Braden Duemmler interview for What Lies Below

Last week we got the chance to interview the director of the new horror film What Lies Below, not to be confused with the movie What Lies Beneath, which my stuttering accidentally got me to say here in the interview. Hope you enjoy the interview like we did!

AJ:
Hey Braden, how are you doing?

Braden:
Good, man. Thank you so much for having me sir.

AJ:
Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us. So how did What Lies Beneath come about?

Braden:
Just to correct your real quick.

Braden:
Sorry, but it’s What Lies Below. I have to go back and corrected you, but I truly understand the mistake because I was thinking about What Lies Beneath when I heard the title. So I totally get it.

Braden:
But so What Lies Below came about, it was basically the synthesis of two ideas. The first one was this image in my head where there was this light from the sky that was beamed into this man’s chest, and I started to think, who is this guy? What is he doing? Why is he there? And who was watching him and what is their relationship? And that’s when, when I asked that question, I thought back to my own experience as a five-year-old kid, my first ever crush was on my stepmother and it was cute and adorable. Yeah and she will regale strangers of how I used to come over when she was cooking dinner and I would pull on her sleeve and I would say, whisper in her ear “You should chase me around and try to tickle me.”

AJ: [Laughs]

Braden:
And it’s cute. Yeah, it’s cute. It’s adorable. But when you look back on it and if you think what if the roles are reversed? Then all of a sudden it borderlines inappropriate. If she was a man and I was a little girl, can you do that anymore? And I took that idea and I used it with that Light in the Lake, and that’s where the script came from, those two stories, images, fusing together.

Braden:
And once we had the script, I was fortunate enough to send it to a good friend of mine, Jimmy Lu, who ends up being the cinematographer of the film, and he sent it to a producer who’s a mutual friend named Abel Vang. And Abel loved it, and Jimmy loved it, and they were just determined to make it. And they brought on Stephen Stanley, another producer, and Kristina Esposito, another producer, and Panda Lord, one of the co-producers and the next thing you know we were off to the races. And a big part of that was landing Mean Suvari and giving that film that stamp of approval from the industry.

AJ:
Yeah. And how was the casting process like, because this movie is so heavy on the three person lead, especially the mother and daughter relationship, so how was it like in the casting process?

Braden:
Yes. Thank you. It started off very simply we focused in on Michelle’s role because we knew we’d only have to shoot her for 10 days, and that was something that we could really focus in on. And we brought in a casting director named Katrina Wandel George, and that Stephen and Abel found. And Katrina was so passionate about the film that she was making phone calls on a layover on her way out to vacation. And she was not willing to shoot low, she was shooting for the stars, she said. And so we went after Mena and her manager and they liked the film, they liked the script, they met with me, and Mena just believed in me and the film. And when she signed on, because she’s so experienced and so talented and so great to work with, we got flooded with audition tapes for the other girls.

Braden:
And I will say that I still remember Trey’s first audition tape because he was so uniquely different. He would take things that I thought were mundane and make them completely sinister, lines of dialogue that were not supposed to be creepy, he made them creepy. He would take actions that I thought were very casual and make them awkward or dynamic. And that ability to expand the material is always what you look for in a collaborator because it challenges you to do even better. It’s that 110%, you know?

Braden:
And so he came on board and we were super excited about that. And then Ema, I still remember her audition tape because I was mystified by her. I was curious but I was so scared a little bit of her because I wasn’t sure what exactly she was doing. And I sent it to a friend and he said to me, he watched the tape and he said to me, “She’s got a real Jack Nicholson quality to her.” And I go, “What are you talking about? What does that mean?” And he goes, “Yeah, she’s either completely crazy or genius.”

Braden:
And it didn’t take long on set for me to realize which one it was. She is so incredibly talented. She’s so cerebral and composed and thinking about and planning out in her head the next beat, the next moment, what’s going to happen, how she’s going to feel. And through that process, then she internalizes it all. And then once I say auction, it just explodes. I called a fireworks display in her eyes because it’s just this mesmerizing dance of energy in just the most grounded form. And Libby and Anna I really worked on that. We always wanted to Libby to be a very grounded character, especially because her mother, Michelle, is so over the top flamboyant, big, like that’s her personality. So I always thought that Libby as a compensation for that would be much more introverted and quiet. And so it was great to see her take that character, that really a stay at home grounded character, and still adds so much depth and emotion and energy to it. That make sense?

AJ:
One of the aspects I found really interesting about this movie is that as easy as it sounds, there was a lifetime movie meets a universal monster, straw thing with supernatural elements going within the main actor’s body throughout the film. So I’m just curious on what brought that idea all together?

Braden:
Yeah. That was definitely a conscious effort on our parts because I love films, personally, that you could take an element away and it’s still functioned as a movie. So I tend to believe that if you eliminated the horror element of What Lies Below, you still have the drama that can propel it.

Braden:
So when we thought about it, when I think about it visually, when I thought about it visually, I said, “Okay, well, it is the drama that is about this man slowly nestling into the lives of these two women, and slowly dissecting the lives of these two women.” And so when I thought of it like that, I created a visual template to match that where at first it would be extremely saturated colors, it would look like a lifetime movie. It would look like this poppy, warm feel to it, everything’s a romcom, everybody’s laughing, everybody’s happy. But then as John Smith comes in and he digs more and more into this, intrudes even more, then the colors de saturate and all of a sudden other colors start to come up that are unnatural and different and weird. And that’s when you get the cyans and the ambers and the magentas that becomes so essential to the film.

AJ:
Right. And how was it like working with the visual effects on this film? Because some of it’s just looked absolutely stunning watching it.

Braden:
They would be so happy to hear you say that. Thank you. We worked with a visual effects team called Tunnel out of Santa Monica, as well as a company called 22Dogs. They were both working under Tunnel mostly, and they were really just passionate about the film. They wanted to do a scifi movie. And so they came on board and were really kind to us and honestly gave us a great deal, and we’re really lucky. And they were… It was so fantastic to learn that process because I was literally getting videos on my computer and reviewing them, and I would be able to put in physical notes on the computer because the team that was doing the VFX was in Milan.

AJ:
Oh wow.

Braden:
They would have to send it over, I’d review it, I’d put notes physically into it, and then send it back. So it was a difficult process in that sense because you had to use words, written words to communicate, and that’s it, that’s all you had. Which seems simple, but it’s actually really difficult when you’re talking about colors and depth and all these different things to be that precise with just English, especially because they mostly spoke Italian. But it was a great experience. I learned a lot. I had never worked with a VFX team before and it was just a really good experience. I’m very thankful I was able to do it.

AJ:
That’s funny you mentioned they mainly just spoke Italian because me and my family watched Moonstruck last night.

Braden:
There you go. Yep.

AJ:
All right Braden. Well, thank you so much for joining us at [infamousart.com 00:10:32] today. Congratulations [inaudible 00:10:38].

Braden:
Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s absolute pleasure AJ. And good luck with everything you do.

AJ:
You too Braden.

Braden:
All right, thanks so much.

AJ:
Have a great afternoon.

Braden:
All right. Bye. Bye.

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