Opening in theatres at the end of August is director Todd Lincoln’s vision with THE APPARITION. College students take on an experiment that brings a supernatural presence into their home. The films stars Ashley Greene (the TWILIGHT saga films) and Sebastian Stan (CAPTAIN AMERICA) as married couple Kelly and Ben along with Tom Felton (the HARRY POTTER series) as Patrick.
I had the opportunity to talk with Todd Lincoln, the films writer and director about his experiences with film, what his vision is for THE APPARITION and other projects that are to come.
Hi Todd, I’m so glad to be able to talk to you today.
Thank you, things are getting a little crazy right now.
What did you think was going to happen?
I don’t know, its truly become a case of be careful what you wish for.
Has it really?
You grow up loving monster movies, hiding out, enjoying this stuff and you think it’s about coming up with cool ideas and shooting them. That’s what it should be about. Unfortunately that’s a small part of it and there is so much about the business of it and the press side of things and publicity. I’m just looking forward to getting THE APPARITION out there and getting back to shooting things. I get a kick out of it though. I’m fascinated by the pop culture and marketing aspects. I ran a film festival in my hometown for ten years so I know about hitting the pavement.
That’s pretty intense.
That’s one of the things I’m most proud of. I’m from Tulsa, Oklahoma and I’ve been out in Los Angeles for a long time now. There was a ten-year stretch where I co-founded and co-directed the Tulsa Overground Film Festival and we would show all styles and all genres of films. Mainly short films that is the leading edge and innovative stuff from around the world and locally. It really built up and inspired and connected this scene in Tulsa and helped build up the downtown. People took our lead and created other film festivals, art and music festivals with art and spaced downtown. That was something great to see first hand, tangible results from something you did. Its also something I plan on bringing back once I can get my schedule together and oversee that and help build up the next wave of filmmakers and the film scene.
I’ve been a life long film lover from high school on. From high school after it was more serious and shoot different short videos. There was a great response in the classroom and from teachers so I thought there was something to this. I’ve worked on different independent productions, short films and documentaries in high school. After that I drove out to L.A. working on FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and worked on the shoot all the way to post production. I just absorbed and learned massive amounts from that experience. When you’re covered in vampire stripper blood every day you learn a lot.
I do love that movie.
Really? That film keeps gaining fans and climbing the charts! I have great memories from that and learning first hand watching Rodriguez and Tarantino doing their thing. It was more about the spirit of how they made their film and it was like going off and joining the circus – that circus family. Everyone was wearing many hats and the departments bleed together so that was an awesome experience. I went to USC for two years and loaded up on film classes and then left putting my money in short films and getting accepted into film festivals. I also did music and short films and that led to features, which always was the plan. Even before THE APPARITION I had been developing features projects over at Fox Searchlight, Rogue Pictures and Universal. So two years here and then two years there and definitely I learned the agony of developing my work. I’m very appreciative of things happening. I come by it pretty honestly and have been fighting the good fight for a while now but you learn stuff all along the way and it bonds you for the bigger battles.
That’s really important don’t you think? Its good to remember how you got here now, knowing you’ve been pushing to hard. What made you decide to have your first picture be a horror genre film?
Even some of the other films I’d been developing they were horror action and sci-fi. Its one of my top favorite genres, maybe even my favorite but I’m interested in exploring all styles as a filmmaker. I think horror is a great foundation for a filmmaker to build upon. It’s also a great introduction to grow with a career. Even some of my favorite filmmakers got started with horror. Some of the master filmmakers and successful ones started with horror – like shooting for Roger Corman. What’s nice is that a horror film is cinematic in that you are working all the muscles, really visually telling a story and filming the suspense and deciding what not to show. The camera can become another one of the characters in a horror film. Using sound design in smart ways and the score, the horror genre is a visceral experience when you’re trying to get a reaction from the audience or terrorize the audience. For it being your first film is when you go watch it in theatres and watch it with fans and you get that immediate reaction. Like comedy its great to see an immediate response and take the audience on that ride using all these tools.
What goes on in your mind that created this?
