As any film student in need of a paper topic knows, cinema has always been at least a little bit about voyeurism, whether it stems from the enticements of seeing a scantily clad starlet or flashy explosion to something a little more abstract. Eric Nicholas’ creepy thriller “Alone With Her,” which premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival and which opens in New York this week, takes the idea of someone liking to watch to an unusual extreme. The film follows Doug (Colin Hanks), a stalker who becomes obsessed with the unknowing Amy (Ana Claudia Talacón) and breaks into her house to plant cameras in each room. We see this disturbing relationship progress entirely through Doug’s hidden cameras (including the one he wears), as he finds himself no longer content to simply sit back and observe, and starts involving himself in Amy’s life. The director took some time to speak with me about the inspiration behind and difficulties of shooting the film.
So where did this idea of a surveillance film come from?
It came to me a couple years ago when I came across a web site selling dirty-cheap spy equipment to the general public $50 hidden video cameras, digital telephone records, lock pick guns, a lot of scary shit it really freaked me out. Any dirt bag with $50 could watch and listen to me inside my own home.
You start the film off with a quote on the statistics of stalking from David Wiseman [a U.S. Justice Department official] do you see this as a cautionary tale?
I do, I’ve often described it as a cautionary tale. Obviously, as a thriller, I wanted it to scare people, but at the same time I hope people will sit up and take notice you know, this equipment is out there, it’s available and I think it’s cause for a certain amount of alarm.
I know you shot the bulk of the film in high-def, but did you get any of your footage from actually surveillance equipment?
We didn’t, actually it was a very in-depth discussion during pre-production, and we ultimately decided to shoot it in high-def because we wanted to have as high resolution as possible. In post-production we degraded the image and desaturated the color to give it that grainy surveillance look.
There’s actually four distinct looks to the movie there’s the camcorder footage, which Doug hides in a bag; there’re the interior hidden cameras he has in Amy’s apartment; there’s the night vision; and there’s the black and white bodycam that he wears at the coffee shop and when he’s out in public.
From a logistical standpoint, was it tough to figure out have to get your narrative across with the constraints you’d given yourself?
It was a welcome challenge, but it was very difficult to tell a story that way. We purposefully tied one hand behind our backs. We came up with all sorts of great things, through, to make it interesting. The interior hidden cameras in Amy’s apartment are locked off and have no zoom capabilities, so it became very much about blocking the actors in creative ways. In order to stress Doug’s presence whenever he’s watching Amy, I would compose the shots in an artless manner, to always remind the audience that they’re watching surveillance footage for example, Amy would be in the far left of the frame with her head cut off, or would walk out of frame for ten seconds. There’s also all sorts of sound design we did to stress that as well. We have the picture occasionally break up, static over the image, we would have aural perspective changes as we switched from camera to camera. It was a lot of fun.
The perspective also means that some plot developments happened off camera and were only hinted at like when Amy sells her paintings.
I’m hoping it opens the audience’s imagination about what’s happening behind the scenes. We do that with Doug, as well we don’t show him for a good half an hour. I liked the idea that the audience starts imagining what this guy looks like, and I believe that they’d imagine a kind of creepy-looking guy, given what he does. When he finally shows up, I think that people are surprised, because he’s harmless looking. He even looks kind, and normal, and to me, that’s scarier.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s played by Colin Hanks, who has his father’s benign glow about him.
Colin was always on my wish list, and I was thrilled when I found out he liked the script. When we met, I found that we both shared the same vision for Doug and that we were both really excited about trying something new cinematically. Some people have asked me if I was trying to cast against type, but I don’t think so. I think Colin was what I had in mind the whole time.
Do you think your film gains relevance as we seem to be more and more in an age of surveillance as it becomes an everyday aspect of being in a public space?
I think it’s a very topical film I felt that way two years ago and feel even more so now with the prevalence of surveillance cameras. I think it’s very timely, and hopefully very provocative. I want people to walk out of that theater and talk about it. When we screened the film at Tribeca, many young women came up to me after the screening and said “I’m never going to sleep the same way again!” And it sounds crazy, but I was really pleased to hear that, because I could tell the film was connecting and making an impact the way I always hoped.
“Alone With Her” opens in New York on January 17th (official site).