Blair Erickson (INTERVIEW)
Blair Erickson is the director of 'Banshee Chapter', based around the shocking real life events of the MK Ultra testing by the CIA, Erickson's debut feature tackles the shocking truth with a slice of Lovecraftian fiction and has received high praise across the horror community.
How did Banshee Chapter come about?
I get that question a lot and its one of those question that gets perforated through my brain for many years. It probably goes back to college when I was reading about the MK Ultra experiments and got really fascinated by the fact that it wasn’t a conspiracy, it was real, and nobody really knew about it. It was one of those things that was an open secret. You could find all the documents, put it all together and read about it but nothing ever came about it, nobody got in trouble. This was during the second term of the Bush administration when some of the NSA started leaking out in the same way and you discover that the NSA is doing all of this horrible stuff and it just sort of fascinated me that we had this thing for decades and was like our national haunting, we just assumed it would go away but it just kept coming back. I thought a horror movie about that was such a timely thing to do.
It is certainly a great source of inspiration, you can understand why it is well hidden. There is also a big inspiration from the works of Lovecraft and primarily the story, ‘From Beyond’. How did you bring those two ideas together?
I think if you are playing in the fictional realm and talking about experiments gone wrong I feel you have to do something different from Lovecraft or you have to tip your head and say this is what we’re doing and in our case we certainly tip our hat. We were so close to the story of ‘From Beyond’, just from the nature of how it was playing out that I knew it had influenced me on some level and thought it would be more fun to play in that Lovecraft realm of what the boogeyman is like. In addition I’m a huge fan of Lovecraft, and not just Lovecraft but the horror that it spawned. He created it but then you think of all the film makers and writers. Stephen King and John Carpenter have taken that mythology and expanded it, I thinks it’s cool to add a more of a piece to it.There are certainly more than a few great stories there.
Any chance of your follow up to reference ‘The Re-Animator’?
*LAUGHS* There already is a sequel. I think this is probably the most you can get out of me and Lovecraft without diminishing returns so for me, unless there’s a sequel to Banshee Chapter that’s me. My next story will probably be along the lines of a Stephen King/Adrian Lyne story. Lyne is the guy who did ‘Jacobs Ladder’ and ‘Ghost’, those kind of movies. Work in a different horror realm but still tip my hat.
You said there about Stephen King who is famous for using writers at the centre of his stories and Ted Levine did a fantastic job at that central author role. He edged a fantastic impression of Hunter S. Thompson.
Yes, a lot have people have mentioned that and there is a lot of Hunter S. Thompson in that character. He was a really big influence on me growing up, reading Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas. I think why I thought it was right for this story and why I think it resonated was because he’s one of the few writers who wasn’t writing in the context of the society and the culture, he was writing like a strange passenger staring at all this stuff going “I can’t believe why all you people buy into this” and thought it was great to have somebody who was a little bit of an outsider perspective to bring that weirdness to the table because it really takes that perspective to recognise how crazy and creepy it is that our Government does stuff like this and we just shrug our shoulders and say “Yep”. That for me was the fun thing about that character. It’s not just Hunter Thompson in that character we also (used other writers from that period) and I sort of understand that anguish that they had and how their attempt to change that system failed and then they’re trapped in it and I think thematically that is a powerful idea.
Absolutely, and going off that, Katia Winter (who plays the lead in Banshee Chapter) did a fantastic job In bringing across the fear. How was the chemistry between the cast, as it comes across authentic on screen?
Those two (Winters and Levine) were great together, you could probably make a TV series out of the two of them solving mysteries. She’s the Scully to his Mulder in a really weird way. Sometimes you find these actors and they go “OK, I’m going to say the lines and play dress up” but they actually inhabit the character and when you say “Action!” they are that person and you can ask them to improvise and they will add an entire scene of them talking and they are both on that level. We’d just play around and say well this scene, we’ll do it this way and without dialogue or prewritten lines they could just, and know how their character would be, just act it out. You don’t get that often in horror as you are so focused on gore and scenery and stuff like that but we knew that we were so small with this intimate and creepy film, to me the craziness only works because you believe the performances and without that you don’t really believe the craziness.
