Archive for June, 2007

AITH spooks 100 Feet #2

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

PART 2 – By Eric Walkuski

INTRO: Almost immediately after I arrive on the set for Day 2 of shooting, Eric Red tells me that they’re just about to drive along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, filming the scene where Cannavale’s detective drives Janssen home from prison. I’m pissed because I have arrived later than the previous day, and figure I’ve missed the pick-up shots from yesterday’s aborted final scenes, and now I’m to spend most of the afternoon sitting alone in my patented notebook-in-hand pose. Luckily, the world isn’t as glum as all that, and Red politely asks if I’d like to ride along with them. In the camera car. In front of the monitor. Why, yes I would!


Myself on the camera car

Next thing you know, I’m sitting next to the script supervisor, who’s sitting next to Red, who’s sitting next to D.P. Kelsch, and soon we’re off (I must add that the driver of this monstrous vehicle, Gabe, wanted a shout-out in the article – and since I’m still alive, I’m happy to oblige.) There are two cameras going: one is hanging on the edge of the actor’s vehicle (which of course if being towed by the camera car), trained on Famke’s face; the other is mounted on our car, capturing the scenery as we zip passed it – acting as Famke’s character’s p.o.v. of the city she’s been absent from for so long. (this will also liley serve as the film’s opening credit sequence.)

Red and Kelsch and where we all might end up… 

I must say that this experience is utter madness. Since I’m teetering on the edge of this contraption – and since everyone else is perfectly concentrated on the work at hand – I’m able to ponder my mortality every time a gigantic semi flies passed us at 60 m.p.h. Needless to say, it’s absolutely thrilling, as well. We pull over after about a half an hour and the team switches things around: the outside camera previously pointed at Famke is rearranged to point at Cannavale; and a new camera is positioned inside the car, which will double for Famke’s p.o.v as she looks at Cannavale. It’s frankly amazing how quickly this turnaround is accomplished. (Fun fact: Cannavale talks over his walkie-talkie to the character of Jimmy, to be played by our own John Fallon!)

Unfortunately, this change necessitates that an extra crew member board the camera-car, so I’m relegated to a “background” car. This is not even as fun as it doesn’t sound. (Although a cool photo is at least produced) After returning to the main set, lunch is called, and most trudge off to a nearby church where the crew eats. I hang back and wait for another Famke sighting – and get one. She’s standing outside of the building that acts as her trailer – where her wardrobe and makeup is done. She toying with her Blackberry, and I figure I’ve got to man up and be a pushy reporter, damnit. I walk up to her and she clocks me instantly. “Oh you’re the reporter,” she says.

Red and Cannavale in between set-ups.

I meekly answer yes and wonder if she’s available to talk for a spell, informing her how nearly impossible it’s been to find a free moment with her. “Well I’m very busy,” she says with a smile, and then lets me know she’s only outside right now because there’s no reception available in her makeshift trailer. I tell her it’s my intention to steal her for two minutes, and it seems like she’s open to it, but then she spots something – and says “Ah shit.” As is summoned by a cruel God, a crewmember is hustling over to where we stand. “I’m supposed to be getting dressed.”

Indeed, the crewmember has the next scene in mind, and his mere presence is enough to send Famke hurrying down to change clothes. “Well,” I sigh, “I’ll be around, so if you get another free second-““Okay!” she says, and then her door slams. Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.

The oh-so-precious scene in question is actually a fun one: Famke is running through a narrow alley (followed by a lithe steadicam operator) with bags of garbage, hoping to catch a sanitation truck before it drives off. She runs into a problem when it turns out her rubbish isn’t “tied” correctly, and the garbageman isn’t making any concessions. The take-no-shit city employee is played by none other than take-no-shit D.P. Ken Kelsch, who delivers his lines (“Twist ties! Twist ties, twist ties!!”) with enthusiastic bluster. “Marnie” drops the trash at his feet and runs back to her apartment, and with every take Ken manages to yell a different string of filthy obscenities. I know which was my favorite – but I can’t even bring myself to reproduce it here. I hope you get to hear it in the film.

Famke and her scariest nemesis yet… 

The next, and final, sequence of the day involves a group of approx. seven onlookers rushing down the street (toward the camera) and gaping at some unseen occurrence. I ask Red what’s going on in the scene, and right as he’s about to explain it to me (with the understanding that I don’t spoil it in my report), he wonders if I’d like to be one of the gawking extras. Now, I haven’t been boning up on my Stanislavsky as of late, but I feel confidant that I can appear shocked and confounded as good as anyone. So, all of a sudden, it’s down the block with me and the other “background artists.” I kick ass in each and every take (what are the chances I’m delusional about this?), and we quickly wrap. So when you see the flick and this scene arrives, I’m the dude in the “Brooklyn Fliers” t-shirt who looks even MORE amazed than everybody else.

