have the tweeny snarkiness to it. So tonally, I’m trying to figure out where you think this will fall for the general audience.
Todd Lincoln: The vision was to set out to do a serious grounded cinematic take on this. And like I said, more about what you don't see or don't show or don't explain. But then, also at a certain point have things ramp up and start to go to the next level and pour a little bit more sugar into it and press some more buttons. Really trying to be a smart and logical and honest as possible and to make more elevated choices and then at the same time, it had to be a little bit more of a lean thrill ride and have some sugar to make the medicine go down and push some stuff past the general audiences or the younger audiences that maybe normally they wouldn't come out for or be receptive to. So, hopefully also create a new generation of horror fans and people more interested in this sort of paranormal supernatural unknown.
I know that you've been around the block a time or two, but as a first-time feature director and working with a big studio… It's not like you can really just make a personal film and go cut it yourself. So how many notes were there and how much did you have to compromise and say “okay, now we need more footage of the lingerie and the shower, and we got to have the hot, smart chick, and we've got to have the all-American guy, and the dude from the franchise”?
Todd Lincoln: Joel Silver gave me a great opportunity with this and he was very supportive. But at the same time he was really kind of hands off and really let us run with this. He very much deferred to his executives over there and his Dark Castle guys and as a first-time studio feature director. You don't get to do absolutely everything you want to do. And you don't win every battle, and there are certain things intentions or visions you have, and then it goes through the machine and goes through the process and it comes out in some different ways. The kind of stuff that I was inspired by and were really some of the references early on with my crew and the production designer DP. We were really looking at more 70s horror films and letting a lot of moments breathe and holding on shots, and it was very important that it was completely all practical physical effects. No CG at all, only for subtle enhancement or removal if we needed to. And again to not over explain or over show and no kind of talking heads. Like I said there certain things when you're dealing with the machine that you can't end up doing, and obviously as a first-time cinema feature director, you don't control the poster or the trailer or how things are marketed or framed for people. And as far as the casting, that was organic like I had described it. Ashley really wanted this. And we saw all kinds of great actresses but she really did do a great audition and she was great to work with. S she was pushing for this and I was pushing for her. I know it seems to people that it's this kind of pop surreal fan fiction fever dream of casting, but it was no conscious purpose It just sort of fell into place. That's who was available at the time and correct and did the best audition and worked the best together.
Yeah, I remember meeting Sebastian Stan actually on a Renny Harlan movie on the set in Montréal. Something about male witches... He's been around for awhile, likable guy.
Todd Lincoln: I think with Sebastian what was appealing was that he really further elevates things through his performance. And there's a lot going on, behind his eyes and he really asks all the right questions and he takes things very seriously.
And you got to work with the amazing Daniel Pearl as your cinematographer [who shot the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre] - what kind of fan boy a horror wet dream is that?
Todd Lincoln: I handpicked and tracked down Daniel and met with him and he was excited. We were very much on the same page and we were in the trenches together fighting the good fight on this. He is sort of like the Indiana Jones of cinematographers. He has so many adventures and stories about the 70s and 80s, He told me amazing stuff about Texas Chainsaw and all of the films that he's done and lots of stuff from the commercial music video days and also about how filmmaking used to be different because he was all man, if only you had been in the 70s there was none of that so much bull shit that people deal with today.
Out now is that Side By Side doc, by Keanu Reeves about film versus digital so... What did you shoot this on?
Todd Lincoln: We had it right from the start when I pitched this and it was always important to me that I shoot this on 35 and 2 3 5 aspect ratio. And Daniel helped me track down these great vintage anamorphic lenses. These late 70s lenses and actually the same set had been used on The Mission. I think even Poltergeist and Empire Strikes Back, all of these great films.
That's incredibly cool, there's all this history.
Todd Lincoln: But basically they give it a little bit of this texture and grain and life to it with these older lenses, but shooting very contemporary settings. So I thought that mix would be interesting. Daniel is great and he makes beautiful imagery.