I’ve always been a fan of the macabre and the supernatural and the paranormal, unknown stuff. On my own time for fun I’ll have certain paranormal, supernatural conspiracy type websites that I visit and read through. A few years back I came across this story about a think called the PHILLIP EXPERIMENT where in the 1970’s this group of paranormal researchers and parapsychology teachers/students had this theory that people only experience paranormal events because they believe in them or believe they are going to happen. So to test this they did the PHILLIP EXPERIEMENT where they came up with a fictional person and a fictional back-story for this person Phillip and came up with how he lived and loved and died. They would meet up at this suburban house once a week and focus on Phillip and believing in Phillip. For weeks and months nothing happened but over time there was a knock on the table or a thump from the corner of the room or the table would slide a little bit. Then more weeks would go by and the table would more aggressively slide or tip over on its side. More strange happenings started happening in the room and people became so terrified and they stopped the experiment. Since then other people have come up with new versions of this experiment and brought new ideas, theories and technology amping up things. So it was unique and terrifying this idea of people set out to create a ghost or apparition from the power of belief and fear and I thought this was such an interesting thing to explore. It’s also a fresh way into a horror/ghost film. That’s the initial idea and evolved from there.
So tell us about THE APPARITION?
THE APPARITION is about a team of university parapsychology students who set out to create the ghost/apparition and they end up creating something and terrifying things begin to happen. We see how it affects this group with the experiment and how it affects this young couple played by Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan. I’m always very hyper aware of what horror films are out there and what’s been done before. One of the things that separates our film is that it is a fresh new way approaching it from a different direction and adding a little bit of this scientific theory element.
When you were putting it together – I know special effects are a part of getting the story across – where you surprised at what it took to get that?
The way I wrote the script and envisioned the film I am coming at this in a very serious grounded way where it was important for me to do as much stuff as possible with practical effects and physical effects. In most cases the old school way is the better way and it feels and looks more real to the audience. I’ve had some experience in working in visual departments on other films with mechanical effects so as I wrote things I had a good sense of what would be involved and realizing that on the set. Basically, as much as possible use practical effects and only subtle CG for small removal or enhancement of certain images.
Was 3D ever something you thought about?
No, no, no! We never planned for that or discussed it. I think the key thing for me that I think is important to mention here and why people should be excited is that this film, what sets it apart and why people should be excited is that this is not a remake, reboot, sequel, adaptation, not shot on digital film. This is really an original American serious cinematic horror film shot on 35 mm, which is not a give these days. We shot on vintage 235 anamorphic late 1970’s lenses. We were out to really do this the right day, the real deal. My cinematographer, Daniel Pearl, who shot the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and done the remake and other great stuff so he was there in the trenches with me and we got along great trying to make this as grounded as possible.
Audiences are sick of remakes, reimagined, rebooted so it’s nice to be able to say ‘hey, this isn’t that!’ is cool!
That’s the same thing that I feel, hear and see out there. I’m trying to do my small part.
Was that always going to be your intention?
As far as what the technical approach is that we use and implemented I’ll take it on a film-by-film basis. You have to do what’s correct for each project. The key thing that was important to me and the vision I had for the film and other things I’m developing is that this film be not set in the typical horror movie reality where the whole film sort of lives in the horror bubble where everything is typical gothic, grungy, scratchy, rusty sort of go to imagery. We really set out to avoid that. I made it clear to all the departments and crew that it was important to me to capture life in America today in detail. So many horror films are over-thought precious lazy go to horror bubble kind of thing so where I can I want to reinvigorate the genre and give it a fresh new coat of paint and do it more honestly. I think if you have a horror film where things are taking place in an everyday setting and how places look even inside a home. If the character goes to a store or workplace or home, if that can look like what most people know as realistic then when you get to the horror moments it will be more effective because now its relatable.
I can tell you there are some movies I watch and the reason I don’t believe it is not because of the story or the actors – it had to do with the believability of the setting. So lets talk about the cast. You have Ashley Greene, Tom Felton and Sebastian Stan who all have been in blockbusters in their own right. That had to be some pressure?
