Arriving in select theaters this weekend, and available on Blu-Ray & VOD next week, is In Fear. The film stars Iain de Caestecker (Agents of S.H.I.EL.D.) and Alice Englert (Ginger & Rosa) as a hopeful new couple who find themselves faced with an evening of confusion and, well, fear on their way to a musical festival. Director Jeremy Lovering practiced a unique method while shooting the film, providing the actors with only a bare bones script, leaving them in a state of suspense, and attempting to capture that ambiance on film.
I recently had the opportunity to jump on the phone for an exclusive interview with Jeremy Lovering. During our extended conversation he talked about this experimental method of film making, the aesthetic of the film, the challenges of shooting a film inside a car, balancing horror with relationship drama, and why the actors were right for the parts. He also talked about his experience shooting Sherlock, the fan reaction, and what it was like to shoot Sherlock and Watson’s highly anticipated reunion scene. Check out what he had to say after the jump and take a look at the In Fear Facebook page to see where you can watch the film in cinemas.
JEREMY LOVERING: It was kind of a combination of things really. There was a benign experience, which happened a while ago when I visited Ireland, and I was looking into a story in the area which was very much steeped in the history of Ireland. When I went to visit this family, who were part of the whole political fabric of that area, the locals in the pub had turned the signs around so you would drive onto the estate and then twenty minutes later you’d come back. They’d done it as an anniversary of some event, it distilled into a joke, but as I was driving around I was like, “it’s getting dark and I’m lost” and it was a very remote part of Ireland, and a primal thing started to emerge in me. I grew up in woods and forest and I love them, but suddenly driving around in this area where there were ghosts of violence, if you like, I started to go “Okay, I’m feeling uncomfortable.”
That was a long time ago, but it stayed with me and then I was looking into- I’m just interested in fear as a state of mind, rather than being scared of something specific, and whether that would be an interesting thing for a horror. So films like Repulsion and Knife in the Water, I thought about them a long time ago and then I was thinking about fear as a state of mind and the question – does it inevitably lead to violence? So I was just sort of mulling on that and then I was like, “Okay if I put these actors in the state of fear will that reflect the ideas the best way?” So it kind of emerged from that, really. It’s kind of like a social experiment. I didn’t have a script, it’s not a big scripted story in any way, and it was just an experiment socially or thematically with these actors to see if I could put them in the place where they reflected the issues I wanted to reflect. I also wanted to apply a technique like that into a genre film so that I could see how that worked. Did you like it, by the way?
Yeah, I did. I’m not surprised by the two films you just mentioned because it had a certain kind of vintage feel.
LOVERING: Well good, thank you, I’m really glad. It’s definitely a sort of throw back, vintage is a nice way to put it.
Yeah, especially the ending, which I’m not going to spoil for the readers, but that final kind of gut punch of the film gave me a similar feeling to films like The Vanishing in terms of the simplicity and inevitability and helplessness.
LOVERING: The Vanishing, yeah, I think what it was actually was I wanted to kind of recreate what it felt like to watch The Vanishing. I’m really flattered you mentioned it. I just remember seeing it – I actually watched it again more recently and it is very dated and it does feel very sort of 80’s, there’s lots of Hammond organ and it’s all very Dutch, but still I remember watching it – and there’s people who left because it’s so intense at the moment that the reveal is about to happen, and I was like, how extraordinary that they walked out at that moment because they didn’t want to know the answer. And then afterward everyone was talking about it and it got under people’s skin. I always wanted to make a film where hopefully there’s a bit of a roller-coaster thrill when you’re watching it and then afterward it kind of settles under your skin depending on how you respond to it, I suppose.
I think you did a pretty good job, man. It was the end that got to me.
LOVERING: Oh, thank you.
It’s also a beautifully shot, great looking film. I’m curious what camera you used and how you shot it.
