Director Michael J. Bassett has spent the past several years making a name for himself in the genre that inspired him as a child. ‘Deathwatch,’ ‘Wilderness’ and ‘Solomon Kane’ established him as a young director to watch and have earned him legions of dedicated fans. Those earlier films as set the stage for what is him most ambitious project to date,’Silent Hill: Revelation 3D’, which certainly doesn’t disappoint! In the latest chapter of the highly anticipated saga, Heather Mason (Adelaide Clemens) and her father (Sean Bean) have been on the run, always one step ahead of dangerous forces that she doesn’t fully understand. Now on the eve of her 18th birthday, plagued by horrific nightmares and the disappearance of her father, Heather discovers she’s not who she thinks she is. The revelation leads her deeper into a demonic world that threatens to trap her forever. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with director Michael J. Bassett to discuss his love for the ‘Silent Hill’ franchise, the challenges of bringing material from script to screen, his evolution as a director and much more!
I am a fan of your work. I wanted to take a moment to give our readers a little background on you. What originally intrigued you about the world of filmmaking and made you pursue it as a career?
Oh my, God! I am a movie fan! It is as simple as that. I absolutely loved movies as a kid! I never really had any intentions of becoming a filmmaker.I wanted to become a vet. I was crazy about natural history, science and all of that stuff. Everything in my life took me in that direction. I was a movie fan but in the UK when I was growing up, there was never any sense that you could go off and become a filmmaker. We don’t have a Hollywood in the UK, so there is no “I am going to go to this place and make movies!” The movie industry was so depressed and no one was interested in making genre pictures, which is what I loved, so I went off to be a vet. While I was trying to do that, I kind of failed at it because I didn’t work in school. While I was there I bought a video camera and started making short films. Everyone was saying to me “Do you want to make short films about animals?” and I would say “No. I want to blow shit up!” [laughs] I just kind of transitioned into it. I still have a love of natural history and science but I thought “I can make these movies and short films!” I wrote a couple of scripts which got me a little bit of interest and it grew from there. I love horror. I remember as a teenager cutting school, which is part of the reason I didn’t become a vet, and renting a bunch of VHS video nasties Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Thriller Killer,” “I Spit On Your Grave” and John Carpenter’s stuff and watching them with my friends. I just loved the genre. I love horror and scaring people. When video games came along, I was a game fanatic as well. Everything slowly coalesced into this notion that I should get into filmmaking because I wasn’t qualified to do anything else!
Who would you cite as your biggest professional influences that have inspired you along the way?
The reason I am a filmmaker is because of Ridley Scott’s “Alien”. I was too young to see it when it originally came out but I was obsessed with the design and the visuals. The “Blade Runner” came along and solidified the sense that you can make these incredible movies with mythic ideas in them. James Cameron is an influence. Oliver Stone, I think is amazing. John Carpenter’s early-to-mid period stuff, where he was at the absolute top of his game was just amazing. To me, ‘The Thing’ is one of the best horror movies ever made!
I totally agree with you there! Your latest project is ‘Silent Hill: Revelation 3D’. What attracted you to this project initially?
I am a gamer! I love the ‘Silent Hill’ world and I was also a fan of the first movie. I thought Christophe Gans did a great job with and it looked amazing. If you weren’t a gamer, it was kind of hard to understand what was going on but I loved it. I made a movie with the producer of the film called ‘Solomon Kane’. After I finished that, the producer said me he was interested in doing another ‘Silent Hill’ movie. I said to him “I would love to play in that world! If Christophe doesn’t do it and you are looking for a director or writer, talk to me!” We sat down at dinner and he told me what he wanted from the movie. I told him that I thought I could do that and I understood what he was trying to achieve. I told him “Let me come up with some story ideas. I think that adapting game number three was the way I would head. That way we could make a sequel to the original where the little girl has grown up. She is now about to turn eighteen and all of her nightmares and the history is being to well up inside of her. Her father disappears and she has to go to Silent Hill to find out who she is and rescue her dad.” I really liked the idea of inverting the first movie where the mother was looking for her little girl and this time the little girl is looking for her father.
