Inspired by true events, The Quiet Ones is inspired by The Philip Experiments that were conducted in the 60s and 70s. John Pogue (writer of U.S. Marshalls, Rollerball, The Skulls,) wrote and directed the horror flick which stars Sam Claflin, Jared Harris, Olivia Cooke, and more. We recently were invited to roundtable interviews for the film where we talked about the true events that inspired the film, the sound design, how tension was created, violence porn, and his favorite horror films. Hit the jump to check out our interview.
So, we just got finished talking with Jared [Harris]. It occurred to me throughout the whole movie how important his voice was. How much did that play a part in your casting, because if he had a voice like… let’s say Woody Allen, it just wouldn’t work?
John Pogue: Right. Right. The voice… the whole Jared package was hugely important. We actually cast Jared before we cast anybody else as, sort of, the anchor of the movie, just because we felt like he brings such experience, such talent, such gravitas, and such a voice to this role, and that we would then, kind of, use him to generate excitement amongst the cast and community, and reel in some others. So, fortunately it worked out that way.
I really liked the sound design throughout the movie, and the way you built tension through various sounds and noises. Was that something that you wanted while filming, or was that something that you guys made sure to enhance in post?
Thank you. It’s something that we definitely planned for. I did not want any genre music in this movie. I felt like this movie was something different than that. I really liked Lucas Vidal’s work. He’s European, and brings an oral aesthetic to the project. I felt like we could do everything with design, and so our plan was to only use practical machinery that was used in the movie as our sound. So, we recorded all of the sounds that the machines make, the EEG machine, all the lights, all the microphones. Everything that made a noise, we recorded in advance before we started shooting the movie, and I sent it here to Lucas, here in LA, and said “Make a sound palette from all of these machines so that we can use that to design the sound, or the score of the movie” which is really just sort of manipulating the sounds and bringing up the pitches, and lowering them, and dirtying them up. All of the sound that you hear, with the exception of the voice, which is the synth sound that the Evie character makes, all of that was practical sound that was recorded from the set.
This is based on a true story… :Loosely on ‘The Philip Experiment’. I’m curious, how do you find a balance in draw the audience in with the ‘Based on a True Story’ tagline without making them feel duped?
That’s a very good question. I don’t like feeling duped as an audience member. In this particular case it’s ‘Inspired by a True Story’. We’re very careful with that wording, as is the Writers Guild. You have to be very specific about that. It’s become a little bit, or a lot of a cliche. I felt like there were enough, sort of, real elements of ‘The Philip Experiment’, as well as the social science experiments of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s that added an extra element of that really happening to our movie. The idea of taking a volunteer, and sort of pushing them to their limit by locking them up, and depriving them with sleep – there were experiments that really did this. Not ‘The Philip Experiment’, but other experiments. So, this movie is really an amalgam of different elements from different true stories that were, kind of, put together ultimately to make the movie. THE PHILIP EXPERIMENT, the original screenplay written by Tom de Ville, was more closely related to ‘The Philip Experiment’, and that was more about an experiment to create a ghost. Long story short, that concept kind of evolved, and transmuted into the script that I was given. In terms of making the audience feel like they weren’t duped, I think that’s a tough one. We’re not representing that this is based on ‘The Philip Experiment’ – at least I’m not. I think, if you’re truthful about it, that’s better, but there are elements that really happened that are reflected in the screenplay. We have a little fun with this concept, obviously, with the very, very end of the movie which is, sort of, a meta approach to the true story idea, which is kind of – hopefully – meant to be ironic – getting you to think about what this whole true story idea really means, and have that be a discussion. Hopefully, that’s what that idea engenders.
I had a follow up question to the sound design that you were talking about a moment ago. When it comes to creating all of the jump scares that you have in the movie – When you’re sitting there ‘tweaking the ‘pitches’, as you say, it seems like it’s not good enough to just have a loud sound come out of nowhere. So, did you find that certain pitches have a different effect on the audience, when they follow certain scenes especially?
Sounds that are pitched – pitch wise – that are dissonant – you’re ear has a hard time processing them, so it subconsciously makes you feel, sort of, icky about it. We would measure, with the jumps, the actual sound and put a pitch to it, and see if the pitch was on key, what key it was on, and can we tweak it to make it off a little bit so that you feel uncomfortable. We also did that with suspense builds, because there are a lot of very subtle… You hear sounds, kind of, coming in. You’re not sure. We did a lot of tweaking the pitch, which is so easy to do now on the computer, just so you feel like it’s a little off. So you feel a little uncomfortable. It’s like listening to a bad note. So, for the big scare we tried to turn them just a little bit. Again, I didn’t want genre music. We were trying not to do genre jump scare sounds, and it’s really hard to do that because they’re a standard. There are 12 standard jump scare tones that you get with your editing package, and so you have to create, and mix, and remix those sounds so that they don’t sound like every other movie that you’ve ever heard. We did our best, but it’s kind of hard to… It’s actually more challenging than you’d think.
Do you have any favorite horror films?
I do. I have a lot of favorite horror films. I really like the original PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. I like that a lot. I’m a huge fan of the classics : THE EXORCISM, THE OMEN… that sort of early 70’s era. I think Kubrick’s THE SHINING, and many of Kubrick’s movies are some of the most horrific movies that I’ve ever seen. JAWS is a great horror movie, in my opinion. I just happen to be someone who happens to like the fear to be created in my mind. That’s why I like the more minimalistic approach. It’s just a taste thing. I’m not as into the blood and guts. Although, when I saw the original SAW, I loved that movie, but then I started to get tired of it. I loved the original because it was fresh, and it was scary, and freaky, and crazy. I can’t say lately I have any huge favorites. Probably the last one was… I liked THE LAST EXORCISM. I thought that was fun in a different way.
