Quantcast Eric Nicholas interview - ALONE WITH HER

Eric Nicholas
One of the most interesting and unique genre related films I've seen this year was ALONE WITH HER, which stars Colin Hanks as Doug, a lonely, socially inept young man who becomes obsessed with Amy (played by the beautiful Ana Claudia Talancon). The entire film is seen from the perspective of Doug's hidden cameras, hence making us - the viewer the voyeur to Amy's daily life. After seeing the flick, I knew I had to talk to the writer/director behind it, Eric Nicholas. Below is our FRIGHT exclusive interview! - by Robg. 7/07

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Did you remember the first films that impacted or scared you as a kid?

It’s funny actually. I grew up in a small town in Canada and every Saturday afternoon at 1PM there was this show called Monster Movie Matinee. And it showed old black and white horror films. And I really got into it as a kid. They showed everything from the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein. They also showed those “camp” movies, like I Was A Teenage Werewolf. I just loved it. Those are my first early influences. Shortly after that, I started buying all those magazines like Famous Monsters and Fangoria. It was very much my passion as a kid. Horror and Sci-Fi films. To this day, my favorite film is JAWS. JAWS is a huge, huge influence. Not only in terms of horror, but also in terms of wanting to get into the film business.

Can you tell us a bit about your history getting into filmmaking? Was there anything specific that you were interested in pursuing? Was it writing, directing, acting? Where’d it start for you?

Well, I started writing in college in Canada. But it was always a means to an end for me. My goal was to always direct what I’d write. I felt at that time, my potential “in” would be to write a screenplay that I could sell, get produced and have success with. So I worked as a professional screenwriter for almost ten years. I started doing it professionally in 95-96.
It was in 2004 after I had finished an assignment for Warner Brothers that I decided, you know what? I’m not getting any younger. I’m going to finance my own low budget movie. And shoot it myself if I have to. So, I spent most of 2004 writing ALONE WITH HER. Fully intending to finance it myself out of my own pocket if I had to. When I finished the script, my agent sent it to out to a handful of producers that were looking to make this kind of film, and we got several bites. I ended up going with Tom and Bob Engelman, who financed the film privately.

You just said you were aiming to doing something low budget, something that you’d be able to pull off yourself. So, when it came to developing the screenplay and writing this voyeuristic story, did you always keep in mind doing something effective, but on a low budget?

It was a hell of a challenge. I had to write something that on one hand was fresh and innovative and would really distinguish itself. But at same time, I had to write it in a way so I could finance it for 100 grand. So, it was really tough in terms of how does this all come together. It was really several ideas happening over the course of a month. One day you have that big eureka! The first thing that happened for me was that I came across a website that sold dirt cheap spy equipment to the general public. And it really freaked me out, because the stuff they’re selling these days is really scary. I did a little more research and found hundreds more of these sites. There are also retail spy shops in most big cities in the US.

So, I came to realize that any sleaze-bag with $100 bucks can secretly watch and listen to me inside my own home. That was the first thing. And then I thought what if this kind of equipment fell in the hands of someone like Doug? Shortly after that, I thought to myself no film has ever been shot completely through hidden cameras. So that’s kind of how it happened. Purist that I am, I wanted to shoot the entire film with those real hidden video cameras. The $50 dollar kind that you can buy just about anywhere. For practical reasons as our budget climbed, we decided to shoot on High Def and degrade and desaturate the image in post-production to create that grainy surveillance look.

This subject matter doesn’t exactly fall under the category of “horror”, BUT I find this idea - someone like Doug that does exist in real life to be absolutely terrifying...

It’s funny because PSYCHO, which is one of my favorite films and a huge influence on everything I do – PSYCHO is often characterized as a horror film, but in fact it’s really a psychological thriller if anything.

There are a lot of facts out there about “stalking”, even on the DVD’s features, but how’d you create this character of Doug? Did you do research into these type of people? Or base him on anyone?

For me as a writer, I can’t write it until I believe it. The fascinating thing about stalkers, and you may or may not know this, is that they don’t really have a set profile, the way that say… serial killers do. I read a lot of books written by FBI profilers, and what really confounds them to this day is that stalkers come from ALL walks of life. Some have been doing it since their teens. Others just start out of the blue in their 30’s.
Some do it after they get dumped by a girlfriend. Others are just lonely and isolated like Doug is. But there are a few characteristics I’ve seen in common in most of them. I gave Doug most of those characteristics. Socially isolated. Never really had a relationship with anyone. Lives on his own. Lives very much in a fantasy world in the sense that much of his time is spent watching movies on the internet, TV, whatever. In the end, it’s a really short step between grabbing his camcorder and going out.

