Exclusive Tribeca 2011 Interview: Panos Cosmatos

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Director of Beyond the Black Rainbow

Playing to Tribeca Film Festival audiences this year, Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow is a surreal journey that – on a visual level – recalls the works of Stanley Kubrick or Ken Russell’s Altered States and injects it with a bold, synth-fueled akin to Tangerine Dream. And it’s not “check your brain at the door” genre fodder, by any means.

Cosmatos weaves a deliberately paced period tale (it’s set in 1983) – starring Michael Rogers and Eva Allan – that plays on telekinesis, science and spirituality while focusing on a young, imprisoned girl named Elena (Allan) who is being studied by Dr. Barry Nyle (Rogers) in a “futuristic” facility. Genre-savvy fans will notice Cosmatos’ various influences, but that won’t deter them from being absorbed into Beyond the Black Rainbow‘s hypnotic glow. It’s a film that challenges the viewer, however, Cosmatos delivers a handful of sinister rewards.

Shock spoke to the writer-director about his feature directorial debut while he was in New York.

Shock Till You Drop: Right off the bat, let’s talk about the picture stylistically. It’s set in ’83 and adapts to a very sterile, ordered canvas.

Panos Cosmatos: Over the course of several years I discovered that the images that really moved me were things that were filmed in that style, and so that became the style of the film.

Shock: How long had you been developing the script for it?

Cosmatos: The script existed in various forms for a very long time, but it was all in the last three years that I sort of honed in on it and realized exactly what I wanted to make of it and I shaped it into what it is today.

Shock: Is the final product drastically different than what you had envisioned originally?

Cosmatos: I mean, compared to what it was many years ago, it was a completely different movie, really. But, compared to when I re-focused in on it three years ago, the final film is very close to that, but still, I’m surprised to actually see the film got made. [laughs]

Shock: Thematically, what was the genesis. What ideas were resolute from the very beginning that you carried through to fruition?

Cosmatos: The inspiration for the feel of the film was when I was a kid at a video store I was not allowed to watch horror films or watch R-rated films. So, I would, you know, look at the boxes and I would read the descriptions on the back and just start imagining what these films would be like. I went back to that and realized that I wanted to make one of those imaginary films. I also went back, thematically, to stuff like, the baby boomer generation and other elements and I just sort of injected those into this sort of genre setting.

Shock: I’m curious, which ’80s video boxes stirred your curiosity the most?

Cosmatos: To be honest, I don’t remember too many specific ones because I would just be kind of off in my own dream world imagining these films, which had very little to do with the actual reality of what the films were about. When I was writing it, I made a slight choice to not going back to look at those films because I wanted to maintain a distance from them, you know? So it would be more obscure, I would not distracted.

Shock: How much prep time did you have to play with trippy visuals you pull off in the film? Did you have time to experiment?

Cosmatos: We didn’t have a lot of time, but we did shoot a day of tests to work out different looks. A lot of the looks were pre-planned based on still frames from a handful of films that we wanted to sort of have like, a starting point for the feel and of the look.

Shock: Discuss your collaboration with your director of photography, Norm Li, who really gets to explore a wide color palette here.

Cosmatos: Yeah, it was beautiful. I basically just met with a bunch of cinematographers that were available in Vancouver at the time and looked at their reels and Norm’s reel was by far the best one. After talking to him, I realized that he was on the same page as far as understanding what I was going for. So, it was kind of a no-brainer.

Shock: Visually, the film is striking, but can you talk about the score which relies heavily on synth?

Cosmatos: Well, obviously the music was very important to me and I met Jeremy Schmidt through a friend and I heard his solo records “Sinoia Caves”, and we talked and we share a lot of similar interests and obsessions when it comes to music and films.

Shock: I’m familiar with your lead actor Michael Rogers but where did you find Eva Allan?

Cosmatos: I just found them, I auditioned and lots of people came and read and right away as soon as Michael spoke a line I knew that he was perfect for it and I just made up my mind on the spot. And, Eva seemed to really embody, instinctually, embody and understand what the character was about, because she is naïve and a little bit animalistic, but also extremely sort of afraid of her environment. I think Eva was trained in sort of a school of sensory acting, and she just really seemed to embody and understand exactly how to be without me even having to push. I mean, me and Michael talked a lot about who Barry Nyle was, but me and Eva didn’t discuss her character very much outside the set. I mean, she instinctually understood how to play the part.

Shock: I’m curious about some of those sets, how much were you recycling some of those corridors from scene to scene?

Cosmatos: [laughs] Yeah, the set was built modularly so we could move doors and walls and then put in different units and yeah, it was a totally modular design. We didn’t have much time or money, but we figured out how to do it.

Shock: What did you take away from your feature directing debut? Anything you learned about yourself, creatively?

Cosmatos: Well, I’m really interested in the idea of making genre films, but movies have a much more personal undercurrent to them and that look beautiful, and that’s sort of the films I’m kind of interested in making.

Shock: Horror-wise, you go full-tilt-boogie in the last leg of the film.

Cosmatos: The third act? Yeah, I wanted to film that at the end. That was just a pure genre element.

Shock: How has the reaction been so far at Tribeca

Cosmatos: It’s been great. I mean, obviously it’s not a movie that’s for everybody. [laughs] But, I think the people that connect with it really, really connect with it and, yeah, I think it’s really nice.

Watch a trailer for the film right here!

Source: Shock Till You Drop

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Weekend: Oct. 25, 2018, Oct. 28, 2018

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