How did you prepare yourself to tackle this film stylistically?
It was one of those things. As soon as I knew I was going back into Silent Hill, I revisited the games. Konami gave us all of their material and design ideas — their bible to the world. I immersed myself in it from that point of view. I watched the first movie again and I chatted with Christophe Gans and told him what I wanted to do and he approved. Of course, making this movie in 3D was a different step in trying to get the audience immersed in the world. There is no post-3D here. I shot it in 3D in an attempt to give a window into this strange twisted universe. I wear my influences on my sleeve a little bit! If you watch my stuff, you can see the things that I like but there was no sense of “Oh, I’ve got to copy that.” There are a few moments where you say “I really want to use that image from the game because it works so well.” or “I want to do it because the fans would love to see that.” Just for a fleeting second, you will see a frame in the movie that is exactly like you see in the game. There a few little hints, twists and touches that only a true gamer will get but the key was to make a movie where you didn’t have to know anything about ‘Silent Hill’ to watch and enjoy the movie. It is all just a very straight forward, scary, Friday night date horror movie! The balance between those two things was the hardest thing to get.
How much more challenging is it to shoot in 3D than a standard format?
It is a pretty challenging thing to do! Starting out, I wasn’t a giant fan of 3D because I didn’t think it had been used terribly well in a lot of movies. The post-production 3D process, I think, has really damaged the reputation of 3D a little bit. When you are planning to shoot, you have to decide what approach you are going to take. What are you going to use the 3D for and why is it advantageous to use that format. It is a slower process and if you don’t have a bottomless pit of money like James Cameron does, you have to be very careful how you shoot and make the most of it! It is a slower process and you can’t do certain things as easily like steady cam or handheld shoots because the camera is so much heavier. You editing process is different as well because when you look at shoots in 3D, they can hold the screen for longer because the eye sort of roams through the universe, whereas in 2D you can cut off a shot really quickly but in 3D you want it to sit there for the audience to enjoy! That makes the pace of the movie slightly different. When you go to see the film, you have to see it in 3D because that is the only version that is the real version of the film.
Overall, what did you find to be the biggest challenge while making this film and bring it from script to screen?
Making any movie is a huge challenge because there is never enough time or never enough money. I think the challenge with this project was staying respectful to the games while not making it inaccessible to everyone else. There are a lot of hardcore gamers out there who really like it and know the world. I want them to appreciate and love the movie but the truth is that I need to make it for more people than just them or we will never make the money back and we will never, ever see another ‘Silent Hill’ movie. As much as anything, the real challenge and the pleasure of this film was making the monsters! I am an old school horror fan, so I want rubber suits, prosthetics and makeup! That is the best kind of monster for me! Today, they can look a little bit cheesy because the audience is now used to seeing very sophisticated computer graphics for these monsters. I thought it was much nicer to have them on the set, wandering around so the actress, Adelaide Clemens, who plays Heather Mason has something to react to. The challenge was getting it to look great. The pleasure was going to the creature workshop to see them being designed and molded for use on the set. There is only one digital creature in the movie and it was one that we simply couldn’t get to work in any practical way. It is a very cool monster and it looks terrific but it was sad to me that we had to give up and have one digital creature.
There is no shortage of talent with this film. What can you tell us about the cast and what they brought to the table to bring the whole thing to life — maybe even something you didn’t expect?