Now you say you like to, in this instance, not show the gore and the violence and the blood and the whatnot.
Todd Lincoln: In this sense, it depends on the film, because like I said on my previous projects I have developed are these hard R. Kind of gore soaked thrill rides and then upcoming projects The Night and Twitter from the Circus of the Dead and Joe Hill's there is very brutal hard-core stuff going on so it's just what's correct for each piece but certainly The Apparition. That was the vision and intent as we set out to make a film that you only got brief glimpses of things or didn't over show or over explain or over horrify things in such typical ways.
So when you're not focusing on those more graphic elements for the horror fans will what's your favorite part as a screenwriter and a director? Do you love like getting into your characters? Or your location or is it more about building suspense? What really gets you getting up in the morning to say 'action'?
Todd Lincoln: Really it is the suspense moments, the scare moments. I like the pure cinematic non-dialogue building things with the framing and the sound design, the visceral experience and getting a response from the audience, to me that's my favorite part of it. But I have to say in making this film I ended up being surprised. I didn't think that it would be as exciting or rewarding closely collaborating with the actors. I always thought that I would be more into visual stuff and I ended up being one of those directors that you read about that is not into as much dealing with the actors. In some way it's been one of my favorite parts really. In the rehearsal stage and early reversals and like I said, walking the sets and locations with the actors and really talking and walking through the scenes and asking questions of ourselves of what people would do, again trying to get away from what the typical horror movie would do or horror character would do, that led to really interesting places, and they really brought some good ideas. I would tweak and massage certain things in the script and take it some new places. I really do love working with the actors and they really do bring so much to it. I'm really a collaborative director with the actors and with the crew and if somebody has a good idea or a better idea. And I agree with it. Then I'll try it or I'll take it and that can come from the onset medic or the craft service guy or a PA, because I remember what it was like working on so many films and so many departments myself being on set and you're standing there as a PA. And I'm like oh gosh, I know he's the director. But this could be so much better. And so I'm open to appoint I like most aspects of it.
Now your upcoming projects... you say are probably more for the hard-core horror fan, and these will reflect that. How far along are they and how much can you tell us about them?
Todd Lincoln: The Night Incidence that one is really ready to go. And that's the next closest up on deck, one the most likely one to go.
So have you gotten as far as casting?
Todd Lincoln: We have the locked script now, and we started to go over available possible names of different actors. I'm beginning to meet with different actors, or at least introductory meetings and we've budgeted it out. We're meeting with the financiers now to figure it all out, but The Night Incidence is based on this Whitely Strieber graphic novel, and we're just taking this core concept of that and getting back to what these real incidents were all about and Whitney has opened up his files and documents and different photos and videos stuff to me. So I closely worked with him, and the idea is to do a new type of alien abduction, alien mutilation film as if everybody had sort of gotten that stuff wrong in other alien movies and TV shows. Pop culture has sort of ruined a lot of the alien stuff. It's on every sticker and notebook and skateboard deck, and it just doesn't seem scary or possible. So this is a very grounded new terrifying take on alien abductions and these human mutilations that have been happening and just making it seem like it's in your own backyard or community or something taking you out of your bedroom. And just the look and idea of what aliens are, in the look of them or what they do and everything is completely different. It's all based on this real deal stuff and it's actually just so much stranger and so much more terrifying than the stuff that we've heard so far. It's all in the sort of like small details and small moments those everyday things, so we're really trying to capture that so I'm directing and producing that and a great script that I've overseen with this great writer Stu Paul. So The Night Incidence I'm really excited about. And then Twittering from the Circus of the Dead.
Where does it come from?
