Leave it to writer/director Brad Anderson to defy
audience expectations. Though he’s often been pigeonholed as ‘the
romantic-comedy guy’ following the success of his first two features, The Darien Gap (1995) and his breakthrough hit, Next Stop
Wonderland (1998), he’s changing that rep with his latest two
films. First up is the psychological thriller Session 9, followed
closely by the romance with a sci-fi twist, Happy Accidents.
Here, Anderson talks with MM about his conscious decision to cross
genres and why he’s looking forward to making a studio film.
Here, Anderson talks with MM about his horror film
roots, the conscious decision to cross genres, and why he’s looking
forward to making a studio film.
Paula Schwartz (MM): Session 9 is a very
scary, dark movie. What part of your personality is this?
Brad Anderson (BA):I don’t know. I set out
to make a movie. Up to this point I’ve done sort of romantic comedies
and I really wanted to branch off into something totally different
and sort of break down the conventions of the horror genre. I haven’t
seen any good horror movies in the past several years; they’re more
thrillers than they are horror movies. I wanted to do a movie that
was more a psychological portrait of madness, so I kind of got into
that frame of mind when I was writing the script (laughs).
MM: There’s no really dark side to you that
inspired the movie?
BA: Well, I don’t know, that may be. That may
be the big question mark.
MM: How did you shoot the movie?
BA: Technically, it was shot on these new high-definition
Sony cameras: video cameras, digital video, 24-frame cameras. They
shoot at 24 frames per second, so they sort of emulate the look
of 35-millimeter film. It just hit the market right around the time
we started shooting the film, so we were able to get a camera. We
were beta testing the technology in some respects. We were one of
the first theatrically released films to use this new camera, so
that was really interesting for me to play with this new technology.
Technically, I just wanted to do a straightforward,
very non-flashy, old-fashioned sort of film shoot. We wanted to
keep it very matter of fact. The look of the movie, the style, the
way that we cut the film together-we were trying to make a movie
that was almost an homage to the earlier horror films of the ’30s
and ’40s, like I Walked With a Zombie or Cat People-films
that were more about atmosphere and tone than they were about story.
We really wanted to capture a creepy tone, so we decided we were
going to shoot in a very chronological, straightforward way.
MM: How much did it cost to make?
BA: It was under $2 million, a very small budget.
Those cameras were really helpful because they’re really lightweight
and we were shooting in a very precarious location and we were able
to shoot in very low light conditions as well because you don’t
really need to overlight scenes. You can actually go in with a flashlight
to get an exposure. It was really helpful because we didn’t have
the budget to bring in the lights. We shot it in 21 days.
MM: Were you inspired by movies such as The Shining?
BA: Of course. Kubrick was always our little
demon over our shoulders the whole time in the sense that that movie
is about a spooky place. We wanted to capture that vibe in the way
that Kubrick did-the way that he worked with a camera was so calculated
and disciplined. In digital film, like the Dogma movies, the idea
is just to go out and shoot everything. But in this movie, even
though we wanted to just shoot, we didn’t have the luxury of time.
MM: The music you used in the film is very
BA: We didn’t want to have a pop music soundtrack
because that immediately takes you out of the experience. It’s very
much ambient, kind of creepy, tonal. It’s almost more like a series
of drones. We wanted to make it much more about the place and about
creating an undercurrent of menace and dread. We wanted to avoid
putting in a Limp Bizkit song. It was more about creating a subconscious
tension by putting in low-level tones. A lot of the music in the
film is pulled from the sound effects of the place, like bird calls
and weird sound effects.
MM: Did anything spooky happen on the set?
BA: Actually, no. I wish more spooky things did happen so I could give you a great little anecdote, but
oddly enough we were there for a few months prepping the moving,
shooting the film and by the end of it, it became very routine.
Every day we get up and report to the soundstage. We were doing
it so quickly and we were so desperate to just get it into the can
that the whole creepy nature of the location just passed us by.
In some weird way I wanted it be a creepier experience but it wasn’t
(laughing). It was very matter-of-fact, straightforward, making
MM: Your film Happy Accidents was
also just released, which is more of a romantic comedy. What’s closer
to your personality, the scary movie or the romantic comedy?
BA: If I were to say Session 9 were
closer to my own personality, I think I would alienate a lot of
people. I don’t know. One of the reasons I wanted to do this film
was because I didn’t want to get pigeonholed as the romantic-comedy
guy. And frankly, I like exploring other genres. I’ve always loved
horror-good horror. The idea of doing a horror movie was really
exciting to me.
In some ways there isn’t that much of a jump from
doing comedy to doing horror. They’re both genres very much based
on timing. Comedy is very much about timing of the punchline. In
horror, it’s all about timing. The jolt, or the suspense. In some
ways I didn’t feel it wasn’t so alien to me. Every film I’ve done,
obviously, I’m drawing from personal experience to some extent.
With Session 9, it’s a totally different thing. I’m certainly
not drawing from my own personal experience, hopefully. I guess
you can say they’re two different sides of my personality: the comic,
light side and the very dark, grim side.
MM: With two movies currently in release,
are you going to take a break?
BA: I’m going to be doing another movie this
fall-a studio movie, a bigger movie. It’s still up in the air. I’ve
got my own projects as well. There’s this one called Stoptime,
which is an adaptation from a book called Stoptime, which
came out in the late 1960s; it’s a coming of age story, a period
piece set in the late 1940s. And one of the reasons I want to do
that is because I think, again, I want to break down any expectations
and work in another genre.
I have another project called Saltwater, which
is a period piece, oddly enough. I’ve got a documentary project
I’m working on which is a documentary about Brazilian jazz. I’ve
always loved that music. I’ve got a bunch of things on my plate
and I’ll just see what takes off-which ones actually happen.