We’ve all heard about films sometimes being really hard to make. The conditions director Adam Green made his upcoming film Frozen under were nothing short of psychotic. Dread Central received a Q&A with Green in which he sheds a lot of light on this chilly new project!
“>Frozen starring Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, and Kevin Zegers makes its debut at Sundance 2010 and will then be playing in select theatres on February 5th courtesy of Anchor Bay Films.
Why did you want to make Frozen?
While I can never predict what my ideas will be or where they will come from, as soon as I had the basic beats of the story and the characters for FROZEN, I knew it had to be the film I made next. The concept of being left behind on a ski lift really struck a chord with anyone I brought it up to, and the primal fears that the story plays on felt like just the right ingredients to really deliver an audience with true thrills. FROZEN was extremely ambitious and challenging in regards to creating and sustaining terror and suspense with such a contained scenario and only three actors who can’t even move. Throw in the physical challenges we faced with telling a story that is taking place in severe weather and fifty feet off of the ground, and FROZEN simply excited me and challenged me. As a director, these are the kinds of stories you dream of telling. When you can’t sleep because you’re thinking about it and you’re terrified each day you go to set because people are telling you that what you’re doing is crazy… that’s when you really feel like you’re part of something special.
What makes the film unique?
One of the most unique things about the film is the fact that every frame of it was shot practically. While most producers and production companies I met with were adamant that the film have at least a good portion of it shot in the safety and comfort of a sound stage or against a green screen, I have too much respect for my audience to try to pass a “survival film” off on them that did not look and feel 100% authentic. Everyone involved at Peter Block’s “A Bigger Boat” production company understood and respected that. It was one of many reasons why they were the best home for this project. The actors and the crew were really out there. We were really fifty feet in the air. The weather, the cold, and the elements we faced were all real. And it’s because of that realism that the movie’s tension never lets up. There is no relief.
How/where did you come up with the story?
I was watching the morning news in Los Angeles where the weather report is always the exact same thing. When they show the forecast, however, they always pull up a visual from a different part of the area to be the background behind the graphics. On that particular morning the background was a streaming feed from Big Bear ski resort. At 7am the mountain was not yet open and operational, so the chairs on the lift were all just hanging there. In a flash the image on the screen brought me back to my childhood days of skiing, and it reminded me of how scary it is to be on a lift when it stops for no reason. Where I grew up in the Boston area, the mountains that I skied on were not the glamorous resorts that you see in commercials for the major mountains out West or in the far Northeast. They were low-rent mountains with merely a few operational chairs that were often only operational on the weekends due to lack of business during the weekdays. I started thinking about how shady some of those lifts seemed back then and how terrified everyone on the lift would get when it would inevitably stop for a few moments. I drove in to the office that morning and excitedly explained my “high concept thriller” idea for FROZEN to the rest of the guys at my production company, ArieScope Pictures. It was probably the easiest pitch I’d ever done as it was so clear-cut and straight-forward. “Three skiers, forgotten and stranded on a chair lift at a New England mountain that’s closed for the week.” Everyone was instantly on board, with no questions asked. We even decided that we would produce the film completely on our own. “It’s just three people in a chair. How hard could it be?” Man, were we wrong. And boy, were we in for it.
What were the challenges of writing the script?
I actually wrote FROZEN while on the set of a movie I was producing called GRACE (which world premiered at Sundance last year). When inspiration hits, I just have to go with it. As much as I’d love to have my best writing happen when it is scheduled to happen at home in my nice office, more often than not it happens at the worst times – like during friends’ weddings, in airport bathrooms, or on the set of a different film. Conceptually the hardest part of the film was the dialogue. The story beats were easy and the thrills and terror moments were all there from the conception of the idea, but for any of it to matter or really have an effect on the audience, they would have to believe and feel like they knew the characters. It’s a tricky situation with films like these as if you use too much comedy to win over the audience, the tide can turn and dilute the suspenseful moments. At the same time, if the audience isn’t enjoying watching the characters, you wind up with a film where people just wait to see “how they die.” My producers were well aware of the fine line I had to walk, and they encouraged and pushed me to keep making the script more personal on every re-write and polish that I did in pre-production. In the end, it was the best advice I ever could have gotten. FROZEN wound up being a very emotional film that really tugs on the heart strings at times, something that most suspense/thrillers cannot accomplish. It really gets you, and I think a great part of that is because all three of these characters are real people and every story they tell and everything they say is so obviously coming from the heart. My heart. It’s a very open and personal film where I really laid it all out there and left myself very vulnerable on the page.
How/why did you choose the cast you did?
In Hollywood I have found that many young actors are more interested in being famous than actually working on the craft of acting. For many of today’s Hollywood youth, they are more interested in how famous a role can make them, how many Twitter followers they will get from the marketing campaign, how many times they can get on TMZ, and how pretty they will look in the finished film. I’m very good at sniffing out the poseurs during casting, and with this film it was no different. Once word got out that my plan was to shoot the film all practically, many turned away in fear. So while my unpopular decision to shoot the film the way I did drastically cut way down on the amount of actors I would be seeing to read for the roles, I knew right off the bat that I was going to be seeing the real deal walk through the doors. Emma Bell was surprisingly the very first person to walk in and read for the film. At the end of the casting process, she had become the standard to which every other actress was held, and she got the part. That may be a “first” in Hollywood. She was real, she was very sympathetic, and most of all – she could really, really act. I had met Kevin Zegers years ago through a mutual friend and was very familiar with his work on screen. When he and I sat down to discuss FROZEN, you could tell right away that he was not just another pretty face. He sat down with countless ideas and questions for me, something that as a director I long for. There’s nothing worse than an actor who just wants to be told where to stand and how to say the lines. Actors like Kevin who constantly contribute and bring their own soul to the project are more appreciated in the process than anyone can possibly imagine. And Shawn Ashmore not only fit the role and had the chops, but he and Kevin had been best friends for almost two decades in real life. You can’t buy that kind of natural chemistry between actors. Shawn’s character in FROZEN has the biggest and most radical arc so in many ways he inevitably started stealing scenes before our eyes. Some nights it almost felt like watching a boxing match on the chair as these extremely talented actors just kept hitting me so hard with all that they had. You didn’t know who to watch or where to focus on next. There was no weak link, and all three of the actors really carried the film over the finish line.
