Interview: THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE Director Andre Ovredal
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE has been making horror lovers swoon with each screening of the film, first at Fantastic Fest and more recently, Beyond Fest. Our own Jay Kay spoke to Andre Ovredal, the film’s director recently about setting a mood and various other topics. Read on!-Jerry
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is a huge shift from TROLLHUNTER. I think that’s one of the leading factors and ideas that people came in with, they weren’t sure how you would adapt more of micro film, compared to the larger scope of TROLLHUNTER. However, I think everyone including myself, it may end up being the best of the show, at the least for the people’s vote.
Andre Ovredal: Oh the screening was fantastic! FANTASTIC FEST is such an intense and amazing experience and it must be the best festival in the world because it’s so enthusiastic. There’s so much love for the movies, genre movies and the people are so crazy about everything here. It is just such a joy for a filmmaker to come to a place where there’s such a warm welcome. There is no judging, only people who love films and it’s just a big party, the whole festival.
This is my first time here and I have noticed the projection quality for the films. The clarity, projection and the overall sound.
AO: The sound is amazing!
How effective was this with you being in the crowd attending?
AO: The ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE THEATER is amazing! It was easily the best theater I’ve seen the movie in. I mean really, the crispness of the sound especially. I was whispering with the producer during the screening and you could hear things we have not heard since we were mixing it and the sense of direction of the speakers and how the audio because I spent so much time in the mix. I was positioning specific audio effects in specific parts of the room with the mixer which is essential to me, to the way I want to do storytelling its basically every frame in the movie has its own audio to a big extent. Then to get to experience it in theater properly was a joy. It felt very rewarding. I know the audience then gets to experience the movie the way I wanted to have it seen and heard. Kudos to the people who run the theater.
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is, in a lot of ways, a very visual film on many different levels. Using the cadaver (Jane Doe) as a character and constantly getting the expressions from her face as you pan down and she interacts with the two lead characters through most of the film was quite interesting. When you read the project and decide to direct, was that a challenge for you, to be able to cultivate a performance out of an in animate object like the corpse, one that you would have to create emotions? It’s not that dissimilar from the troll in TROLL HUNTER where you have taken a nonverbal character or monster and created a relationship and performance between all the characters?
AO: Yeah. A great film I think… Alfred Hitchcock said, “All I need to make a great film, is three things. I need a great script. I need a great script and I need a great script!” So that’s what it comes down to in the end. It’s the fact that it is scripted carefully with us trying to project all these things onto her. So all I have to do as a filmmaker then is to trust the script and to visualize what I see as the best way of filming what’s going on in the script.
It’s a tough question for sure because whenever you take on something like that, to be able to have something inanimate emote like that as well as the way it is framed and the lighting it’s still the same face. However, between the actors Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox, they seem to almost make it a story of a conversation between the body and themselves, creating an authentic interpretation of them being coroners as well as the relationship between them and the body.
Having Emile and Brian on the project, how was it working with the them as those two characters and also how they built that level of comfort on set in the morgue?
AO: To work with actors of that stature, first of all is an amazing experience for a fairly inexperienced director. This is only my second movie and it is a master class in how the most amazing actors in the world work and why these people are where they are in their careers. You clearly understand why they are stars because they’ve have a natural instinct and a way of analyzing the script and understanding studying psychology and understanding how to portray that psychology in a realistic manner. How to be with other actors both behind the scenes and also on camera, how to portray character relationships, I am truly blessed to have worked with them. I think I have a sense of reality that helps push the performances in a certain direction beyond that it’s all the actors.
I have to agree with you because even for the most seasoned director if the actors don’t understand their boundaries, don’t understand the material and don’t understand the direction, it could be a disaster of a morgue and haunted house film. Can you talk about really taking on the bonding aspect of the film and what the planning was to create that relationship within the morgue between the two leads and Jane Doe?
AO: A big part of my goal for this film systematically was the camera clearly tells the story in a very, very controlled and very specific way. The blocking is so essential in how this movie can work. I need a lot of motion because it was so still, so I need to create this micro-motion. So where they’re walking. Where they are standing. Where they are in relation to each other, what all of that says about the relationship between them and how it changes up in every scene was very important and the direction pf the film. I was planning out a huge map with all kinds of colors and where they would walk. Where they should stand on that specific line, that they going to stand there and then they going to move over there. Then they are going to move over there and on that line, it will be there. Then when I had that ready, we discussed and we walked through it with the actors. They agreed or disagreed and we discussed it to do it this way instead. Then we changed the camera angles a little bit to accommodate the changes. So everything was extremely, carefully planned, we had these maps everyday with detail to make sure the story was told super specific.
That strategic and pinpoint planning is this essential is any performance or framing or the overall themes of the film. Another key aspect is the isolation. The set has a personality overall itself. Can you talk about the set design and cultivating THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE lab and morgue with the tools like score, color, props, shadows and framing as well as misdirection to make this a great isolation film?
AO: What is weird about it for me is that it was a big deal for me to not ever feel that it was about claustrophobia because it’s going to be such a confined space for the entire movie, so the filmmaking had to be spacious in a away. The autopsy room itself had to have a lot of angles and it had to have a width and the length including the hallways which had to be long and you constantly had to sense the environment because I didn’t want it to feel claustrophobic because that’s not a topic in the movie. It’s being closed in but it’s not actually claustrophobia. To create reality was very important when it comes to the way the space of the autopsy room was designed that it made you feel like you were in a real space. The hallways to me, I wanted them to be reddish in tone because they are the veins of that whole place. Then each environment had to have their own identity. The kind of the different rooms. I love the wooden style of things. I wanted it to make sure it felt like it was old. So we did a lot of work.
It seems like it had a great focus and detail on set design.
AO: Exactly! We looked at anything from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Then we tried to modernize it just a little bit with certain elements to make sure you understand that you are not in a period movie and obviously a mobile phone does just that.
I love how it opened with BUCKCHERRY. Rock and Roll transcends so many generation as we see with the lab, with the morgue, with the radio and with their relationship. Was that your decision to have the Rock and Roll kind of open up the movie and through the first act then the change of music after?
AO: It was all in the writing, great writing.