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Kristensen 3
Kristensen 4
Kris Kristensen - Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
My uncle's and aunt's house when I was growing up had a weird feeling about it but I never thought of it as haunted. It wasn't until after Jean (Landry; production designer), my wife, went to spend the weekend with them by herself and my aunt asked her how she slept last night. Jean said well I tossed and turned and my aunt said "the ghost might have keep you awake." Then my aunt started unloading all these weird stories about these odd ghosts experiences they had but nobody had every told me about them. I guess they wanted to keep it hidden from me. The house just really had a weird feeling about it and especially the staircase. Definitely there were a lot of stories about that staircase; footsteps running up and down it at night, and my second cousin believed he had an imaginary friend that lived in space above the stairwell. It was a little more true than anyone suspected it was.
I've always been fascinated by ghosts and hauntings so that was part of catalyst. Then Brian (McDonald) and I had seen Scream one night and just kind of thought why doesn't anyone make movies for adults anymore. We decided let's set out to make an adult ghost movie.
We came up with four ideas and Brian and I were definitely leaning toward this one idea that became Inheritance. Once that was decided we hammered it out with note cards with nine way points for the script. Based on that, we tag teamed and wrote it in 6 weeks. For example Brian might write the first scene and I then would write the second. We would polish each other's work and discuss each scene before we would write it and what purpose it served in the story. It really was easy to write with Brian because it was always what was good for the story and neither of our egos got in the way. It was nice in that way and pretty much if someone said that scene didn't work, whoever said that could pretty much always explain why. And as long as you could explain why it wasn't working we would just toss it and write something else. Ultimately if you are telling a story it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Hopefully you also have a character whose is going to learn something by the end of the story and comes out a changed person at the end. If the scenes you are writing don't support that or support your theme there is really no point for them to be there.
For me this story is about Abbey learning to draw a line in the sand and setting boundaries. She's a person who gives way too much of her self to the point of not having any time left in her life for what she needs. The story is really about her figuring out what those boundaries are. Eventually when Mrs. Baker tries to take her life away from her, Abbey goes "that you can't have." Mrs. Baker doesn't even like Abbeys' life it's not that she really wanted to live the existence Abbey lives, she thinks it's boring. Abbey's a caring giving person and I wish I was more that way. But I think it's important if you are a giving caring person that at some point you need to set those boundaries or you're going to get walked on. You do want to help people but you also want to set time aside for yourself.
The woman who founded the Austin film festival when she met us said "you wrote that? I swear I thought two women wrote it." It's definitely the biggest compliment we received and the fact that we've received it a couple of times really says a lot about the writing. I think we just wrote strong characters that knew what they wanted and I think it just happened to be two characters that are female. I know we consciously set out to make the main character female because I think psychologically women are more vulnerable in that genre. We wanted someone to seem more vulnerable for when the stakes are raised. I think Abbey is such a caring giving person and I think it's easier in shorthand to get that across than if it were a male character.
The main concept was we wanted to avoid a slasher film with a lot of blood and guts. We wanted the horror of the film to lie in the audiences mind. The idea that anything we could show you is not going to be as horrific as something that you, the audience, can create in your head. That was the approach to the whole film that it is psychological horror and not about graphic violence. We wanted something that would effect you under the skin and not just be squeamish when you watched it.
For example when we where shooting in the cemetery all the scenes are set in the middle of the day. We heard from one of the crew say "oh man, this would be cool if we shot it at night with dry ice fog clinging to the ground." That idea was so against everything that we were trying to do in the film. We tried to set as much of the film in daylight as possible. We wanted to be able to creep you out in daylight. The idea is if you've created this level of suspense in the daylight that when you then plunge the movie into night at the climax it becomes just that much more frightening.
Both Brian and I had been trying to get our scripts in front of producers in L.A. for ten years and it just seemed impossible to do. So we just decided one day why don't we make a movie ourselves. Lets make it cheap enough that we can make it ourselves. With the technology of digital video becoming an option that people had accepted as actual filmmaking suddenly the costs were low enough that it became realistic that we could shoot a movie ourselves. The idea was we could make a movie that we could get into film festivals that people would like. And then boom maybe there is a chance to make another one. You always hear if you've made one movie "they" will let you make another one. There is this weird philosophy of Hollywood that goes "wow you did this without us, how did you do it without us?" Even when they do greenlight a movie it's often "well the star wants this, and this person has to have this and that." And you start screwing with the script. Which I again I think is the most important part of the whole process. If your story is good then it doesn't really matter what the movie looks like or sounds like. I think if you get other people involved they start to tell you what has to be changed in your script but they don't necessarily understand why things are in your script. They might seem irrelevant when you first read it but after seeing it a second time they see that "irrelevant" scene supports something that happens later in the story.
When we decided to make this movie so many things started to happen. It's this very strange sense of self empowerment. People start to get onboard and not just cast and crew. We started to talk to people looking for an office space and our friends who own Victrola Coffee said "well, hey, you could have your office in the back of our coffee shop." And it just went like that right down the board and people really wanted to help.
I don't know if it is ever what you imagined in your head but the logic of reality comes in and throws everything aside. One of the things that was interesting when we were writing the script is I had this house in my mind that I imagined. And we had one house before we got our final location. It looked like me might be able to shoot there and it was weird because when we got there I said it was exactly like I imagined and Brian turned to me and said me too. It was interesting that we both had imagined the same house but then house we finally ended up shooting in looked nothing like the house I imagined in my head.
