Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Interview with Director David Lee Fisher about his upcoming feature film remix of Nosferatu, starring Doug Jones as Count Orlok.

FFG: Could you please tell us a little bit about your background?

Fisher: I grew up the son of a NASA engineer, so I fell in love computers at a young age (even though I got an “F” in computer class in high school!) The first time I saw Star Wars I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker, and the first time I saw Tron I knew I wanted to use computers to make them.  My first job was building pinball machines at Data East, and then I moved to Sega where I worked on dozens of titles for the classic Genesis console. Soon after I built my own computer animation studio in the Bay Area and did a lot of work for companies like EA, Virgin and Sony Playstation. I took the usual route into film by starting with short films and festivals, and that’s how I wound up making The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Since then I’ve written several screenplays including an original, fictional story about Edgar Allan Poe, and worked with Stan Lee developing TV shows for studios like Disney and Cartoon Network.

FFG: Want inspired you to make the remixes of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu?
FISHER:  I was attracted to these films at an early age because of their visual aesthetic. They were so dramatically different than what I had experienced and I was really intrigued – almost like motion paintings. Later I learned a lot about the German Expressionistic era in both film and art, and loved the concept of visually illustrating the character’s and audience’s emotions into the film’s world.    

FFG: Would you tell us a little bit about the process of doing a remix film?
FISHER:  The process begins by analyzing the original story – what is its central theme? What premise was the director and cast trying to convey? Then I imagine how I can elaborate on these concepts while sticking to the material. Next is analyzing the original film. What was the director’s vision and tone? I then adapt a story that combines these ideas along with the film’s original imagery. Finally select individual frames are scanned and carefully restored, then used as the digital backdrops filmed against green-screen. The illusion is that modern-day actors are performing within the world of the original film.

FFG: Was the fact that Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are both public domain films a factor in you choosing them as films to remix?
FISHER:  Yes. We are definitely creating independently financed films, and the reason our budgets are so low is that we put a lot of sweat equity into making them. So the fact they’re PD does help, but fortunately for us they just happen to be the films we really love! So it’s a serendipitous relationship.

FFG: I notice in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari that the lighting for the actors in the backdrops were matched perfectly, an amazing job. Were there any special challenges in achieving this effect?
A; Yes, all the footage shot on the green-stage was very flatly lit, as that’s what we needed to pull satisfactory chroma-keys. But in any film, and especially a German Expressionistic one, well-crafted lighting is key. So we initially spent around three months just coming up with a process to create both an overall look, which we called the “secret sauce,” and a custom way to create dramatic lighting. Our process included building 3D geometry around the film’s scanned set pieces, and then using the actor’s silhouette as a separate layer to digitally project a shadow onto that geometry. Often it took several passes to get it just right.

FFG: I thoroughly enjoyed Eban Schletter’s score for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, it reminded me of the 1950s /60s sci-fi/horror score was this intentional?
FISHER:  Definitely. Eban and I have a great sense of collaboration, and have developed our own language when it comes to music. His favorite composer is Ennio Morricone, and mine is Bernard Herrmann. I’ve always said that works great because it’s sort of like that old “you’ve got your chocolate in my peanut butter” commercial – there’re two great tastes that go together! We also both love the classic Hammer horror films of the 60’s, so were always going for that dramatic feel without being campy. Interestingly though, some of the first tracks I played him for inspiration were “Spinning Plates” by Radiohead and “Hall of Mirrors” by Kraftwerk. I remember at first he thought I’d gone nuts; what did those have to do with a classic horror film? But he soon got that I was going for the feel of the music rather than the notes. There’s also a lot of David Lynch style sound design in Caligari which he recorded in old gas stations and crawling around the pipes under his house.

FFG: Do you think that other producers and studios will produce their own remixes of other classic films?
FISHER:  No, I don’t think major studios will never do anything like it since it doesn’t fit their mandate to produce tent-pole films that (hopefully) appeal to the widest audience possible. And as for independents, it really takes an enormous amount of technical production and digital work. I often refer to Caligari as a single 80-minute effects shot, so the fact we have that ability in-house is a big advantage. I’ve always firmly believed there’s a passionate audience out there for these classic films, and have always been just as surprised that no one ever revisits them in any kind of faithful way. So I think for now it’s our specialty.

FFG: The special-effects makeup for Count Orlok is certainly going to be more challenging than the makeup in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, besides the makeup what other challenges you be facing in making Nosferatu?

FISHER:  Murnau was going for a much more naturalistic feel for Nosferatu, whereas Caligari’s  environment was straight forward expressionistic. That gave us an advantage because Caligari’s  world was supposed to look otherworldly, and so the digital sets were easier to recreate. On Nosferatu, there’s a lot of real-world locations both indoor and out. So we’ll be creating a lot more custom painted backgrounds and environments using the original imagery as inspiration. But ultimately I think that’ll be great as it will give us the ability to create a much larger, richer world.

