There are a lot of roles in the film industry that don't get nearly enough praise. Sure, there's a big reason that directors and stars get the spotlight, but there are legions of contributors without whom films simply wouldn't be the same. Take sound design, for example. A beautiful, rich, layered sound mix that showcases every creak of the floor boards, every whistle of the wind, every drop of blood is absolutely crucial to sustaining any kind of atmosphere in a horror movie. So if you love learning about the less glamorous and more technical side of filmmaking, I'd like to introduce you to Graham Reznick.
Reznick is a regular collaborator of Ti West and one of the usual suspects at Glass Eye Pix, who for my money is the most interesting horror production outfit operating right now. He's the man responsible for the sound design on almost all of Glass Eye's features, including West's masterpiece, The House of the Devil. He's not just a fantastic sound designer, though, he's also a fascinating director. His feature debut I Can See You and his short film The Viewer are both available on DVD, but they're also playing in LA tonight at the Downtown Independent Theater, which gave us a great opportunity to speak to Reznick about his work.
The conversation opens talking about The Viewer, which is a short filmed entirely from the first person perspective of a man who is, for reasons not immediately known, being interrogated by a man in lab coat. It's a perfect platform for exploring the more artistic side of 3D, which is not exactly what one typically associates with 3D filmmaking.
Horror Squad: The Viewer is being turned into a feature called The Teleport, right?
Graham Reznick: Yep, The Teleport. I've been developing it for the past year or so. I have a script, I've been working on it with Peter Phok who produced House of the Devil, I Can See You, I Sell the Dead, most of the last batch of Glass Eye Pix films. We're developing in conjunction with Glass Eye Pix.
HS: And it will be in 3D as well, correct?
Reznick. That's the idea. The story of The Viewer, the structure, has been transposed into what has become the story for The Teleport. That structure uses 3D in a way that I feel I want to see 3D used.
HS: Oh, absolutely. I assume given your background that you're pretty well connected to the indie horror community. Do you think there is a growing groundswell of fellow filmmakers who are talking about making 3D movies? Do you think people want to get in on it or is it a, "We'll leave that to Hollywood" kind of thing?
Reznick: I've seen it occurring on both levels. I'm excited that you think I'm very connected to the film world, though. I know the Glass Eye Pix folks and a few people outside of that, but...
In a funny sense the answer is yes and no. I've seen backlash to the idea that 3D is only something that's added to Hollywood films that don't need it as a gimmick to get people's money. And while I don't think that's necessary true of the film's that Hollywood is doing that too, I do feel that because only big Hollywood movies are what people are familiar with it tends to create a sense of unease about it, which I think is unfortunate since it's so ripe for exploration in the indie world.
Especially now that anyone can really do it. Pretty soon prosumer cameras will be coming out – they may already even be out – that shoot 3D. So really anyone who can get their hands on a camera at all will be able to do it. I think when that happens there will be much more of a sense of interest in experimenting with it artistically.
Just to a drop a name, because I find this completely fascinating, and I don't know if he's talked about this publicly, but I was recently talking to Joe Swanberg, one of the guys who has done a lot of mumblecore type movies, and he professed his love for the idea of 3D being something that can illuminate the intricacies and subtleties of regular life. That got me really excited, the prospect of Joe Swanberg directing a 3D movie, because his movies are so subtle and so in the moment. Could be pretty neat.
HS: Definitely. 3D is at it's best when used for a purpose. I particularly like, in your case with The Viewer, when a filmmaker keeps the audience in mind. With the Viewer, and I assume with The Teleport, it's not a gimmick, it has a function; it adds a layer to the experience that would be lesser otherwise.
Reznick: Well, in Hollywood's defense, I've seen it used very well in certain areas. In others they're just focused on making the movie and the 3D is just there. But oddly enough, and this is such a weird thing because I'm not a big fan of the series having just not seen them, but I did go out and see The Final Destination 3D. I don't know how well it fits in with the rest of them, but I was impressed with the use of 3D in that film. Not because it was particularly groundbreaking, but because of how subjective it was. Whenever this kid had visions of people dying in the future, you experienced his visions in a very subjective way that came from his perspective. I think that's a really great use of 3D and that's, of course, what The Viewer is and what The Teleport will be. I am excited when I see in a big Hollywood film that kind of 3D being explored.
HS: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to going 3D on a smaller scale? I guess they're vanishing with the lower cost of cameras, but is the technology really the only obstacle?
Reznick: Well, I would say hard drive space and processing power and patience. I shot I Can See You on HD with the HVX200, basically three months after that came out. Now HD is everywhere and the iPhone 4 can shoot 720 HD. When we shot I Can See You in 2006, we had no idea what to do with the MXF files that were coming out of the camera. It was a completely new prosumer format. It had been working well at the higher professional levels for a while, but for a small production company to grab an HD camera that just hit the market for a reasonable price, it was hard to figure out what to do with it.
