TGB Interview: 'Silent House' Co-Directors Chris Kentis & Laura Lau
by Tim Buel
March 16, 2012
Today on a very special interview edition of The Golden Briefcase, host Tim Buel interviews The Silent House co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lua (of Grind and Open Water previously) regarding the making of the remake of Uruguayan original, La Casa Muda. The two directors speak with us about some of the filmmaking techniques employed to create the film's "real time" non-stop feeling and talk about using a little known actress (at the time) such as Elizabeth Olsen as the lead and primary character through the whole film. Silent House is already playing in limited theaters now. Listen to, or read, the interview below.
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We have also provided a complete text copy of the transcript of the interview with Silent House directors Chris Kentis & Laura Lau, for those interested in reading our chat rather than listening. Full transcript:
Chris and Laura, thanks for joining us today!
Laura: Thank you so much for having us!
Chris: Hey Tim!
I wanted to start out by asking about the concept for Silent House. What drew you guys to pursue this remake?
Chris: That pretty much was it. The producer who owned the remake rights to that film was a fan of Open Water and she approached us and we heard about the single-take concept. It seemed like a great to give audiences a new experience and to present a film and tell a story in a unique kind of way and that challenge was definitely enticing.
Excellent. I have always been intrigued by this technique. Was there ever any talk of going a different direction with this film? Doing something like found footage or anything else?
Laura: No, it’s really quite different from found footage as it’s not a person very consciously going around with a camera and they cut. Found footage films all have editing. So this film was really all about the experience of one continuous shot where there are no cuts.
Chris: But what it’s really about is all films are about character and story and so it was a matter of finding a story. We saw the original film and were very impressed with what these guys did and there was no point of re-doing what these guys had done, there’s no point. We had the benefit of seeing the original going into this one and Laura wrote an original script that we felt would benefit from this single-take experience.
That is something I really liked about this film. It was very constraining in the sense that you could not leave Elizabeth Olsen’s character Sarah. And speaking on that, what terms of preparation did you guys have to go through to do this? Any set number of takes?
Laura: Oh yes. We had to do a tremendous amount of rehearsal because we were going to get no coverage and we were not going to be getting any editing, what we shot is what we were going to get. From the very beginning after I wrote the script, which was very short, we started running it and even with many weeks of rehearsal we never got any of these long long sequences until we were in the teens even the thirties. But it was not easy because everyone had to get their part right, not just the actors and the DP but even the props and lighting departments and especially the AD.
It sounds like you guys really took this on as a challenge, not like a frustrating experience, but something to really experiment with and try out.
Chris: It was all about challenge. As Laura said, we didn’t have all the traditional film tools that you have at your disposal where it usually is about close ups and long shots and going into the cutting room and making these decisions there. That’s where you control pacing and revealing information and performance. We had to do all that prior with preparation and on the spot. That alone, losing a lot of tools was actually exciting.
Laura: And Chris is an editor so he kind of lost his spot on this one. [Laughs]
Less for you to do, absolutely. I think when artists are given less tools you are forced to handle the situation with creativity. I wanted to ask about being a director duo, what is that like?
Laura: Well we did a lot of rehearsal beforehand so by time we were on set everyone knew what do ahead of time. Basically the way we work is he just does what I say and it all works out very well. [Laughs]
Chris: We are married after all of course. [Laughs] But seriously when you collaborate with anyone, it is often hard to find that partner where you have similar tastes and are on the same page and you can respect them and trust them. Obviously that goes beyond just our work life so we feel very privileged and lucky. I will say, this is our third feature that we’ve made together and we handled this film differently. Laura wrote the script and she had a certain handle on what this was all about and I felt she had a very strong vision on what this was all about. Because of the nature of these long takes, the last thing the actors needed was two faces talking to the constantly. We decided together and thought that Laura should be the lead on this one and she was the one who really worked with the actors and I would meet with her and watch stuff and she would communicate things to the actors.
Laura let me ask you, because you are credited on the screenwriter on the film, was there anything you really wanted to change and modify about the original film’s story for your rendition?
Laura: Definitely. The original was based on a true story and that story had haunted the director since he was a child but that didn’t really follow through on what that original story was, but I did. There were things that happened with that family in that house and that really interested me so I changed the motivation of the character and what happens and what the dynamics are with the family and what the secrets are. Of course we had the benefit of seeing what they had done and we didn’t want to just remake what the original filmmakers had done, we wanted to do something different.
