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Chords in Conversation: Rob Skates Talks The Dark Below

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THE DARK BELOW is a realistic, creative and terrifying visual achievement. The planning on each level pertaining to the lighting, set design and cinematography are so evident as the world around both Rachel, Ben and their family becomes different levels of frozen hell. Cinematographer Rob Skates offers a truly chilling vision as he captures the survival, terror and hope through a creative eye and skillful technique. Rob took some time out to speak with Jay Kay of Cinema Chords to discuss the scope of THE DARK BELOW, the relationship he shares with the Douglas Schulze, POV, using the RED DRAGON camera and more.

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InterviewsKiller ChordsNews

Chords in Conversation: David G.B. Brown Talks The Dark Below

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Till death do you part is a statement that has haunted storytelling for generations. The power of those words and the foundation of marriage is both daunting, incredible and terrifying. Do we ever really know our partner? The one that we share our life with, bare children with, grow old with, sleep with and more… THE DARK BELOW offers a profile of marriage and the truly uneasy and disturbing thought that that feelings you shared could be true or not. Actor David G.B. Brown plays Ben, husband, father and monster opposite actress Lauren Mae Shafer who is his on-screen wife Rachel. Over the 75 minute running time, we see the depths that Ben is willing to go to remove his family in one of the most vicious, cold-blooded and smart performances against the canvas of the merciless winter. Powerful… insidious… charming… David took some time out to speak with Jay Kay of Cinema Chords about his fears, Ben’s compulsions, no dialogue as a performance tool, Veronica Cartwright and more.

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CC: Thank you David for taking the time to talk with me and Cinema Chords about THE DARK BELOW. What was it like working with the team of Douglas Schulze and Robert Skates again?

David Brown: It’s always great re-teaming with incredibly talented professionals like Doug and Rob. Already being familiar with Doug’s style of directing, which continually evolves and improves, made it easy to get right to work. Rob is simply one of the best – he and his team worked seamlessly and endured more of the elements on this project than we did.

CC: What was it like to work with a legend like Veronica Cartwright? What were the conversations and time spent like on set?

DB: Veronica was fantastic. Very laid-back and amazingly talented, it was a real treat working a few scenes with her, especially the one in the hospital when we “faced off” – being able to see her perform with such intensity, from just a few inches away, was a bit daunting. I’d like to think that I speak for everyone in that she brought the project to a higher level and brought out our best. Our time on set was focused and productive, but we had the pleasure to go out one night in a small group and hang out, and she was funny, entertaining, and relaxed. I have a great picture of us drinking Jameson together.

CC: We see the life of a family gone horribly wrong in THE DARK BELOW. You truly never know someone completely. It’s so scary. Talk with me about working again with Lauren Mae Shafer and how you two built that relationship on and off screen between Ben and Rachel in the different stages of the film? How was the relationship also with your on-screen daughter playing a human monster?

BP: Having already worked with Lauren made it very comfortable for us, given the subject matter. We spent a lot of down time together, talking about our characters and the film. We even went so far as, with Jon, not just building our backstories, but also what the subsequent events could be. We always made sure Lauren was comfortable with the more physical scenes – Doug and Kathryn were aggressive with safety, especially given the snow, the sub-zero temperatures, and underwater work. Seraphina was great as our daughter – very mature for her age, always ready to go, and I think she may have taken direction better than me.

CC: In THE DARK BELOW, we never truly see the origins of Ben’s compulsion and evil actions. We see bits and pieces that leads us to the present conflict. What was the back-story for Ben like? Did you do much research into that? What made Ben such a scary, effective and dangerous figure? How did you cope with that evil within the character?

BP: I approached Ben as a serial killer who married Rachel for a cover – there was no “longing for normalcy” involved. I read up on serial killers and, though not a serial killer, I rewatched “Breaking Bad” for Walter White’s vacant detachment. I did some animal work, attempting to liken Ben’s movements to that of a wolf patiently stalking his prey. I’ve always enjoyed delving into the darker areas.

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CC: Was it difficult to create the character of Ben with no dialogue? Did this enhance the emotion, drama and empowerment of the character?

BP: It was certainly a challenge trying to create a three-dimensional character without dialogue, especially one who is very even throughout the film. Lauren’s character has a lot of ups and downs throughout, so it was important to counter that – the real challenge, for me, was to try not to come off as boring or bland, or stereotypical.

CC: One of the most terrifying aspects of the overall performance is your eyes. How did you finally decide that Ben would have that certain intense evil in his glare? Where did it come from?

