WAMG Interview: Evan Kelly – Director of THE CORRIDOR
Evan Kelly’s debut as a feature filmmaker is THE CORRIDOR, an independent film that crosses genres and tells a fascinating story of five friends reunited in an isolated cabin in the woods. THE CORRIDOR made it’s North American premiere during the 2011 Fantastic Fest, which is when I first discovered and thoroughly enjoyed the film. THE CORRIDOR opens theatrically on March 30th, 2012. I have had the privilege to speak with Evan Kelly about the film and his experience as a filmmaker. Continue reading below to find out what he had to say…
Travis Keune: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Evan. I had the privilege of seeing THE CORRIDOR as part of the Fantastic Fest 2011 lineup. Congratulations on a great film! I remember the film was very well received by the crowd. Do you feel this is a film best appreciated by genre fans, or is it something anyone can take something away from?
Evan Kelly: Travis, thanks for your interest, and I am glad that you were able to catch it at Fantastic Fest 2011. Participating in that festival was a highlight and an honor for us. Their festival audience is as knowledgeable, interested, and excited as you could hope to have. We do think that it is a film that can grab and serve both a pure genre audience as well as a much larger circle. I couldn’t even count myself as a hardcore genre fan. My own viewing history has too many holes.
My entry point to the film was the relationship between the friends — which read as familiar and true on the page — and in many ways this is a character drama with a lot of borrowed elements (thriller, scifi, horror) that all grow out of the characters and the situation. Our writer, Josh, and one of our producers, Mike Masters, are the true genre fans… so they were able to keep us all honest in making sure that the genre elements were front and center when they needed to be.
TK: THE CORRIDOR is your first feature film, written by Josh McDonald, his second feature screenplay. What can you tell us about the experience of making your first film, and how did you and Josh come to work on this project together?
EK: The project started as a personal passion project of Josh’s. With the exception of some of the gristle-ly elements of the plot, there are a lot of Josh’s own experiences in the fabric of the story. He connected with Mike Masters over their shared love of horror, and they started the collaboration.
I have worked with Mike, and with our other producer, Craig Cameron, for a long time in the commercial side of our local film industry. I think they brought me on because of, and not in spite of, my outsider’s approach to the material. They were hopeful that with interests that weren’t exclusively focused on the genre beats, that we might be able to make something that is both true to the traditions of genre cinema, but might also stand out or stand apart.
EK (continued): As for a first film experience, it was humbling. In spite of attempting to prepare in every possible way — you still end up getting blindsided by a few surprises. One unexpected way was just the emotional toll of budget filmmaking of this sort. We all aspire to perfection and want the film to just come into existence as “great.” But time and resources will always re-shape your aspirations into realities. Nothing really prepares you for having to repeatedly reach “good enough” and then have to move onward. If you don’t move on, you will burn through your resources with only a sliver of a great film to show for it. You have to make all of the film — and then apply yourself in every day that follows to move it from “good enough” back in the direction of “great.”
TK: For me, THE CORRIDOR is a wonderful combination of psychological horror and philosophical science-fiction. What do you hope the audience takes away from the film, more than anything else?
EK: We were really hoping to strike a balance between making something that people can just viscerally enjoy, while also trying to make some of the ideas resonate. There are ambiguities and openings within the story designed to let people add their own interpretations and imaginings. So if we hoped for anything, it was that people would be engaged enough to invest that part of their psyche that would help them complete the picture. There will always be parts of the audience that prefer to passively receive every piece of information. We aspire to intrigue and encourage those who want to engage a little bit, and to get them to wrestle with some of their own competing conclusions.
TK: Having seen the film, I can only imagine what all films and beyond may have influenced THE CORRIDOR. Please shed some light on the inspirations and influences that helped you shape your own vision for this film.
EK: There are many influences to THE CORRIDOR both for me, and for Josh as he wrote it. We are always reluctant to mention them — as though by identifying these cinematic high-points we are offering a comparison where we will fall short. So without presuming that we should be in the same conversation, there are some obvious ones, like THE EVIL DEAD for originating the Cabin in the Woods concept, and THE THING for some of that paranoiac implosion of male aggression and suspicion. And Josh would also cite the little more obscure LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH as an earlier example of the ‘is it/or isn’t it’ treatment of mental illness.
EK (continued): Then there is a whole other category of conversation films that are (in whole or in part) about groups of friends talking, fracturing, and mending themselves. DINER, THE BIG CHILL, BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, and ALL THE REAL GIRLS, are all examples of stories that — perhaps strangely to the outside observers of this film — were part of our discussions.
TK: I felt the cast for THE CORRIDOR was incredibly spot on, naturally capturing that uneasy sense of friendship despite a horrible tragedy having torn them apart in the past. Did any of the primary cast know each other personally prior to working together on the film?
