Horror Factoid: In The Orphanage (2007) Laura's necklace, a St. Anthony medallion, makes a clever reference to her plight. In Catholic religion, St. Anthony is a doctor and patron saint of lost items.
  
  

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Jun242010

« Interview with The Resurrectionist's Writer/Director Susan Bell »

 

The Resurrectionist is set in 1847, are you a fan of period pieces?

Susan Bell- I am.  I've directed another short set in World War II and have a feature script set in 1900.  Period pieces often reflect a time when life was just simpler and thus life and death choices very clear.  Part of the allure to me is the ability to place characters in an environment that is not saturated with technology. The advent of cell phones and GPS and the always-connected mentality makes it difficult to effectively isolate characters in present day settings unless you place them underground (The Descent) or in outer space (Sunshine).  How many times have you rolled your eyes when someone's cell phone looses service or battery power in a film?  It's difficult to deal with when you are setting up a "monster in the house" story where the characters can't escape or get help.   But I also am very enthusiastic about the idea of how inexpensive technology has opened up both filmmaking and storytelling to new audiences.  "Rec" and "Paranormal Activity" are both great examples of this trend. 

 

What challenges did you face shooting a period piece?

SB- You've gotta do your research and strive to be as accurate as you can.  I think it is interesting to learn about how people lived in different times.  In fact, The Resurrectionist would not exist if it were not for my checking out a book on Southern Gothic ghost stories from the library.  I read a folk tale about a man carrying a coffin from one county to another and how he was haunted by the dead man's ghost who didn't want to leave his family's burial plot.  Combine this with research into the very real trade of resurrection men who sold freshly stolen corpses to medical schools and the idea for the film was born.  As for production challenges, we had to find realistic locations, an authentic buckboard wagon, proper set dressing and period costumes, as well as simulate candle and fire light on set.  The lead actor Christian Anderson had to learn how to drive a horse and wagon just hours before we started shooting. 

 

You attend FSU, did you also film in Florida?

SB- My initial intention was to film in Florida, but we were having some trouble finding a suitable spooky location.  So we branched out and contacted the neighboring states' film offices.  On a location scout in Alabama, I fell in love with the town of Spectre that was built for Tim Burton's "Big Fish" near Montgomery.  The set of the abandoned town was located on a private island in the Alabama River and included a man-made haunted forest passage from the film. All in all, the site was deemed perfect for The Resurrectionist, with a small log cabin, a steepled church, and the surrounding dirt roads hemmed by trees dripping with Spanish moss.  I’m very thankful that the school saw the production value of the location and allowed us to film out of state.

 

Where you able to find a cabin to use or did you have to build it?

SB- The cabin plus a neighboring forest was the magical combination that we could not find in Florida.  The "Big Fish" set had both of these.  However, its cabin as just a shell with no interior, so my art department had to build the entire interior set in just a few days.  One amusing trivia fact is that it did have a working chimney and I set the script on fire to produce the smoke scene in one of the shots.

 

How long did it take to shoot The Resurrectionist?

SB- Actual photography amounted to 11 nights of shooting, all on location.  The entire process from scripting through post-production was seven months.

 

How many crew members did it take to film The Resurrectionist?

SB- There were 21 crew members for principal photography in Alabama, and probably another 40 people pitched in during re-shoots and throughout post production.  Everyone was either a FSU student or a volunteer.  The film was also supported by local businesses both in Tallahassee and Montgomery that donated or loaned everything from period set dressing to providing the horses.

 

Was the film more difficult to shoot because so much was filmed at night? 

SB-  Lighting the extremely dark woods properly with limited money and resources was a sizable challenge.  We ended up using three Maxi-Brutes that created 27,000 watts of light, as well as every light fixture we could get our hands on from the Film School's package.  We basically maxed out the school's sizable generator as the lighting and grip teams placed all those lights behind the actors, on a 30-foor lift and deep into the frame to provide depth.  The mistake most new filmmakers make is to front light at night, which makes the background go dark and looks nothing like directional moonlight.  In this regard I think the film looks like a million bucks.  I must give a lot of credit to my talented classmate Rodrigo Rocha-Campos for his work as the director of photography.  He actually won the ASC Heritage Award, which is given for outstanding student cinematography.  But shooting all nights was also a major scheduling challenge since the first couple hours of our 13-hour days were dedicated to lighting.  We also dealt with thunderstorms and pouring rain, cars stuck in the mud, hillsides covered in poison ivy and enormous bugs attracted to all those lights.  Then add the story's horses and wagons and water effects on top of this ...yes, it was more difficult.

 

What was the budget for The Resurrectionist?

SB- I think it was about $20,000, but this was covered by the FSU Film School since The Resurrectionist was a MFA thesis film.  We shot on Super16mm and ended up finishing with a digital intermediate and outputting to HD tape.  If you had to try and make this film without the school's equipment, facilities and student crew I expect it would be much closer to $100,000, if not more.  It was a very ambitious project.  FSU has such a great film program and the access we had to professional equipment and post production tools was second to none. 

 

What projects are you working on currently?

SB- Well, my "day job" is working as a producer on the animated show "Robot Chicken," which is shooting its fifth season right now.  But I have also teamed up with a local paranormal group, the Los Angeles Ghost Patrol, and we are working on a pilot for a reality show that we hope to shoot later this year.  Of course, that's right up my alley since I'm a huge fan of the supernatural. I think it is gonna be a lot of fun.  Plus I’ve got several feature projects on the back burners simmering away.  

Interview by: Melanie Kester

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