Dan Berk and Robert Olsen tell Jeremy Kay about what makes them jump in the night and their Slamdance-bound story of three bored, stoned girls who head out to a vacant mansion.
Body should prove a popular draw when it premieres at Slamdance in Park City on Sunday January 25 at 10.30pm.
The film centres on three bored, stoned girls who head over to a mansion vacated for the holidays by the uncle of one of the three. And then…
Berk and Olsen tell Jeremy Kay about how they came up with the idea and what makes them jump in the night. Preferred Content represents US rights.
Who came up with the idea?
Honestly, all of our ideas are joint efforts. Normally if someone has half an idea, the other person will fill it in. We operate as kind of two halves of the same brain, so by the time the idea is fully formed, there have been so many contributions by either one of us that it becomes impossible to say whose “idea” it was. In fact, in this particular case, we’d credit circumstance more than anything.
We knew a lot of the major ingredients going in. We knew we wanted it to be a one-location film (that’s all we had the budget for). We knew we had access to the mansion. We knew we wanted it to be a genre film (either a horror or a thriller). So we sat there for a few days, throwing things back and forth. We’d find an idea we liked, then we’d wind up moving on to something else, but taking bits of that idea and fusing them into the next one. Eventually we wound up with Body. Our ideas are never just a lightbulb going off. It’s an organic, evolving process that we both take part in.
How do you write together? And direct?
We have a bit of a formula for the writing. Normally, we’ll work on the outline together (simultaneously). There’s a lot of whiteboard action, pacing back and forth, tossing foam footballs – you know the drill. Once the outline is finished, one of us will break the ice and write the first few scenes. Then he’ll pass it off to the other person. That person will read what’s been written, making whatever changes they see fit along then way, then take on the next few scenes. The process then just repeats itself, back and forth, until the first draft is finished. If there are any disagreements, or if someone wants to make a particularly major change to a portion the other person just wrote, we’ll pause and discuss.
Once we have that first draft, we’ll each read separately and take notes. We compare and compile them into a master document. From there, we start to work simultaneously again. We go through the script, implement all of the notes, then we just repeat that process. We’ll read the script aloud several times, pausing to perfect dialog or tweak screen direction, until we feel comfortable. Then we send it out to some trusted friends, get their notes, and repeat the process yet again. The script always continues to evolve, especially once you do some table reads, but that’s the recipe for the most part.
Directing is way less formulaic. It’s really just all about trust. By the time we’re actually shooting, we’ve prepared so much that we both know what we want. So it doesn’t matter if one of us is talking to the actors and the other is having a discussion with the DP – we both know what we’re going for. Disagreements will always pop up, but they always produce an even better idea than the original. It’s good to have that system of checks and balances. As a solo director, if you have an idea, it’s hard to tell if it’s a good one or a bad one in the moment. But because there’s two of us, those ideas have to make it past the other person. It usually results in the best ones floating to the top.
How did you keep that balance between comical / fun and scary/shocking?
We wanted the first portion of the film to be light and show these girls in their natural habitat. If we don’t establish them as friends, then nobody’s going to care when they’re at each other’s throats later in the film. We also wanted the beginning to act as sort of a lullaby and make the audience almost forget they’re watching a genre film.
Did it take a while to get the right combo of actresses between the three girls?
We had worked with Helen [Rogers] in the past. She’s been one of our favorite actresses for some time. Holly was pretty much written for her. So right from the start, we got her attached. She was in there reading with the actresses throughout the audition process. Lauren [Molina] was recommended to us by another one of the producers on the film. Once she came in, it became clear that not only was she a fantastic actress, but she had incredible chemistry with Helen.
Finding Cali was a much tougher process. The character requires not just a strong personality, but a certain look. We found some actresses that had the attitude, but not look. Then we’d find some that had the look, but not the attitude. As soon as we saw Alexandra’s [Turshen] tape, we knew she was the total package. When we first got the three of them in a room together and watched them interact, there was a lot of silent fist-pumping between the two of us.
Where and when did you shoot?
We shot in March of 2014 in Westport, Connecticut.
How did you get the financing together?
We pieced it together from a couple of people that were passionate about the material.
Can you cite any influences for the story?
Absolutely, there were a tonne. As soon as we had the idea down, we watched and re-watched anything we felt informed the film. From a story standpoint, Shallow Grave was a great example of a group of people who inadvertently become wrapped up in a murder and turn against one another. Funny Games did a great job of showing how you can have a one-location movie that not only holds your interest, but demands it. As far as the mood and environment goes, we love The Shining. We wanted to feel a little bit of that – the mansion itself being a character, slowly driving the girls mad. Structurally, we love Hitchcock and his ability to throw a curveball at the right time to keep the audience on their toes. Also Wolf Creek, which does a great job of lulling the viewer with the first portion of the film, before all hell breaks loose.
What and where were you when you heard you’d got into Slamdance?
We were sitting in our little office, wrapping up the day. We got an email from them, so at first we thought it was a rejection (we figured if we got in, they’d call). Once we realised what it was, there was a lot of screaming, jumping up and down, adrenaline-fueled white guy dancing - it’s good that we were by ourselves. It’s just incredibly validating. We put everything we had into this film; it’s our baby. So like any proud mother, we’re gonna love it no matter what. The question was – would anyone else? To find out that such an awesome festival wanted to show our film – it’s a feeling neither one of us will ever forget.