Wednesday, September 8, 2021


A salute to everyone reading this interview. The today's interviewee got his feature film debut movie released on NETFLIX on April 4, 2021 with good reviews, showing the talent he is able to showcase to audience. I am talking about BRADEN DUEMMLER and his movie WHAT LIES BELOW. I really expect that every newbie filmmaker that would read this interview could absorb all the knowledge that Braden gifted to us in here, really. What nice is to receive advice from someone who plugged in his feature debut on Netflix, ah?

Info about the creating process of the movie, how he stablished the movie story, the way he sets up scenes, thoughts about the filmmaking process itself you will find here and a lot of more worthy filmmaking info. I know you  will like it, just have to scroll down and read it... come on!

EFF: Hi Braden, First off, I would like to thank you for letting me chat with you, really. Could you tell us where are you from and when or how you figured out you wanted to be in the film industry?

BD: No problem! Thank you for reaching out! I'm originally from the East Coast of the US. I grew up in Connecticut and went to college at University of Vermont. My freshman year I took a film theory class thinking it would be fun and I fell in love! I spent the next four years watching and talking about films from all over the world, from different cultures and eras, but it wasn't until I went to study abroad in Kunming, China, that I realized I wanted to actually make movies. While I was walking through a park there, I saw an elderly man on a park bench, singing out of notebook. He wasn't singing for money or to entertain others, he seemed to be doing it for his own pleasure. It made me wonder: who is this man? How often does he do this? Who is he singing to? And I knew I wanted to tell that story. Eventually, I went to USC and seeing that man sing inspired one of my first short films.

EFF: You have had your directorial debut with "WHAT LIES BELOW", let me ask you first, when and how the story came up to you?

BD: The impetus of WHAT LIES BELOW is really the light in the lake scene. When I first pictured the image in my head, however, it was a beam of light from the sky hitting a man in the chest. I have no doubts the image was borrowed from some poster or still-frame of a movie that’s so deeply buried in the recesses of my mind that I can no longer access it. Nevertheless, I was obsessed with that moment, that image, and wanted to build something around it. I started to ask myself who sees the man and the light? What is their relationship to that person? And that’s when I was reminded of my own childhood; when my first ever crush blossomed at 8 years old towards my future Stepmother, Sandy. Looking back on the affections Sandy and I shared, we can still laugh at their innocence, but if the roles were reversed and I was a little girl and Sandy was a man, our adorable flirtations feel a lot more problematic.

So, I began to synthesize that family dynamic of a girl and her future stepdad into my light idea, allowing the relationship to shape the story and the ethos I created around John Smith. 
IMDb |  Microsoft | Amazon  |  Vudu | iTunes |  Google Play | 

EFF: Wow, the core of the story was based on a deep moment in your life, interesting. How was the production process? I mean, what was the timeline of the movie as a project itself? Getting funds, investors, did you have to pitch it out or what?

BD: I finished my first draft of the script in December of 2017. My close friend and collaborator Jimmy Jung Lu (the DoP on the film) came back to LA from shooting in China, read it, and loved it. He sent it to his friend Abel Vang who decided to produce it. We quickly brought in Stephen Stanley and our Casting Director Katrina Wandel George and the next thing you know, we're going out to cast. When Mena read it and decided to come on board, we were green lit! So, it really came together because of a network of filmmakers that all believed in it. I think that's what you need to get a film off the ground. People who are dedicated to seeing it get made!

EFF: When came the script making stage, tell us how did you handle it out? How many drafts you made or if you had any block off during the making of it?

BD: My writing process involves a lot of research and outlining. For most of my scripts, I spend more time reading reference material and watching reference films than I do actually writing the screenplay.

