We caught up with the Little Minx director to talk Bright Falls, Bergman and paranoia
Fresh off the back of bringing the prequel series for Xbox game Alan Wake to our computer screens, we caught up with Little Minx director Phillip Van to talk Bright Falls, Bergman and paranoia.
How did the collaboration with Bright Falls come about, and what drew you to the project?
I got boards for the idea from agency 215 and was drawn to it immediately. They had the notion of turning an ad campaign into a short episodic series that functioned as a prequel to Alan Wake, a game that is also episodic. They wanted to create an original series that overlapped with the narrative of the game, but really told its own story. Because the idea had some unique demands, they were looking for a director who was also a writer and could collaborate in writing longer scripts, which totalled about 40 pages.
The opportunity to collaborate so intensively with an amazing team was a huge draw. But the appeal of the material itself was also really tremendous. I'm from Oregon and the initial outline from the agency spoke to places I knew growing up. I felt so passionate about the tone and imagery that over New Year, I spent two weeks shooting a montage of fogged out forests and hidden places in the northwest. It ended with my first pass at creating the jarring, violent hallucinations that the lead character Jake is afflicted by throughout the series. I sent the material their way with a treatment that had an alternate interpretation of the idea - a way to explain the events that occur and the reality of Bright Falls in a different context. I think these elements intrigued the guys, complimented the framework they had built and kicked off our partnership.
Were you already a fan of the Twin Peaks/X-Files style drama?
I have an interest in shows like X-Files and Lost, but I'm a huge Twin Peaks series and film fan and a Lynch diehard - it would be lying to say that Fire Walk with Me, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and his collected works didn't have an impact on the series.
But Lynch wasn't the only influence and the idea wasn't to emulate his work. From the beginning, we talked about developing a breed of "frightening" that was more subtle and psychological than "horror". The horror genre is often so flagrant that it doesn't really frighten - it has a way of becoming a parade of grotesqueness with no human insight, just pornographic action and excess.
The most frightening films I've watched are European art house films from the 60s and 70s. Polanski's breed of paranoia is a big influence, but even 'artier' and scarier are films by Tarkovsky and Bergman and not just cause they're arty. The film Persona by Bergman was a much bigger influence on the hallucinations than any quick-cutting scare montage from a modern horror flick. These films get to you because they put you in sync with a character's dreams and subjective experience. And they never forget that that's the point.
We understand that you helped write the script for Bright Falls, how was that experience? Have you worked on many other scripts?
The process was a bit unorthodox for advertising but incredibly rewarding. Off the initial series outline that copywriter Mat Bunnell and art director Ben Wolan put together, I wrote first drafts of the scripts. Then I met with the team and we bunkered down, hammering out final drafts in three days. I found that we all shared a similar sense of humour and were compelled by the same stuff. At the end of the day, we wanted the series to feel like something we were getting away with. Mat was a consummate collaborator and we fell into step right away. In a series all about writing, the partnership felt vital.
I've written scripts for short films that I've gone on to direct and taken to festivals. I've also written a couple of feature scripts. This material fell somewhere in between. The time signature for each episode was too short for the kind of exposition and dialogue you see in TV. It required the economy of a short but the arch of a feature. It was a strange animal.
Obviously this project was a longer and more complex project than most commercial jobs, is this the type of work that interests you most?
Challenging work interests me the most, irrespective of length. This wasn't an easy project but it was really compelling. We had to find ways to expand on an infrastructure set up for 30-60 second spots. Our resources and time were limited, to say the least, and agency producer Joyce Chen, along with my executive producers Rhea Scott at Little Minx and Tomer Devito pulled as hard as possible to make narrow means count for a lot.
We really enjoyed your Exquisite Corpse film - what else have you been up to since then?
Thanks. I worked on a couple of spots including one in France for Acadomia that ran on TV and in theatres before features. It was a period piece and we shot in the woods - surprise - with a fog machine and giant human-sized animal puppets. I've also been writing a lot.
What films have you seen recently that have had an impact on you?
I like to watch old stuff. I've been putting on Clouzot films just to enjoy sitting in a pool of sweat. He's the French Hitchcock. His film The Raven was a big influence on Jake's sleeping scene in episode two of Bright Falls and has the best use of a light/dark motif I've seen.
Have you got any more creative projects lined up that you can let us in on?
A couple. I can definitely let you in on the creative project I'd like to see happen. There have been strong fan requests for a continuation of the Bright Falls series either as is or in a different, longer form. If they keep coming in they may propel something. And to be honest, I've been up nights thinking about how the story could progress. The project is personal for all of us involved and I'm attached to these characters and this world. We shot in and around my hometown and you can even find my mom in one of the episodes. It doesn't really get more personal. With any luck, we'll be able to keep going.