BP: I worked not on having an intense evil glare, but a complete lack of emotion, which I think is tougher to accomplish, but is more intimidating than trying to be intensely evil. The marriage to Rachel was a cover, nothing more, and when it was no longer tenable it simply had to be eliminated. To Ben, Rachel was no more important than discarding a piece of clothing that had used up its usefulness.

CC: David, you are a built figure; powerful. When choreographing the various struggles, battles as well as cat and mouse tension on the iced pond with Rachel, how much did you have to hold back strength wise?

BP: I hit the gym to put on some mass for the film so Ben would have a more physically imposing figure and make the physical acts throughout the film easily believable. There were three scenes where I had to be particularly careful – the first, I think, is one of the opening shots where I “slam” Rachel into a wall. This was practiced several times, and in reality, Lauren grasped my hand, which I held as loose as I could around her neck, and let her throw herself into the wall, which gave the appearance we wanted. The other is a scene when I’m “beating” Veronica’s character in the house – for this I landed punches six inches to the left of her head, and had to be very careful. We practiced it and she felt comfortable, so we went with it. The third is when I was holding a girl under the water at the swimming pools – close to the same thing, as the female actor had full control of the situation, it only looked as if I was holding her under water. As I said, Doug and Kathryn were all about safety on this film.

CC: Talk to me about winter shoot and preparing for the elements? Did the layers of clothing affect your performance? What was the hardest scene to get through overall?

BP: We really got perfect weather for the film – it was pretty consistent, which is rare when filming outside for any duration in the winter. It was certainly colder than we would have liked! Lauren really had the hardest go of it – the suit she wore through most of the film wasn’t incredibly insulated and she spent a lot of time on the ground. We had a warmup tent at location and ready transportation to the clubhouse. My two hardest scenes were first the scene where I come back out of the water, drenched and without a coat – we did this scene on one of the coldest nights, and as soon as we started the scene the water I’d doused myself with started freezing up. By the end of that I was probably colder than I should have gotten. The other was the scene where I go under the lake. I actually have a pretty intense fear of drowning, but wanted to be in the film so bad I neglected to tell that to Doug ahead of time. I had to mentally prepare myself before we shot those scenes, and got through it just fine.

CC: The genre of horror offer range as a performer. What is it about horror that draws you in?

BP: Part of me loves horror movies because there really are no rules – you can do a horror movie with any other genre. You can continually find new ways to surprise the audience. They also unforgivingly delve into the darkest parts of ourselves, giving the audience the chance to live vicariously in situations they might not otherwise allow themselves to think about.

CC: What is next for you and where can we find out more?

BP: The project I did after “Dark Below” is called “The Wind Walker”, a film that I not only got to star in, but also help write and produce. It’s still in post-production but we should be seeing something this year. I got married recently and have taken a step back from acting, but I’m always on the lookout for a fun, challenging film like “The Dark Below” to sink my teeth into.

(Images from Yahoo and Google)

Follow Jay Kay on Twitter @JayKayHorror

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Video Interviews

Charlize Theron Talks Embodying Cipher in Fast & Furious 8

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With just one more week to wait with bated breath until the theatrical release of the highly-anticipated sequel Fast & Furious 8, Universal have debuted a blistering new featurette which features an exclusive interview with one of the franchise’s latest newcomers, Charlize Theron. Playing the character of Cipher, this role marks the first time the franchise has ever featured a female villain.

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Interviews

Chords in Conversation: Douglas Schulze Talks The Dark Below

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Watching well crafted, connecting and terrifying stories of survival, you begin to wonder what kind of mind can write, produce or direct these tales. What place would they have to go to find a complete cinematic picture and imagery so palpable you shiver. THE DARK BELOW is filmmaker Douglas Schulze’s sixth released feature that again reunites him with collaborators, intelligent story and unfathomable horror. Taking some time out from his latest feature, Douglas spoke with Jay Kay from Cinema Chords about the journey of this film, cultivating a killer, silence, locations and more.

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Chords in Conversation: Aaron Poole Talks us into ‘The Void’

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Canadian actor Aaron Poole has had a rich career working in both film and TV, but his latest role has taken him to a place he’s never entered: The Void. In The Void, Aaron plays Daniel Carter; a police officer tasked with protecting the civilians inside a hospital when a group of hooded figures surround the building. As madness starts to ensue within the building too, Daniel must tackle the physical nightmares inside and outside, plus an inner turmoil that is equally as difficult to handle.