So while I did not get my true one-on-one with Famke (aren’t my tales of striking-out more amusing than a boring old interview anyway?), I was lucky enough to have a few experiences I did not at all see coming. I got to ride on a camera-car, and I acted the hell out of a scene in a major motion picture (again, I doubt I have a skewed memory of this).

I would like to thank Eric Red, the fantastic cast and crew of 100 FEET, and John Fallon especially for providing this terrific opportunity. Can’t wait for the next one.

AITH spooks 100 Feet #1

Monday, June 18th, 2007

PART 1 – By Eric Walkuski

INTRO: A month or so back, John Fallon (aka The Arrow) announced the exciting news that he’d be participating in writer/director Eric Red’s new effort,100 FEET, playing a role most of us would slap our mothers for: He’s the guy who gets to kneel before Famke Janssen and attach an electronic bracelet to her ankle. “Lucky @&%#&!” I thought.

Not long after, John asks if I’d be interested in covering the Brooklyn portion of 100 FEET (all of the film’s interiors are shooting in Budapest). I replied something along the lines of “F**K yeah!” and soon enough I had received the confirmation that I’d be in the presence of Eric Red (the man who wrote THE HITCHER and NEAR DARK for f*cks sake!) and, even more amazingly, Ms. Janssen, beautiful star of the X-MEN trilogy, GOLDENEYE, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, and a personal fav of mine: DEEP RISING (like you don’t dig it).

I had written about 15 questions each for the director and stars of the film – fully prepared to get a few minutes of alone-time with each of them. After all, the previous month of interviews I had done for the Tribeca Film Festival and 28 WEEKS LATER had gone so smoothly, I figured it was always a piece of cake… But I’d never conducted interviews on a film-shoot – specifically, an independent, we-don’t-have-all-the-f*cking-time-in-the-world-here! filmshoot – so I was in for a wake-up call.


It’s a gorgeous day in Fort Greene Brooklyn, and I stroll down a block made up of beautiful old brownstones, approaching the set of 100 FEET. The action is focused around a parked car, and I immediately recognize its driver as Bobby Cannavale (star of t.v.’s THIRD WATCH and flicks like THE STATION AGENT and SNAKES ON A PLANE). Getting out of the back seat is a leggy brunette and I halt in my tracks – but this isn’t Famke, it’s her equally tall stand-in.

I begin to hear the name “Eric” repeated over and over, and follow the chorus of questions and demands to where Eric Red is standing, lighting a cigar. (This cigar and others like it are a constant fixture on Red; I don’t think I ever spotted him without one.) A brief window appears where he’s not being harassed the way a director always is, and I introduce myself as being from Arrow in the Head. He’s immediately hospitable (he and John have been friends for years) and basically gives me carte blanche to photograph whatever I want and to stick my nose in wherever it can fit. I’m excited by this freedom, and yet a bit apprehensive as to actually playing the role of nosy journalist.

Eric Red

He describes the scene being filmed: Bobby Cannvale’s “Detective Shanks” is keeping a close eye on the brownstone across the street, where earlier in the day he’s dropped off ex-convict Marnie (Janssen). Marnie has just exited prison after 2 years for manslaughter – the victim being her abusive husband and Shank’s former partner on the force. Shanks hates Marnie with a passion and is just waiting for her to slip up – or cross the 100 feet allowed by her bracelet – so he can ship her right back to jail. Of course, neither he nor she are aware – yet – that Marnie’s husband’s spirit hasn’t left the apartment and is out for revenge.

The scene is quickly finished and up next is a fantastic crane shot that begins up high as the car drives up to our brownstone (which unlike all the others has piles of dead leaves and is dressed to look dilapidated). It lowers as the car stops and Cannavale and Janssen exit, and settles on a medium shot as they walk up to the house’s entrance. I get my first glimpse of Famke. She is as enigmatic as she appears on the screen – a true presence. I am already gathering my nerves for the moment I’ll approach her…

The elaborate crane shot takes about 6 or 7 times to get just right – and of course between each take is about 10-15 minutes of waiting. After almost every take, Famke runs up to her dog Licorice, who waits dutifully nearby with a faint look of celebrity-owned-pet smugness. I cannot possibly interrupt this communion, can I?

Marnie’s NEW prison

I find another moment when Red isn’t bogged down and spend a few quality minutes with him. After asking why shoot the interiors in Budapest (it’s cheaper and they have great crews) I inquire, why set this story in Brooklyn? Having gone to high school not far away from where we are on DeKalb ave., Red is familiar with these old brownstones, and their expansive interiors (both spacious and comfortable, as well as shadowy and ominous), are perfect for the eerie tone he’s going for.