Now, with a film like this that has a relatively small cast, casting is pivotal. How difficult was it to cast Amy? Because this is the girl we’re going to be watching for 80 minutes and what was it about Ana Claudia Talancon that made her right for the role?

I originally wrote Amy as an all American girl next door. Blonde hair, blue eyes. And we auditioned close to a hundred girls before Ana walked into the room. Obviously, none of them had exactly what I was looking for. But Ana came in and gave a kick ass audition that just blew everyone away in the room. So much so that when she left, I decided, you know what? I’m going to re-write the script a bit to make it fit Ana. She’s got this natural, unaffected vulnerability, along with her beauty of course. But it’s very hard to find. I wasn’t aware of quite how hard until I went through this audition process in LA. Like I said, we saw just about everyone. But I was thrilled that Ana flew in and saved the day.

The interesting thing about her is that by portraying this movie for the audience in a voyeuristic fashion, it’s so easy to fall in love with her! I know I did!

I’m glad to hear you say that. I completely agree. The great thing about Ana is again, she has that innate sweetness and her beauty is not the kind that is unattainable. It’s a natural beauty that I think a lot of men gravitate to. I think you’re absolutely right and I think through hidden cameras, you feel sympathy for this girl from minute one.

Yeah. She’s very vulnerable, she’s very beautiful. And… half way through the movie, you really made me feel guilty for watching her! Because you literally put us in Doug’s shoes! That was one of the brilliant things about the film.

Well, thanks man. I got to tell you, it was tough to shoot it that way. I said to everyone that at the end of the day this was an experimental film, and I had certain hopes and goals for the film, but in the end you really don’t know how it’s going to turn out or how the audience is going to react. I’m really happy about the reaction so far.

Let’s talk about the stalker in ALONE WITH HER, Doug. Are you trying to tarnish the Hanks name with this movie?! (Laughs)

(Laughs) When I heard that he liked the script, I was thrilled. He was at the top of my wish list from day one. What was really great about Colin was that he was as excited as I was to shoot the entire film through hidden cameras. He was psyched about bending some rules and breaking new ground cinematically. In terms of the character, we were on the same page from the very beginning. We saw the character of Doug in the same way. And I think he did a great job.

As a writer, most work that you do is fiction, but there are a lot of situations in this movie about relationships and the way that people deal with intimacy. Did you draw from any personal experiences? Or people that you knew? Because both Doug and Amy felt very real.

Not to sound like a pretentious asshole (Laughs) but a lot of this stuff while I’m writing is subconscious. I can tell you that Amy is a composite of 3 or 4 young women that I know. Including my wife. Most of Amy’s living circumstances for example are based on my wife when she graduated college several years ago. You know, living on her own in a very similar apartment. Does art on the side, that kind of thing. Doug is based largely with a guy I used to work with in Canada. He was a textbook sales rep. This is way back in the early 90’s. That guy shared a lot of qualities with Doug.

Where outwardly he seemed normal and kind and somewhat shy. But inwardly – I saw him one night when I was out drinking with buddies, and I saw him at a pub alone, nursing a beer in the corner. He looked kind of unhappy. And before I could even go say hello to him, I was whisked away to another bar.

Later that night after all the bars had closed and it was about 2AM, I saw him walking drunk down the street alone, just hammered. And right before he turned the corner, I saw him just implode and angrily kick this trash can of garbage into the street, then stagger away and disappear into the night. That image really stayed with me for a long time, because I always wondered what did this guy go home to that night? He was clearly a lonely, isolated guy. What did he do to vent? How’d he cope? That was always at the forefront of my mind when I started writing Doug. I then started drawing from a number of sources, such as FBI profiler books.

When it comes to telling a story that’s this complicated and through only the cameras of the stalker character, using hidden cameras for example. How well prepared and scripted was everything? Was every detail and action scripted? Was there room for improv?

Both. As a first time director, I absolutely had to be as prepared as possible. Also, given our budget, it’s not the type of movie where you want to stand around chatting. On the other hand, within the parameters that I gave to the actors, there was room for improvisation. As you can imagine, my main goal for the performances was that they feel real and natural. Ana for example, as long as she got the gist of the scripted dialogue, and perhaps wanted to embellish it or change it some way, I was totally cool with that. In the end, both Ana and Colin came up with some great stuff on their own and just went with it. Short answer, yes, it was scripted, but there were many times when the actors improvised and adlibbed and came up with some great stuff.

(SPOILER) I want to talk a bit about the ending. The ending in the movie is very effective and one of the scariest aspects of the film. But, there is an alternate ending on the DVD, so I wanted to ask about that. How difficult was it to decide how this story should end itself?

Not difficult at all. The ending that’s in the movie is the ending I scripted. HOWEVER, during pre-production, the producers and I agreed that if time permitted, we should probably film an alternate ending where Amy triumphs. And that’s really a practical decision in the sense that… Well what happens is, you finish these movies and you start testing them with audiences. They fill out cards about what they think.
We just wanted to have (the alternate ending) in our back pocket once the film was complete, just in case audiences might have craved Amy killing Doug. Instead of re-assembling the cast and crew at a later date, we just decided to shoot an alternate ending very quickly. As you can probably tell from the DVD, we literally had a few hours to do it. It was a rush job that we basically shelved that same day. The ending that’s in the film is exactly the way I always wanted it to end. (END SPOILER)

I know you screened it recently at Tribeca. What was the general reaction to the film for audiences? Did it play the way you expected it to?

Tribeca was amazing. I couldn’t have been happier to premiere the film there. After the screening, I did a Q & A with the audience. And the reaction was what I always hoped for. In particular the effect the film would have on young women. Many young women after each screening would come up to me and say, “Thanks a lot. I’m never going to sleep the same way again!” It sounds crazy, but I was thrilled to hear that because making a film like this, your number one goal is to scare people. It seems to be working. We got our distributor at Tribeca. We sold out each screening. We had a great time.
Now, I’m looking at the poster that you put together, I assume for when you screened it…

The theatrical poster?

Yeah. Can you at all comment on the DVD cover for ALONE WITH HER? Because my personal opinion is that your theatrical poster is… well better…

Well, let’s put it this way. What do YOU think I think of the DVD cover? (Laughs)

(Laughs) Well…

My hope was always to have something classy and provocative…

Which the theatrical poster is!

Exactly. Exactly. The one image I suggested was a night vision shot of Amy sitting on her bed and hanging her head in some kind of misery and surrounded in blackness. Something that is classy and provocative and that would do justice to the film.

The image I see on the DVD cover (to me) tries to sell it as a “When A Stranger Calls” type of knock off. And the film is NOTHING like that. It’s far superior and I hope it doesn’t dissuade people from seeing it.

The DVD distributor’s stand, from day one, was that they were going to market and position this film as a genre title. Obviously, it’s not a genre title. It’s a festival film that got very favorable reviews. But it’s not a genre title at all! It’s not The Hills Have Eyes.

It’s also being marketed as an Unrated cut. Was there something cut out?

No. It was always Unrated. Again, I have to assume these people know what they’re doing on a business level. I truly believe though that the type of cover artwork we were just talking about would actually generate more interest. Both from genre fans and from the general public. But that’s just my opinion. They probably have their own people that do research on this kind of thing.

Now that the DVD is officially out, would you be interested in doing more genre related stuff?

It really depends on the project. I’ve written nothing but thrillers since way back in the mid 90’s. So, I certainly have a love for that kind of thing. My next film that I’m shooting in the fall is a thriller in the same vein as Lord Of The Flies. As you know, I love horror films though, the good ones. What are some of your favorites?

PSYCHO is probably one of my favorite movies of all time.

It’s my number two right after JAWS! It’s not surprising, a lot of filmmakers, especially in the 70’s grew up worshipping that film, studying it frame by frame. And I don’t blame them! Hitchcock described it as pure cinema and it really is. I couldn’t agree with you more, PSYCHO’s one of the greatest films of all time.

Well, there’s also EVIL DEAD 2. That’s probably my favorite horror movie.

(Laughs) I was just watching the first one.

Well thanks so much for your time, Eric!

VISIT: www.AloneWithHerTheMovie.com

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