Carles Torrens

Carles Torrens

Carles Torrens made the leap into directing feature films with his horror flick Apartment 143, which is out on DVD next week.

I caught up with the director to chat about the movie, the difficulties of filming and what lies ahead.

- Your new movie is Apartment 143 so can you tell me a little bit about the movie?

Apartment 143 is, first and foremost, a film about research, about what it’s like to be out in the field gathering data and forming hypotheses. The point is to provide a cold, rigorous, emotionally detached view of a series of events that unfold in a controlled environment set up by a group of scientists.

Though it’s also a horror movie, I want the audience to feel like they’re attending a ground-breaking experiment, experiencing the frustration, excitement, and, ultimately, fear, of discovering something new and potentially dangerous.

- Rodrigo Cortés has penned the screenplay so where did the project start for you and what was it about the screenplay that really interested you?

Rodrigo was originally going to direct the movie himself, but the success of Buried propelled him onto bigger things. In April 2010, he approached me with the offer to direct, and I immediately said yes.

What truly interested me about the project was the opportunity to show the disintegration of a family, and, more specifically, a man, under the cold, unobtrusive scrutiny of a group of people who are there to observe and report.

Aside from the obvious attempts to record paranormal activity, the moment you set up a network of cameras and microphones in a household, you are exposing the true nature of its inhabitants in a way that’s both brutally honest and ruthlessly voyeuristic, stripping away any kind of emotional empathy and ending up with just the facts.

It was precisely this emotionally detached approach to an otherwise melodramatic story that I found extremely appealing.

- Apartment 143 marks your big screen directorial debut so how did you find making that transition?

Before Apartment 143, I had already directed a couple of TV movies, so the transition wasn’t all that difficult.

The real challenge, however, lay in shooting such a special-effects ridden film in merely 20 days while dealing with the merciless Barcelona heat in the middle of August.

- How did your previous work in shorts prepare to make that leap into feature films?

I am a big supporter of the short film form, and I don’t necessarily see them as just a bridge to making features. I think a filmmaker can perfectly combine feature length projects with short-length ones, each of them equally valid in their own world.

Having said that, shorts can also serve as an exceptional testing lab, a way for directors to explore, play with, and push the cinematic language in whichever way they see fit.

- Apartment 143 looks at the scientific side of parapsychology so how much was this something that you knew about? And what sort of research did you do into this area before you started shooting the movie?

To be honest, I knew very little about the world of parapsychology before becoming involved with the project.

Luckily, the script was so well researched and full of detail that I was able to get somewhat of a crash-course after the first couple of reads.

After that, I went through the three main books experts consider to be the pinnacle in this field, and summarized them into a 30-page dossier that I gave the cast as a reading assignment.

- Were there any particular horror movies that you looked at or were you conscious to stay away from those sorts of influences and make your own movie?

The point of the film was to show a series of allegedly supernatural events in a way that was extremely plausible and grounded in reality, so the first half of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist was definitely a point of reference.

Having said that, my main inspiration for Apartment 143 were films like Primer or Pi, which attempt to show a logical impossibility (time travel in the case of the former, and a number that predicts the stock market and defines God in the latter), in a way that seems completely scientific and real.

Both of those films are about research, about inviting the viewer to share the thrill and excitement of a scientist about to discover something entirely new, even if they don’t quite understand what’s going on half of the time.

- Apartment 143 was shot as a found footage documentary. Why did you decide to shoot the film using this technique?

The project was already designed that way when I came on board, so there was never a point where I decided to go that route. However, whereas most 'found footage' films are improvised all the way through, using only a skimpy outline as a road map, Apartment 143 had a locked screenplay from the get-go, which could be shot like a regular movie and still work.

Indeed, this posed a great narrative challenge, for I had to find an analogue cinematic language to hit the beats with the same strength as if I had access to dollies, cranes, and steadycams.

The script never specified how each scene had to be shot (aside from acknowledging the existence of security cameras), so I was constantly struggling to come up with solutions with which to tackle each scene.

For instance, there’s a part involving several characters running around in a small space carrying out several activities simultaneously, which I wanted to have a very chaotic feel; thus, I decided to give them head cameras.

- Kai Lennox, Gia Mantegna and Michael O'Keefe are just three of the names on the cast list so can you tell me a little bit about the casting process?

I initially wanted great actors whom the audience had NEVER seen before, but I soon realized that was pretty much impossible.

Hence, I turned to American television, where you have an endless source of highly talented thespians shining in guest appearances and supporting roles. Also, I looked at veterans who have managed to disappear behind their characters in countless films, like Michael O’Keefe.

- You shot the movie in a four week period so how did you find shooting under such tight time constraints? And what challenges did you face?

Indeed, making such a special effects-ridden film in only four weeks was extremely difficult, but, luckily, we were very prepared.

As a director, I don’t like to improvise on set too much, so I made my storyboards available to the crew way in advance.

In addition, we approached the collaboration between each department differently than in most films.

Usually, every department (camera, sound, wardrobe, make-up, production, etc), works independently from one another, looking only after their own interest.

Here, however, the rule was that everyone needed to help everybody, so as long as things were done in an orderly manner, we didn’t have to deal with the usual hierarchy of a bigger production, making the communication much more immediate.

- And how have you found the response to the movie so far?

We premiered at the Sitges Film Festival in front on about a thousand people, and the reaction was great. It’s very gratifying, as a director, to see everyone in the theatre simultaneously enjoying the ride that you’re created for them.

- Now that you have made the leap into feature film is this where you are planning on staying?

Not necessarily. I want to keep making features, but, for instance, I’ve just directed a short film I’m extremely happy with. And I’d like to branch out into commercials, music videos, web content, etc.

- Finally what's next for you?

I have a couple of feature-length projects in the oven, but it’s too soon to talk about them. Yet, my new short film, Sequence, is hitting the festival circuit very soon, so keep an eye out for it!

Apartment 143 is out on DVD 15th October

Click here to pre-order Apartment 143 on DVD

FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw

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