For What Lies Below, I read a great deal of literature on the psychological development of young women as well as how our current society affects teens during their High School years. Mix that material with about 15 reference films and once I sit down to write, I feel pretty confident in my outline and can allow the characters to lead the way through the story I’ve tediously plotted. In short, for What Lies Below, I spent around three months researching, 6 weeks writing, and only did one additional draft after the rough. I suspect the reason my rough drafts tend to be pretty polished is because I make most of my story mistakes on the front end when they are easier to identify and fix.

EFF: What could you tell us about the movie casting process? You had Mena Suvari in your film... I mean, for first-timers feature film directors to have in their cast a talented and well known actor is always a blessed, that always attracts more talented actors want to be involved in the movie.

BD: I was very fortunate that our Producers Abel Vang and Stephen Stanley found our Casting Director, Katrina Wandel George. From the outset, Katrina believed in the script because she felt a personal connection to it. So, she shot for the stars which ultimately lead to Mena coming on board. In a million years, I never expected to land such a talented actress to headline our Cast! Personally, I very much relied on Mena’s wealth of experience and knowledge. She is such a powerhouse and consummate professional, and her faith in me pacified my own insecurities, instilling in me even more confidence in the material. 

Another benefit to Mena’s faith in the project was the incredible response to our subsequent casting call. Over the course of that process, Trey and Ema really stood out. I remember Trey’s audition so clearly because he had this incredible penchant for expanding the depth of the material. He made lines intended to be benign, completely sinister and actions that were rudimentary became dynamic. Trey’s creativity continued on set and although we maintained our game-plan, we always afforded ourselves extra takes for any and all ideas. In addition to that boldness, Trey maintained the control we needed, as well. When first sharing the script, I realized how varying the reaction was to subtle scenes like the shoulder rub in the dining room/first-night dinner. Since we could never be sure how an audience would react to an edit, we decided to give ourselves plenty of options and so, in moments like that, we created a “creep barometer” (if-you-will) and Trey would literally dial the creepiness up or down depending on the take. In many cases, with our limited time, we would just run a series where Trey would perform the action and I would simply say 1, 3, 6, or 10 to give us the different degrees of John Smith’s creepiness. Having those options in the edit was an unsung hero of the film.

Finally, I have to speak-at-length about Ema. Ms. Horvath was another standout during the audition process and I still remember being so intrigued by her tape that I had to share it with a friend. The friend said, “she has a real Jack Nicholson quality to her” to which I replied… “ahhh… What?” That’s when he explained, “she’s either completely crazy or a genius.” It didn’t take long on set for me to realize the latter was true. Ema is incredibly cerebral and calm on set. I’m usually pacing in the hall, staring at the ground, while she’s swaying in her makeup chair with a similarly fixated gaze. Between every setup she is in her head, thinking about the moment, the scene, the beat. We would talk and prepare, and she would internalize every note and then, once I said action, it would explode in front of my eyes in the most mesmerizing ways. Her presence is so strong and captivating that she can make the subtlest shift in her look or her eyes or her smile and it will feel like something completely fresh and raw. It was incredible to watch her command and her ability to ground Libby very much anchored the film through what is a very turbulent and twisting plot. I’m so thankful for her and her talent. She is the star of our story.
"What Lies Below"

EFF: Now entering into the shooting process how was it? Did you have any setbacks whilst shooting? If you had please tell us how did you solve them out.

BD: Being on set is like chasing a carrot on a stick: constantly chasing that one moment where it just… works. I think we “caught the carrot” when we were shooting the living room scene where Michelle essentially chooses John Smith over Libby, her own daughter. It was the end of an 11-page day; we were tired, stressed, and just trying to make it through. But, once I said action, the entire crew, every single one, was locked in. It was electric. Everyone felt it - it was working, and it was worth it.

As far as setbacks, the lampreys were incredibly difficult to get on set. They are actually a very invasive species that are considered a cancer to any ecosystem they infest. As a result, whenever they are caught, they are supposed to be immediately exterminated. That means they can’t be stored, can’t cross state lines, and therefore can’t be brought to set. We were only able to shoot the lamprey (that’s right, one lamprey) that you see because I had a friend who is a biologist and happens to be studying their effects on a lake in Vermont. So, that one, single, lamprey (the one they caught) was shot many times to look like a multitude.
"Bright Road Hill"

EFF: What was the hardest scene to shoot and why?

