Last week, in honor of ABCs of Death 2’s VOD debut, we got the opportunity to share an exclusive still from Bruno Samper and Kristina Buožytė’s entry, “K is for Knell,” and now, it’s time for an interview. Samper and Buožytė have collaborated for some time now, but “Knell” marks their first experience working as co-directors. Their segment centers on a young woman minding her own business, just giving herself a pedicure, who then notices a strange orb-like object floating over the apartment complex across the street. Soon after spotting it, she comes to realize that its presence has a devastating effect on the residents inside the building.
Hit the jump to catch what Samper told us about directing his very first film, how they created their apartment building full of bloodshed, the fairy tale nods hidden throughout the film, the concept’s feature potential and more.
BRUNO SAMPER: I made Visual Heart in art school and after, at the end of the 90s, the beginning of the 2000s, I started in the field of multimedia and video games. It wasn’t specifically in cinema, but it was some kind of directing already, you know? In 2004 I met Kristina Buožytė, the director of Vanishing Waves and the co-director of “Knell.” We met in Prague. We met in the summer in a workshop. It was a workshop about interactive writing and Kristina was a student and I was there as a tutor presenting a project and we became friends, we stayed in contact. Kristina was a student in cinema and she had to do a master’s degree project. She was doing a short already. She wanted to do a feature. It was a very small budget, I think like 10,000, 15,000 euros. She asked me to write – I hadn’t written a movie script before, but I was writing videogames scripts. But it was an interesting challenge. So together, with Kristina, we wrote the script of our first feature, The Collectress. As I said, it was a very small budget, but it did well on the festival circuit and it won the best movie in Lithuania in 2008, so it gave us some credit for a second movie and then we made Vanishing Waves. We co-wrote Vanishing Waves this time and as I came from visual study and surroundings, the writing process was thinking together about the visual of the scene, about the design, about everything. I worked as a supervisor of design, the pre-production and the post-production. I was some kind of super production designer in some way on the movie. That’s why I was credited on Vanishing Waves as the Creative Director. But I never directed a movie. I was never on the set on Vanishing Waves. Kristina was the director 100%. But finally after, we decided to try to work together and do it more officially in some way. On “Knell” it was a try to be on set together and it worked well so for the next one, we want to continue like this.
Can you tell me about being part of an ABCs of Death movie? Does someone just give you a call one day and say, ‘Do you want to do this?’
SAMPER: Yes, it was like that. [Laughs] It was more an e-mail.
How about getting the letter? Was that totally random or did you have any say in what you got?
SAMPER: It wasn’t random. To be honest, I don’t remember which one at the beginning and finally this letter was taken already, so instead it’s K. But we had the idea of what we wanted to do before and finally we were searching for what word it could go with and we found “knell,” about the death knell, and it fit perfectly in fact, so it wasn’t our first choice, but we wouldn’t like another letter. We are very happy about this letter.
Where’d the idea come from?
SAMPER: As it is very short – four minutes to express yourself is very short – so either you can try to tell a little story with a beginning and with a, how to say? Like a punch line at the end. You can work also with dialogue and such things. It was shot in Lithuania, so we didn’t want to shoot with Lithuanian dialogue, for example, and we did not have access to English actors, so we wanted to do something international and something visual, something very visual. We wanted to do something with the mood of a nightmare and to create the mood of, what is the sensation to watch a real nightmare. So I was brainstorming with Kristina and I remember as we were brainstorming, we were in Lithuania, we were in Kristina’s flat and the night was falling, and in the building in front of Kristina’s there were these windows, these light windows and it was silhouette or it was this blinking light, people watch TV sometimes at night and when they watch TV, the light is flickering a little bit, and there was something very weird and very odd about it. So I watched this and I said, ‘Oh, there is something very scary about this,’ and then we developed the story.
SAMPER: No, it was a very small budget. It was a production company in Lithuania, in fact two production companies were involved a lot in the project, so it was lot of negotiation. A lot of people worked for free, specifically the production not the technician. The technician was paid and all the money was to pay the technician, but the people in the production and for the camera also, we managed to negotiate everything. The same for the flat. We negotiated with people and what happened was we managed to negotiate with two different flats in the building in front, so we shot the scene in two different flats and after, in post-production, we duplicated them in different windows and with tracking. So it’s a mix between real – I mean, we were really in front of them using walkie-talkies, but in two different flats, one with a big balcony and one for the small window. So we shot different scenes, you know, the curtain and the lights, and then after, we duplicated.
