Paul Solet is set to return to the director's chair this week as his new film Dark Summer is set to hit the big screen. The movie comes six years after he made his feature film directorial debut with Grace and sees him stick with the horror genre.
Mike Le has penned the screenplay this time around, while Solet has brought together a talented young cast that includes Keir Gilchrist, Grace Phipps, Stella Maeve and the experience of Peter Stormare.
We caught up with the filmmaker to chat about Dark Summer, the attraction to Le's script, and working with this talented and young cast.
- Dark Summer sees you return to the director's chair, so can you tell me a bit about the film?
Dark Summer is technically a teenage ghost story, which is a fairly subgenre, but it is an unusual take on it as it is much more stylised and nuanced as well as being a more atmospheric movie than perhaps most audiences are use to seeing. Having said that, it still hits all of those beats that you would expect.
- As I said, you are back in the director's chair for the film, so where did this project start for you? And what was the appeal of Mike Le's script when you read it for the first time?
The project with the producer Ross Dinerstein, who is someone who I have known and respected for many years, and he and I have pitched back and forth trying to find a project to do together for some time. I had a general meeting with him and he said that he had this script, it was called House Arrest at the time, and he was going to do it. He went on to ask me if I would like to direct it.
I don't usually respond to teenage ghost stuff, because of its similarity, but when I read it, I really remembered what it was like to be a teenager and how everything felt so important; the stakes for everything felt very high and every decision felt like the last decision that you would make. That was something that really struck me at that moment, in a way that it hadn't before, as a really inherently cinematic notion; it was something that I could see interpreting in this medium, which I am always looking for.
I write a lot myself, and I often find that I see the plot points coming - which isn't necessarily a bad thing - but I was impressed to find that there were a couple of twists in Mike's script that I just did not see coming. That was a major appeal too.
- How much did the script change from the initial story you read to the film we see on screen? What changes, if any, were you keen to make to help the story fit your vision?
By the time I got on board, the team was really excited about the script in its broad strokes - so the broader plot points were there. From scene to scene, there was some work that was done to… it is a pretty complicated narrative and so one of the things that we did was work on smoothing that stuff out.
Another interesting challenge in the script was the fact that you had an interesting protagonist who starts a bit being the eight ball. He is not an instantly sympathetic guy - the first thing that you discover about him is that he has done something slightly creepy. A big part of that was casting, but a lot of that was working from scene to scene and refining the scene construction to make sure…
I think a person's friends speak very highly of who they are and the way that that person's friends speak about and to them really reflect on that person is. That first act scene construction was really incredibly critical. Then, along the way, it was about refining these scenes to find a new way in - to stop them from becoming scenes that you felt like you had seen before.
- While Dark Summer is a horror movie, I think that it does deal with some quite spiritual elements as well. How much extra research into this area before you started filming? How much is spiritual/paranormal/demonology something that interests you?
Not in my own life, I am not a believer in ghosts. I think that it is your responsibility as a filmmaker to familiarise yourself with that stuff and it is very easy for me to become interested in any subject that I am diving into. We did as much research as we could in the time that we had. A lot of what was done was in conjunction with the art department - they had a lot of work to do. It was a low budget movie with limited resources to work with but they really… what we wanted to do was very ambitious and this is a visually very ambitious movie.
That was something that was very important to me and our production designer was really wonderful about that stuff. She really indulged me in pursuing all of the nuances of the look of the movie and a big part of that was looking at the occult sigils and the language and background behind all of that stuff. We had people like Jason Shawn Alexander contributing work - he is one of my favourite living artists - and it really elevated the piece in another way.
- You have brought together a terrific young cast, so can you talk a bit about getting Keir Gilchrist on board? And what were you looking for when you were casting the role of Daniel?
Thanks. I am so proud of them. They are so good - there is not a weak link among them. With Keir, I saw everyone of that age in Hollywood. I had a really good casting team, they did a very thorough job, and they understood what we were trying to do. I remember what it was like to be a kid and I didn't feel like a kid; so it was important to me to not cast children and also to not cast twenty six year olds with six-pack abs and have perfect hair.
All of that just wasn't my experience when I was growing up. When I was fifteen, I felt a lot older. I was looking for kids that weren't really kids, didn't feel like kids, they felt wiser and had been around and felt real. I wanted highly evolved and intelligent kids - and we got them. They are all phenomenal actors and have a great deal more experience more that I do. There is just so much to learn from surrounding yourself with people who grew working in this business. Also, there were people with a complete lack of pretension, these are people who just love their craft, want to work, were really excited about what we wanted to do, and wanted to elevate the piece into something really special and really build a history with these characters so they felt real.
I had this one moment when we were walking from the trailers to set, and I just looked at them together and I just felt that they were old friends. In the time, that we had to prep it, which was a real accomplishment as this is no the kind of budget where you get a lot of rehearsal time but they all gave me a lot of rehearsal time and really build the history of their characters. I couldn't be happier with that cast and I am just so proud of them.
- Keir is starting to make quite a name for himself with TV and film projects, so how collaborative a process was it between you and the actors?
My own way of working, I feel that a director is a fool not to work entirely with the actor. I feel like that is my job, to get to know them, understand how they like to work and facilitate that. It is a process that is different for everyone with them. I worked with all of them to build there characters; we worked separately and then as a group as well.
- There is just over a week to go until the film is released here in the UK, but how have you been finding the response to the film so far?
It has been good. The last film that I did was something that I had written and worked on for many years in advance, so Dark Summer was a very different process for me. However, I thought it was freeing. It was freeing to not have to be so precious about the text and to be able to focus on directing someone else's text. There are some challenges to that, but it has been cool. I am jut thrilled that I have been able to make another movie.
- Dark Summer is only your second feature film in the director's chair, so what perhaps did you learn on Grace that you were able to take forward and implement on this project?
That is a good question. The learning curve is so steep on all of them, by the time you have finished working on one you wish that you could do it again because you have learnt so much. I didn't fee like that with this. Let me try and answer you question… Grace confirmed many things, it confirmed that if you are excited and care about something, then other people will too.
It confirmed for me that the best way of working is to be unapologetic and fearless about showing how much you care about something. That is how I like to work and that is something that I will carry over into anything - if I lose that, I am not sure how I would make a movie. Filmmaking is definitely about that for me and it was something that I did carry over into Dark Summer.
We had a very short pre-production period on Dark Summer - we had ten days to prep the movie - and so when you a situation like that and you have limited resources, it really is a testament to the producers and department heads; you can't do what we wanted to do unless you have people who are prepared to go above and beyond.
That is what these guys did. I really had wonderful people working on this, from my amazing cinematographer Zoran Popovic, to production designer Ariana Nakata, to Ross Dinerstein and his team, right through to editorial where I had editor Josh Ethier and my close collaborator Austin Wintory, who just did a phenomenal, unusual and beautiful score.
- You are also one of the directors on board Tales of Halloween. Can you tell me a bit about that and what we can expect from your segment of the film?
That was great fun. We just had a lot of creative freedom. My friends Neil Marshall and Axelle Carolyn said that they were putting this thing together along with Mike Mendez. They said that they were going to make this anthology film and I have always loved anthology films; a lot of by most vivid and beloved childhood memories with movies are watching anthology movies.
They said that they were going to do something, keep the budget low so they had a lot of creative control, and just do a crazy Halloween anthology. I basically thought about my cinematic fetishes and the things that I wouldn't necessarily get to do as a feature, and I love Spaghetti Westerns and wanted to do a modern Spaghetti Western and explore that atmosphere and that operatic staging. I also love Walter Hill and movies like The Warriors, and I thought that these two things could live in the same world.
Therefore, my segment of the movie is called The Weak and the Wicked and is like Sergio Leone meets The Warriors. I use to be a bike messenger and love bicycles and so I got to explore that as well. I am really proud of the piece and it has come out really well.
- Finally, what's next for you going through the rest of 2015?
I have something that I can't quite talk about yet. I have a passion project - I suppose you would call it an existential crime film. That is the most that I can say about it at the moment, but that is probably the next thing that I will do.