We were fortunate to grab some time to chat with Kentis about this unique cinematic venture, and some of the challenges and difficulties which came with trying to bring the story to the screen.
HeyUGuys: The original film was only made a couple of years back. Did you jump on the project almost immediately?
Chris Kentis: Pretty much. [Production company] Wildbunch had the rights and contacted us to see if we were interested. Laura had seen the original but I hadn’t. The change to tell a story in a single shot format was an exciting and interesting challenge, and that kinda put the hooks in us right away.
How closely did you stick to the template of the original?
There were certain parameters that we stuck to, such as it had to be in an isolated house. We did feel that, because we had the benefit of the original film, we should try and go further with what you could do with the single shot. We also felt that the motivations behind the characters, and ultimately what the film explores, could be changed. The original was based on a true story and some of the core elements that we discovered from that were avoided.
The important part of the single take was it couldn’t just be a gimmick or an exercise – it had to be a proper marriage of narrative and the method of telling it, and so the key was to have the right story. The idea behind the single shot was to experience what takes place, exclusively, through the eyes of the lead character [played by Elizabeth Olsen]. It’s not an objective point of view of that’s happening, and the single take device seemed the best way to do that.
It’s any director’s job to see that an actor knows where they are, and we tried to shoot linear for pretty much the whole production. That being said, she was very well prepared and didn’t need a lot of help, plus she a really gifted actress. I make that comparison with theatre where an actor’s performance is going on for a very long period of time. Because you’re in front of a live audience, if there’s a technical screw-up, you have to roll with the punches and keep going.
Obviously with film you can’t do that, and it was particularly difficult here from a logistical viewpoint, as everyone had to hit their marks at a certain time, from the props department to the lights. She [Olsen] could be ten minutes into an incredibly emotional and gut-wrenching take and if any crew members missed their cue we’d have to cut and the whole take would be useless. It wasn’t like we had managed to get the first part in the can and we could save it, we’d have to go back to square one and do it all over again. It was a very unique and difficult challenge and she certainly rose to it.
Did that process get easier as the shoot progressed?
That toughness Lizzy encountered wasn’t the same for us. We found it really fun because it was such a new way to make a movie. When we brought the crew on, no one had really done anything like this before and your job descriptions kinda changes because of that. The key to working was really though out preparations and rehearsals. They started before we even finished the script. Laura and I would visit the location and she’d play Lizzie’s part and I’d follow her around with a camera, so we worked on the choreography and had a really strong idea how to achieve certain things when we brought the crew on.
Even though we were well prepared, each shot brought about its own set of challenges that would be different from the shot before. You never knew what was really gonna trip you up.
What was your longest take? Can you divulge that information?
No, I don’t mind. We used the same camera as the original film, the Canon 5D, and because of the look you can get with that camera, and the depth of field you can achieve, it was really a great choice. But it only runs for a certain length of time, around 15 minutes, so I’d say our tales averaged around the 12 minute range.
That’s pretty impressive, although as you’ve mentioned, it must have been frustrating when having to do multiples takes.
It’s difficult but it’s also very exciting. Everyone is biting their nails when you’re 11 minutes into it and you’re almost there. When you get one in the can and you know it was right, the whole house would erupt with applause.
When the action within the frame was going on, where were you guys? Was there a lot of running around, weaving in and out?
Good question. Usually on a shoot, we’d be right there with the actors, but here they’re on their own for such an extended period, and you can’t follow them around because as it is, you already have your cameraman and the boom operator. Already there’s a lot of potential sounds and shadows to deal with, so Laura would work with Lizzie prior to the scene and then we’d be hidden in the closet with video village, watching the while thing on a monitor.
It’s such a unique set-up.
With a traditional shot, it’s really in the edit where you can control the pacing and tweak performances but with Silent House, whatever we shot, that was it. It could take a whole day to get that one take, and then that would be the only take of that day (laughs). You’d get home and string it to the previous take and that would be the movie.
In truth, there was one scene we had to keep going back to and going after, which was when she runs outside the house. That was incredibly tricky and there was even once or twice when we thought we had it, but because of the process which we’d learned, it just wasn’t quite what it should, or could have been.
The choreography of it was incredibly complex and it ended up being like a ballet because the two camera operators had to be constantly passing the camera. One follows her out around the house, and when the car pulls up, it was passed to the operator in the car. Then that operator would jump out of the back of the car as it approached the house.
One of the strengths of the film is that as you begin watching it and look for the edit seams, that quickly slips away as you become engrossed in the situation.
That’s one of the things Lauren and I really hoped for. Rather than audiences caring what we did technically, and how, we just wanted to present a unique way for a story to unfold.
Silent House is out in UK cinemas today.