Fantasia 2019: David Marmor & Alok Mishra talk the thriller 1BR
While attending Fantasia Fest in Montreal earlier this summer we got to see the nail-biting horror thriller 1BR, which could be the first in a very cool franchise. ComingSoon.net got an exclusive chat with 1BR‘s ambitious first-time feature director David Marmor and first-time producer Alok Mishra on bringing this intense story to the screen, and you can check out the full interview below!
After leaving behind a painful past to follow her dreams, Sarah scores the perfect Hollywood apartment. But something is not right. Unable to sleep, tormented by strange noises and threatening notes, her new life quickly starts to unravel. By the time she learns the horrifying truth, it’s too late. Caught in a waking nightmare, Sarah must find the strength to hold onto her crumbling sanity…or be trapped forever in an existential hell.
1BR is the debut from writer/director David Marmor and produced by Alok Mishra and Shane Vorster for Malevolent Films, Allard Cantor and Jarrod Murray for Epicenter, as well as Nic Izzi and Sam Sandweiss, and executive produced by Peter Phok.
The film’s diverse cast includes Alan Blumenfeld (Heroes), Taylor Nichols (PEN15, Jurassic Park III), Naomi Grossman (American Horror Story), Giles Matthey (Once Upon A Time, True Blood), Earnestine Phillips (Here Comes the Boom), Susan Davis (Wargames), Clayton Hoff, Celeste Sullivan and Nicole Brydon Bloom as Sarah, in her debut feature film. 1BR features a vibrantly nightmarish score from celebrated composer Ronen Landa, best known for his work on horror hits The Pact and At the Devil’s Door.
ComingSoon.net: How long was the journey of 1BR from initial script development to premiering the film at Fantasia?
David Marmor: That’s actually a bit of a complicated question! I had the seed of the idea way back when I first moved to LA in my early 20s. I wrote a very early draft, but then put it on the shelf for a long time. In 2016, my managers Allard Cantor and Jarrod Murray asked if I had any other scripts for them, and I somewhat reluctantly dusted off “1BR.” To my surprise, they saw enough potential that they signed on to produce. I spent about six months completely rewriting the script and then Allard and Jarrod got it to Alok Mishra and Shane Vorster at Malevolent Films, who took a huge leap of faith on me as a first-time feature director.
Alok Mishra: We read the script in spring of 2017, started preproduction in September, and went into production in December.
David: A month after we wrapped, my wife and I had our first child, which slowed down the editing process quite a lot. By summmer 2018 we had a cut, but we all felt we could strengthen the movie a lot with a few more days of shooting.
Alok: Because of the cast’s busy schedules, it took us until September to get everyone back together.
David: I then went back to the editing room, and by the end of 2018 we’d locked picture. We had a massive number of VFX shots given our budget, so we had to call in a bunch of favors and I ended up doing a chunk of the shots myself. It took us right up to a few days before our premiere at Fantasia Fest to finish all the VFX, sound, music and color. We barely made it!
CS: What were the biggest speed bumps in getting it made?
Alok: As with most indie productions we had to find money. Once we had money and had our cast, three days before shooting we lost three of our leads due to various circumstances.
David: Yeah, for a while there it looked like the whole production might implode before we shot a frame. We experienced just about every disaster that could befall a production. After we’d already delayed shooting to recast, wildfires broke out near our apartment complex location, and that further delayed our start.
Alok: Then during production someone stole one of our equipment trucks in the middle of the night. Our heroic parking PA followed the stolen truck and called the police, who recovered it after a high-speed chase that ended up on the TV news. We were only delayed two hours because of our incredible team, who leapt into action to handle yet another disaster.
David: At some point we actually started joking (uneasily) that the production was cursed. It’s a testament to the whole production team that they managed to overcome all these obstacles and get so much value onscreen for the money.
CS: Nicole Brydon Bloom gives a terrific anchoring performance. How did you land on her for the lead?
David: The casting process was very tough on this movie. Nicole was always at the top of my list for Sarah. She gave an incredible audition, perfectly embodying Sarah and hitting the entire, rather daunting, emotional range of the character. But business decisions play a role in casting as well, and in the end we offered the role to a high-profile actor whose name would help sell the movie. Then, with a few days to go before shooting, that actor dropped out. We made Nicole a last-minute offer, and to our huge relief she immediately said yes, and was on a plane to Los Angeles the next day. In the end, having that other actor drop out was the best thing that ever happened to this movie. I doubt we could’ve even made it through our crazy shooting schedule without her ability to hit just the right note on the first or second take. She’s an absolutely amazing actor and a wonderfully kind and generous person, and I cannot imagine “1BR” without her in the lead.
Alok: We strongly feel that we traded up with Nicole and she is going to be very successful in this industry. We were lucky to have her and in some ways we feel that her performance in our film may be her breakout star-making performance.
CS: There’s a point in the film where your lead character Sarah is getting tortured badly, but the movie smartly doesn’t turn into torture porn. Were there people who read it who wanted it to go in a more conventional route like torture porn or found footage?
David: If they did, they didn’t tell me!
Alok: We didn’t want to make torture porn movie and we knew the violence needed to be effective but short.
David: I felt it was important to go through that experience with Sarah in order to understand and accept her transformation. I think we all worried about that section feeling too exploitative, but in the first cut we had the opposite problem: it didn’t land with enough emotional weight, I think because I’d instinctively kept my distance from it directorially. That was one of the key sections we focused on in during additional photography, mainly getting close reaction shots of Sarah to bring us into her experience.
