A location can make or break any film that utilizes a single setting. In some
cases, a location can become its own character and take on its own certain fame
- take the PSYCHO house, for instance.
For Kentis and Lau, whose film was set entirely in and around a single location,
their mission was two-fold: Find a home that would not only suit their
atmospheric needs, as Sarah maneuvered her way through its darkest recesses, but
also give them the adequate space they needed to turn the location into, as
Kentis calls it, "our own little sound stage."
"It was not easy finding this location," Lau says. "We had to have high enough
ceilings because the whole house had to be pre-lit from above. We had incredibly
long takes and we were shooting 360 so there was no place to hide lights except
Lau looked at floor plans of various homes for inspiration as she created an
imaginary house in her head during the scripting process. What she envisioned
was a two-story home, not an archetypal gothic, spooky castle. Location scouting
proved to be difficult for the New York City-based Lau and Kentis, however, as
they had a narrow selection of homes with the right character and high ceilings
to choose from in their area.
"With no ability to cut, the geography of the house was absolutely critical,"
Lau says. "We were looking for quite a while and far outside of the city, like
two hours out, and our production designer, Roshelle Berliner, remembered a
house she had seen in New Rochelle, which is really close to the city. She
talked to our location manager and they figured out, on Google maps, where this
house was or close to where it was. We got to the location and it turned out it
was not the house she had seen before, but there was one right next to it owned
by the same owner. We couldn't believe our luck, it wound up being perfect,
being available, and an unbelievably easy commute."
It was also a nice bonus that the house resided by the water. So, with the
location locked into place, Lau began to rewrite her script based on the actual
layout of the house, utilizing both the water and the home's three stories. The
only problem Kentis and Lau could foresee was the house's surrounding buildings
which needed to be blocked out to give the illusion the home was isolated.
Greens and camouflage netting proved to be useful.
Kentis laughs, "The bigger issue was we were situated beneath one of LaGuardia
Airport's main flight paths, so it was a matter of soundproofing the house. But
we also had to preserve the exterior of the house because in some scenes, we
were going inside and outside of the house in the same shot, so none of our
soundproofing could be seen."
Technicalities aside, the house offered a clean canvas upon which production
designer Berliner could work with. "The house is completely Roshelle Berliner's
work," Lau says. "It was totally empty, the wallpaper and everything you see in
that house we brought into it. We began with the premise that the house is not
only the site of events past and present, but that the house actually is Sarah.
The holes in the walls are the holes in Sarah's mind.
Kentis adds, "We wanted the different levels of the house to be distinct and
each room to offer a different experience to reflect various aspects of Sarah
which is also why we had a different lighting scheme for each floor."
"The film is Sarah's journey from things that have been suppressed and forgotten
to her gradual awareness of what is going on," Lau continues, "so we wanted to
work with that from the basement to the top floor, which we don't go to until
the third act. We worked on finding ways to bring the structure and contents of
Sarah's mind, especially her unconscious mind, out into the production design.
We wanted the house with its different levels and rooms to function like the
various compartments of Sarah's mind."
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