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An Interview with Blair Erickson

 
 


Blair: "You're working in this weird realm and it's really a bit of an experimental film".

Blair Erickson
Interview conducted by John Townsend
5 February 2014

Blair Erickson is the writer and director of the sensational new horror film The Banshee Chapter. Telling the story of a young journalist's investigations into the disappearance of a friend the film is a terrifying exploration into illegal experimentation and the horrific consequences that follow.

Firstly, congratulations on the film. I wondered where the original idea for The Banshee Chapter came from? Was it through research into the experiments or did that element come later?
Yeah, it was actually through reading. I was looking into MK-Ultra, the numbers stations and dimethyltryptamine, all this stuff that was intriguing me. When I first started thinking about this story it was right in the middle of the Bush administration and all this stuff about the NSA was coming out about spying and so on. I was riveted by the idea that after the MK-Ultra project no-one went to jail and no-one was prosecuted and that this was something from our past that was still coming back to haunt us. That was really the genesis of the story.

Were you tempted at all to have a shadowy agency more to the forefront of the film?
Actually in the original draft there was but we found that people thought that was a bridge too far. We found that it was better in the background as otherwise people thought it was too political and too obvious. In some ways its best that it went in that direction as it leaves the audience to think about it for themselves and in this film I really wanted them to ask questions.

Where did the main influences for The Banshee Chapter come from? There are elements of paranoia horror from the 1970ís and 1980ís and then there are psychological twists, and then more traditional jump cuts?
There were so many that itís so hard to pinpoint. There are films like Jacobís Ladder and Candyman, and then the films of David Lynch. Youíre working in this weird realm and itís really a bit of an experimental film. I felt that tonally it was cryptic and creepy but that if you really looked into it there is a coherent narrative. I know that works for some people and not for others.


Blair: "I think that the psychological dread was very important".

Where did the inspiration for the Blackburn character originate? There are some obvious references.
Heís an amalgamation of three counter culture figures. The life story is based in Ken Kesey who himself was actually a victim of the MK-Ultra experiments and was the one who brought LSD to the masses after being released. He was both mental patient and brilliant writer. Then there was the more familiar reputation of Hunter S. Thompson who is so infamous and such a brilliant writer that it made sense to have that persona in there. Finally there was Timothy Leary for his clashes with government systems and so on.

There are many scary moments but more than that is this overwhelming feeling of dread throughout. Was this psychological element more important in some respects that just having the scares?
I think that the psychological dread was very important as this is an idea driven story rather than a character driven one. Itís been referred to as a haunted house tale of American culture in that this isnít a ghost or an alien but itís something different and more of a metaphor for all the stuff weíve gotten into. I wanted the audience to be asking the same questions as the characters and to be in their shoes feeling that anxiety and fear.

How important was it to make sure the film retained some basis in reality, almost adding extra credibility to the story?
That was absolutely important and I was certain that there was going to be no title card announcing that this was based on a true story. So many horror films have that and then the audience looks it up and finds itís just bullshit. With Banshee Chapter I wanted to flip that so that most of what you see is based in some truth and that people would find that for themselves rather than have it rammed down their throats. I felt that that was the definitely the way to go.

Youíve assembled a terrific cast. How was it working with Ted Levine and Katia Winter?
Theyíre both so different but they worked so well together. Weíre a really low budget film so we knew we had to shoot fast and relentlessly. There would be a lot of night shoots and we really needed to get it on the first take. There were all these challenges and we needed actors who could bring it. Finding Katia was tough as therís not a lot of actresses who could do what she did and we got really lucky. It was great as she knew and understood the character instantly and really just got it right away. Ted Levine was something of a no brainer. His was the number one name on the list so we sent him the script and he was in. Ted understood the idea of the weird dynamic balance we wanted and not many actors could have done that. It was a real lucky break to get him.


Blair: "I've seen good and bad found footage films and I like to have that tool in the box".

Audiences are becoming so accustomed to horror these days with Hostel type films on one side and the Paranormal Activity style franchises on the other so I wondered when did it occur to you that you had something really frightening on your hands?
There were two points. The first was when we gave the cast the script for the scenes where Anneís in the basement and she realises the footage sheís watching on the screen happened a few moments before. That scene absolutely scared the hell out of everyone so I thought that if we could translate half of that to the screen then weíd have something. The second was in the distribution process. We gave copies to these companies who had the film on in the background in their offices and werenít really watching it and we came away thinking maybe weíd made more of a thriller than a scary film. Then we showed it at Frightfest for people who really watched it and we got the opposite reaction and if it works there then Iím happy. If you look around the world Frightfest is the festival that sets the standard.

Found footage as a genre tends to evoke a negative response in many people. You use the documentary aspect mixed with archive footage and I wondered how you arrived at the right balance?
Iíve seen good and bad found footage films and I like to have that tool in the box. I didnít want to rely on it solely for the narrative but it gives you an immediacy sometimes that few other styles can do. There is a really immersion in the story. It was District 9 that really pioneered the ability to use the found footage as required. We decided to shoot anything that was not happening in the present as if it was real and then blend it all together.

As a first time writer / director how difficult was it to get your production off the ground and how did Zachary Quinto come to be involved?
I would love to tell a story about how hard it was but it really wasnít (laughs). People were getting into the script right away and the budget was really, really small. We were at Sundance and we met producer Christian Arnold-Beutel through my other producer Stephanie Riggs who Iíd gone to college with. From that point getting the finance was pretty quick but while that was going on we were talking to Zachary and Corey Moosa who had just been involved with Margin Call where they did a terrific job of bringing everything together on a small budget. So in the end we had three production teams which meant we were able to get a really terrific looking film made. We all went to college together too, Zachary and myself.

What can you tell us of your upcoming projects?
I just finished the script for my next film with my co-writer Shawn Depasquale and development is moving forward. It's a project I'm incredibly excited to tell because it's very personal and very powerful. The film is called In Memory and even though we're still developing I can reveal the premise. It tells the story of Jessica King who is a bright, young and creative college student who has a complicated relationship with her introspective lifelong friend Daniel. At the end of the summer of 1996 their close bond is developing into something more but Jess is killed tragically and Daniel is shattered. Decades pass until one snowbound winter's night, when Daniel is in his late thirties and Jess shows up at his house looking exactly as she did the night she died. That's how it starts. . It's an intense, emotional and sometimes terrifying journey into loss and trying to capture some part of life that was suddenly gone. Part of the drama is that no one knows how it will turn out, whether it's a love story or a horror story until the very end. As the story begins in 1996 the cinematography style and the even the narrative itself is a nostalgic throwback to the style reminiscent of those classic supernatural stories like The Sixth Sense, Ghost and Stir Of Echoes. I think people will be very surprised by this one. The story is very close to my heart and I'm glad of the chance to tell it.


"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Blair.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."



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