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Interviews

Ben Parker Talks His Claustrophobic Debut ‘The Chamber’

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Ben Parker’s claustrophobic debut The Chamber had FrightFesters ripping the cinema seats to shreds out of sheer tension last August and the same is about to happen up and down the country as the film releases tomorrow. The submarine-set survival thriller follows the pilot of a small craft and a three-man Special Ops team who find themselves trapped somewhere under the Yellow Sea in a fight for survival.

Featuring gripping performances from Johannes Kuhnke (Force Majeure) and Charlotte Salt (The Musketeers) and a haunting, atmospheric score by James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers – in his first work for film – CinemaChords caught up with Parker and took to the seas.

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CC: The premise and setting for The Chamber was a product of you combining your biggest fears in life.

Ben Parker: I start in a very wide field which is the decision as to what kind of film you want to make. So I tapped into my personal fears and the things that scare me the most and those things were claustrophobia, drowning and global politics (laughs). When wrote the film I wasn’t that sure if I would actually get to make it because I had a few films that had been rejected before. When we finally got the green light, I quickly realised that I was going to have to face my fears and go into that space. But it was good that the shoot scared me because you know that you’ve got the right shot and the right sense of the horror if you’re freaked out about it.

CC: The single and confined location must have brought with it its fair share of challenges.

BP: The first problem lies in the script writing stage. You have to make sure that when you set yourself in a single location, you maintain the attention of your audience and keep the suspense and tension going. I think too many people say, “Out of budget restrictions we’re gonna put it in one location out of budget restrictions.” but they don’t think too much about that properly.

So that first bit was worked on on my own but then the second stage was worked on with a lot of other collaborators. That stage basically involved sharing the burden and responsibility of making sure that we didn’t die when we shot. It was incredibly difficult and a lot of the thanks goes to John Bunker who is a brilliant production designer who designed an amazing Rubik’s Cube of a set. You could remove panels and take it apart in different ways to allow us to get the cameras and the crew in there … and safely. But, as the film goes on and we get closer up with the camera and the water rises, it got a little bit hairy out of the fear of drowning in a slosh pit. (laughs). I think every crew member experienced the horror that we were shooting because they were living it as well.

CC: Coupled with the set, Cinematographer Benjamin Pritchard’s role of keeping the audience engaged and intensifying the sense of claustrophobia whilst taking everyone’s safety into consideration can’t have been an easy task. This was the first time you’ve worked with him so I’m guessing you had some good long talks together.

BP: We tried to think about everything definitely. We had three main lighting phases. We had the normal lighting and then the shut down of the sub lighting and then, as the water comes in, we had this more gloomy light coming in. The changing of the light is something that we talked about at length so that the audience had something different there. And then I credit Ben with a lot of the genius techniques of shooting it. He came up with a way of attaching the camera to a bungee rig to a lot of different places so that he could move the camera in and around and get a more fluid cam. I was going to say shaky cam but it’s not that as I don’t like a lot of that. It’s more of a fluid movement that made things feel a lot more organic and the camera feels almost like another character who is there to constantly remind you that you are underwater.

CC: How did the cast fall into place. Did you cast Johannes Kuhnke after having seen Force Majeure?

BP: I had seen Force Majeure before casting Johannes and it was for that very reason that I didn’t think we would get him. I was very happy that he read the script from cover to end and loved it and he was also a secret submarine enthusiast which I’m sure played a lot in our favour. And then James McArdle is such a great theatre actor and just a great actor who brought this raw energy to the mix. And Charlotte Salt’s part needed to be really spot on. I love character’s like Ellen Ripley where they reach moments where you see their humanity. I tried to show that Charlotte’s character wasn’t heartless. She had a job and she was going to get it done and I actually wanted the audience to feel annoyed with that and feel like she was a bit of an arsehole at the beginning. But then the story slowly reveals that she is truly sorry for what she’s done. Really she is the heart of the message that I wanted people to think that I’m about: The politics and the notion of America versus Europe. Their ideals and their ways of looking of things compared to ours. It’s not that we’re that different but when you’re convinced that you’re right and what you’re doing is right and for the betterment of the world and then at some point realise maybe your meddling has caused harm to some people. Charlotte had to summarise that in her character and had to get that across so I needed a bit of humanity coming through.

CC: You must have done your fair share of research when it came to things like special-ops procedures and protocols.

