To go from the the naturalistic, black-and-white, teenage tale “The Myth Of The American Sleepover,” to the distinct, carefully calibrated horror “It Follows,” is a feat few filmmakers could pull off . But David Robert Mitchell is one of them. The director’s latest turned heads all last year on the festival circuit and has made him an unlikely new voice in the genre. But the victory laps are over and now we all get to see it with the picture opening this weekend, and Indiewire had a chance to talk to Mitchell about his approach to the film which screens at Vancity Theatre from Friday, March 27.
The conversation took place last fall during AFI Fest, and Mitchell shared the exacting nature of getting the tone right for his film. He also discussed what it means to have back-to-back movies that have been well received, and the status of the gestating “Ella Walks The Beach,” and more.
My basic idea was of a horror film where the fear came from something that is so slow, that you can somehow escape from, but the fact that it’s relentless and eternal — the fear would come from that. It takes something as simple as looking at “Night of the Living Dead” to realize something slow can be terrifying, but this was different than that. And yeah, there was a bit of a question mark for some people, in terms of how it would feel. I just had to have some faith that what was in my head and on the page would work.
How did you go about building that specific visual scheme and tension?
It was tricky. Part of what we’re trying to do with the film is develop dread, basically. I’m thinking of sequences in the film where the characters are not experiencing fear at a high level or at all, where they feel like regular everyday moments. For those you kind of just have to remember the purpose that it has, and where it falls on the scale of dread. Just remembering that and how it fits can be tricky, because what you feel in context will feel incredibly different to what you’re doing on set.
“I’ll tell you honestly, I haven’t made it yet. There’s a lot of projects that I’m still pushing to do.”
You also accomplish some standout 360 and 720-degree shots where you’re picking certain things out of the frame — were those written into the script?
Some of those things were in the script and some of those things my DP and I figured out together.
Moments like those lend the film much more of an authorial vibe than “Myth of the American Sleepover,” which the horror genre easily allows. Was that a deliberate shift up from naturalism?
Well, it’s there with ‘Myth’ but it’s a very soft touch. With that one it wasn’t about drawing attention to those choices. It was about letting you fall into that world. It’s more traditionally covered, for sure, though. We also had really limited resources. The goal with “It Follows” was to be very deliberate — make specific choices, and really try to craft everything from the camerawork to the editing, the sound design, the music. It was about being specific.
And also most of the actors in ‘Myth’ were either first-time or non-actors, right?
The majority of the cast on “Myth” were first time actors, yeah — high school and college kids that we found through our open casting calls. There were a few people in there who were actors, at the time — Brett [Jacobson] had tons of experience, same with the twins [Nikita and Jade Ramsey]. But for the majority of them it was the first movie they’d ever been in. Difficult in some ways but they were all really talented.
With “It Follows”, it was different. These were way more experienced actors, but the process only changed slightly. I have a sense of what I want, and it’s a combination of communicating that on the page, verbally, and also being a presence in that environment and there’s a million ways that that happens.