Interview: Honeymoon director Leigh Janiak Ian White January 25, 2015 Editor's Choice, Interviews 1938 Leigh Janiak’s brilliant and, for this reviewer anyway, unexpectedly moving horror film ‘Honeymoon’ was one of last year’s major cinematic delights. Like all the best horror it taps into our most primal fears – in this case, maybe the most primal personal fear of all: what if the person you love, the person you care about most in all this world, isn’t the person you knew anymore? What if they are changing into something unspeakable and you can’t do anything to stop it? It’s a question that has been posed in countless thrillers, sci-fi’s and horrors (probably most famously in the ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ movies) but ‘Honeymoon’ asks and answers it more powerfully than most via an exceptional script from Janiak and her co-writer Phil Graziadei, two remarkable central performances from Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway, excellent direction, cinematography and music and a truly unsettling claustrophobic location that, despite its daylight beauty, quickly becomes a monster in its own right. Arrow Films is releasing ‘Honeymoon’ to DVD and Blu-ray on January 26 2015 and, despite suffering from a pretty nasty bout of flu, Leigh Janiak very kindly stopped by to chat with us about it. MR: Where did the idea for ‘Honeymoon’ originally come from, and what comes first when you begin a project – the characters or the story? LJ: For me, it changes project-to-project whether or not characters or story come first. For Honeymoon, I think we (my writing partner Phil and I) started with an idea – this idea of the person you know best becoming a monster and then the story and characters grew from there. MR: When David Cronenberg wrote ‘The Brood’ he was famously purging himself of a bad marriage break-up, did you or your co-writer Phil Graziadei have a similar impetus for writing ‘Honeymoon’? (hopefully without the involvement of alien tentacles?!) Alas, there were no alien tentacles… That said, I think anyone who’s been in a close relationship has had those moments when the person they think they know so well does something (and it may be something really little) and then everything you think you know about that person shifts and you’re left questioning whether you know anything about them at all. So yeah, in that sense, certainly Honeymoon is based on real experiences… MR: Did the story alter in any meaningful way from the original idea through to the shooting draft? How do you and Phil share writing duties? The script of Honeymoon largely stayed the same from “final” writing draft through production. I think the last significant element that was added was the “coda” moment involving Bea and even that was added months and months before production. As for Phil and my writing process, there isn’t one way that we work, but generally we outline quite extensively beforehand and then we each take cracks at different scenes and then switch back and forth. Or sometimes we go through scenes together. It changes. MR: Was ‘Honeymoon’ a spec or did you know when you sat down to write it that it was definitely going to be made and you were definitely going to direct? And as director, were there certain visuals you knew you wanted to be in the film even before the screenplay was written? Do you storyboard very much? We wrote Honeymoon with the goal of making it; it was never a script that we hoped to sell as a traditional “spec.” We kept that production goal in mind as we wrote, trying to limit locations and cast numbers, etc. There were certain visuals that I had in mind, but mostly tonal wants – how it feels to be isolated at the cottage by the lake before the summer season really starts – you’re completely alone, but surrounded by other houses that should be full of people. It’s a weird feeling. The emptiness of night in the woods, things like that. I don’t storyboard, but I do make some terrible stick figure sketches. And I shot-list extensively. MR: I’ve previously read that you shot the film in North Carolina, although you originally wanted Canada. Were you familiar with the NC location before you went there? The environment surrounding the cabin plays such an important part of the story and the location you used feels perfect. How long did you have to prep? I wasn’t familiar with Western NC, at all. My physical producers, Angela and Joel, had done a few other productions in the Southeast and I had looked at some preliminary location photos, enough to feel confident that we would find something, but when we arrived on the ground, I think we were about six weeks out, I started getting very nervous. Almost all lakes in NC are man-made, which I didn’t know. So we were driving to all of these different lakes and they were beautiful, but they didn’t feel like the Canadian cottage country that I had grown up visiting. Ultimately, we ended up finding this great lake (Lake Summit) in Flat Rock / Hendersonville right under our noses and it ended up being perfect. So I think we locked in on that location about 3 weeks out from principal photography? And my production designer Chris Trujillo and his team did