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Interview With Dan Berk and Robert Olsen Directors Of Body
By James Whittington, Friday 28th August 2015 Body is one of the real stand-out movies of FrightFest 2015. Its a strong mix of suburban horror and traditional thrills that combine to make a film that's outstanding. Here directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen chat about this brilliant movie and plans for the future.
HC: When did you two first work together?
We met as randomly assigned roommates our freshmen year of college. When we graduated, we started a production company with a few close friends with the goal of one day making feature films. We eventually started to write together and it just kind of grew from there. We realized that we were better when working together, so our partnership expanded to include, writing, directing, editing - now we share a credit on anything we do.
HC: Who came up with the idea for Body?
As with everything we do, it was a team effort. We never pitch fully formed ideas to one another. We share our thoughts very early on in the creative process. That way we can both influence what the final outcome is. Many times the film we wind up with only barely resembles the initial idea. Body is no different - we wanted to make something in a limited location and just bounced ideas back and forth, taking bits from every idea and letting it snowball into a final product.
HC: How long did it take to write?
The writing was relatively quick. Once we had the concept, the story kind of wrote itself. We went through a few drafts, sent it out for some notes, did a few more, but the entire process was only a few months long.
HC: Did you have specific actors in mind whilst writing it?
Helen Rogers (Holly) was a close friend. We've always been huge fans of her and try to work with her whenever we can. That role was absolutely written for her. Other than that, we had always hoped we could get Larry Fessenden for Arthur, but that was more of a long shot because we'd never worked with him before and he's a busy guy. Luckily it worked out. Having his veteran presence on set really made everyone involved, cast and crew, really step their game up.
HC: What sort of budget did you have for production?
A very, very small one. We knew that would be the case as we would be raising the money ourselves. So we tried to make a film that had limited locations and focused more on performance than effects.
HC: Was it a long shoot?
It was a particularly short shoot actually. We shot the whole film in 11 overnights. We were able to do that because the vast majority of our film took place in one location. That allowed us to not have to load in/out every day. Being able to just walk off set and walk back on the next day and start shooting basically turned our 11 day shoot into a 15 or 16 day shoot in terms of effective shooting hours.
HC: This is your first full length feature, what lessons did you learn about the craft during the production?
The biggest difference is the physical grind over a longer shoot. When you're shooting a short film/music video/commercial, you don't have to take that into account as much. The days can be as long as they need to be because there's only a few of them and everyone involved would rather just get everything done in as few days as possible. It's tempting to do the same when you're on a feature, but it doesn't work that way. You have to make sure that everyone is getting enough rest. Otherwise you'll get to the 6th or 7th day and your entire set will be out of gas.
HC: What would you have done if you were the female characters in this movie?
That's the question that we want the audience to be asking themselves. We really wanted to explore the moral gray areas involved in a situation like this. Who the viewer sympathizes with (and if those feelings change) is a big part of the viewing experience. All that being said, I think we'd most likely chicken out, then again, we don't have a friend like Cali...
HC: Do you get nervous before your work is shown at a festival?
We definitely get butterflies every time. You never know how a certain audience is going to react and you have this recurring nightmare of half the audience walking out or some other AV disaster taking place. Luckily that has yet to happen, but any time people are seeing your work for the first time, it's a nerve wracking experience. A lot of nail-biting and knee-bobbing from the two of us.
HC: What advice would you give to budding directors and writers who want to make their own movies?
Know your limitations. You want to accentuate what you can do well at this point in your career, both creatively and financially. If you get too ambitious with the story you're trying to tell, it can blow up in your face. Try to base your characters on real people. We can write people in their mid to late twenties much easier than we can write young children or older characters because that's who we spend most of our time with. Maybe you work at a preschool or an old folks home and it's the opposite. Just try to stay in your comfort zone early on. You can experiment as you continue your career, but you might only have one shot at making a feature, so you have to put your best foot forward. Financially, the same method applies. You only have 50 grand to make your feature? Make sure you come up with a concept you can execute. A small, limited location thriller is going to be easier to pull off than an elaborate, effects heavy movie about a jewel heist. We're not saying you can't be ambitious, just don't try to bite off more than you can chew. Use whatever edge you can to make your film look better. For instance had a connection to this incredible mansion, so we got permission to shoot there and tried to showcase that whenever possible. We built a film around a resource that was available to us. Maybe your good friend is an SFX make-up artist, or your dad works at a diner you could shoot in - use whatever is available to you that would otherwise cost someone else more money and lean into it. You've gotta stretch your dollars early on.
HC: What shape would you say that the horror movie industry is in?
We think it's in great shape. Unlike some other genres, it's very concept and execution dependent; you're not required to have stars in it. It can be a lot easier to find distribution for an independent horror as opposed to an independent family drama. This is probably because there are a whole slew of moviegoers who want a more visceral experience and only go to see things that make them laugh or scare them. Whether that's a good thing or not is a different argument, but it's a pretty clear that that's part of the reality of this industry.
HC: Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, thank you very much.
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Saturday 23rd December