Translate

3.09.2016

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: The Witch

The Witch Robert Eggers (dir) | Release date: February 2016 USA | 92 minutes Format: D-Cinema

I finally caught The Witch last night.

It's the kind of horror movie I want to see more of; quiet and disturbing like The Shining and The House of the Devil that builds to a riveting climax. With it's low-budget yet high-end production values, the making of the film yields aesthetic and practical cues to filmmakers trying to make their films with a premium on quality. To get a better understanding of how this movie made the journey from script to screen, check out the following excerpts and links below:

The Scariest Movie at Sundance: How Robert Eggers Made the Horrifying, Historically Accurate ‘The Witch’
"Eggers spent five years researching, developing, and writing the script for The Witch. To forge his authentic colonial setting, the writer-director pored over historical documents at Smithsonian’s Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. According to Taylor-Joy, Eggers absorbed exhaustive tomes and primary source diaries, reaching encyclopedic knowledge levels. Eggers uncovered architectural notes to appropriately construct Ye Olde Cabin in the Woods and taught his crew era-appropriate farming techniques, just in case his characters’ farms ever needed to become fully operational."
On Robert Eggers
[The Witch was p]roduced by Parts and Labor’s Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy, the 1630-set The Witch may have had scary production ambitions — not just all that historical detail but child actors, animals, period diction, and “laying down 80 feet of dolly track in the woods several times a day” — but they are all in service to a sincere aesthetic.
The Witch's Wikipedia "Production" entry
"The film was partially based on Eggers' childhood fascination with witches. After unsuccessfully pitching films that were "too weird, too obscure", Eggers realized that he would have to make a more conventional film. He said at a Q&A, "If I'm going to make a genre film, it has to be personal and it has to be good." Eggers wanted to film the picture in New England but the lack of tax incentives meant he had to settle for Canada. This proved to be somewhat of a problem for Eggers, because he could not find the forest environment he was looking for in the country. They had to go "off the map", eventually finding a location (Kiosk, Ontario) that was "extremely remote"; Eggers said that the nearest town "made New Hampshire look like a metropolis". The film was produced in several locations in what is known as Mattawa Voyageur Country."
How Robert Eggers Combined History and Childhood Horrors in 'The Witch'
On wanting to shoot in his native New Hampshire: "It was so frustrating not being able to! New Hampshire doesn’t have tax incentives, and Canada payed for half of this movie. When I was out scouting in Canada for two months, I would see nothing, and then I’d come home and drive through New Hampshire and see these huge white pines and get so frustrated!" 
On shooting on location in the Canadian wilderness: "This film, with the exception of night exteriors, is all natural light and flame. For all of the night interiors, we had special candles with triple wicks that you could get exposure with and we have flame bars off camera. The one shot with the raven, we had an electric bulb that was flickering because the fire would have scared the raven." 
On casting the film and working with children: "I was really really fortunate that when we found investors, they really wanted to make the film that I wanted to make. They let me cast whoever I wanted, so it was about finding people who were appropriate for the roles, but also really good people because I knew the shoot was going to be really tough and we needed people who were going to trust and care about each other." "Also, I was very fortunate, given my budgetary level, to have a week of rehearsals where we really worked together to build this family so there would be love there. That way, we could see this family fall apart. When I was younger, I used to think it was kind of cool to abuse actors mentally, but I really disagree with that now. If you’re going to explore these dark places, you have to be able to climb back out, otherwise you’re damaging people.
‘The Witch’: The Making of the Year’s Scariest Movie
It must be nice that so much recognition is being paid to the attention to detail you had in dressing the set. Did I read that you even flew in a tree to make it look more authentically New England?  
(The movie was filmed in Ontario.) Taylor-Joy: One tree.
Eggers: It was really hard to find a white pine in a hemlock forest, but we didn’t end up flying more in. But the clapboards, the house, and the out buildings, those are a vernacular architectural tradition that doesn’t exist in northern Ontario. And the thatching as well is not part of the traditions, so we had to get people who work on first-period houses and museum re-creations in Massachusetts and Virginia to do that stuff for us. 
 