Todd Lincoln: That's the title of the short story by Joe Hill, who of course, you know Heart-Shaped Box and Horns and Lock and Key so Joe Hill has become a good friend and also an ongoing thing about closely consulting with him. I got his blessing on a bunch of stuff and his adaptation and helped build and evolve and carry-on from the short story with some of his new ideas. It's as unique as its title, and this one will be a great contribution to a new decade of horror. And really push things forward and go some unexpected places, but it's really just a whole right portrait of a teenage girl stuck on a road trip with her parents. I hate to give stuff away, but it's more like this Sofia Coppola, Gus Van Zandt, Terrance Malick first 30 minutes.
There is certain suspense to that style of film.
Todd Lincoln: Exactly. In the same way in the first 30 minutes of Psycho, It's very much that kind of first act. And then it ramps up into more of an original Texas Chainsaw, and they come across the circus happening on the side of the road. It's a Route 66 rundown kind of circus tent and they enter the circus and the lights go down and all kinds of things begin to happen, into the Texas Chainsaw from the Terrance Malick and then sort of shifts into this kind of Carnival of Souls. And so through the Carnival of souls and then sorted into this Eyes Wide Shut kind of thing. So you're shifting gears but there is a consistent kind of tone.
It sounds that there might be an incidence of coldness to it, then. A distance?
Todd Lincoln: In some ways also the script and execution is more of this sort of some of the Val Lewton kind of feel. So basically big on mood and atmosphere and big on found location. It's not like the Slasher. There are some little traces of that, but it's really more of the Val Lewton kind of Carnival of Souls, so that when it's really a whole other thing and really cool, but that gets brutal and surreal as well.
Why are you interested in the supernatural for your first film?. What was it about that that made it?
Todd Lincoln: No, I come with this honestly. I've always been interested in the macabre in the supernatural and crypto zoological stuff and conspiracy stuff and the unknown from a very young age. I grew up in Tulsa Oklahoma in this historic home that was supposedly haunted and one of the original owners in the early 1900s had committed suicide in the room next to my bedroom. So I experienced lots of strange stuff back then, sounds, and something running after me on the wood floors, lights going on and off and just finding things in different places. It was in this neighborhood called the Swan Lake neighborhood. This actual lake, this Swan Lake, was where all of these pioneers and Native Americans had used at a watering hole and had thrown bodies in and tossed pistols in. So it had this rich colorful history in that area, and it was sort of a hotspot for strange activity. And I had to string of irresponsible babysitters when I was younger, and they were these heavy metal, punk rock girls. That would secretly invite over friends and sort of have these mini parties and not really watch me. And they would put on all of these horror films like Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, John Carpenter's The Thing. And they would be drinking beer, and I would be sitting there watching these horror films, and I thought this was what the cool people do. And this is what older cool teenagers do. This is awesome; these things scared me to death. But at the same time, I love to them. And I started collecting Fangoria magazine, and Gore Zone, and all of these Halloween masks and then from there, I kept digging on my own for other horror films and then later on as a teenager, there was From Dusk till Dawn with Tarantino and Rodriguez and I drove out from Tulsa a day after graduation and would be stirring vampire blood the K and B. guys and I would be covered with vampire stripper blood every night and get a couple of hours of sleep. I've always loved horror movies and was always there opening night, throwing up.
You've cast actors from big franchises — Twilight, Captain America, and Harry Potter. What gives?
