Vanishing on 7th Street
is a horror movie set in Detroit.
One night, the power goes out and almost everyone vanishes, leaving piles of clothes on the ground, in cinemas public spaces and city streets. A lucky few---Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo---manage to avoid this fate and gather at a local bar---one with a generator---to try and figure out what’s going on and how they’re going to survive the creeping, predatory darkness.
This film is directed by Brad Anderson, who’s worked in American indie cinema (Next Stop Wonderland, Transsiberian
) and hour-long TV drama (Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Fringe
). I caught up with him on the phone from his home in Manhattan, and asked him about working as an independent filmmaker, how working in television compares, and where he sees his career going.
I liked how ambiguous Vanishing on 7th Street
is, in that you don’t have a sense of why this is happening. Were you under any pressure as a filmmaker to offer more of a twist, more answers?
Well, Tony’s [writer Anthony Jaswinski] original script was written without a clear explanation given. The whole idea was to keep it ambiguous and uncertain, to keep the spookiness alive. We never really intended to have the movie resolve in any clear-cut way. What happens afterwards is the fun of letting the audience guess. And try to put enough possible explanations in there, biblical-apocalyptic explanations or possible-science-physics-experiment-gone-bad explanation, we tossed enough possible leads in there to keep the audience discussing the movie once the lights come up. More of a movie that provokes discussion than a movie that satisfies the audience’s need to have a neat, tied-up ending.
We fought with the producers a little bit. They wanted more explanation but ultimately we went with what was intended from the start.
I wondered whether there was a particular reason for the locale. Was there a political or social reason for choosing Detroit? Even up here we’ve heard of the problems Detroit has with retaining its population.
The script wasn’t written for Detroit. The city itself wasn’t the point. When we were looking around for cities, Detroit had a really great tax rebate for filmmakers. Part of the reason for shooting there was an economical one. But yeah, you’re right, it’s already a city devoid of people. A lot of the centre of downtown, places are abandoned and deserted. It has a post-apocalyptic feel to it already. In seeing that, we can take advantage of the look of Detroit, and there is the irony that it is a city that is the ghost of its former self. I think it adds another level of intrigue or interpretation to the story, which I think is cool.
You do a lot of work in hour-long dramas for TV. How does working in TV affect or inform your feature work. Do they compare?
Going back and forth hasn’t proved to be difficult. Personally, I do it, I enjoy it, and certainly if you can do good shows...it’s worth it. It doesn’t provide the creative rush like making your own movie. It’s a totally different thing. You’re not creating a world in television, you’re really a gun for hire, working for someone else who’s creating that world. We shot Vanishing
like we shot a TV show. We shot it in 28 days, quickly, on video. It was like shooting an extended television show in some ways. We had no choice, it was such a small budget.
Speaking of budget, and getting your films made, do you find that now, with experience and a healthy body of work behind you, do you find it easier or harder to get your projects green-lit?
My hope and push is to work on bigger projects. Bigger projects and scope. I’m looking to broaden my career potential. I’m not seeking out micro-budget independent films kind of like the ones I’ve done up to this point. It is hard to get financing for those movies. I’m talking in the $20-$25 million range. The studio world isn’t making anymore. True small independent films akin to what was made in the 90s don’t usually work anymore. There are these orphan projects in that range and trying to find the financing for those is tricky. It’s all about foreign sales, if they can presale the movie overseas. And it’s about getting actors who can provide that, the foreign sales value, so it’s all about negotiating those obstacles just to get to the starting line with the money. I’ve got four or five things I’m trying to get off the ground, that size project. Some are closer than others, but it is tricky.
The world of small, independent, home-grown movies is still out there. It might be harder to get financing, but the means of production are such you can do it on your own now. You can do it on a micro-micro budget, shoot it on video, cut it on your portable laptop, Final Cut Pro, and submit it to a film festival. All of a sudden you’ve got the next mumblecore movie that’s all the rage. It is harder in general though, getting exposure for your movie. The novelty for the latest cool indie film has worn off. And there are so many other venues for releasing films in the United States. This film was first released on Video on Demand, and then a month later it was released theatrically in limited markets. With this company that’s a new approach that apparently they’ve had some success with. So it’s always changing.
So I’ve made a number of these smaller movies, but it doesn’t get any easier getting the right kind of movies off the ground.
So you are looking for a movie above the “orphan” budget, then?
Yes, I’m fishing around in that world for something that is the right fit, the right thing, that I can get. Hopefully I’ll find something. Whether it’s an assignment-type job, or it’s writing my own script like I am, trying to get my own project off the ground. I’d love to work on a bigger level. It’s finding the right thing. You get a lot of scripts sent to you, another superhero, Marvel comic redux. There’s so many crappy big movies out there. Even if the offer is on the table, personally those things I find don’t draw me in. I gotta feel like I’ve got to bring something to the table, and what the studios are making right now doesn’t interest me much at all.
It’s hard for me to get passionate unless I can find some way of owning the material. With this movie, Tony Jaswinski wrote the script but we worked together in shaping it as we were moving towards production. It was small enough that I could sort of claim it as my own in a way. I can possess it. With a lot of these other movies, you’re working for the franchise. It’s not like your making a movie, you’re just creating another way to sell toys and McDonalds.