Chris: I think where our interest lied did very much have to do with real life horrors and as Laura said, she wanted to make a movie about real horror and that is something we delved into. Hopefully when people are done watching this movie it will be an enjoyable, frightening and suspenseful experience but also something they can walk away with and talk about.
I was watching another interview with you two and you were talking about pacing and tone and how there wasn’t much room for spontaneity on set. When you are posing a scare for the audience were there ever a triggered amount of beats or moments when you timed things to happen in the film?
Laura: As I said, everything was very well thought out beforehand and we had 15 days to shoot this film, which isn’t a lot of time to shoot this picture. All of the sequences are so complex that there was not much time to do anything spur of the moment. There would be no deciding to change that later. So once the script was written and we had rehearsed, we were pretty clear on what we wanted to do and we stuck with it. It was hard enough to get that much less or add something different or new. Sometimes you might do something new and realize that the whole thing doesn’t work because of something later. We really did have to stick with what was rehearsed.
I can totally understand that. Especially where you guys have these extremely long and complicated sequences, that could be very difficult if you needed to change something later. Let’s speak about Elizabeth Olsen. The film is basically on her shoulders and I was wondering if you had seen her in anything previous that really sold her to you as an actress?
Chris: There was nothing in the can, no tape, Martha Marcy May Marlene had just finished and we barely knew about it.
Laura: She had just done Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding and she wasn’t even talking about Martha Marcy May Marlene. They were in post and we barely knew that she had shot it.
Chris: We brought her in for an audition and we worked with some fantastic casting directors that we had wanted to work with for a while, they had previously cast Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone and when they read the script, they said that they had our Sarah. In a film like this where so much lies on this person, every second accounted for in 88 minutes, you need someone who you want to watch and you care about and can bring that range of emotion and that depth, and Lizzie had it all.
I was going to ask you one more question regarding the technique for Silent House. There is a lot of natural light used in the film where the character goes outside. Was that all timed with daylight and the timing for the rest of the film?
Chris: I will say that in those particular moments, we were very aware that the movie starts in light and then Sarah gets trapped in the dark, but she is running from something that really cannot be outrun. When she goes outside, we wanted it to be the case that she is outside and it is daylight and through the course of that complex sequence, we wanted night to fall and darkness to envelope her. The key was to get that shot in this short window when the sun was going down and end in night.
Laura: And all of our shots outside were indeed shot during the time of day that we wanted them. Of course the whole film is shot in “real time” because there are no cuts.
Chris: And that was the goal with the continuous shot, not to break some record for longest camera take. The film was broken up into a couple of shots in order to make the most effective experience so every second is accounted for so your experience of the film is that it is one whole continuous shot. Audiences shouldn’t even be thinking of the cuts, our hope is that they care about our character and go on this journey and maybe because of this technique they will feel a different experience than one they’ve had in a movie theater before.
When I saw the film, I was initially looking for moments where you might have cut, but to your credit by time I got to the end my brain wasn’t thinking of that. I was more compelled by that fact that it felt like real time. I like that the film is being marketed as "real time" instead of one continuous take because I feel that sells what your initial motive was.
Laura: Right and what’s interesting of course is that it is "real time" but you are experiencing one character and so a lot of doors were opened to play with time in memory, especially in ways you may not think.
In closing I wanted to ask if there was anything on the horizon for you two once Silent House is all said and done?
Chris: Well we have two things that are close but not close enough to completely discuss just yet. They are thrillers that are based on things that have actually happened, real world kind of situations. We are excited to because they are things that we haven’t really seen in the theaters before and those are the kind of projects that attract us.
Awesome! Well you two best of luck in the future and we hope audiences go check out Silent House. Thanks for joining us!
Chris: Thanks Tim!
Laura: Thank you! Our pleasure
That's all! Thank you to Chris Kentis & Laura Lau for their time, and Emily of Strategy PR for arranging the interview. Chris & Laura's Silent House is currently playing in theaters now, check your local listings. For additional full-length The Golden Briefcase episodes with Tim Buel and Jeremy Kirk, find them all here.