So, is it a good thing that the whole ‘violence porn’ genre had it’s moment, right?
I mean, I do feel like it’s a good thing because it just stretches the genre. Why should we always be doing the same thing. That’s not my taste, but it was certainly entertaining, and effective, and new, and different. Yeah. I don’t get as upset morally about that as many people do because I believe in the audience. They know that you shouldn’t go drill holes in peoples ankles. They know that. I think that was a good thing. Yeah. I’m kind of ok that it’s sort of – not with us quite as much anymore.
Given your appreciation of the genre, and especially the classics, did it mean something extra-special to you that this is under the ‘Hammer’ brand? #00:09:56.9#
Yeah. It was really daunting, and scary because I felt like we had to earn our way onto the ‘Hammer’ shelf, and there are so many great movies in their past, and they have such a great legacy making fantastic movies, and also making a lot of goofy, crazy horror movies. Certainly with LET ME IN and THE WOMAN IN BLACK, making a successful movie in that arena that would live up to the ‘Hammer’ name was really daunting. Especially, because frankly, this is a super low budget production. It’s not something that many people are aware of, because they go “Oh. They did THE WOMAN IN BLACK, and LET ME IN” but we did this movie for almost nothing. So, to do something for almost night, but to also hit the achievement in terms of it being the next ‘Hammer’ was a real challenge. It was kind of terrifying, and wonderful at the same time.
You shoot with the handheld camera from the 70’s for the majority of the film. I’m curious if introducing that into the movie allowed for more improv on set, or was it completely scripted?
That’s a great question. This movie, obviously, is kind of a hybrid. It’s omniscient – sort of a narrative 35mm storytelling with a found footage element, but the found footage element is real time. There’s sort of a psychological hurdle that could have been a problem because you’re actually watching something in real time as it’s really happening, but you’re watching it as if it’s already processed. The movie’s a little bit strange in that way, and a little bit weird. I kind of liked that about it, but it was also a challenge because we were worried, at least I was worried, that the jumping back and forth between the omniscient footage and the found footage was going to throw you out of the movie. So, to your question, my cinematographer and I spent quite a bit of time in preproduction trying to create a visual strategy, and a visual grammar so that the movement between the narrative and the 16mm footage in Sam’s point of view to immerse the audience into his character, rather than throwing you out of it. We wanted the audience to be as scared as possible, and we wanted the audience to fall in love with Olivia Cooke’s character. We’re doing this, looking through a camera lens, so how do you make that immersive rather than distant was sort of the question. The answer was we tried to help the audience by explaining to the audience ‘Look. Be comfortable with this point of view.” There are certain moments – for example, after Olivia Cooke screams “Help me!”, where we go to Olivia and we’re in the 16mm point of view so that the audience will hopefully feel like Brian looking at her, and then we go to Brian McNeil, Sam’s character, and we’re in the 35mm point of view, so we’re in the narrative storytelling, and then we go back to Olivia in the 16. So, what we’re trying to do is say “Don’t worry what format you’re in. Just enjoy the story, and be a filmmaker with Sam’s character, audience, along with Sam.” We’re hoping that the audience feels like they’re making the movie with Sam, and that they’re not really paying attention to the format shifting. It was very, very deliberate, and very, very planned out. On the other hand, the found footage element allowed us to do a lot of fun things on set that we weren’t expecting. For example, Sam spent so much time learning how to be a filmmaker that we had him shoot certain sections of the movie. In the scene where they do the corium photography, and Olivia’s character is lying down, and she hands the camera the doll – us, the audience, Sam – he shot that whole scene with the Alexa camera. This giant camera. It was kind of cool to see a guy like Sam shot this, and see how he set up the shot. I didn’t tell him how to shoot it. I said “You tell me. You’re the director.” A number of times he shot the movie, and it gave sort of a raw, visceral, excitement, at least for me, to the image because it wasn’t perfect. It was him trying to go for those emotional moments. He catches Copeland impatient as we’re trying to catch the drama of what’s going on. It was fun for me to have Sam be the filmmaker.
Did you find a camera that was actually used back then?
Oh, yeah! The camera that he’s carting around is a 16mm documentary camera that would have been used in that era by someone of his socioeconomic background, and it was a real camera. It was super heavy. It was really heavy, and it had a light on it, and it had an internal battery pack, which is why he doesn’t have the battery pack around his waist. It had internal sound, and it was considered one of the most efficient all-in-one cameras that we could find that was real to the period – that would keep him from being loaded down like a mule with sound equipment, and lighting, and batteries, and that sort of thing. That’s all period.
Do you feel that there is a certain sort of romanticism to having that equipment? I can’t imagine in twenty years, when they do retro films about today, that they’ll just be holding up cell phones… It just doesn’t seem to have the same feel.
The Quiet Ones out in theaters today. Be sure to check out MovieViral for more interviews on The Quiet Ones later on in the day.
Yes. We felt there was a certain – yeah, ‘romantic’ I think is the word for it – I mean, because obviously things are so different. It’s definitely part of his quest – a weapon as part of his quest. So, yes.