In this monthly column we spotlight new Blu-ray/DVD releases by interviewing directors about the scenes that stood out most for them while making their movies. This month, we talk to Katie Aselton about her cat-and-mouse horror Black Rock (out July 30).
Following her 2010 relationship drama The Freebie, actress Katie Aselton (The League) returns behind the camera to direct Black Rock, a tense thriller set on a remote island off the coast of Maine. Written by her husband, Mark Duplass, the film stars Aselton alongside Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth as three childhood friends who travel to the island of their youth for a girls’ weekend that goes horribly wrong.
Being hunted by a few veteran soldiers they encounter, Abby (Aselton) and Lou (Bell) hide in a childhood fort. Freezing from previously swimming in the cold water surrounding the island to escape the men, in this scene the two girls strip naked and huddle together to stay warm.
A scene that Aselton calls her favorite, as it brings the audience in on the true friendship the women have, here she talks about its creation and why there’s one part of the scene that to this day she’d love to take out.
“I don’t know how we would have pulled it off if we were in a cave.”
“The way Mark and I wrote it originally was that at this point [of the film] the two characters find refuge in a cave and they were going to have their coming-to-a-head moment in it. It’s tight quarters, they’re smushed up against each other. Initially, I think they were almost going to have to lay down. In Mark’s vision the cave was very low and they’d have to lie down and that was how it would be shot. But the proximity, the fact that they were so tight, made this emotional moment really uncomfortable. Then we went to location scout and the guy who we were working with, who knows the cost of Maine like the back of his hand, was like, 'Oh no, there’s one cave and it’s filled up with water.' So we had to figure some things out.
"It got very confusing. Do they hide by an uprooted tree? There had to be some kind of safety. So Mark, I think, hatched the idea of this childhood fort, which is great. This is where I grew up and I had a fort, so it felt very authentic to me that there would be the ramshackle remnants of this child-built fort with scribbles of all their crushes on it, their secret club names and all that. So I really loved that. And it’s great when you get to build something and create it, then you can make room for where the camera will go, because I don’t know how we would have pulled it off if we were in a cave.”
“I got to make the nudity the way I wanted to make it.“
“It’s one of those scenes that when I talk to Mark about it I had no idea how I would handle it as a filmmaker. Because on so many levels it was challenging. First off, we’re naked and we’re dealing with that, and then there’s the mood of it, it’s this bizarre breather in the movie and a very tense moment. But it was this weird thought to take a breath and remember that these are just girls and friends. You certainly don’t want to lose the suspense and let the air out, but at the same time it was kind of a cool thing that I don’t think as an audience member you see very often in tense thrillers or action movies. Like, over the course of time they have to stop and catch their breath at some point!
"So that was a challenge. And just the logistics of being out in the woods and shooting. It was freezing cold where we were. We have wet clothes and we have to take the wet clothes off, and I think the conception of the scene, of having nudity in the film, was sort of a direct nod to the genre. Like, okay, we know that this is one of the rules. But as the filmmaker one of the awesome things about making your own film is that you get to make it the way you want to. I got to make the nudity the way I wanted to make it. I loved the way we managed to achieve it. Hillary Spera, my cinematographer, has such a beautiful eye and knew exactly what I wanted, which was this moon-kiss silhouette. I wanted the nudity to be there but I didn’t want it to be in your face, however, I didn’t want to shy away from it, either. So I was really happy when I stood up and walked over to the monitor—with no clothes on—to look and see what we got in that first take. I felt it was so thrilling, and as a director I got to sit back and know that it looked exactly how I wanted it to look.”
“Oh, s**t, I have to get naked next to Lake Bell!”
“Leading up to shooting the scene, I was excited but I was nervous because it really is a massive turning point in the film. It’s where the girls go into their primal survival mode, and I wanted it to ring true. I also felt like that’s where the audience grows to like Abby, but it was important to me that you like her and root for her and you want the audience to jump on board by that point. If they aren’t on board by that point, you’ve lost them for good. So I was definitely excited.
"There was a moment leading up to shooting the scene that I looked across at Lake and I was like, 'Oh, s**t, I have to get naked next to Lake Bell!' Who does that to themselves? I really should have thought that one through more. So I was really nervous looking like a boy next to her; I had self-conscious worries.
"But in regards to prepping for it, it was a lot of conversations leading up to it. Everyone who was on the crew had essentially made their own movies before. I never had to micromanage, which was really nice. When the camera started rolling I knew everyone was on the same page so it was really months of conversations and pictures and storyboards and everything going back and forth so when we were ready to shoot the scene where I’m in a very vulnerable position and I’m not looking at the monitor all the time, I knew we were in good hands. We pulled it off on the second or third take and it’s my favorite scene in the movie. It makes me cry every time I watch it. I just love it. It’s so much better than I could imagine it. It’s a better version of what I had in my head, which I think is every director’s dream.”
“…Killing Your Babies.”
“The tricky thing as a director is when you have a favorite scene it could be an hour long if someone let it. So I think there was a battle, and Mark and [brother Jay Duplass's] editor, Jay Deuby, calls it 'killing your babies.' But you’re threading such a thin needle with a genre film with pacing and that was the hardest thing. I come from relationship movies that can go on forever if you want to let them and this was not that. We had to keep the suspense up and the tension taunt. So that was a battle, and I think we struck a nice chord, but it was really me wanting it to be longer and the editor, Jacob Vaughan, wanting it to be shorter.
“There were more pauses. That was something that we talked about before shooting started. When you watch Deliverance there are these really beautiful quiet moments and it feels like you’re spending a weekend with the guys, it’s not one of these crazy fast rides. I liked the idea that this was happening over the course of time and that it’s not always run, run, oh my gosh, they’re over here. Sometimes quiet is terrifying when you know they’re out there and you don’t know where. Every noise you hear, every cracked twig is a terrifying jolt into the reality you’ve been thrust into. So I wanted more of that, but that just doesn’t test well. [Laughs]
"A small thing that bugs me [in the scene] is I wish I took my bra off with my shirt all at once. It looks gratuitous of just taking a bra off. Just the sight of an actress taking a bra off in that scene, I didn’t like that. It drives me insane. I really wanted it to be this survival moment, an act of survival, they had to do this or they were going to freeze -- which is true, because Lake got hyperthermia the night we were in the water. But there was just something gratuitous about the act of unhooking a bra and taking it off. Also, I would add a couple of more quiet moments to it. But that’s why when directors cut their own movies they’re so long and annoying because we fall in love with moments and we don’t get why they don’t work in a movie.”
The following clip contains full frontal nudity and is therefore NSFW.