FFG: With The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari you stay true to the original 1920 production, can we expect the same for Nosferatu?
FISHER:  Yes and no. In Caligari we did stay very close to original. I remember my Cinematographer Chris Duddy giving me a funny look when I told him I didn’t want to ever pan or move the camera!  That’s how they did it back then; plant the camera, roll, and have all the actors all walk into frame. On Nosferatu we’re definitely going to recreate the same feel as the original, but add a lot of depth and camera movement. This is also because technology has advanced so far. Back then we had to eyeball everything and hoped it lined up, but now we have the ability to not only track the actors but the camera data in 3D space as well!.
FFG: What is your projected release date for Nosferatu?
Fisher: Hopefully the first part of ’16.

FFG: When I was watching your The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari remix I kept thinking to myself how wonderful it would be to see this film in the theater and share the experience with other horror film fans. Do you think that there’s a real possibility of a wide release and perhaps a double feature for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu? Hint, hint!
FISHER:  I’ve terms of wide release distributors, they have mostly shied away from Caligari saying no one will watch black & white. Then The Artist won the Oscar for Best Picture! I think we’ll definitely revisit the idea once Nosferatu is underway. The great thing is that now there’s so many new ways to distribute films and audiences that aren’t afraid of trying new things!  For example here in Los Angeles they play movies at the cemetery directly across from Paramount studios – and hundreds of people go!  I’d love to do a Caligari/Nosferatu double feature some Halloween there.

FFG: Do you plan to do other remixes of horror classics in the future?
FISHER:  I’ve always intended to do at least three as a box set. So if Nosferatu gets off the ground we’ll definitely do more!

FFG: You’re using Kickstarter as a means to help raise funds for this project, do you believe this type of funding will have an impact on future independent film productions?
FISHER:  I do, and this goes back to something I’ve dreamed about since I was young. I remember one Christmas I got a book on ILM – the big coffee table one. And I thought how amazing it would be to be able to work on that stuff, or be a part of it somehow. But it’s virtually impossible to do. The film business has always been a firmly shut door to outsiders. But through crowd-funding, it’s like you’ve demolished the guard gate at the studio and anyone can come in an participate any way they wish

FFG: What are some advantages and disadvantages of this type of fundraising?
FISHER:  The greatest advantage is that you are working directly with the audience; people who care a lot and are passionate about what you’re doing, and really want to be a part of it. No matter what, that alone has made the process 100% worth it for me, personally. A disadvantage is that it’s a bit akin to building a skyscraper while playing a nerve wracking game of high-stakes roulette. It’s a ton of work plus something you’ve got to have nerves of steel to see through.

FFG: Are there other ways that film fans can help support your productions besides Kickstarter?
FISHER:  Yes, very soon I’m launching BeamScreen.com which is a new concept of a cloud based studio where people can collaboratively work on projects, such as Nosferatu, from anywhere in the world! They can log on directly into our production pipline, and write, edit, create art and 3D work – in essence collaborate on all aspect of production remotely.

FFG: Of all the classic movie genres, Westerns, comedies, musicals, and romances, horror films seem to be the most popular and have the most dedicated following.  Why do you think this is?
FISHER:  I think because humans like the concept of cheating death, or at least the perception of it. Like riding a rollercoaster - it’s safe, but a little part of you wants to believe it’s not. Poe coined it well in his “Imp of the Perverse.” There’s a real sense of triumph when you feel you’ve escaped the monster.

FFG: It is quite apparent that your horror film buff, what are some your favorite films and why?
FISHER:  Besides the old films, I like The Shining a lot, and Alien because they’re not traditional in their ways of presenting horror. For example Alien is a horror film in space, and that’s a really cool idea

FFG: What directors and films have had the most influence on your career?
FISHER:  For directors I’d have to say Orson Welles. But then if you think about it, Citizen Kane has a distinctly expressionistic style in both mood and lighting. Stanley Kubrick for his ability to find the awe in something that seems ordinary. But my favorite is probably Chaplin. It amazes me how vast a range of emotions he could deliver an audience without saying a single word!
Films are Metropolis, Empire Strikes Back, New Hope, Raiders, Kane, There Will Be Blood, City Lights, and of course Nosferatu, Caligari, Faust, and Things to Come.

FFG: And of course every interview has to have a silly question, so here it is, if you could work with any deceased classic horror film actor who would it be and why?
FISHER:  For sure Vincent Price. I always loved his uncanny ability to seem both completely terrified and terrifying at the same time!

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