Final Cut hadn't really figured out a way to deal with those files and Avid had kind of started to figure out a way to deal with those files. I honestly feel like the bigger challenges are the standards. There really aren't great workflow standards yet for 3D. I'm creating a weird little Frankenstein workflow, which I thought was interesting. I've seen other people work with it as well, but I'm using Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects because Premiere can edit After Effects files while they're still open in After Effects. You can still be messing around with the files in After Effects and have them reflected in your edit in Premiere. So After Effects can be used to create 3D compositions and then it's easiest to edit them that way. I'd recommend that to anyone trying to make 3D on a low budget.
HS: I'm a bit of a neophyte as far as 3D filmmaking goes, so I'm very unfamiliar with the process, but Friday's presentation of The Viewer will be using polarized 3D whereas the DVD is anaglyph; what did you actually shoot it in?
Reznick: 3D is actually really simple when it comes down to it. You're just shooting a left image and a right image and you're just mirroring what the human eye has input into the brain. You can play around with that, moving them far apart to make it really deep, moving them close to make it shallow. But you end up with just two images and those free files can be taken and put into any format you want. You can do it anaglyph red-blue, you can make it yellow-purple, you can do it polarized. The Viewer actually just played in London as part of Short and Sweet Film Festival and they used the shutter-based system, and the shutter-based system looks really fantastic.
HS: Certainly does seem simple enough. Moving away from 3D for a bit, I'd actually like to focus on another part of your career, an even larger part, which is sound design. First, I'd just like to say that the sound design on The House of the Devil is absolutely phenomenal.
Reznick: Thank you!
HS: I'm a big home theater enthusiast and I love to put the Blu-ray on to just bask in it.
Reznick: I'm glad to hear you say that because some of the reviews we got were like, "Oh, they tried to make this movie look like the late '70s and early '80s, including the mono soundtrack!" and I just didn't know what they were talking about.
HS: Oh, it sounds fantastic! And combined with Jeff Grace's score, it's gorgeous. I just wanted to say thank you for that. How did you get your start in sound design?
Reznick: To be perfectly honest, I went to school for directing and I've continued directing for the last 10 years doing mostly just small stuff. Basically, after school ended, Ti [West, director of House of the Devil] went to SVA and I was at NYU – Ti and I grew up together – he met Larry [Fessenden] at SVA and got The Roost. I'm not sure what I was doing at the time, but it was right after graduation and he asked me to sound design it because I had some experience just from sound designing my short films. So I sound designed that for him, and then I didn't do much with it for a year. But a year later we both pitched Larry Trigger Man and I Can See You respectively, because originally they were sort of intertwined as a double feature.
HS: Oh, I don't know that. That would make for a very interesting double feature.
Reznick: Yeah, it's kind of a long and complicated story, but basically we realized the stories were so different and long enough in their own right that they didn't need to be jammed together. But essentially they're about three guys going out to the woods together – and they're all the same location, same cliffs and everything, if you see both movies. So I made I Can See You and he made Trigger Man.
I spent a very long time working on I Can See You, so to support myself I did a lot more sound design work. Since then I've done seven or eight films, mostly through Glass Eye, just from the other directors coming in and out. People who I really admire, who want to work with me because they enjoy the things I do well and not just because they need someone to do sound design. It's a great opportunity for me because it allows me to flex muscles and do things in the sound design that I probably wouldn't get to do if it was just a job for hire. It's a real collaboration, which is very nice.
HS: That's one of the things that, from an outsider's perspective, I love about Glass Eye Pix. A few weeks ago I interviewed Joe Maggio and it seems like you guys have this great, alternating stable of one guy will direct, then go do sound design for another guy, who was just doing visual effects for another guy. Everyone seems to be allowed to wear a lot of hats. In a way, and I hope this doesn't sound to ass-kissy, but I think that in 20 years fans will look back and think "I can't believe all these people were working on the same films together!" It has that sort of Corman house vibe to me; that Glass Eye is the most creative and collaborative force for indie horror out there.
Reznick: You know, it's funny. The thought crosses my mind occasionally that what we're doing now will be remembered later, but it's so removed from what we do. We're just hoping that anybody sees it now that we're just kind of like, We've got to get this done and we've got to make it good. We hope people will like it and we hope it will stick around. I'm glad that people have that reaction to it. It's funny to think that in 20 years we might be a footnote in some film history book. But I also think that in 20 years we might not even have books, so who knows how we'll be remembered.