BD: Probably the light in the lake scene. We shot in Lake George, which was incredibly beautiful, but also had very steep and jagged beaches in its most isolated areas. As a result, it was really hard to find a slow, gradual, decline into the water that I felt was necessary to facilitate John’s hauntingly casual descent. When we finally found a perfect location, I was relieved, though we had to use three different houses, to look like one, in order to make it work. Finally, on the day of the actual shoot, the 4,000 watt light we were using in the lake not only wasn’t as powerful as we had hoped, but a screw that kept the casing together broke! So, our team struggled for hours trying to figure out a way to get the light to hold together long enough, and stay straight enough, so we could get our shot. We lost 3 hours on that day because of a single screw! Which shows you how important every little detail is when making a movie.
EFF: How long took you to shoot the film and what date was it and when?

BD: We shot for 19 days in Lake George, NY in the early fall of 2018.
Braden Duemmler on What Lies Below Set

EFF: Now, after this experience shooting a feature film, tell us what item you consider was that sucked down most of your time?

BD: Probably the VFX in the film. There isn't a lot but it's still a time consuming process. We were fortunate enough to work with Tunnel Post in Santa Monica, CA and 22 Dogs in Milan. The process is tedious and so detail-oriented it can be difficult to stay energized because at that point, you've seen the film a million times and are ready to move on. But, the VFX is really the extra push that every film needs. So if you don't give it the care it deserves, you can undermine your entire movie. 

EFF: What people can see from your film in visual terms? What style did you try to put over? Any references to other films maybe to notice?

BD: We set out to create a female gaze film that made John Smith (Trey Tucker) the object of Liberty's desire. So for the first half of the movie what facilitates the film — and what makes it feel awkward for audience members too — is that it's Libby looking at a 30-year-old man and fetishizing him by objectifying his body (close ups of Abs, hips, smile, etc). Leading up to writing the script I watched a lot of reference films including Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank.
Braden Duemmler on set

EFF: What kind of director do you consider yourself? How do you set up your day-to-day work process? Do you storyboard all your scenes or while on the location you configure out the shots and angles?

BD: I like to think of myself as a director who hopes to challenge the viewer a bit. I enjoy films that make me think so I want to do the same for the people watching my own. 

As for the day-to-day of directing, I (as I'm sure many writer/directors do) direct the film as I write it. I have the shots, the colors, the performances in my head as I etch them into the blank page for the very first time. While having a clear vision is definitely an asset, I never want it to limit me from engaging in new ideas. So, I always approach the actual production open for collaboration and input from the actors/actresses and crew. As the writer/director, who has lived with the idea and script for far longer than you’d like to admit, you have, more often than not, thought of and dissected everything. But every now and then you’re surprised and intrigued by something new and that’s an incredible moment: when an actor shocks you with a certain delivery or the Art Department interprets a description in a very unique way. Those are the moments that elevate films and I strive to be open to them despite how distinct the story is in my head.

EFF: Any anecdote from the shooting stage?

BD: Due to the condensed schedule, the team didn't have time for B-Roll and weren't able to have the actors shoot the car driving exteriors. However, the story needed those shots in order to establish the solitude and isolation of the cabin; after all, if they are near others, Libby can just call out for help.

So, in order to capture the car exterior shots, Panda Lord (Co-Producer) and myself drove the yellow beetle around with wigs on to give the impression of Michelle and Libby driving along. Every shot you see of the car driving through the New York wilderness is just the Co-Producer or Writer/Director driving with a wig on their head and pink pajamas on their legs, while arguing about their favorite hockey teams (we're both big NHL fans!)

