Lizzie (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Who: Craig William Macneill, director and screenwriter

Logline: Based on the 1892 murder of Lizzie Borden’s family in Fall River, MA, this psychological thriller lays bare the legend of Lizzie Borden to reveal the much more complex, poignant, and truly terrifying woman within, as well as her intimate bond with the family’s young Irish housemaid, Bridget Sullivan.

Our camera, lenses, and lighting package: We shot on an Arri Alexa SXT, and used vintage Cooke Speed Panchros and Cooke S4/i primes, as well as Arri/Fujinon Alura zooms. Our lighting package was a mix of LED, HMI, tungsten, and practical sources including double wick candles and oil lamps.

An audience watching my film probably won’t know that: all the sequences in Bridget’s room were filmed in the attic of a haunted children’s ballet and performing arts center. In our Borden house, the staircase leading to her room was actually a cheat built into a spacious closet.

An influence or reference on this film was: The White Ribbon. I find its imagery, restraint, and underlying tension tremendously inspiring.

The greatest flash of inspiration or brilliance we had making this film was: the terrifying night production designer EJ Williams, DP Noah Greenberg, star Chloë Sevigny, and I spent in Lizzie Borden’s actual home in Fall River, MA, shortly before we began pre-production. I awoke just after midnight and was unable to fall back to sleep—not surprisingly, sleeping in that home is an unsettling experience. I spent the next couple of hours wandering the house, absorbing its layout and unique architectural details, thinking about the film. Eventually, I settled in the room where Andrew Borden’s body was discovered, sitting alone with my thoughts in the darkness. It was there, in that eerie isolation, that I suddenly realized exactly how I wanted to film the murder sequences.

A darling I had to kill along the way was: a beautifully performed scene in which Abby Borden (Fiona Shaw) informs Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart) that the biggest tragedy in her life was having her expectations met.

When I heard we got into Sundance I: kissed my wife and baby.

Craig William Macneill, director of Lizzie, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Photograph courtesy of Sundance Institute

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