95% of the film takes place within these confines. Red calls this a very old-fashioned ghost story – inspired by films like THE INNOCENTS – while having a recognizably “New York” feel (he cites WAIT UNTIL DARK as an influence – a film that also takes place almost-exclusively inside a NY apartment). To help realize this unique approach, he hired Ken Kelsch as cinematographer. Kelsch has shot many an Abel Ferrara movie (DRILLER KILLER, BAD LIEUTENANT, THE ADDICTION) as well as BIG NIGHT and the REAR WINDOW remake, so the man knows New York, as well as claustrophobia. (He also knows how to act up a storm, but I’ll get to that later.)

Red and Kelsch enthusiastically speak of their use of 35mm Panavision cameras (both look horrified when I ask if DV was ever a consideration). The entire widescreen frame will be utilized, capitalizing on the large, spooky interiors of the home. By design, Red says this is the least amount of coverage he’s ever done for a film. Instead of loads of angles for every scene, Red will use the bare minimum. But these shots will be long and eerily drawn-out. Honestly, he seems to have a pretty fantastic vision for this ghastly tale.

I ask about the villainous ghost (to be played by Michael Pare) who will be terrorizing Marnie in her apartment, and how it will be realized. This monster, unlike those seen nowadays in almost every American ghost story, is birthed not by CGI (a welcome relief), but by practical effects. Pare will be transformed by special make-up effects artist Paul Jones (GINGER SNAPS, WRONG TURN, SILENT HILL), and while unable to show me a design, Red assures me this is one nasty piece of work.

Director of Photography Ken Kelsch and Red

After Red has run off to attend to another issue, I wait countless minutes while another setup is.. well, set up. Then IT happens. I’m sitting there on a stoop, notebook in hand, pen at the ready (a position I am frozen in for perhaps 75% of the visit) and before I know what’s happening, Famke Janssen sits down next to me. I mean, RIGHT next to me. My mind and heart go into hyperdrive and I’m opening and closing my mouth dumbly like a fish. Meanwhile, her hair and makeup team-of-two stand in front of her, and all engage in a perfectly bizarre conversation that I’d most likely not understand even if I hadn’t just transformed into the world’s biggest sweaty-palmed dork (you can call me a pussy all you want, but I’d like to see you gather up your balls while a gorgeous movie star is suddenly sitting two feet away from you).

Finally, I feel it’s my duty to warn her and her friends that I’m a journalist for a major movie website, and may just have to transcribe what peculiar things I’ve overheard . She in turn threatens to have me fired if I follow through… Neither of us are serious – not completely, anyway.

Of course, she’s called away to set before that little bit of friendly awkwardness has a chance to lead into a meaningful interaction (and before I’m able to persuade her to chat by saying something utterly hilarious and engaging). I’m glad at least the introductions are over, and having calmed down a bit, I am prepared for when she inevitably returns… This was not to be, as a pudgy crewmember sat down in her place (a man who was just this close to getting kicked down the stairs), and the rest of the day’s schedule was unendingly hectic.

Around 4pm, storm clouds eerily gathered out of nowhere, and the production continued hastily. By the time 4:30 rolls around: chaos. Gusts of wind unlike any I’ve ever encountered in the city began to whip turmoil all around us. Papers flew, the crane wheezed unsteadily toward a building (fortunately it was halted by alert grips before it had a chance to cost the production some serious dough). Across the avenue in a park, a literal tornado was forged and a dust cloud like something out of THE MUMMY loomed horrifically. If it sounds biblical, believe me, it was (a producer remarks to me amid the bedlam that it’s too bad they weren’t filming THAT). I ran up to a frustrated Eric Red, who made it quite obvious the day’s work was prematurely done. Satisfied that I’d be back to see another day, I dashed off for shelter from God’s wrath.

Red speaks! 100 Feet status and approach.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Eric Red Blog entry: We’re five weeks into shooting and the results have been amazing.  Most of the major scenes are in the can. A few still to go. “100 FEET” is definitely the best film I’ve directed.

This is an elevated and classy horror film, where tension and terror derive from character, suggestion and atmosphere.  The film does not rely on gore and body count like other recent films of the genre, but when it does get bloody, it gets shockingly bloody.  “100 FEET” will make you believe in ghosts, but unlike the random unreasoning malevolence of the J-Film spirits, our ghost has a legitimate grudge and it is very personal. 

