fede alvarez interview

I had an accidental double feature of sorts at SXSW. I saw Don’t Breathe, which is about a blind man terrorizing home invaders, and then I saw Hush, which is about a deaf woman terrorized by a home invader. They end up acting as fascinating and accidental mirrors of one another. I was wondering, was there ever a point where the blind man was intended to be more of a victim?

It was always the way it is in the movie. The core of the idea was always what you see in the movie. I had no idea about Hush! It wasn’t until Hush was coming out that I knew about it. In a way, Hush is Wait Until Dark with deafness instead of blindness. Our movie is a reversal of that. So I think they’re so different. I haven’t seen it yet. I hear it’s pretty good.

It is good! Someone needs to program a proper double feature. One of my favorite scenes in Don’t Breathe is when the lights go out completely and you depict total darkness in this faded, almost monochrome way. There have been a lot of horror movies that utilize green night vision or simply allow light to creep in from unknown sources for scenes set in completely darkness, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it shot like this before. 

You haven’t seen that before. We did so much research trying to find if anyone had done anything like that, because we were trying to find the answer to “How do we do this?” If somebody has done it in the past, let’s copy that! The truth is that no one has done it and we knew there was no room to allow characters to have any night vision device. If anyone was going to have something like that, it would be the blind man and that would be ridiculous. We didn’t need that. The other characters wouldn’t have that kind of high-tech thing. My logic was that, by this point, audiences are familiar with the kind of night vision look. It’s low contrast and no shadows. The light comes from the lens itself, in a way. We could reproduce that easily. The challenge was going to be…we need light. We have the light, we treat the image to make it look right, but the actors have to see. It’s very hard to fake being in the dark. The trick, the revelation, was that we gave them contact lenses to simulate dilated pupils, but those lenses were also blinding them. I was like having your fingers over their eyes. They’re blind and that’s what I need. I just needed them not to see. If there’s light on set, it makes no difference. That’s how we did it. They’re so lost because they can’t see shit! It worked pretty well, but it was a leap of faith. If that didn’t work, we’d have to reshoot the whole scene. Pedro Luque, the director of photography, and I both went for it. We decided to just shoot it and if it works, we’d be pushing filmmaking just a little bit further and adding a new tool. Have you seen the documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey?

I haven’t, no.

You’ve got to see it! It’s awesome. It’s a documentary about filmmaking and techniques. There was a time when someone just put a camera down and shot something. And then one day, someone said “What if we do a close-up?” And in the next movie, “What if we do an over-the-shoulder?” That’s how filmmaking advances. You invent some new technique. You one day put the camera on a crane! I was excited to add a new tool to the normal tools of filmmaking, because I don’t think the look belongs to this movie. I think we can just assume that’s what darkness looks like [on screen]. It will work in any genre movie and even in a drama movie, you can say “That’s darkness.”

I was lucky enough to see this in a theater with an immaculate sound system, which really drove home just how important the sound design is to selling this movie. Since a key character is blind, every single creak and crack is important and startling.

I remember reading an interview with David Lynch where he said something and I was like, “Oh, shit. He does that, I don’t do that!” What he said, basically, was that while he’s shooting, he thinks about the music and sound design in every shot he does. What’s going to be the sound design in this shot? Is there going to be music in this scene or not? Most directors, we don’t do that. You shoot the scene and you don’t think about that until later. I thought it was brilliant. He had the brain to think about that while shooting. I thought I should try to do that. Every day on every scene, I was trying to be aware if there was going to be music or not. That would allow me to treat the scene differently. If I knew there was going to be music, I won’t go into detail about who steps on a crack and if there would be sound. If there’s music, you won’t hear that.

I’m not sure if you noticed, but most of the jump scares in this movie don’t have a music sting. Most horror movies will give you a big orchestra hit because they’re scary. We do it in a different way. Think about the dog in the window, the first jump scare. There’s no music. It’s just the sound of the dog hitting the car and the metal. That creates a big scare usually. The guy coming out of the cellar, right in front of [a character]. There’s no music there. Just the crack of the door sounding very loud. It was another leap of faith. Let’s hope that works without music. The key was to take that David Lynch advice and really think about sound design and music while shooting and not leave it for the end. I knew what I wanted, so when the sound team got involved, I was like “This was always intended to not have music here or not have sound design there.”

Continue Reading Fede Alvarez Interview >>

Cool Posts From Around the Web: