Tribeca ’11 Exclusive Interview: The Bleeding House’s Philip Gelatt

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From comic books to film…

One of the Tribeca Film Festival’s smaller genre offerings that packed plenty of menace this year was Philip Gelatt’s The Bleeding House – a title that you will understand once you see it. And no, it’s not a chiller about a haunted abode where the walls run red. Gelatt’s slow-simmer tale focuses on a family of four trying to forget about the past and move on. That’s hard to do, however, when a tall stranger – embodied by Patrick Breen (Cirque du Freak, Men in Black) – comes a-callin’ and he’s out to sate his bloodlust. Shock spoke to Gelatt who is making his directorial feature debut with the film.

Shock Till You Drop: What was your background prior to this? Were you dabbling in short films? If you were, what kind of subject matter were you attacking with your films before you did this?

Philip Gelatt: This is actually the very first thing I’ve ever directed, ever. So, I don’t have any short film background. Before this, I wrote some graphic novels and some comics, so that’s my background before tackling this movie.

Shock: Having worked in the comic book medium, what was the drive to branch out?

Gelatt: You know, it’s interesting. I jumped back and forth between comic and film for a while. I was a cinema studies student in college and then I worked as an assistant for a long time and quit doing that and started writing comics. I took a break for comics and tried to get back into film. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do, you know, horror was really the thing that I wanted to try first. This movie is funny because I don’t even know if I would call it a horror film. It doesn’t have quite the gore or sex level that I think counts in horror. I’ve started calling it a dark thriller, which I think sets the expectations in the right place. It’s hard to say. I knew when I started to get back into film that I wanted to get into genre work and definitely start with something that was a little bit darker and more violent.

Shock: Horror is a good warm-up for fledgling filmmakers. And here, you keep it real simple. Single location, heavy on the character drama.

Gelatt: Oh yeah, 100 percent. It was written to be such. I wrote it to be one location, extremely limited cast and just a very manageable team. I have to say that having never directed anything before, for me as a first timer it was still sort of like, “Oh my god, I have bitten off way more than I chew here.” So, it was still hard, but definitely manageable, definitely.

Shock: Did you find the filmmaking experience more gratifying, visually-speaking, having jumped from comics to film? And how much did you plan it all out – did you get heavy with the storyboarding process?

Gelatt: We had it well planned out, yeah. I mean, we just got Frederic Fasano who shot Dario Argento’s last couple of movie. Then when we got him, which was crazy that we got him, we talked a bit about how he wanted to handle it. Again, as a first timer, I was really looking for somebody to hold my hand in terms of the shot composition and stuff. He said that he didn’t want to storyboard, so we just went with it. It was day to day shot-listing. I would have loved to have been actually planned every shot, but given the budgetary and time constraints there were a lot of times when I had to take a deep breath and let it go and move onto the next shot. So, it’s hard working as fast and as cheap as we were working.

Shock: Talk about working with the actors from a first-timer experience, especially Patrick who is playing against type here…

Gelatt: Yes, working with Patrick was amazing. I mean, I think all the actors did a really amazing job, Patrick in particular. We cast him based largely on a conversation I had with him about the character where he had a very particular take on him. Actually, he in a sense redefined the character a little bit from how he’s written. As written, “Nick” is a little bit more overtly ominous and Patrick wanted to play him as evil, but incredibly courteous and politely evil, which I thought was really interesting. So, we decided to go with that take on the character. He was really great to work with. For me, I was honestly a bit afraid of the actors because every department on a film has another language and you have to kind of learn that language. The language of actors is the one that I felt farthest away from, which is really hard. Patrick and I had a really good rapport and he turned in a great performance.

Shock: And how about Alexandra Chando?

Gelatt: Alex was great. She comes from soap operas, which is I think a great place for an actor to learn to act in general and really great because I learned somewhere that in soap operas you only ever get one take. If you work on a soap opera, you learn how to bring you’re A-game in your very first take. Alex was my top choice to play Gloria after seeing her audition, but because Gloria doesn’t speak in the movie very much, I didn’t think a callback was worth it just because I didn’t know what else I was going to have her say. We went for coffee one day and talked about the character and I got a feel for who Alex is as a person and I thought she could do a great job with the role, which isn’t to say that she is like Gloria as a person. [laughs] She has a visual sense about her and a particularly great face. I was telling her that a lot of the movie was going to be anchored around shots of her and her not saying anything, but still acting and still being able to emote without speaking. I made her a really creepy playlist of songs for her to listen to that Gloria listens to, but I made one for her so she could kind of get into the mindset that I was in while I was writing Gloria.

Shock: What were some of the songs on that play list?

Gelatt: At least one PJ Harvey song from her album, I think “White Chalk,” and it’s this song “Dear Darkness.” Then there was at least two Skinny Puppy songs. I don’t think that she’d ever heard Skinny Puppy before. Then, there was definitely a little bit of Nine Inch Nails on there. There was a Cure song on there, “100 Years.”

Shock: With one feature under your belt now, are you ready to tackle something bigger or on the same budget range?

Gelatt: I would love to stay at this level. Maybe a little more money because I would love a little bit more time to shoot. I’ve been doing screenwriting-for-hire work, so I’ve just finished a sci-fi thriller that I was hired to write. Then I have a comic coming out in August that’s like a dark historical science fiction epic about the murder of Rasputin, which is exciting. But in terms of like, something new for me to direct something a little bit more personal, I really haven’t had time to figure out what the hell I’m going to do next.

Source: Shock Till You Drop

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