Independent, low-budget horror films can sometimes suffer from the strain of not having enough money to include the stunts needed to create a truly frightening story. But much like ‘Paranormal Activity’ proved, these films can still effectively feature horrifying stories and scares to frighten audiences. The new movie ‘Apartment 143? is one such low-budget paranormal horror film that uses clever camera tricks and a detailed backstory to shock viewers.
‘Apartment 143′ follows a team of parapsychologists, including Dr. Helzer (played by Michael O’Keefe), Ellen Keegan (portrayed by Fiona glascott) and Paul Ortega (portrayed by Rick Gonzalez), who begin investigating a series of anomalous phenomena in a newly occupied apartment. As the team begins interviewing and recording the tenants, including Alan White (played by Kai Lennox) and his children, Caitlin (portrayed by Gia Mantegna) and Benny (played by Damian Roman), the unexplained phenomena intensifies; the phone rings but no one’s on the other end, objects begin flying and there are extraordinary light emissions.
Using state-of-the-art technology, including infra-red filming an magnetic field alteration meters, the team tries to find the reasoning behind the unexplained phenomena. Meanwhile, the White family, particularly Alan and Caitlin, have a tumultuous relationship, which the parapsychologists believe may be a contributing factor in the unusual happenings in the apartment.
‘Apartment 143′s director, Carles Torrens, generously took the time to speak with us over the phone recently to discuss what attracted him to the horror movie. The first-time feature film helmer also spoke about how he research and prepared to shoot the movie, and what kind of limitations and difficulties he experienced by shooting over a four-week period with multiple different cameras in an apartment.
ShockYa (SY): You directed the new horror film ‘Apartment 143.’ How did you become involved in the film, and what was it about Rodrigo Cortés’ script that convinced you to take on the job?
Carles Torrens (CT): Well, Rodrigo, the director of ‘Red Lights,’ who I’ve admired for a long time, is also a friend of mine, and Adrián Guerra, one of the other producers, another friend of mine, had this project. Rodrigo was interested in directing it himself at one point. But then he was sent off in another direction.
So they had a script and an idea for it. The point of the project was an exploration of film, and take a traditional ghost story and tell it with a new set of narrative tools.
At this point, there was no director attached. They liked my work, and thought I’d be a good helmer for it. They approached me with the project, and asked me if I wanted to do it. I said absolutely.
SY: Rodrigo wrote the script after researching skeptical science, parascience, the supernatural and the metapsychic for another one of his films, ‘Red Lights.’ How much knowledge did you have of the supernatural before you signed on to direct the film?
CT: Very little, actually. The film provides an in-depth, rigorous look at the scientific side of parapsychology, something I knew very little about. The screenplay had a lot of information, so just by reading the screenplay, you learn a lot.
But I had to do a lot of research on the side. I had to buy a lot of books, and I read them extensively. I summarized the books, and put them into a reader’s digest version, and that’s what I gave the actors, to get caught up to speed. We all had to be on the same page, as far as parapsychology, and how much we had to know. So that was a new area for me, and I learned a lot.
SY: You made your feature film directorial debut with ‘Apartment 143,’ after helming several short films, including ‘Frank’s First Love’ and ‘Coming to Town.’ What was the transition period like from the short films to ‘Apartment 143?’
CT: Well, ‘Frank’s First Love’ was a very simple short I made, and I made a few shorts after that. I also directed a few TV movies in between.
The challenge here wasn’t necessarily the length of the film, it was just the way it was filmed. You’re used to a very traditional kind of film language and lighting and way of telling the story. Then I had to come up with a whole new set of tricks and narrative notes to tell the story. So it was like starting from scratch.
I wasn’t lighting the way I usually light. I didn’t have dollies or Steadicams. So basically it felt like an experiment, more than directing a feature film.
One big difference I did feel from all the stuff I’ve done previously is working with special effects. That’s something I had very little knowledge about. So it was a huge world that was opened up to me. It was a very challenging experience, but it was satisfactory at the end. Also, the producers were very supportive at all times.
SY: Speaking of the stunts, you included several stunts in ‘Apartment 143,’ including light emissions, flying objects and exploding light bulbs. What was the process like in creating these stunts?
CT: Well, again, I knew very little about special effects. One thing I did know, as a fan of horror films, I’m not a fan of CG. I wanted the special effects to be as practical as they could.
Our production designers have done a lot of theater, and have done stage shows, so they know a lot of light tricks. Then I had a rigger who’s done a lot of musicals and stage shows, and knows all about wires and pulling and things like that. So I had a time of those people, and a team of stunt doubles.
I also had an adviser who knew a lot about CG. I only wanted to use CG to erase wires. I didn’t want to create any stunts with CG. So it was all about delegating duties. It was all about team work, and knowing who would do what, and up to what point.
SY: Are there any horror films that you look up to, and inspired the stunts in the movie?
CT: Well, I’ll say this from the gecko, I’m not a huge found-footage fan. Found-footage films weren’t really what I looked at. For me, the challenges for me, narratively, were about timing and playing with the audience about suspense.
I looked at movies like ‘Poltergeist,’ for example, or ‘The Orphanage,’ a Spanish film. It’s all about how long it takes for the ghosts to come out. It’s not about seeing the ghosts so much, as far as playing with the audience’s expectations.
As far as the cameras and the feel of the voyeuristic look, I watched the show ‘Big Brother.’ I’ve never watched it before, but I bought Season 4 on Amazon and watched it. It kind of gave me the sense of what a voyeuristic feel is supposed to be like.
I guess one found footage film that I did analyze was ‘Cloverfield.’ What I liked about that film is it’s all about the trick. Every little jitter of the camera, every little movement and pan was justified. It’s not an actor improvising and moving the camera around.
It was an actual DP (Director of Photography) moving that camera, who knows how to exactly time every pan and tilt. That’s kind of my inspiration for the camera work for ‘Apartment 143.’ It was kind of a combination of those films-’Poltergeist,’ ‘The Orphanage,’ ‘Cloverfield’ and the show ‘Big Brother.’
SY: Speaking of the found footage genre, which has also become popular in the horror genre in recent years, ‘Apartment 143’ was shot as a found footage documentary. Why did you decide to shoot the film using this technique?
CT: Well, the movie was already planned this way before I signed on. But it was conceived before ‘Paranormal Activity 2′ even came out. It’s taken awhile for it to come out, but when I was designing it, I didn’t have many visual references for it. I had never seen security cameras in a movie before.
When I was doing the shots, I was doing it in my head for the first time. I had never seen head cams in a movie before. So I was doing that. A lot of people were doing it at the same time.
The movie was designed in the found footage way. It wasn’t like I received the script, and said, let’s do it as a found footage. It was designed this way, but I don’t see it that way.
I see it as a research movie. I see it as a filmed experiment. It was about providing a cold, detached, distant look at experiments carried out by scientists, in a very academic way. It’s the same way that certain researchers film their projects. They record it and have discussions, and rule out possibilities until they find their own conclusion. That’s basically the way the movie was conceived, and I was hired to carry out.
SY: You shot the film on 16 different kinds of format, including night vision, VHS, security and cell phone cameras, in a four week period in an apartment in downtown Barcelona. Did you experience any kind of difficulties while shooting in one location with so many different cameras?
CT: Well, that was one of the biggest appeals the movie had to me, was that challenge. Every camera has a narrative purpose. It wasn’t in the script, you’re going to be using 16 cameras. That’s kind of the conclusion I reached as the director. I said, I think the scene needs to be filmed like this, and I need this specific camera.
By putting it all together, it ended up being all these different cameras. I can’t really recall right now if it was 16, it may have been fewer cameras, but it was around there.
But that was the exact thing that appealed to me. It was that narrative challenge, to have a very enclosed, limited space, and never bore the audience. It was to expand the story beyond the walls of those walls, with character development, and tell the story as efficiently as I could with this array of cameras.
I couldn’t shoot it with a dolly or a Steadicam or a crane. I had to come up with experimental ideas that would be as effective as a dolly shot or a crane shot or a Steadicam shot, in the ‘Apartment 143′ language.
SY: Do you have any upcoming writing or directing projects that you can discuss?
CT: There are a few things I’m working on, but none that I can really talk about. It seems like projects can fall apart, or be created, within a matter of hours. There’s a couple things there, but I’d rather not talk about them until they’re ready to be presented.
Written by: Karen Benardello