By Manuel Arija (La Mano Fest coordinator)

LA MANO: How did you came about the idea for Deep Dark? Is it from any personal experience in the art world?

MICHAEL: I did have a little personal experience from going to art school (where I learned film) but in terms of portraying the art world, Deep Dark is more of a caricature of it than it is reality. The idea came to me at a time when I was struggling to balance my creative life with my love life. I think many creative people experience this tug-of-war at least once in their lives. Early on, I envisioned a key scene from which the rest of the film developed. It was the note-pulling scene, where Hermann first discovers the Hole. At first he just finds a string, then he discovers there’s a note at the end. The note is old and worn yet their conversation is happening in real-time. That scene just felt so compelling to me—I eventually created the rest of story around it. But rather than have the Hole be an evil creature, I wanted to portray her as more of a misunderstood, albeit powerful, monster.

LM: Sometimes unusual and innovative scripts like the one for Deep Dark are a risky bet for producers. How did you managed to move it forward?

M: ​It was pretty tough as this was my first feature as a director. I showed the script to some producers but they weren’t interested. They did, however give me great feedback on the script and were very supportive. It was a good learning experience because I was able to see it from their perspective: here’s a very risky screenplay to make and I was an unknown variable director. So I set about raising the funding myself from private investors. In the meantime, I was also trying to move the project forward by assembling a creative team. At a certain point, I had some funding in place and brought it to producer Lara Cuddy. She loved the script and saw that I already had some key players involved so she joined the team. From there it was like a snowball that turned into an avalanche and we made the film.

LM: Tell us about the look of the film, how you worked on it?

M: Deep Dark is a story that could not take place in reality. Because of the talking hole and the exaggerated characters I knew, in order for the audience to go along with it, I’d have to create a sort of altered reality. So when we made decisions about the look, I aways kept that in mind. I was inspired the the films of the Jeunet and Caro (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children) for their ability to create a believable fantasy world. ​I worked really closely with our director of photography, Francisco Bulgarelli and our production designer Rebecca Micciche. With Francisco, we spent weeks talking about colors and lighting/shadows and framing. You’ll noticed the colors tend to reflect either Hermann’s mindset or the state of his relationship with the Hole. It’s very drab and desaturated in the beginning. Then when things are going well with the Hole it’s very colorful. And of course when things go bad it changes again. The Rebecca did similar things with the production design. Things went from very cluttered to very sparse.

​LM: Sean McGrath​ it’s a very solid asset for the film, accompanying him is the voice of Denise Poirier(Aeon Flux) as the voice from the hole. Why and how did yo choose the film cast? How was you experience directing these actors.

M: By far the hardest role to cast was Hermann. When you think about it, this actor is essentially carrying a scene with an inanimate object—not an easy thing to do. I had been ​aware​ Shawn McGrath for a while and I felt like he could ​play the part, ​even though he​ ha​d only played smaller roles before. Then, during the first meeting with our casting director, Lori Lewis, she said to me “I have a great idea for a guy to play Hermann.”​ I said​ ​“You do?​ ​B​ecause I ha​ve​ someone in mind too​.”​ She pulls up a ​talent web​site and starts scrolling down the headshots. We both pointed to Shawn and said at the same time “That’s him!” In hindsight, he was a great choice. He’s an incredibly talented guy.​ The role of the Hole, on the other hand, was very easy to cast. While I had been writing the script, I had always imagined her voice for The Hole. I remembered her from the old MTV Aeon Flux cartoons and just thought she had the perfect mix of sultry and strength. The Hole had to be commanding but also passionate. So when it came time to record the Hole’s voice I contacted Denise and she was excited to do it. It was like a dream come true for me. I don’t think it would be the same movie without her.

LM: His was your first feature. What advice would you have for directors facing their first film?

M: More so than with short films, you’re going to have to work with many creative people to make the film. You can’t do everything yourself. I think you have to embrace working with a creative team and let people do what they’re good at. For me that’s one of the thing l liked most about making Deep Dark: I got to work with incredibly talented people who were all trying to make a great film. My job was to assemble the right team of creatives together and then make sure we were all going in the right direction, making the best film we could. It’s incredibly hard work but I can’t wait to do it again.

LM: After watching Deep Dark one gets similar feelings, either for the aesthetics or for the theme, of other great films. What films and directors had influenced you in the making of Deep Dark?

M: ​I had many influences for the film. Particularly Polanski’s The Tenant for it’s bizarre tone of psychological horror and dark humor. Cronenberg’s The Fly for it’s sympathetic creature. Barton Fink for it’s portrayal of the struggling artist.

LM: Do you know any Spanish horror film? Any Spanish film?

​M: Yes! Probably one of my all-time favorites is Tesis. I also love the work of Alex De La Iglesia (Day of the Beast and Crimen Perfecto) and of course REC scared the pants off me.

LM: And finally, Michael, tell us, if you can, a little about your next project.

M: ​Currently I’m working on a new screenplay. It’s also a fantasy/horror. It’s probably a little more serious and Deep Dark but still quite bizarre.

LM: Thank you, Michael, we wish you the best luck for your upcoming projects.

M: ​My pleasure. Thank you!

Festival de Cine Fantástico,Terror y Ciencia Ficción, La Mano


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  1. 10/17/2015


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