Director Brad Anderson's (THE MACHINIST, SESSION 9) VANISHING ON 7TH STREET is an apocalyptic horror film that deals with mankind's "fear of the dark". In the film nearly everyone vanishes in Detroit and a small group of survivors hole up in a bar. And the place's generator is starting to fail...
Q: What I liked best about your new film, VANISHING ON 7TH STREET, is that is has this creeping unease to it like SESSION 9 and THE MACHINIST, even moreso. It's definitely a part of your style. What is it about this that appeals to you?
Brad: I think what I like about doing these darker, paranoid thrillers, is that it does give you the chance as a filmmaker to create a kind of tone, an atmosphere in a story that is sort of all pervasive. Instead of scaring the audience with "jump out of your seat shockers", these stories are more about creating an unsettling, disturbing feeling for the audience. And a lot of that comes from not just the visuals but even the use of sound design, music and in this case through the digital dark shadow effects. These types of stories are satisfying because it's inherently cinematic. It's visual storytelling which, from my perspective, is very interesting and fun, so I'm drawn to that. I was drawn to this script for those reasons as well.
Q: Is this what drew you to directing television, like MASTERS OF HORROR and episodes of FRINGE?
Brad: Yeah. FRINGE is fun because unlike a lot of TV the scope is quite large. It's like you're not doing television, you're doing 50 minute movies. It's not people talking in a court room. You get to do big cinematic set pieces which is fun.
Q: You've directed a fifth of the episodes of that show so far....
Brad: Yeah, I've been doing a lot lately.
Q: Getting back to the script of THE VANISHING...I've seen about every horror movie ever made so I'm watching the beginning and it reminds me of the start of the 80's movie NIGHT OF THE COMET. In that movie there are two sisters who survive the end of the world and one of them is in a movie theater projection booth when a comet comes along and turns everyone to dust, just leaving their clothes behind. And in VANISHING John Leguizamo's character is working in a projection booth when everyone disappears and he comes out just finding piles of clothes where they used to be....I was thinking this was an homage to that?
Brad: That's weird, I haven't seen that one. I'll have to ask Tony, the writer, about it...
Q: I love post-apocalypse movies, they are among my favorites...
Brad: They are fun in the sense the same way watching a train wreck is fun, it's morbid curiosity as to how it's all going to end for us. And that was the appeal of this particular script. Also, what I liked was the fact that there are no singular explanations provided, the movie starts and ends. And the lead character, in a more traditional Studio movie, would go on to save the day, he vanishes. There's a kind of existential terror in the story. Everyone of the characters is confronting their eventual extinction and how they each try to grapple with that. In the case of Thandie, seeking out a religious, biblical explanation. John, for some historical precedent. And Hayden's character, who is the nihilist among them all he doesn't care, he just wants to get out of there. What was interesting to me, with the script, is that it's very character based, has the trappings of a bigger genre apocalyptic thriller but at the core of it has these four people marooned in this bar trying to understand what's happening to them. It's an idea, it's also about ideas about our own mortality. Not to make too big a thing about it but when I read a script I'm looking for something that works under the words as well, looking for the subtext, the levels of meaning, and Tony's script had that. It makes it more interesting.
Q: It vaguely reminded me of a zombie movie, but it's more scary because these things are intangible. With a zombie you can shoot in the head but with a shadow what do you do?
Brad: That's the thing, we didn't want the shadows or the darkness to be a monster. We wanted it to feel more organic. It's not demonic necessarily, it's more a natural phenomenon in which shadows and darkness has become animated and it's not like they morph into demonic creatures. We wanted to keep away from making it feel like a monster movie and more of an existential threat.
Q: The movie was shot in Detroit, which is interesting. I'm calling from Michigan and am fifty miles from Detroit--so I know that when people here see the movie they'll say to themselves "Well, Detroit already looks abandoned? No big deal."
Brad; I know (laughing). Yeah. There's a bit of irony in that. We shot there for two reasons. One, because of the great rebate shooting in Michigan offers and two, it was one of the larger cities that would be able to have the level of control and streets and such. And it's not much to do that in Detroit. Ultimately we wanted Detroit to be Detroit and not fake it with Chicago or New York or something. There is another level of meaning, in some ways, everyone has vanished, people have fled from the city. Detroit is like that from the 1960's when the "white flight" took place and the city has become a shell of itself. There's an undercurrent of that in the story. But you're right, you walk out on the street, don't see any cars and say, "Yeah, that's Detroit".
Q: What about the actors? I thought it was funny that Hayden's character was named Luke. Was that an in-joke?
Brad: It's weird but that was the character's name in the script before Hayden was attached. All the characters have biblical names--Paul, Luke, Rosemary. So I think it was just a vestige of that. It's funny--when I was making the movie it never occurred to me. But when we were at Sitges Film Festival everyone was like "Luke Skywalker". It's a coincidence, really.
Q: He's an intense actor. How did he become involved with the movie?
Brad: He was interested in this because it's a bit different than what he's done in the past and he can play the odd man out, the "everyone for himself type of character", but ultimately a guy who is well meaning enough to do the right thing in the end. Hayden was one of the first actors we cast and then Thandie and John came after that, then we found Jacob in Detroit. He's a local actor there. He was great, a real find.
Q: Is this the first time you've dealt with kids in a movie? How was that.
Brad: To this extent, yes,. They were great. They were little pros. When they're working with the other actors, with Thandie and such, they're in good hands.
Q: Did everyone stay in character during the shoot?
Brad: Everyone was really committed. Since it was quick shoot we were always on the go. Maybe Hayden is along the lines of the Method approach but John Leguizamo can turn it on and off on a dime. Because it was a quick shoot it was non-stop.
Q: What is your approach to directing? Are you very specific with what you want from the actors or do you let them "go with it"?
Brad: It depends on what you're after. I think I'm very hands on when I need to be. But if the actors really know what they're doing and they're in the moment, you let them go.
We didn't do a lot of improv in this film. Occasionally there are moments where you let things take place and let them happen. Sometimes you get good results with that.