the invitation

Were there any major changes you made to the house to suit the story?

Yes, we did. This house was unusual because the space for the dining room was upstairs. And so, it created this interesting moment in the story where it was sort of like, OK, the pre-dinner party is over and now the night will begin. So we were able to sort of move everybody upstairs in this way that I felt kind of had a sort of interesting metaphorical possibility in terms of just sort of seeing everybody move to this next level, literally.

I don’t know. I mean that was the kind of stuff that had to change based on the architecture of the house. We had never imagined, for instance, a screening room. But this house had a screening room. So there was something kind of cool about the confrontation between Pruitt and Kira and Will happening in the screening room that had an interesting feeling to it. So we definitely made adjustments based on the space before we started shooting.

You really hold certain shots and let the audience live in the moment with the characters, but the pace of the movie is still incredibly tight. When you got to the editing room, were you constantly tightening those shots or seeing how long they could last? 

It’s so interesting because I feel like being able to be in control of your pace and not have that kind of dictated by other forces is sort of the holy grail for me of making movies. I don’t know. I think for some people who are uncomfortable with the tension and with the suspense of the film, the slow burn structural quality is like it makes people uncomfortable. I think there are always going to be people who say even if they are engaged in the movie, they just want it to move faster. That’s just not the movie I was making. I really wanted to make a movie where you felt a kind of unfolding of an event and unfolding of information, so that if you were already invested in it, you would feel 100% invested by the time it all pays off, if that makes sense. I think the only way to do that is to take the time to really allow the audience to sort of study and engage with the characters.

I might have labeled the film a “slow burn” when I first saw it, but it’s worth noting something happens in almost every scene.

Yes! [Laughs.] I do think that genre films today, there is a demand that they just be sort of telling you and identifying their genre right away with signifying events. And this film, it just couldn’t do that. We go so far as having the event in the car on the way to the party, but that’s about as far as we were able to take it in terms of the sense of unease. Ultimately, it was crucial that the audience settle in to this dinner party enough to have to kind of question whether or not they are getting too comfortable with things and, in fact, are things as bad as they might seem for Will? All of those questions we had to keep alive, and that meant keeping it like a real night, you know, unfolding like a real dinner party.

Did you cut any scenes in post-production?

We did lose some things. The script clocks in at 96 pages or something. It was very efficiently written. We lost some dialogue from the opening of the movie that was filled with information we thought everyone needed, but it was just fascinating to sort of realize in cutting the film that the audience is just going to figure out the relationships over the course of the night and they don’t need to be prepped for what they’re about to see.

And then we lost some crucial scenes that, for instance, might have given you a clearer sense of the fate of some characters. We realized we didn’t want to answer some of those questions so explicitly, so we left it more open-ended.

Obviously you’ve made a few genre films now, but do you have any stories in mind, more in the vein of Girlfight, that you’re hoping to make? 

Oh, yeah. I’m ultimately drawn to film many kinds of stories if they are sort of about unlocking the secrets of our human potential. And so, I mean I definitely have movies that are much more sort of gentle kind of bittersweet stories that I think are kind of not as easily definable as genre. For me, I’ve just found that some of the genre films get made a little bit faster and then there’s just the struggle to get those more kind of overtly personal or dramatic stories made. But I’ll keep on trying for sure. [Laughs.]

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The Invitation opens in limited release April 8th.

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