EK: There were a couple of personal connections ahead of making the film. I know that Matthew Amyotte (Bobcat) and Glen Matthews (Jim) knew each other socially. And there had been a couple of other small connections, as well. Their success is probably most attributable to three things. Firstly, we were able to spend 3 or 4 days in rehearsal in advance of shooting. These rehearsals were mostly a discussion about the story, the characters, the dynamic and the history, but they put us all in the same head space. Secondly, we shot in a pretty isolated environment — and the guys weren’t able to escape from each other in the few off-hours, so it was an immersive experience that probably accelerated their sense of familiarity. But finally, it was just their desire to commit to the experience. This was — for all of us — most of the cast included, our first opportunity on this scale, and no-one took the opportunity lightly.
TK: I was especially impressed with your choice in handling the mysterious phenomena in which the title of the film refers, utilizing the best attributes of computer generated effects without becoming a distraction from the story. How did you go about conceiving these effects to fit your vision while staying within budget?
EK: The credit for the effects goes to our VFX supervisor, Jacob Owens. The story, certainly for the most part, called for an understated presence for the Corridor. So we were trying to work with a light touch — and to create elements in-camera where we could. As things unravel, the Corridor evolves and becomes increasingly complex, both in the story and in the execution of the effects. Although there are some mysteries in the film, we really think that all the clues about what the Corridor is — and how it acts — are in the film. Knowing what it does, and why, became a pretty clear signpost to how it should appear. After that — it was just a question of us doing our best to realize it.
TK: It appears the entire film was shot on location, in and around a wilderness cabin, in the winter surrounded by snow. In terms of making a movie, would you recommend this experience to other filmmakers versus shooting on sets and faking the weather?
EK: As a Canadian, I have always been surprised that there aren’t more films shot in winter setting. That snow-bound element was always part of the script, for its sense of isolation, remove, and barrenness. The covered landscape is so distinct and evocative. But having gone through it, I now know why there is a proportional absence of films with this setting. It is really damn hard. You would think we would know better. Even a couple of weeks before shooting we were talking about ways that we would “re-set” a field of snow for subsequent takes. Well, once you step on freshly fallen snow, it is done. You can’t rake it like sand, or fluff it up like a pile of leaves. So it really comes down to having a plan and knowing it well, and getting a lot of your coverage in a single take. Of course, at our budget and schedule, a single take is sometimes a necessary discipline.
EK (continued): But the short answer would be that I am not rushing back to the opportunity to shoot a film featuring winter exteriors. No matter how great it looks.
TK: For better or worse, what is the single most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your experience making THE CORRIDOR and how will it carry into your future films?
EK: There really was no bad lesson. There were a long series of things that are the product of experience. These would range from ways I would prepare differently to a clearer knowledge of the limits and the opportunities available.
(For example, we chose to shoot at a 2.40:1 aspect ratio to take advantage of the wide outdoor vistas and to be able to contain the actions of the 5 man ensemble in several of our frames. That was an opportunity. However, carrying that into the interior makes for tricky shooting when you need to do single character coverage. One of the characters “signs” as he speaks — and a wide frame like that can’t often hold his head and his hands in a single shot, without starting to encroach on the other characters. Not a big deal, but it was something I wouldn’t have known had I not experienced it).
The most positive lesson that I learned was the value of the team we assembled. I have heard countless stories about productions — large and small — where the drama behind the camera exceeded the drama in front of it. Our team of Mike Master, Craig Cameron (producers), Josh MacDonald (writer), and all of our key collaborators were a set of level-headed respectful people. Making a film is challenging enough. Who would want to do it with people you can’t communicate with and respect?
TK: With the theatrical release on THE CORRIDOR set for March 30th, what are your plans from here? Do you have anything specific in mind for your next project?
EK: This has been a really independent effort. We shot the film in the winter of 2010, and it is barely over two years since we wrapped our shoot. Almost every day since then, a portion of time has been spent in completing it, presenting it, or trying to get it out to a wider audience. So we are all really excited that it is reaching this final stage where our responsibilities have kind of exhausted themselves.
That said, along with the regular work that I do to keep life afloat (directing and producing commercial projects), I haven’t adequately prepared to step right into a next project.
I am looking and open for anything.
TK: If you were given your choice of any one project to undertake, whereas money and time are of no concern, what kind of film could we expect to see from you?
EK: That is a tough question to answer.
In spite of not having been an immediate or natural fit with this film at the outset, I think that there would be some consistency with aspects of THE CORRIDOR. I imagine it would be character-based and have a strong thematic spine.
I am not sure — but who knows — if it would have the physical horror elements that this film carries. I do love the allegorical value of genre films. The story can be enjoyed on its surface, or in relation to its genre tradition, or (when things are working right) for any sub-textual cultural content. There is plenty of subtext that we offer up in THE CORRIDOR, for the taking or to be left aside, depending on the appetite of the viewer.
If I had the luxury of choice, I have a real interest in the possibility of the ‘lo-fi sci-fi’ approach. PRIMER, MOON, ANOTHER EARTH and more are all great character-focused tales that take advantage of compelling narrative genre hooks.
No matter what — the only thing I intend to show is improvement.
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