That makes a lot of sense! How about the reasoning behind what happens? We know why all of this bloodshed starts, but we just see the object and there’s no explanation of what it is. It works, but it also made me wonder, did you guys work out the mythology of that entity, even if it was just for yourselves?
SAMPER: Yes, we have an explanation, but we wanted to keep some ambiguity as it is a nightmare. We don’t want to say, ‘Is it aliens? Is it gods? Is it Lovecraftian? Is it Judgment Day? We want it to have some very abstract things in some way. It’s open to interpretation because it can be more scary. Because, you know, when you close people in a very specific interpretation, you close the imagination in some way and you close the possibility for people to enter, to project themselves inside. We wanted, as we always want, that people can project themselves. It’s a battle sometimes because also in doing this, you could reject people. People could say, ‘Okay I don’t understand. What is it? I need to understand.’ It’s a bet, but we are sure that in leaving some things open to interpretation, it’s easier to project yourself inside. And of course there is this metaphor about the loss of control of yourself, the loss of control of your body, or sometimes when you come to the teen age, we chose a girl who’s almost a child and an adult. She’s very in the middle. When you’re a teenager, sometimes you lose control of your body and also the body can betray you, and how you have impressions and people judge you also. But when you say this is becomes cheesy, you know? [Laughs]
I found what you gave us satisfying, but it did also leave me wanting more. To me, it does seem like a concept that could support a full feature. Have you guys thought about that at all?
SAMPER: A feature, yes. I’ll come back to your question, but we wanted also to have something almost like a fairy tale, like Red Riding Hood. If you look on the DVD, you will see we put a little bit of clues. There was a red jacket in the corridor, and if you look inside it’s a green and wood. There was a mood of a forest, and we also put a photo of a wolf on the wall. [Laughs] So we put some little clues about Red Riding Hood. It was just on the side. So to come back to your question about the feature, yes it can. People talked to us about this, but what works in a short doesn’t necessarily work in a feature. There are some elements of this that we took and we are thinking of a synopsis of a sci-fi adventure movie and there is an amount of the short that will be [in that], but not straight from it.
How is it for you having written features and then having to adapt to, not just a short form, but a super short form? These segments are only about four or five minutes long. How do you decide between giving a punch line versus giving a story with beginning, middle and end?
SAMPER: It’s very hard. It’s a very organic process. You have to start with black and you have to finish with black. It is very open of course, but it was saying something to finish in black, like some kind of metaphysical black. A Lovecraftian mood, but more in this metaphysical sense of the abyss and the blackness. You lose yourself in the darkness. It sounds pretentious to say. [Laughs]
Were there any other rules to the process? A certain budget you couldn’t go over, a running time you couldn’t go over or maybe even a certain camera you had to use so the films felt consistent?
SAMPER: No, it wasn’t. Technically it was to shoot in 16:9, it was to start in black and finish in black and after we have total freedom.
How’d you feel after finishing your film? Did you look at it and go, ‘Oh man, I hope it’s as good as the other ones?’
SAMPER: It’s very hard in fact. The shooting itself was two nights, but after the post-production process took five months, four or five months, something like that. When there is a lack of money, you can’t ask the post-production company to work 100% on it. It was very long because all the blood and the liquid isn’t easy and we wanted very good quality CGI. It couldn’t look cheap, so when you are very exigent about the quality and you don’t have the money, you have to accept that it will take a lot of time. When it takes so much time, in the end, you sew it and re-sew it and re-sew it again and again, you can’t judge any more.
Do you have any favorites amongst the other films?
SAMPER: A lot. [Laughs] Really, a lot. I don’t want to focus on one because, you know? And to be honest, I saw it the first time and it was really a lot of things and a lot of pictures. I really want to re-watch it calmly. When it was in projection, I had jetlag, it was all the crowds and all these things. I want to watch it calmly and maybe after I could make my opinion about which one I prefer.
ABCs of Death 2 is currently available on VOD and will hit select theaters on October 31st.