One of the things about making a horror movie is it is really easy to forget the need for a performance in the middle of this thing! I wanted to make sure we had, in Adelaide Clemens who is the lead, a young Australian actress, somebody who was going to ground the whole thing and allow us to really sympathize with the events happening around her. She is not just a scream queen, she is a girl who has to find her inner strength, so hopefully it becomes a proper human story that you can appreciate. Adelaide was definitely the key. Finding the right Heather Mason was everything! Once I got her, I wanted to give her an onscreen co-star, a young man who is a character from the game but also very, very different. That character is played by Kit Harington, who if you know ‘Game of Thrones’, plays John Snow. He is terrific young actor, a british guy. He plays this slightly ambiguous character, who may or may not be her love interest and may or may not be there to help her, you don’t quite know who he is. Once I got my young cast in the middle of it, i knew I wanted to bring Sean Bean back! I am a huge fan of Sean’s and he plays the father in the first movie and since it was the story of the little girl grown up, I wanted to make sure his maternal presence was really strong. Then getting Malcolm McDowell to play the human embodiment of the Leonard monster was terrific. In the game, the Leonard monster has human voice but you never seen in human form, only the monstrous form. Getting Malcolm to come onboard and do a couple of days for me was brilliant. Then you need the big baddie at the end and that is personified by Carrie-Anne Moss. She is the sort of wicked queen who is controlling the whole process. Carrie-Anne really embraced the whole notion of it. In the game, the character has no eyebrows, so we cover her eyebrows, she has bare feet and a very striking head of white hair. It looked fantastic! Putting the performance at the center of this movie is hopefully what will the audience will relate to.
You have a pretty impressive body of work at this point in your career. How do you feel you have evolved as a director since starting out?
Wow! Well, you just get a little bit better each time. You try to get closer to achieving what you see in your head. It’s not the imagination that I am lacking, it is just the skill set I need to develop to get closer and closer to what I want. Every movie you make there is a scene where you say “That is exactly what I imagined!” ‘Deathwatch’ was my first picture and there are a handful of scenes where i said “Yeah, that’s great!” Then with ‘Wilderness,’ I got a little closer and ‘Solomon Kane’ has got even more stuff that is exactly what I imagined. With ‘Silent Hill’, you get closer and closer to the sense that I have a skill set now, an understanding of the technology and the ability to be on a film set and communicate my desires in a way which gets me closer and closer to achieving that end of being genuinely able to say “This is exactly what I want the audience to see.” It’s an experience thing and a confidence thing. The other key is making movies you would want to go and see. you’ve got to love what you do because it is so hard and it takes so long, it’s got to be a pleasure. It still is luckily!
Is there a particular type of film, a genre or project that you are anxious to tackle in the future?
There is so much ambition that I have yet to achieve. I love my genre pictures and I don’t think I am ever going to make non-genre movies. I love fantasy movies and they are very, very hard to get made and it is hard to get an audience for them these days. You know, ‘Game of Thrones’ seems to have sucked up the audience and put it into a TV context, which is really exciting. I have just done a TV action-series called ‘Strike Back’ which included a lot of running, jumping, chasing and explosions! It is about a counter-terrorist unit and that was terrific to be a part of. I realized that I do like doing very physical action movies. I can tell you that I am never going to do a romantic comedy! [laughs] Beyond that, I will try anything! It is great stories that I really enjoy. I’d kinda like to make a children’s movie. Maybe one with a dark sensibility to it. There are lots and lots of challenges ahead and I am a long way from retiring!
Being a seasoned vet of the industry, what is the best piece of advice you can pass along to aspiring filmmakers?
God, if I am a season vet, then I am in trouble! [laughs] I still think of myself as a beginner and I am lucky to get jobs! Ya know what, it is really all about perseverance. It is so hard and you have to knock on so many doors. The difference now is that you can make films fairly easily. With the technology available on your average computer, you can shoot and edit incredibly easily. It is no longer a question of coming to Hollywood and making a movie. It is about finding the resources to make a movie and sharing it with an audience. I think that is the key. The key is realizing that you are a filmmaker if you make films. It doesn’t matter how big your budget is, it is about how big your imagination is.
I thank you for your time, Michael. I also wanted to mention that I have really enjoyed your blog and people should definitely check that out.
Oh shit! That reminds me! I better go and fill it in because I haven’t done anything on it for awhile.
Yeah. You have been a little slack lately, Michael. I won’t hold it against you. You seem to have been pretty busy!
[laughs] I have been busy but thanks for reminding me!
We will be looking forward to it! Thanks again and we will talk again soon!
Definitely. Thanks so much!
SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3D hits theaters everywhere October 26, 2012. Don’t miss it! Check out Michael J. Bassett’s blog at www.michaelbassett.com!