The fear is the key thing here that you have put across really well is well hidden scares and leaving it to imagination.
It was all about building that tension and anxiety. Where the audience begins, just as the characters, confused, anxious and terrified.
Zachary Quinto (Heroes, American Horror Story, Star Trek) is heavily behind this. How did that come about?
The long version is really long so I’ll give you the shorter version. A lot of people who worked on this film were together in college so for instance, Michael McMillian (True Blood) who plays James was an actor in my college film and Zachary was an actor and my producers all went to college together so when the film started moving forward they had just done ‘Margin Call’ and had read the script (for ‘Banshee Chapter’) and were really into it. It was pretty simply, if you guys are into it then we’re doing it and if you’d like to be produces on it. Having them on board, they are really talented producers at Before the Door so they can bring that. I think why (Banshee Chapter) gets away with so much on a tiny budget is because they, as producers, were able to pull a lot of strings to make things have a bigger feel.
Do you feel if you had a bigger budget that may have affected the end film?
It’s possible, it really is hard to know because, part of it is like, would I have shown more? There’s always that fear that if you are working on a bigger budget the temptation is to show more effects. Would I have over lit it? A lot of what I was fighting was that studio lighting look, where everything is perfectly lit. That moment when it’s the middle of the night and there’s a bright blue light blasting through the forest and wow, it’s almost daylight out there. We came up with a look that was a bit more creepy because we relied on any available natural lighting to get real dark and real night, every shadow is a real shadow. Coming up with that with my cinematographer Jeremy Obertone was fun when we were against budget and time so if we set up that for that scene then we get less coverage, there was probably an evolution in there that helped us in a big way I think.
The film was penned for a 3D release and unfortunately many will only see the 2D feature, how was it filming in 3D?
That’s one of the crazy things about the movie. Even though it has that sort of hand held look it was a really hard look to achieve as the camera rig was huge. It was this 100lb 3D rig and our cinematographer is very slender, but I guess he was a former cage fighter as he could lift this thing, the only person in the crew who could lift this thing around for, well you’ve seen the film, for really long takes. The stuff in the present was cinema like documentary style and everything in the past was found footage and we had to have a unification of those two styles so everything we shot had to have that feel to it. So we had him carrying this camera around for 5-10 minutes on his shoulder which was essentially a full size person with the weight of it. I think it worked as nobody seems to notice where the camerawork wasn’t naturally hand held, it has that feel to it and was clearly a hard task to get it that way.
I can only imagine. The back story shots are all handheld and obviously the main story isn’t. Was it hard to refrain from the temptation to make the whole film found footage?
I really love found footage the emersion when you can get that effect with an audience that’s really cool but I didn’t want the narrative description of that and I think that I wanted to feel like that but not say “we can only show it this way because it’s found footage”. But I did want the camera to be a character in the story, wanting that feeling there is an audience member here in the room with these people. I think it was a strange approach but one that because of the way we chose the shots and we buried so many things in each shot and so many clues that multiple watches will reward that. It worked really well for that whereas if we had gone the whole traditional set up I don’t think it would have had that energy or feeling to it.
For a debut film I can’t believe the impact and fear this has driven, how do you plan to follow this up?
I’m working on one now and it’s different to Banshee Chapter, very, very different. But it has more elements to it. Whereas Banshee is almost like a haunted house movie where the American culture/society is the haunted house the next one is a much more character driven ghost story about death, loss and opens in the mid 90’s and follows ordinary, regular people no conspiracies but about a guy and a girl who have known each other for a long time and have these feelings for each other and as their relationship is developing the girl is killed in a very tragic accident. Then cut to now and he’s older and it’s really had a devastating effect on his life and then one night she shows up in his life looking exactly the same as she did all those years ago and that’s the set up for the story.
Well, we certainly can’t wait
Banshee Chapter is available now from 101 Films and Intense Distribution