It wasn’t planned! They are all from their own big pop culture fame!
You have TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER…
And Sebastian who was in CAPTAIN AMERICA! They watched him in THE APPARITION before casting him in CAPTAIN AMERICA. Everybody came in separately and auditioned for the role. Ashley came in and we saw a lot of talent in town but she really nailed this. She brought this likeability to the role. She also asked the right questions and wanted this role doing some chemistry work with Sebastian. Ashley was ready to go all out and get hard-core about this. Sebastian brought this great weight and intensity to this with an elevated layer. Tom Felton came in and did this bold, iconic and effortless audition and was amazing. All together they worked hard and were pleasant to have on the set. Every step of the way we and try to make this as elevated and smart as possible. In rehearsals and in free time we would walk the sets and locations and ask ourselves what would we really do in this scary moment or situation. Not what a horror movie would do but what personally would you do. That really interested their choices and places in the film. The cast and crew all had the best of intentions and really push things. Also, the main thing about this film is that the idea of a full body apparition and having it be the scariest thing. It’s not just any apparition but an inhuman, unknown, benevolent apparitions. It’s not the ghost of anyone living and the house no one lived in before, there isn’t an Indian burial ground or any of that stuff. Again, this experiment happened and it unleashed something and now they are having to deal with that.
When you said you were doing walk through on the set asking what they would do as a person, did that change some of the script for you?
Yes, I’m very open and collaborative and to me the best idea always wins whether it’s a new idea that comes out of rehearsals, in the moment or on set. It can come from an actor or a crew person and if I agree with it I’ll try it or shoot it and keep it. With some of the rehearsal times there would be small things that I would then tweak or adjust in the script that we would learn from doing in rehearsals. You go in with your script and blue print and vision but you have got to roll with things and adjust along the way.
I would think letting their ideas in would again make it more real and believable for the audience.
If it feels correct to me, and all of us then I will try it or inject it into the script. I think all those layers help.
Are you working on anything else now?
I have this project called THE NYE INCIDENT over at RKO Pictures. THE NYE INCIDENT, which is a graphic novel from Whitney Strieber who wrote COMMUNION and WOLFEN and THE HUNGER. I oversaw the great writer Stu Paul and we’ve got our script ready to go and shoot and I’m meeting with actresses and doing the packaging. It’s a very new kind of outside the box take on alien abduction and alien mutilations. It’s based on these real incidences and case files by Whitney Strieber and people who have come to him with their experiences. When I say aliens this is not the pop culture idea of this gray looking character with big eyes or a big mother ship over a major city or bright lights or metallic sci-fi instruments. This is a really grounded unique, very strange, take on our idea of aliens. Its actually just being true and accurate to what people are experiencing out there. Some of the real stuff hasn’t made it to the screens in any way.
COMMUNION is a good book. I have to say ‘now THAT I believe!’
Yes, that’s it. The reason I’m most excited about this project is that I feel that no one has really completely knocked it out of the park on this sub-genre of aliens done. We still have our iconic go to films to reach for. I want to make this feel very real, relatable and terrify all the people that believe in this stuff and all the people that don’t believe – make the believers. That’s next up on deck. I also have at Mandalay I have TWITTERING FROM THE CIRCUS OF THE DEAD based on this short story by Joe Hill. I can’t say much about it but as you can tell from the title its unique. That really is a whole new kind of model that you can’t reference from other films.
I hope you will talk to us again and not get so huge! You like keeping things simple and real as possible and that’s kind of refreshing.
The future stuff that I plan to do – I will be keeping it real. I’m also doing short films to balance out the commercial stuff. My favorite filmmakers, doing a feature film doesn’t make you official. To me this is a life long journey. Making good films whether it’s a one-minute film or a two hours film is what makes you official. Having one person or many people like your film makes it official. I’m interested in all formats, genres, styles and its important to study it all and do it all. I tell students to study it all and go out and live life and take spontaneous road trips and take from life. That’s the best stuff.
I agree with Todd – that is the best stuff. If you love an original story along with a good fright – opening August 24, 2012 is THE APPARITION.