Todd Lincoln: That all came together very naturally, organically. Ashley was the first to be cast and when she came in, we saw all kinds of actors all the top actresses, but she really was this character in her audition and she brought this likability and relate ability. And I thought for the audiences of this film that kind of likable relatable factor would be a great thing that they would be able to experience the horror in a fresh way to make it feel like it's happening to them that their up on the screen, or that it's possible. She just really was asking the right questions. She also was all about staying away from the typical horror film stuff and the slasher film stuff and doing something more elevated and trying to keep it as smart as logical as possible. So often she would have her script covered in all of these detailed notes. And I would think that there must be something wrong with me as a director because my script looks pretty clean and there's nothing on it. It was a very collaborative thing. Tom Felton, he came in his audition was very bold and effortless iconic kind of audition. He was great with a lot of the technical terms and on his own he was interested in the paranormal and he watched all of these ghost hunters shows and he loves this stuff. I had seen him grow as an actor and a person in the Harry Potter films, and he wanted to do something very different. I thought it was cool this idea of a younger, savvier guy being more of the leader expert character with this experiment in this film instead of doing the typical okay, here's the older character actor that you're going to bring in and pay a lot of money to for two days. It just seemed like a fresher choice and that sort of helped further elevate things and she really pops in this. He's very serious and him as well as the other actors, we would walk around the set and locations constantly asking ourselves. Not, what horrible thing he would do or a horror character would do, but what would you really do in this situation. And if the answer was, if you heard some noise or thought you saw something and you would just go out the front door and we would either try that or do that and see where that led us. It was a very collaborative thing and all of these people asked the right questions. And they work great together.
So you're really into this stuff?
Todd Lincoln: I'm just at the beginning of a long journey. And I'm not a master filmmaker yet, but I've got my opinions on how we can move the genre forward a little bit.
But you want to keep working on these kinds of movies?
Todd Lincoln: The horror genre is probably my favorite genre up in the top two. I'm interested in all genres and all styles and all formats, but some of the past projects that I was developing before this, that didn't quite go all the way they were horror films, and then my two upcoming projects The Night Incident and Twittering from the Circus of the Dead, those are horror films. I'm still playing in this stuff for a while.
Why is it set in Palmdale?
Todd Lincoln: That's the ultimate question isn't it? I felt so many horror films had sort of fallen into a pattern of this typical horror reality in grimy, greedy, grungy, sort of settings and gothic settings. And so just to have a fresh coat of paint for horror in a contemporary relatable setting, what most places in America look like now. In most midsize towns and cities this is what it's like to drive past new housing developments and new construction and big-box stores and corporate franchises and empty foreclosed homes with the wind blowing through these empty frames this post great recession kind of America vibe. In some ways it's sort of Poltergeists three years on for a new generation. I just think they’re getting away from some of the “go to” horror art dressing and production design and keeping things a little bit fresher and more contemporary makes the horror more relatable and effective and seem possible.
And Ben's taste in music is so old school. It's like you've got Bob Dylan. You've got Bauhaus, The Misfits; he seems to white bread to like all those things. (laughter)
Todd Lincoln: The writer, director likes these things (laughter). There is some Easter egg stuff in there. There's other stuff in the frame. There was this idea at one point that there was a sort of back story that they had gotten together from some of their love of similar music. And they're digging for old vinyl. There were some scenes and shots of this vinyl collection. There were actually all of these great songs that were going to be used in different scenes or moments. That would've complemented and made more sense of some of the posters and things.
That's always the conundrum; some things remain and others are removed.
Todd Lincoln: That's right yeah. People today are living today, but all the teenagers and kids and twentysomethings they're digging, just like we were, for all past styles and decades of music. Music is really important to me in my life and inspires me. We worked some of that in there as well.
I imagine the answers kind of overlap, but then what about Tomanddandy’s score, because then it's quite different than your traditional orchestra horror genre score.
Todd Lincoln: Yeah, I just didn't want that sort of generic wall-to-wall orchestra it was just a little bit more moody and visceral and settle in certain areas and is more part score part sound design. And there's more dancing between those two.
What do you think of the advent of so much genre horror on tv, like True Blood and American Horror Story, and so on?
Todd Lincoln: I watch that every now and then my girlfriends is a huge fan of all that. I think the more gore, the better on TV and in the movies those shows are good gateway drugs for the masses to get to the really good stuff. American Horror story, I love Jessica Lange. I'm all for the more nudity the better.
You do, kind of we see a little bit of Ashley through the shower curtain and stuff, but it's not a traditional horror movie, where you've got to have the girl naked in one scene. Why did you refrain? Was it just for the rating that you needed to kind of back off?
