Dan Berk & Robert Olsen talk about ‘Body’
Mark Bartlett caught up with writer/director duo, Dan Berk and Robert Olson ahead of the 2015 FrightFest premiere of their tense, home invasion with a twist thriller BODY. It stars LARRY FESSENDEN (Stake Land, You’re Next, Birth of the Living Dead), HELEN RODGERS , ALEXANDRA TURSHEN, LAUREN MOLINA
Holly, Cali, and Mel are friends all home for the holidays. Convinced by the alpha of the group, the ladies pay visit to a mansion that they’ve been convinced belongs to her uncle. They proceed to party in the house, drinking, dancing, playing games and having a (seemingly innocent) great festive time. The situation quickly escalates when the groundskeeper enters the house to confront the trespassing girls.
Some SPOILERS follow. BODY is available on DVD and VOD now.
C-UF: Hi Dan and Robert, I really enjoyed the movie and was on the edge of my seat throughout. It really got me thinking about the nature of justice and the various moral grey areas presented in your film. What was the inspiration for the premise?
Dan and Robert: There was no singular “eureka” moment. The premise came together slowly over time. We knew we wanted to make a (largely) single location film, so we started to toss ideas back and forth. We played out a whole slew of horror/thriller scenarios and we always wound up liking the ones that featured more of a psychological conundrum rather than the straight up slashers. It wasn’t until we had the premise hammered out that we started to talk about what themes we wanted to explore. We decided we wanted to give our characters difficult decisions to make, rather than just have them be reactive to their circumstances. We hope that when people see the film, they have a bit of hesitation thinking about what they would do in that situation.
C-UF: I felt such empathy for Larry Fessenden’s character and really enjoyed his performance.
Helen, Alexandra and Lauren are fantastic in this movie, and do so much to sell their friendship early on. It looks like the three of them really built a rapport during filming. Were any of these scenes improvised or was everything tightly scripted?
Dan and Robert: The only scene that was largely improv was the seawall scene where they have their Christmas sing along. Everything else is delivered basically as written. They’re all just such fantastic actors with incredible, naturalistic delivery. We got really lucky with the chemistry they had. It’s not something that you can just create as directors – you need great actors who genuinely enjoy playing off one another.
C-UF: I particularly enjoyed the festive setting for Body. I really got into the Yuletide mindset and it really lulled me into a false sense of security. Did anything in particular inspire the Christmas Setting?
Dan and Robert: I think your question pretty much nailed it. It’s nice to place the film temporally, but there’s also something that happens when you hear holiday music; it puts you in a certain mood. For most people (not all) it reminds you of family, food, having work/school off, etc. All things that make you feel a little warm and fuzzy. We wanted people to feel a bit shaken when the terror does unfold.
C-UF: There’s some really dark stuff in there, but rather than relying on gore or cheap shocks Body presents some pretty disturbing moral dilemmas. When writing the script did you want the audience to come away asking any particular questions of themselves in light of what they’ve just seen?
Dan and Robert: To expand on what we said a little earlier, we really wanted people to put themselves in the characters shoes. I think we all have this idea of how we would react in a life or death situation, but when something like that actually happens, people often revert to their more animal instincts. A recurring theme in the film is the idea that we have this sense of right and wrong, this conscience, but that’s something that’s learned. You build it over time. Beneath that, we all still have that animal – that part of you that only has one objective: to survive. Some people just have more control over that animal than others.
C-UF: It sort of reminded me of Peter Berg’s Very Bad Things in a way, in that the friendships are pushed to their absolute conclusions by the end. By the end the survivors have become exactly what they were resistant against at the start of their ordeal. Without incriminating yourselves, do you think you two would act differently in the same situation?
Dan and Robert: It’s tough to say. We’d probably just lay down on the floor and cry until help came. But that movie would kind of suck, wouldn’t it?
C-UF: I bet it was fun to put the characters through the wringer during the screenwriting process, as co-writers did it come together fairly smoothly or was their some healthy conflict in deciding how the third act plays out?
Dan and Robert: We definitely are known to get into some heated discussions when we’re plotting out a film. This wasn’t really one of those times. Everything seemed to flow once we had our premise and characters. If we made a change, it was because one of us had a better idea than what was written down, and we would just go with it.
Dan and Robert: We hope it goes great as well! Right now we’re casting our next feature. It’s another thriller but with some more comedic elements. We’re really excited to get on set and build on everything we learned during the making of BODY.