BP: I went up and got to see the training of the NATO rescue submarine. They sometimes do test runs of it in a loch in Scotland and other times in the Mediterranean. I didn’t get to see it in the Mediterranean and went up to wintery Scotland (laughs). So I got a lot of information there but then my Uncle also used to pilot subs like that and he new about how to get down there and how you would escape and things like that.

CC: There have been some great action movies with amazingly well choreographed set pieces in very confined spaces such as Die Hard, The Raid, Captain America and The Chamber is another we can now add to that list. You worked with choreographer Peter Pedrera who I think you had worked with before on your previous short film, Shifter.

BP: He’s fantastic. He’s the kind of guy that says, “I can do anything that you want and you can set me on fire at the same time if you like.” Unfortunately, we weren’t able to set him on fire this time but hopefully in the next one. He had been working on “Game of Thrones” and all kinds of things like that. He’s ex-military as well so he was definitely within his wheelhouse. He taught us how to deal with practical issues like how to fight in that small space and what was really great was how Charlotte’s character would fight. I don’t know if Edge of Tomorrow had been out at that point but I remember Emily Blunt saying that she had learned Krav Maga for that film and that was was Pete was teaching Charlotte because it’s good in confined spaces and for using other people’s body weight against them.

CC: I’m really interested in asking you about working with James Dean Bradfield on the score. It was his first time working as a film composer and you even had the luxury of him bringing his longtime Producer Dave Eringa and his Engineer Loz Williams into the mix.

Manics-studio_AW110BP: I was over the moon when he said that he would do it. He first read the script before we even talked about him possibly scoring the film and he really wanted to see the film. I think he would have helped produce the film had I not said to him that I thought the best way to get the film shot would be for him to do the score. I know that he was out of his comfort zone but then he also knew that I was out of my comfort zone as this was my first film. We worked really closely together so that he knew exactly what we wanted to achieve and what kind of atmospheric sound we wanted. We looked at a lot of different musicians and other scores. He’s a big film fan and whereas I geek out about the film making aspects of movies, he geeks out about the musical aspects. He really likes Mica Levi’s soundtrack for Under the Skin. I think that was probably the soundtrack that made him think, “Wow. That’s fantastic. I wish I could do something like that.” He’s also a big fan of Krzysztof Penderecki’s work.

When we first got together at his studio, we just started hashing out ideas to do stuff with more non-instrumental sounds by trying to create sounds with different objects. Loz Williams was great at figuring out what could make a sound and then James would make the sound and the score out of those. And then Dave Eringa, who I’d never worked with before, was fantastic to work with. It was quite The Dream Team.

CC: You mentioned a couple of projects in the works when you attended FrightFest last year. Are you able to shed a bit of light on those?

BP: There was a horror movie that we were trying to get made before The Chamber which is still pushing on and which I hope to get made at some point. I also have a project set in the very last days of the Second World War between the fall of Berlin and the surrender of Germany. That was a pretty lawless time and this is a small and violent tale about a group of German resistance fighters called The Werewolves. The film isn’t entirely about them but it’s a story that pertains to them. Again, it’s got everything that I think is going to be my MO: a little bit of politics mixed with horror, violence and tension.

THE CHAMBER RELEASES IN CINEMAS FROM MARCH 10 BEFORE RELEASING ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD MARCH 20, 2017

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InterviewsKiller Chords

Chords in Conversation: Filmmaker Jeff Ferrell Talks His Latest Film Dead West

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What makes a great road film? Is it a charismatic leading man who can be incredibly charming while sticking a knife deep inside of you? Is it the idea of the eternal and psychotic romantic that no matter how hard he tries to leave his insidious past alone, it always seems to pull him back? Does the cinematography, score and/or characters make the film an unmistakable portrait of long highways, sleazy motels and gun fights?

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InterviewsKiller Chords

Chords in Conversation: Emile Hirsch Talks The Autopsy of Jane Doe

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Taking on any project or puzzle can be a mission of patience, frustration, skill and learning. The practice of autopsy – a macabre science throughout the ages – takes an authentic hand, even when performing before a camera. A profession taught and handed down for generations of families; the stories and experiences cutting into true horror happening to those unfortunante souls can chill anyone to the bone. Playing the character Austin, a son, an apprentice and young man at a crossroads in his life, is talented actor Emile Hirsch who embodies the mystery, conflict and connection in the critically acclaimed THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE currently released for screenings through IFC Midnight. Emile took some time coming off the set of one of his many film projects to talk a return to horror. Working with André Øvredal and Brian Cox as well as the chilling ring of a bell for CinemaChords.com….

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