LOVERING: We used a combination. we used the ARRI Alexa and we used the Canon 5D. I have to credit obviously, David Katznelson is a brilliant cinematographer and he’s a brilliant operator as well as he is a lighter. What we did is actually set up some very strict rules for ourselves, which was to use a certain camera in a certain lighting condition and not mix the two, which made it hard at times. For example, dusk exteriors we went with the Alexa because it looked nicer, but late dusk exterior we went with the Canon because that took light better, interior day time in the car we did the Alexa because that actually worked better than the Canon, and so on. What that meant is we didn’t mix the media as much as we worried we were going to have to. I think that meant that colorist, who’s brilliant, he just gave it a really good cinematic look even though it was shot on a very small digital camera. I think it’s because we didn’t try to do big, epic landscapes with the Canon 5D, all those were the Alexa for obvious reasons. That’s when you run into trouble, when you try to use a camera inappropriately. I mean, that sounds very grandiose, but you know what I mean, you can definitely get called out if you try to do it the wrong way.
You guys did a really nice job. Low budget horror is kind of my niche and man, they don’t all look this good.
LOVERING: Well, thank you, I am kind of a bit aesthetically anal as well. What you’re looking at there is my aesthetic [laughs], so that’s very nice to hear that it’s worth it. Because someone said, “Why didn’t you just do it found footage or something like that?” And I was like, “Well, that’s not what I wanted.” Because I think it’s quite trippy as well. Actually the shot I really love is when it’s completely black and the car just sort of curves around and goes off into the distance and we hold the shot the entire time. It looks like a space ship going off into space. It just feels like you’re not quite in absolute reality and that was terribly important to me, because it’s meant to feel like a fable. It’s meant to be trippy. The opening scene in the pub is the most boring thing I shot in camera positions, deliberately. I did a wide shot outside, a two shot outside the car, and then singles through the five windows and that’s it. Then I go jump inside just for one suspenseful moment, and that was deliberate because I wanted it to be really ordinary at the beginning and then it slowly becomes more stylized or more abstract as she becomes more paranoid, as he becomes more violent inside and the desire for violence builds up. It was all very deliberately planned and I think if I’d done the vérité style throughout, I wouldn’t have liked it, I wouldn’t have felt it was expressive. And I think also because their acting was so authentic, I don’t think needed to.
Yeah, they were both very good. What was the casting process like? Did you see a lot of actors or was there something with them that just sort of immediately clicked?
LOVERING: I did see a lot of actors, because a lot of people wanted to do it. I was actually spoiled for choice, but it’s interesting because it was very clear that they were right. Alice was instantly right, she’s a kind of rare person, you know? She was seventeen and she was intuitive and wise beyond her years, but there was a vulnerability and she understood the darkness, I could feel that was something as a human being she had looked at and felt. So she was kind of instantly right for me. Ian – there was a moment where I was like, “What’s the tone of this?” And I think that’s where it became interesting, where there were other people who played it in a brilliant way, but the tone of it wasn’t quite right, and then the tone of what Ian was doing was bang on, that’s what it came to. I had archetypes in mind of who I wanted to be in this fable, so I was kind of looking for people who reflected that, and then these guys came along and added much, much more. Then I put them together. It actually had to be on Skype, because she was in Australia, but their chemistry was instantly right because it wasn’t just silly flirtation. It wasn’t like, “Oh, you’re cute, whatever.” It was, “I’m going to be your friend. We’ve got a lot in common. This is good fun. I can protect you. Let’s go and be friends and then we can love each other forever.” It kind of felt like that was their instinct with each other, and they did become very good friends, and there was never that will they/won’t they tension in real life or on the screen. During the audition that’s what it felt like. That was great, because it was testing the kind of loyalties you have to each other and just another human being, which is why I didn’t go with a married couple with kids, because the sacrifices are easier, and neither did I go with just friends since high school, because again, the sacrifices, obviously you’re not going to make them. So I wanted something that was a new relationship where they felt like they could love each other forever and they kind of just had that. And then we just destroyed it, we got rid of it. It was a sad moment.
One of the other unique things about this film is that such a large percentage of it takes place within the confines of the car. As a director, what were some of the unique challenges that presented themselves because of that?