When you were insisting on this attention to detail did anyone call you crazy?
Eggers: I mean, yeah. But once I found my investors, they got what I was trying to do so they really supported it. Any line producer who is good at their job is going to push back at every single one of those choices. And they need to. But I had my team supporting me and they understood why it mattered. I will say it wasn’t just like I was being irresponsible. The production designer was so compromising, but let me tell you, we spent so many discussions on how to fake the clapboards. He was looking at all different ways to try and fake it and ultimately you can’t. You can’t fake it. That’s why we did it that way.
How The Witch’s Director Made His Film So Terrifying
“For me, if I really want to transport an audience, I can’t just say ‘This is a cool shot,’” says Eggers, “Everything in the frame really needs to be like I’m articulating my memory of this moment. Like, this was my childhood as a Puritan, and I remember that day my dad took me into the cornfield and what he smelled like. And if you’re going to be articulating a memory, the dust and the stitches on the clothing, they have to be right.” 
When discussing his dogged pursuit of authenticity and what figures inspire him most, Eggers touches on the Dutch Golden Age of art, Flemish painters, “shocks of corn” (when you see those teepee-shaped cones of corn in a field), the Italian director Luchino Visconti, the legality of boned corsets in 1630 (a mildly controversial topic), Stanley Kubrick, Danish filmmaker Carl Theodore Dreyer, Spanish painter Francisco Goya, “Hammer Horror” films, Elizabethan witch pamphlets and more.  
I also ask him about Ingmar Bergman, who Eggers frequently cites as a big aspirational influence on his work. Bergman is a cinema legend so it’s easy to just say, “He really inspires me,” because he sort of inspires every serious Film Person at one point or another. So I ask him to clarify what he admires, specifically, about the Swedish master of stage and screen. “His technique is unseen,” explains Eggers. “Every single frame is filled with so much empathy for the characters in his films that it’s really incredible. You can watch a scene and realize only later, ‘Holy shit! That was one shot that seamlessly moved with three different characters’ subjective experiences of this scene and I had no idea!’”
The Witch director Robert Eggers talks about bringing Puritan fears to a modern world
I've read that you largely shot without make-up, and using natural light and candlelight. What was your process like of developing the film's look while simultaneously raising the difficulty factor like that?  
I knew what I wanted. It's been such a long road that I don't even remember when there were question marks about things. Thank God for Russian silent films and Carl Dreyer, for early on saying, "No make-up!" I mean, there's make-up in the movie, but it's to make people look worse. [Make-up head] Traci Loader did a great job on the grime, and she did stuff to make people look more haggard and so forth, but no foundation or whatever. And natural lighting is something I did with [cinematographer Jarin Blaschke] in all my shorts. Jarin is a real artist — and I don't like saying that about people. He shot all my shorts that are any good, and we worked together on other people's films where I was the designer, so we formed this relationship as we were going throughout the years. We were very united in what the look of the film was. We didn't have to reference a lot of stuff for ourselves. It was just communicating to the crew what is this. Natural light — Jarin said this in an article, so I'll just steal it — What are you going to do, put up a Kino Flo in that farmhouse, with these costumes? It's a joke. You have to use natural light and its complexities to honor what that world would be like. 
But you do still have to have a camera in the middle of that setting. How did you go about selecting a camera that would work with those low-light conditions and give you those deep blacks you wanted?  
We would have shot on film if we could afford it, but we spent too much money on hand-hewn clapboards [for the cabin exterior] and cloth and whatever else, and getting the UK actors to North America, and casting all the kids, searching around Yorkshire for them and all that. So we shot digitally. For Jarin and I, it was like, "Alexa Plus, and that's the end of the story." It did help us out in some of the low-light situations. And because of the native aspect ratio of 4:3, he could shoot anamorphic. The shorts I shot with Jarin are all 1:33, and I really like that aspect ratio. Honestly, if I could shoot everything in 1:33, I would. It's not suitable for every story. But I just fucking love it. A close-up in 1:33 is my favorite thing in the world. I watched Klimov's Come And See yet again a couple of weeks ago, much to my wife's dismay, and I'm just like, "Damnation. God, you just can't get any better than that."
And finally is there going to be a sequel?
Sorry, fans of The Witch. The director behind one of the most original horror movies in years is not interested in rehashing his thriller for a sequel. While most scary movies get a follow-up once they hit big with an audience, it doesn't sound like that is happening here. Despite The Witch becoming somewhat of a phenomenon.

0 comments :

Post a Comment

Behind the visuals, a vision.