At one point we were talking about what camera format to shoot on and whether shoot on mini dv or Hi-def. I had grown so tired of seeing close ups in movies. Most movies are nothing but talking faces and I really wanted to let this movie breathe a little bit and I knew I wanted to have some wide shots in there. So it was really important to me to have a format that could reproduce a wide shot really well. The strategy was to shoot as much of the movie in wide shots as possible so as we ramp up to the more intense scenes the close ups have more impact. If you can kind of feel relaxed in your filmmaking sensibilities then you have somewhere to go when you want to crank up the suspense.
I called Jen (Taylor) at 5 in the morning and apologized for not hiring her for the part in the first place and I think Jen still liked me at the time (she still likes now we get along great) and in her sleepy state of mind she said "yes." I don't know if I'd called her at 3 in the afternoon if she would have been so quick to say yes. Maybe I caught her at a good time.
Unfortunately because of the situation I didn't have any prep time with Jen but she had done two script readings for us in the past. So she really knew the story and character well. So she was able to slip into it without any rehearsal. Honestly I don't know if she would have done a better job with rehearsal. Her performance is that strong and I don't know how she could improve on it.
I don't think anyone will know she walked in 24 hours before we started shooting. Jen is really fun and you can say anything to her. She was a real pleasure to work with and a real trooper because she was doing a play at the same time we where shooting.
Marjorie (Nelson) was really interesting to work with because she is a real theater actress and she has a lot of questions she needs answered. The first time I sat down and had a one on one chat with her I thought "oh no what did I get myself into? This woman is going to eat me alive." But it turns out she is totally sweet and she too was a total trooper. All the actors were really great to work with. The character motivations are all really clear and I think the actors all really knew what their motivations were. They all understood that they were a cog in the machine which is nice because you don't always get that. It's good when everybody understands they are all there to support the story.
As far as the crew was concerned we had to beg people to come and work for us because we were paying peanuts. So the skill level was from complete novices to people who really knew what they were doing. So it was an interesting mix but once again everyone pulled their own weight. No complaints they were all good people.
The first time you put two shots together it's kind of almost the best part of the filmmaking process in a way. "Hey that thing I imagined two years ago works," and that was great. But literally you're the one guy sitting it with the project in your lap 24 hours a day and probably the worst thing about it was that I'd work on a scene and feel pretty confident in what I'd done. Then Brian would come in and look at it and make a note and say "why don't you do this?" And I'd think "Oh man I'm so stupid why didn't I think of that?" It wasn't until we went into the portion of post where we went into the sound design and music that I realized the reason you didn't think of that was because you have absolutely no perspective at that point. When we started working with our composer he would write some cues for us and we'd come in and listen to them. And it was so easy for me to pinpoint what was working and what was not working and why it was working or why it wasn't working and what it needed to do. And I realized this was exactly the position Brian was in when he's come into watch one of these scenes I had cut together. He was coming at it from a completely fresh perspective and he knew what the scene was supposed to do but because his perspective was so clear he could say that it wasn't doing what it was supposed to do. It was a great realization to have that I wasn't a complete dope. The next time we make a movie I have no desire to cut it again.
It was all really interesting to me. This is the first time I've had anybody else involved in post production because usually I've taken care of all of it. It was really nice to have experts doing it and not just myself. In the past I've done stuff and it was adequate but it's nice to have someone who really know what they were doing. It was really great working with Erik (Aho) our composer and that really made the film achieve what we set out to do. Music is important to all films but particularly this genre. Suddenly scenes that lied flat to me came alive and made you jump when you're supposed to jump. Likewise working with Bad Animals, our sound designers, they did an outstanding job of creating almost subconscious sounds that hopefully the audience won't clearly pick up on but will almost subconsciously be aware of. Working with Flying Spot was really nice because color correction is the one thing I've tried to do but don't have an eye for. It's nice to finally see two shots that were shot a year apart and that looked drastically different on my machine and see them butted up together and seem seamless now. They look like they were shot simultaneously. All that stuff was really exciting to see come together.
Just trying to get through the whole day shooting was always more difficult than you thought. It sounds easy to get the number of set ups you need to get when you're looking at it on paper. It's a just close up here and close up there and you punch in here and spin around for that shot but it never works out that way. In fact when we went back to do our pick ups it was interesting because we really went through and figured out all the shots we needed. And we had a story board or still photo from the camera angle we wanted and it really picked things up because everyone had an idea of what the next shot was. It was kind of interesting when we were first shooting because I knew we had a lot to shoot each day. At some point someone approached me about putting up a list of our shots for the day for everybody to see. But I was afraid to do that because I was afraid everybody would go "there's no way we can get all those shots." I was worried that there would be grumbling within the crew about having an unrealistic schedule if we had 30 shots planned for that day and by lunch we had only 5 of them done. And if they knew that 25 where left for the rest of the day after lunch that might not make them too happy. But when we went back to do the pick ups I threw that out the window and everybody knew exactly what we were up against each day and everything went so much more smoothly. I think people were able to prepare and psychologically and they all knew what we were up against. We were just more organized the second time through. It was kind of a surprise that something so simple as a shot list that everyone could follow along with would so simplify things. Another thing that was confirmed that for a while now I've thought about is if you hire good actors that's half the job of the director. So that was confirmed and it was such a breeze to do a retake if it was for performance reasons. Also to see how hard people would work for no money that was amazing too me.
It's interesting how you always see filmmakers working with the same cast and crew. Woody Allen uses the same people over and over, Ingmar Bergman uses the same people, Scorsese uses the same people. Now that I've done it you understand why they do it. Not only do you get this kind of shorthand, but once you find people that can do them really well you just don't ever want to work with anybody else. It's a total security blanket and now that you know how difficult it is to make a film you want anything that makes it easier. It's like I know that person acts really well and I know that person is a really great grip and I know this person makes some kick-ass lunch, so, lets get those people back on the next show.
This interview was conducted by Marcus Donner.
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