LOVERING: I’d say there were two things, one was the aesthetic, which we’ve talked about a bit, but also I kind of looked at Duel, I mean obviously everyone would look at Duel who’s shooting a car thing, but the one thing I realized that Spielberg had done was he added a different angle pretty much every sequence. He never kept the same angles so that subliminally you weren’t stuck. That was something I tried to do. For example, the rear view mirror shot, which is one that everybody uses, I didn’t actually use it until very late in the film. That was a very deliberate choice because I knew I had that angle and I knew I had to hold on to it and make it really count rather than just use it because I’m stuck in a car. There was a real sort of discipline in what we were doing. Again, choosing certain shots at certain points and then never seeing them again, jettisoning them, choosing when to be outside and when inside, trying to find angles that didn’t feel “Oh, they’re just finding another angle and it’s all getting a bit gratuitous”. I’d look at every scene with David and ask which angle most gets to the heart of this moment, and therefore we won’t use that in any other scene or we won’t use it in any previous scene. That was a fun discipline. It was quite mathematical and at times it was quite limiting, but that was one of the things we looked at.
So there was the aesthetic of it, and the practicality then came to bear, because if I wanted to be very close to the character then which camera do we use? Like I said, we used an Alexa and we used a 5D, so you can’t get really close to the characters with the Alexa – there’s a new Alexa M, which is a small one that was only a prototype at the time, we couldn’t access it. So you make certain choices which are technically driven. Jonathan Glazer was doing Under the Skin at the time, they’d rebuilt a camera to do the stuff in the cabin with Scarlett Johansson, and I was going to get ahold of that camera, but that didn’t work out. So I was limited to a certain extent, but also it gets really boring – the angle of the windscreen of the particular car we had did not allow the normal cage that the Canon 5D had to fit, so even that started to come down to how we shot it, which was always led by the storytelling at that moment. So the challenges were finding the best way that the technology would allow us to tell the story in the way we decided was the best way to tell the story. It was fun, I mean it was tough. Lucky I don’t get carsick, I don’t think anybody could have done it that get’s carsick [Laughs]. No but it was really fun and a good challenge, that. It was like trying to give it the claustrophobia without making it boring, trying to feel that you’re trapped without going, “Please, I want to get out of here.” You know, we had to moors at the beginning, it was very important, I wanted to keep some imagery in your head like the moors, which are very open and very epic, so at least you had those in your mind going into the next thing.
We touched on how important the state of their relationship and the nature of that relationship was to you, and I think the way that translated to me when I watched the film was that, certainly in the first half, it felt just as much a relationship drama as it did a horror film. Talk a little bit about how you went about balancing those tones.
LOVERING: Yeah, for me it was always a story about a compressed relationship and looking at the elements that you have in a relationship over time. Those are – the flirtation in the beginning, the kind of encouragement of who you are, discovery of who you are and then obviously trust comes into that, slowly you build on that and either that goes down the suspicion route or it goes down the stronger emboldening route, and one of those goes into sacrifice or betrayal and after that comes forgiveness, reconciliation, or a split up. That’s the path of a kind of classic relationship, obviously there’s a million things within that. What I wanted to do is say, let’s look into if it was compressed into one night with external influences and what would happen. How would it break it or make it? So the fact that it had the external influences, the fact that there was the compression meant that they would go into the genre, whereas on the other side of it, the fact that it was exploring a relationship meant it was able to have those dramatic beats as well. I supposed that’s what I was trying to weave together, so you could have an external influence that belonged to the horror genre and put it onto a relationship drama, but because of the accelerated situation they were in you would still remain within the genre whilst adding a kind of depth to the characters.
You’ve done a lot of directing for television, but this is your first time directing a feature, did you notice any significant differences between the two media?
LOVERING: Definitely, yeah, but I think this was kind of an exceptional experience anyway in terms of making a film with the actors not knowing what was going to happen and not having a script, but yes. Obviously, you’ve got more freedom. You’ve got more control over what happens. You can adapt more to what’s going on. You can explore and investigate what the characters are doing a little bit more, you’ve got more time to do that and you can make more changes. And you’ve got a lot, lot longer in the edit, and as much as anything else that makes a huge difference. The joy of film is that the script is a template, what you do on the day is a version, and what you do in the edit is a final version, for better or for worse, we all make mistakes, but in TV very much in the edit people look at what’s on the page to make sure it’s all there. So I think there’s less recognition that there are many stages of making a show, if you like. Actually I love the fact that you can watch it change and watch it grow. I love the fact that the actors don’t just do what’s on the page, that they can bring to bear themselves, their experience and their skills. I love that. They’re not just doing what’s on the page. I think that’s really exciting. You know, some TV is like that without a doubt, but a lot of TV you don’t have the time or inclination often for people to go, “Okay let’s see what the actors are doing with these words and let it grow.” I like long format anyway, so for me personally that’s the comparison. I’m not a very good series watcher, I tend not to have loyalty beyond the first series, I kind of forget. I think just the way my brain works I’m good at investing in ninety minutes of total commitment [laughs].