I’m shooting the film in Super 35 widescreen with a realistic and elegant look.  The visuals have a gritty contemporary edge, but also a classical 19th Century ghost story feel with many scenes shot by candlelight in the turn of the century New York brownstone where the story takes place.  This is an old school style film that utilizes long uninterrupted camera takes that focus on performance and atmosphere.  However, the horror action scenes are filmed in a hyperkinetic contemporary manner.  In this way, the film will hopefully be a satisfying visual fusion of the classic and hip. 

In Hitchcockian fashion, the main character Marnie Watson is a flawed heroine whom the audience identifies with precisely because she is not perfect.  An abused wife, she is determined not to surrender to the continued torment of her abusive husband from beyond the grave.  Marnie is a good human being at heart, who must for the first time stand up and fight for herself and through the ordeal becomes a stronger person.  Her wedding vows of Till Death Do Us Part take on new meaning in this story, forcing a reckoning with her husband and the unresolved issues of their marriage, even after his death.  To survive, Marnie must overcome her inner and outer ghosts while under house arrest in order to be free to start a new life. All the characters in this film are etched in shades of grey, like real people are, and we understand everyone’s point of view.  Even the Ghost has a legitimate beef.

The cast has exceeding my expectations.  Famke is a total professional, with tremendous focus and emotional depth and she always nails it in two or three takes, sometimes one.  She can act volumes without saying a word and there are many scenes with her alone in the house where it is all looks and glances that convey what is going on inside.  True film acting.  Famke brings a great everywoman quality to the role.  As an actress, she has great instincts for the part and the reality of the situations.  Because she is in every scene and nearly every shot, it is an acting triathlon for her and she has been a trouper. In fact, she and Bobby Cannavale did most of their own stunts a big fire sequence!  Bobby brings plenty of menace and edge to Detective Shanks but his strong human instincts as an actor have brought a genuine compassion and likeability to the character.  Pare is astonishing. 

Few actors in the world can generate pure visceral emotion and physical presence like Michael can without a word of dialogue, which is why I cast him as the Ghost.  The Ghost doesn’t speak and must convey almost Kabuki theatre emotional states in looks and glances.  Also, Michael is one of the most down to earth guys around, and everyone on the production loves him.  I’ll use Pare in every picture I do, although the next time I’ve promised him after having him play a werewolf and ghost, I’ll cast him as good guy!

Of course, the film’s effectiveness depends on the realization of the ghost.  Again, we’re going old school.  The ghost is created on screen using Special Makeup Effects, not CGI or digital effects.  I hate CGI.  Paul Jones, our FX wizard, has done a world-class job in creating some truly freaky and startling ghost effects, using prosthetics, animatronics and puppetry. 

Some of the ghost appearances are going to make the audience jump out of their seat.  In-camera effects, including alternating shutter speeds such as undercranking, are used to create an eerie, unsettling sense of movement for the spirit.  Michael Pare’s performance has been key in creating visceral presence through frightening fury, malignant possessiveness and sudden savage violence.  Additionally, there is a hauntingly sad and melancholic aspect to the ghost, a tortured spirit unable to let go of his rage and be released into the afterlife.

Scheduling requirements meant we had to film the Brooklyn, New York scenes in the middle of the shoot.  This wound up being a good thing because the change of scene was a welcome and stimulating break from the insular stage filming.  However, it was demanding on us to finish shooting in Budapest on Friday, fly to New York on Saturday, prep and shoot for a week, then fly back to Hungary the next day and start shooting again immediately.  Jet lag is for sissies!  Now we are back in Budapest finishing up the film.  Filmmaking of course is very hard work, requiring boundless stamina and professionalism.  I’m shooting this picture in about 30 days, and 6 days weeks of 12 hours days.  It keeps you on your toes.

The week of shooting in New York really sells the film being set in Brooklyn.  We shot a number of big crane establishing shots of the house and street in Fort Greene Brooklyn on a block of beautiful old brownstones. I filmed the opening credit sequence where Marnie is driven home from prison on the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway to Fort Greene.  The car passes the huge Calvary cemetery, which stretches for miles, and the ghostly reflections of the city play across the windshield in front of Marnie’s face, as she stares out while lost in thought.  During the film, when the characters look through a window in the house stage set in Budapest, we cut to street shots filmed through the windows in Brooklyn, so the integration of location and set should be pretty seamless. 

I think when people see the film they will assume we filmed it on location in an actual brownstone, which would be impossible because without being able to fly the walls we could not have achieved the enforced claustrophobia of many of the scenes.  You can’t beat the production value of location filming to create a gritty reality and sense of place for the audience. I told the producers up front there was no way I was shoot this picture in Toronto or Vancouver.  This is a New York movie, baby. Of course, the stage interior stuff wouldn’t have mattered where we shot it.

I’ll continue to post regular journal entries on the blog as filming continues.

Now it’s back to work!