Todd Lincoln: I set out and pitched this film as a PG13 film. All my past films have been developed into a hard R. my upcoming films are hard R. But this concept, the story just didn't need to be R. and that just wasn't my intention or vision and I could easily sit here and wear the cannibal Holocaust T-shirt and say fuck a lot and really obscure films to impress all of you but it is right straight film and when you're dealing with the ghost stuff supernatural stuff really powerful but you don't see and don't show. I don't explain our time she wore back to a sort of classical execution of the scariest ghost films Ghost films, if you look back, you know, the innocence or Robert Weiss is The Haunting. Even though it's not in some mansion, gothic place, the scary parts were about some noise or some thump or some sound design.
Did anything happen on set that was scary? Seems there's always such a story! (laughter)
Todd Lincoln: The short answer is no, not really scary thing on set for in the moment. But we shot by of weeks at [a studio] as well, to do some interior stuff in Berlin. And you know, it was a dark, heavy feel there and obviously a rich history there. I have this thermal camera and was going on the hallways there and kind of creeped out, but know nothing really scary. It was more after the film. The idea for the film was inspired by this experiment done in the 1970s. This group of paranormal researchers that have the idea that the belief or fear of paranormal that actually cause paranormal events because you believe in them enough and so they set out to create this guy Phillip and came up with this whole back story of how he lived and loved and died. And this guy never existed. It's just somebody they came up with. And so they meet once a week in this house and sit around this table and call out to Phillip. And for weeks and months, nothing happened. But then there would be some knock on the table or some thump in the corner of the room and things began to ramp up and select the experiment and all went their separate ways. And then in following years and decades other people have these types of experiments but come out with new theories and new a quick and new technology and for this film. I brought on this consultant, this paranormal investigator and researcher Joshua P. Warren and found that he had been doing similar experiments in the basement the Masonic Lodge in North Carolina this Mason's Lodge and actually starting to get results. So I consulted with him and made sure a lot of jargon and technical terms were correct and equipment was correct for our experiments. We flew in some of his equipment and set up the right way. So nothing really happened on set with that So nothing really happened on set with that. But then after the film, some ideas had come out of our discussions about how you might be able to actually do this for real. He implemented some of that stuff. And now it just started to get some actual things happening and shadowy figures moving around the room, because the idea is instead of six people sitting at a table in the 70s that now you have these EEG headsets that monitor brain activity and focus and you look those up to these military grade amplifiers. And you can turn up the amplifiers, and they amplify the brain waves or concentrations to make it seem like instead of six people at a table 600 or 6000 or 600,000. And when you have that much focus, then really interesting things start to happen so I would say that the scary stuff is now beginning.
I want to go back to when you mentioned earlier about Ashley having no script. I was just wondering if you could give me an example on how you worked together on set, or if she came to you regarding a particular scene, and said 'let's try this' or ...?
Todd Lincoln: We had a great time and write up leading up to shooting. and a lot of rehearsal time and being in some of these rooms together in the hardest winter in 40 years in East Berlin and we just never saw sunlight the whole shoot of the thing. And until we came back to LA for the exteriors some of that weight and history and darkness of that place I feel help the film and slipped into an informed some stuff. I'm trying to think of specific stuff. She would just come at things in a smart and logical way again of hey, if I heard this noise, I would get the hell out of the house or if I saw my boyfriend then do this, I would not put up with that, I would call him on it and say no tell me more about this or why did you do this. So sometimes out of those conversations in rehearsals I would tweak or adjust certain things in some ways some of the heart of the film some of the small moments, because we were more about letting it breathe in a more like 70s way and of course you're doing the big studio movie and some things get cut down or condensed. I think in some ways I wish people could also see the rehearsals the actors and I walking through these locations. And I feel like some of the heart of the film was created there.