great work enhancing the bones of what was there. MR: On the subject of visuals – the photography is wonderful. Weren’t you originally intending to shoot on Super 16 but then decided on the Arri Alexa instead? What prompted that decision and did you have any initial concerns that the digital format might lose you the graininess that is often so important to this kind of movie? Thank you! My DP Kyle Klütz and I spent a lot of time talking about how we wanted the film’s visual style to reflect the grittiness of the narrative. Dirty and tactile. So yeah, originally we talked about shooting on Super 16. The film itself wasn’t that expensive, but unfortunately there aren’t a lot of places that can process the film anymore and the cost to send away the film was just prohibitively expensive on our indie budget. The Alexa ended up being awesome though. It just grabs an incredible amount of information in low-light and with our colorist Leadro Marini we were able to gritty up the image and add grain in the DI. MR: Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway are remarkable in the film and apart from being fantastic actors obviously had a lot of faith in you as a director: how long did the three of you work together before you started filming (did you have any rehearsal period?) and as this was your first feature did you feel any trepidation about directing the more intimate scenes? How far up or down in the shooting schedule did you place those moments?! And what were the scenes you found most difficult to shoot? Rose and Harry are both incredibly talented and were amazing to work with. They arrived on set about four days before we started shooting. We didn’t rehearse, per se, but we did spend many hours together going through everything together. I didn’t really feel nervous until we actually were shooting some of those scenes – namely, the shower-scene. When the “cock sock” and nipple covers became front in center… then it became “real.” We tried to place the more intimate scenes a bit later in the shoot, but again, our total shoot was only 24 days and we were only at the cottage location for a little more than half of that, so “later” in the shoot was maybe 8 or 9 days in? I think the scenes with the “beam” were the most difficult… My DP and his key grip Jose, created this insane rig for the “beam” light, but it just took an extraordinary amount of time to perfect the smooth motion that I wanted. And it was pouring rain for much of the shoot, which compounded everything, since the rig was built outside the cottage. And then we always ended up shooting those scenes last at night, because we either didn’t need Rose and Harry or they just had to lie in bed, but that always ended up with us fighting the sun rise. MR: Did you improvise much when you were on set? Not really. I’m a stickler for the script… That said, there were tiny moments, lines, that Harry and Rose would just add in here or there that ended up being great and real and made it into the final edit. MR: What are the part of making the film you enjoyed the most? While the long bedroom scene towards the end of the film was incredibly emotionally and physically demanding for everyone – we shot it over two nights, I think it was also my favorite part of the shoot. And the great sfx prosthetics that top off the scene certainly helped. It was great fun. MR: In previous interviews you’ve mentioned Cronenberg, Alien, Michael Haneke as influences but personally ‘Honeymoon’ reminded me a lot (and in very good ways) of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (especially the Phil Kaufman version with all the gel!) and Zulawksi’s ‘Possession’. Were either of those films also in your mind when you made ‘Honeymoon’? Invasion of the Body Snatchers, definitely! Phil and I loved that Body Snatchers is one of those films that keeps getting remade generation after generation and we definitely viewed Honeymoon as an intimate body snatcher film. Rosemary’s Baby was another big influence. I’m embarrassed to say… I haven’t yet seen Possession! MR: There seems to be a lot of symbolism in ‘Honeymoon’ – the sense of the environment being, to begin with, something autumn-lit and beautiful (the caterpillar in the ferns) to the scum on the lake, to the ant hill, and at several points refers to herself as ‘We’ (“We don’t remember”) suggesting she and Annie are part of a hive mind. Is the ‘hive mind’ why Rose Leslie’s character is called Bea? We were definitely suggesting a hive mind and yeah, “Bea’s” name was a reference to that — I think as far as symbolism, it’s more about just making everything motivated, connected and existing for a reason, if that makes sense? MR: How closely did you collaborate on the musical score? It’s very organic to the film in a way that mimics the electricity surges, buzzing of insects etc. on screen and often doesn’t even feel like a pre-written composition. My composer Heather McIntosh is the best! Heather and I spent a lot of time together talking about influences and tone and such. We certainly wanted to develop a score that felt organic to the environment of the film, an extension of that natural world and never became over-bearing or “other.” MR: There are times when ‘Honeymoon’ feels like an alien invasion film (the high-beam through the windows, the lights in the woods), times when it feels like an environmental-armageddon movie (as if the ecology of the woods is fighting back against the human intruders… the constant breeze through the trees and across the water suggests the landscape is talking to itself and making plans) and a couple of times when it could even be an ‘Evil Dead’ scenario, with Bea (it’s suggested) being raped in the woods, giving birth to the demon and the ‘We don’t remember’ line of dialogue being similar to the ‘We are Legion’ of so many possession films. I guess it could also be read as a very intense psycho-drama about a young marriage going horribly wrong when the new husband is made neurotic after meeting his wife’s old boyfriend and both partners lose their minds! – Was the nature of the threat always deliberately open to interpretation when you and Phil wrote the script? And if this is the beginning of an alien invasion — as invasion strategies go, do you think it’s a good one?! I love all of these references! All of that said, we certainly thought about this as the beginning of a much bigger alien invasion. We liked this idea of thinking about maybe the early moments of an invasion, before the big Independence Day style spaceships arrive… Really though, we tried to shroud the “threat” in as much ambiguity as we felt we could because we didn’t want to detract from the main “conflict” of the story, which is Paul and Bea’s relationship, falling apart. As for whether or not this is a good plan for an invasion, I mean, they clearly have amazing biological “technology,” so –sure! MR: Have you ever written / directed for theatre? ‘Honeymoon’ reminded me very much of Tracy Letts’ ‘Bug’, like it could work just as effectively on stage. Tracy Letts is so good! I’ve never seen any of his work on stage though… which is crazy. My earliest background with actors comes from theatre. I went to the largest public high school in Ohio (Mentor High School) and we had a phenomenal theatre program there. That was my first interaction with actors – acting myself on stage as well as directing little skits and such. That was certainly invaluable experience and there’s nothing like the feeling of being on stage, but I’m more of a movie person, when it comes down to it. MR: Is it just me, or did the note inside the Mallard feel kind of autobiographical? Whether it was or wasn’t, it’s tiny truthful moments like that which really make ‘Honeymoon’ special (and while I’m on the strange-questions-train, who is Charlotte Howard (and why is she the darkest figure of them all?!) and is there any real-world significance to Bea’s birth-date – January 25 1987? For some reason, whenever a character mentions something specific like a birthday I wonder if that’s a tiny nod to someone off-camera and a trivia question waiting to happen?! Haha! Well, there certainly were autobiographical details in the film. I grew up going to a family cottage in Ontario and a lot of the production design details were based off that space. The bear skin on the wall in one of the bedrooms, for instance. The shell light that Paul clicks on and off… The note inside the duck decoy, was not… Bea’s birth date, I had originally, chosen a different date – also in 1987 and strangely it ended up being something like two days away from Rose’s actual birthday, which we all decided was too close for comfort, so she nudged it to January 25th. Charlotte Howard is my producer’s dog, who they brought on set. MR: What scares you most? A) in the horror genre: a film / a book B) in the real world? What’s your biggest nightmare (and) how long would you have stayed in that cabin in the woods before getting really creeped out and heading back to the city? Ah. This is a tough one. I think as far as films go, there are a lot of David Lynch ones that land pretty close to the top of my list… Lost Highway, for sure, but equally something like The Elephant Man that just makes you feel terrible inside… In the real world, I’m not sure. I live on the first floor in LA and I have bars on my windows, but I always think about someone just reaching in through the bars at night while I’m lying in bed… I don’t know. As for how long I would have stuck it out in the cottage in Honeymoon, I mean, one of the things that we did when writing the script was kept checking in and thinking, wait, I mean, this feels crazy, but would I really bail out of my Honeymoon, if my new husband was insisting everything was fine? I don’t think I would… I think I would want them to be telling me the truth. I would keep hoping everything would just go back to being normal, until it was too late… MR: Finally – What are you working on now / next? Phil and I are working on a 10-episode limited series that we’re hoping to set up in the next month or so. Other than we’re starting to get into a new original feature idea; I’m excited to make another movie! Thanks for spending time with us Leigh and for giving us such fantastic additional insight into the film. All of us at Movie Ramblings Towers can’t wait to see what you do next. ‘Honeymoon’ is a masterpiece.