EFF: What camera did you use and why? What other technical aspects could you tell us about the film?
BD: We used the Arri Alexa Classic (I think) which was the original Alexa. We love the look of the Alexa cameras because of the color depth and felt that would fit the film, and all it's crazy colors, well. We used the Classic because we couldn't afford a more recent version! But, I think it worked out great.
Braden Duemmler and hazkiri velazquez

EFF: When the film was out and people can watch it?

BD: It is currently available to rent on Amazon Prime, iTunes, or Vudu and also on Netflix in select countries!

EFF How the audience has response so far?

BD: Very mixed. I get a lot of hate mail and fan mail on a day-to-day basis. I think the film really affects people, which is all you can ever ask for!

EFF: What are your inspiration; directors or films?

BD: Personally, my most recent favorite films/directors are Denis Villeneuve (especially Prisoners and Arrival), Jordan Peele (LOVE Get Out), and Ari Aster (Midsommar haunted my soul). I also was fortunate enough to work with Sev Ohanian and Ryan Coogler earlier in my career and I feel I am constantly chasing them. They inspire me every day.

As for my background, as a director with a film theory education I was introduced to so many incredible filmmakers and their work that undoubtedly, constantly, influence me (even if I can’t put my finger on exactly how) including Kubrick, Hitchcock, Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg and Jane Campion.
Braden Duemmler and Ema Horvath on set

EFF: What advice would you give to those newbie filmmakers from your experience, i mean, during pre, production or post, any advice is gold.

BD: Write cheap, especially for your first feature. Surround yourself with talented people that challenge and uplift you. Never get discouraged by anything that is out of your control and do as much as you can to empower yourself. If you can write cheap and raise money on kickstarter, you can make a movie. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

EFF: What advice respecting the funding process can you give us? If you had to do it for this film, please tell us any advice to someone who is trying to sell his or her movie to prospective producers.

BD: The most important thing to prospective producer or financiers is the cast and the genre. So, if you have a little money, the most valuable investment you will ever make with your project is to hire the best casting director you can find and go after the best actor/actress you can reach. Actors and Actresses are filmmakers like you who just want to make great cinema. If you have a great script and you can get it in their hands, you can make a movie!

EFF: How have you lived this pandemic? Personally, Professionally...

BD: For myself, the pandemic has not effect me much because I'm used to staying at home and writing. I do miss people and seeing my closest friends and family, but zoom/facetime have helped alleviate that a bit. 

I also feel like I should mention this because it's important; Olan Montgomery (the actor who played the store clerk) unfortunately passed away from COVID last March. I want people to know that scene is one of the last images of him in the world. He had a whole life in front of him and now that's gone. I know we're opening up, but I just hope everyone remembers people like Olan who lost their life, and be safe with each other. He was a very special person. I had a great time meeting him. He was such a positive force on set and so willing to do what we needed. I was so sad to hear he passed away.

EFF:  What new projects are you working on now, something you can anticipate us now? 

BD: I'm currently co-producing a film called Succubus with Anna Elizabeth James. It's a friend's film — R.J. Daniel Hanna who's an incredibly talented writer-director. I really love the script and I want to help him get it made. On top of that, I have a script called MOLD, which is a psychological thriller about an infectious and relentless fungus that grows on people's skin and can be used as a hallucinogenic drug that alters one's consciousness. I am going out to cast this summer with that project. I also have a lot of other scripts I'm looking forward to making one day. 

EFF: If a producer gives you a chance to direct a horror film remake, what would it be and why? 

BD: Oh man! The ones that immediately come to mind (Event Horizon, Hellraiser, The Fly and Scream) are all being remade already, I think. I know they are rather recent, but I wonder what Caché or The Ring would look like today, with the internet and digital video. I also think Klute would be great in today's world.

**BRADEN DUEMMLER'S | IMDb Twitter  **

IMDb |  Microsoft | Amazon  |  Vudu | iTunes |  Google Play |


Post a Comment