CS: The cult in this apartment complex has a lot of similarity to a certain famous science fiction-based religion that has a huge presence in LA (the taped confession sessions, separating from family members, slave labor, cult literature with stages of accomplishment, etc), but were there other similar groups that you drew inspiration from?
David: The most direct inspiration for the community is actually a group called Synanon, which started in Los Angeles in the late 1950s as a drug rehab organization, then slowly degenerated into a cult that became more and more repressive and violent. I found Synanon fascinating in part because of how pure their original motivations were. I was drawn to the idea of how a group whose values I actually think are very good could end up going down a very dark path while trying to spread those values. Another inspiration was behavioral psychology, which has always fascinated me as a stark example of the moral ambiguity of science. Behaviorists have made some amazing breakthroughs in understanding human psychology and helping overcome addiction, PTSD, and other terrible afflictions. But behaviorists also have a very dark history of horribly unethical experiments, as well as using their expertise to develop techniques of repression, torture and brainwashing.
CS: Taylor Nichols made such a huge impression in the 90’s as the nice guy in all the Whit Stillman movies. What made you think of casting him as such a sadist?
David: Alok gets the credit for that!
Alok: I’m a huge Taylor Nichols fan and have been since I saw “Metropolitan.” I met Taylor at a party and I immediately assaulted him with my enthusiasm. I told him I loved him in all the Whit Stillman movies but I also listed four other things I saw him in so he truly knew I was a fan. I also mentioned that I had a “Metropolitan” poster hanging in my house and he seemed genuinely tickled/impressed by that. A year later I called him up while he was on vacation in Michigan and said, “Hey I’m that crazy Indian guy who assaulted you with kindness and who had the ‘Metropolitan’ poster in his house. I got a really cool role for you!”
David: From my perspective, the dilemma with casting Jerry was that he needs to read as a harmless family man at the beginning, but then have a commanding presence once he is revealed as the leader of the community, and finally to go very dark at the end. When Alok suggested Taylor, I watched a bunch of his work and then talked with him at length about the character. One of my core tenets with this movie was that the community members all truly believe they are helping Sarah. Jerry doesn’t see himself as a sadist; he believes it’s an unpleasant necessity to do what he does in order to save people from themselves. Taylor immediately got all the contradictions in Jerry and it was clear he could play this whole range. I think he gave a really wonderful, creepy performance.
CS: This film follows the low budget principal of having most of the action take place in one location, but it happens to be a big location (an entire apartment complex) with a lot of main characters, secondary characters and extras. In what ways did you push your budget in order to sustain such an expansive cast and environment, as opposed to the usual haunted cabin movie with five characters?
David: We pushed our budget every way we could think of, and even then we only barely made it! Given the scale of the script, our shooting schedule was very very short, which pushed everyone. Our cinematographer, David Bolen, worked absolute magic as he and his amazing crew kept us shooting nonstop while still making everything look perfect. (We actually ended up having two other cinematographers, Ben Rutkowski and Juan Sebastian Baron, shoot sections of the movie due to scheduling issues, and both of them did amazing work under very difficult circumstances.) The actors were just as key. We had no time for rehearsal, so most of them met each other for the first time on set, but everyone came together and were so supportive of each other and of me. We just were so lucky to have this ensemble. Another big part of it was being economical with our locations. I’d always had the idea that we could shoot the interiors on a single set, redressing it for the different apartments, and that’s exactly how we did it in the end. Ricardo Jattan, our amazing production designer, created this beautiful set we could reconfigure for all the different interiors. His team worked some truly awful hours overnight redressing the set so we could shoot the next look the following day. And finally, we couldn’t afford the number of extras the script called for, so instead we begged all our friends and family to come out for free and be in the movie. Oddly, that turned out to be an advantage as it helped create a real sense of family on the production as we all pulled together to make it happen. I also just love seeing so many of my loved ones onscreen every time I watch the movie.
CS: This film leaves the door wide open to expanding the world of “1BR” in sequels. How much of the architecture of a followup is currently laid out (idea, treatment, full script, etc)? Also, without getting into spoilers, would a sequel include Sarah or would it follow other characters or even get into prequel territory?
David: I think we’d all be very happy if the movie does well enough to justify a sequel! I think right now we just want to let it find its way to the world and see how people respond to it. That said, having spent so many years developing this world, I’ve thought a lot about other stories that could be told around this community and as well as where Sarah’s story might go from here, and we’ve discussed various directions we could go.
Alok: We definitely have some ideas. We can’t really get into specifics but we have a whole world that we’ve thought of that could be really cool given the right budget.
CS: For David, what was this first feature experience like for you and what do you plan to do different or build on for your second feature?
David: Making “1BR” was the most exciting, happy, exhausting, painful, joyous experience of my professional career. The only life experience that surpasses it is starting a family (I don’t recommend doing that at the same time as making a movie, as my wife and I did). What would I do differently if I’m lucky enough to make another movie? Almost everything! I’d hope to have a bit more time, both during shooting and in pre-production, to plan and previsualize and especially to have at least a short rehearsal period with the cast. What I would do exactly the same is to try and build the kind of tight-knit, supportive team of hugely talented people we had on this movie, both behind and in front of the camera.
CS: What other projects do you both have percolating?
Alok: Shane Vorster, my producing partner at Malevolent Films LLC, and I are doing a bigger-budget sci-fi/horror film next. We are currently in the casting phase and look to shoot in the winter. We also have another project that we would love to do with David which we can’t discuss in detail at present. I can say that it is a much larger-budget film and we think it will definitely continue to establish David as a powerhouse writing/director auteur.
David: I’m blushing! Meantime, I’m also in early stages on a new script, and looking forward to getting back to writing after a long hiatus.