What was the most challenging part of shooting the film?
One of the most difficult aspects of shooting the film was shooting the scenes that take place while the lift is still operational and moving. While on the page, I just assumed we’d use a hostess tray off of the actors’ chair and then perhaps a second camera shooting back at them from the chair in front of theirs. I was soon to find out that both of those ideas would not work. Due to weight limits and the actors’ safety, there was no way that a camera could be attached to the actors’ chair – period. Plus, had I shot these lengthy scenes of dialogue entirely from the chair in front of them, the movie would have failed cinematically. Everything would have been one focal length and from one perspective. The audience would have felt like they were just watching the characters rather than feeling what it’s like to ride one of those rickety chairs up the mountain. So my Director of Photography (Will Barratt) worked with our grip department to build a rig that felt a bit like a “cherry picker” basket that would hang from the lift cable directly in front of the actors’ chair. Since no one had really done this before and since the ski mountain would not endorse the rig as 100% safe, my camera crew was quick to tap out of the ring for these scenes. Will and I found ourselves strapped in to this sketchy rig and shooting all of these scenes ourselves. When it’s just two of you up there with no camera support, it’s nearly impossible to change lenses or even just to slate the cameras. There we were, fifty feet in the air, in huge gusts of wind, in the middle of the night, at 10,000 feet, using the actors to help us change lenses and slate the shots… and I’m thinking to myself, “I’m afraid of heights! That’s why I wrote this? What the hell am I doing up here?” Thankfully no one was ever hurt, but there were many times on set that the cast or the crew was in real danger.
What do you hope audiences will experience while watching the film?
I would love for audiences to experience real primal terror, suspense, fear, and hope. I want them to have an emotional ride. I hope they see and appreciate the epic challenge that a film like this was to pull off and that it reminds them of the type of storytelling that the real film greats used to do. Not a bloated, effects ridden, fake looking, CGI fest – but a movie that prides itself on such things as the writing, directing, and acting. I hope they are exhausted when it is over and that FROZEN becomes the thing that they don’t want to talk about whenever they go skiing for as long as they live. I want to leave some scars and become a part of my audience’s subconscious from this day forward.
Have you always wanted to be a screenwriter/filmmaker? If not, what got you into screenwriting/filmmaking? If so, why?
It all started with E.T. telling Elliott “I’ll be right here” and leaving on his spaceship. I’ve never cried so hard in my life, and even at the tender age of eight, I realized that a film had completely taken control of my emotions. I knew that it was only a movie. I knew that E.T. wasn’t real. I knew that it was just a rubber costume that had walked up the plank to that fake spaceship; yet, I was crying like I’ve never cried since. I left the theater that summer absolutely blown away by the process of filmmaking, and I knew then that this was what I wanted to do. When your father is a gym teacher and your mom teaches Hebrew school in an average rural New England town, dreams of Hollywood and filmmaking are not always supported or encouraged by the other kids and authority figures around you. I had more than my fair share of people try and tell me how hard it is or that I needed connections and money to attempt a real shot at this. Everywhere I turned, even in film school, people were telling me the odds. But as Han Solo said, “Never tell me the odds.” Every film I get the chance to make and every little victory each film accomplishes, I always remind myself how lucky I am to actually have a career in this industry. This business is so hard, you are down way more often than you are up, and it’s not exactly fair as to which projects get made and supported, which ones get dumped into obscurity, and which ones just don’t ever get a chance; but no one is here because they think it’s a good place to be or because it makes sense for their sanity and livelihood. We’re here because there is nowhere else that we could possibly go.
Who are your favorite screenwriters/filmmakers?
Some of my favorite filmmakers are Alfred Hitchcock, John Landis, Chris Columbus, John Hughes, Guillermo del Toro, George Lucas, and John Carpenter. But above all will always be Steven Spielberg. As with many of the filmmakers of my generation, Steven Spielberg is the reason so many of us got into this in the first place. He’s my inspiration as an artist and my aspiration as a human being.
What upcoming projects are you currently working on?
I am currently in production on the sequel to my 2007 hit HATCHET. In many ways it is the victory lap for those of us who made the first film against all odds back in 2005. HATCHET was a great example of having doors slammed in my face and people telling me the odds for years; yet, it went on to win over an army of genre fans worldwide and become one of the biggest selling hits that its distributor has ever had. While some in my camp feared that making the sequel would be too much of a lateral move during a period where my career is quickly moving forward, to me making the sequel is a celebration; it’s my party, and it’s where my heart is. I can’t describe the feeling of getting the band back together and standing on that set five years later to hear my AD yell “Pictures up on HATCHET 2” and listen to the crew scream and cheer for all that we accomplished. This industry is made up of very brief wonderful moments, and this is one of them. I also have a romantic comedy script called GOD ONLY KNOWS that my company (ArieScope Pictures) is currently producing with Chris Columbus’ 1492 Films and which will hopefully get off the ground and shooting soon.
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