You recently had the experience of shooting an episode of Sherlock, which is such a fantastic show. Could you talk a little bit about what your on set experience was like shooting the episode and what it’s been like watching this passionate fanbase respond to your episode?
LOVERING: On set it was fantastic, and I’m not just saying that, I really loved it. Because In Fear was very much freedom and all that, and then going on to Sherlock it was a very tight script and it was characters that they had, so it became crafting in a way that I actually loved. So I had great fun on a personal level. Benedict [Cumberbatch] and Martin [Freeman] are at the top of their game and that was brilliant working with them. It was just incredibly exciting. I really enjoyed it and it was genuinely a good experience. I was always aware of the fan base and it didn’t make me worried, because I just looked at this as a project that I wanted to get right and that I enjoyed doing, but I was very aware that there is a large fan base that you want to satisfy. You know that they exist and you want to honor them, they’re very encouraging, and very quickly you realize that they’re willing the best for it, so therefore you want to give them the best you can offer. Then afterward, yeah, it’s amazing because one in six people, one in five almost, in Britain watched it and that’s very, very high. So it is weird. In the end some people are not happy, some people are very happy. Ten million watched the second one after my episode so I’m assuming quite a few people were happy [laughs]. It was brilliant. It was really great to get that kind of response. It was very nice, especially on something that’s so well established. Obviously from the fan’s point of view it’s – Will I carry the mantle? Will I honor it? I think the fact that they felt I did do it justice or I did honor it is a really, really nice feeling, I have to say. Just because I loved it anyway, so just the fact that love what I did is very, very happy [laughs].
Yeah, of course! It was such a fun episode and it was full of so many great moments. If you’ll indulge me for a minute, I’m a huge fan of the show and you know, we waited years to see Sherlock and Watson reunite, I was wondering if you would be willing to share a little bit about what that scene was like to shoot? Did it require a lot of takes? How did it all go down?
LOVERING: Did it require a lot of takes? No, because I think we all built up to it. We knew that was the big scene and I think therefore Benedict and Martin were very much in the right place. The choreography of the scene, I did all the Steadicam shots first, and the choreography was probably a bit boring for them because it wasn’t the drama, but what it did was put them in that frame of mind where we’ve got to mix comedy and we’ve got to mix tragedy, we’ve got to have pathos and real emotion, and at the same time wit. Bringing Amanda [Abbington] into it as well, who was totally on the ball, and what she did, which was brilliant, was play her agenda. She didn’t play it as though she was carrying any of the Sherlock/Watson relationship or anything. The combination of that – and they just hit it actually very strongly, very quickly. That was all credit to the actors that it wasn’t – “Oh my god, this scene isn’t going right”, because it was really difficult. It wasn’t just an emotional reunion, I thought Benedict was brilliant in that kind of “I’ve made a fool of myself”, so he was exceptionally good at that moment, and Martin was genuinely brilliant in his emotion. So I got very lucky, definitely if the scene wasn’t right that would have been a very anticlimactic, bad experience. Again, that was thanks to their brilliance.
Yeah, they were tremendous. Good work, all around.
LOVERING: Thank you, no, all credit to them, I have to say. I just take the camera down and see what happens [laughs].
Obviously there’s a billion years between every season of Sherlock, so who knows at this point, but is there a chance you’ll direct another episode in the future? Have you given any thought to that?
LOVERING: Who knows, who knows, who knows [laughs]. I loved it and I loved them, so who knows, we’ll see what happens.
What are you working on right now? What’s coming up next for you?
LOVERING: I’m working on a few things, there’s a couple. One is a psychological thriller which I really like, which is a kind of messed up Jacob’s Ladder type thing. It’s really hard, it’s a good script, but trying to hone it. Then there’s another one which is psychological horror, and another one which is a pure horror, and then there’s a black comedy in there as well. Any one of those I would love to make next. I’m going to LA in the next couple weeks, so we’ll see where the next stage goes.