People are often drawn to, and intrigued by, conflicting, tantalizing emotions that fuel their rage towards those around them, even their friends and family they care for the most. When unexpectedly forced to examine these feelings, people rarely come to understand their surprising and unrelenting ill-will, especially when their feelings arise from dire, life-threatening emergencies. The main characters in co-writer-director Gabriel Bologna’s fantasy horror thriller, ‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond,’ are forced into such an extreme life-or-death situation, which forces them to finally understand their resentment toward each other. The film, which is now available on Blu-ray and DVD, daringly showcases how seemingly close friends quickly turn on each other when their lives are on the line, and their true thoughts are finally revealed.
‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond’ follows nine friends, including Kathy (Danielle Harris), her fiancé, Trent (Walker Howard) and Pete (Robert Patrick), as they take a holiday at a Victorian home on a private island off the coast of Maine. There, they uncover a game first discovered as part of an archaeological expedition from over 80 years ago that resulted in a series of mysterious–and grisly–deaths. What they don’t realize is that when played, the ancient artifact brings out the worst in each of them. Jealousy, greed, hatred, lust, all of the things they keep buried deep inside themselves rise to the surface and come to a boil. A warning to all those who start the game: it just might finish you!
Bologna generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond’ over the phone. Among other things, the scribe-director discussed how he and co-writer Michael Berenson decided to pen the thriller after working and building a rapport on a previous film together, and how fellow writer Sean Clark added contributions after the movie received investors; how Harris is one of the actors who exceeded his expectations on the set, as she naturally balanced her character being both a victim and tormenter; and how it was always the filmmaker’s intention to helm the movie as he was writing the screenplay, as as the element of friendships going awry was something that he wanted to have creative control over while shooting a horror film.
ShockYa (SY): You co-wrote the script for the fantasy horror thriller, ‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond,’ with Michael Berenson and Sean Clark. How did you become involved in writing the script with Michael and Sean, and what was the overall process of penning the screenplay with them?
Gabriel Bologna (GB): I came up with the idea when I was reading in a history book that in ancient times, people believed that board games held supernatural powers. How else could an inanimate object illicit emotions such as greed, jealousy and laughter? That fascinated me.
Michael Berenson had worked on another movie of mine, so we already had a rapport together. So we decided to write the first draft together. A couple of years later, when we got financing, the investor brought in another writer to punch up the horror. Usually, when an investor brings in another writer, that’s a bad thing; they often take away the integrity of the script, to suit the needs of the executive producer.
But the exact opposite happened with us. Sean really took my script to the next level. (laughs) He and I started writing together, to make the film scarier and more suspenseful.
SY: Besides co-writing the script, you also directed ‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond.’ Was it always your intention to helm the film as you were working on the screenplay? Did penning the script help you in your directorial duties when you were on the set?
GB: I seek to direct every script that I write or co-write. Sometimes, I also work as a director-for-hire. But I had always been dying to direct this script, as the element of friendships going awry was something that I really wanted to shoot. I wanted to see how it would unfold on film.
SY: The film features a diverse and talented cast, including Danielle Harris and Robert Patrick. What was the casting process like for the main actors? How did you decide to cast Danielle, Robert and the rest of the cast in the film?
GB: Well, the best type of actor to hire is one who exceeds your expectations, and Danielle Harris certainly did that. She played the role opposite of how it was written. That’s really my favorite type of actor to cast.
Our preconceived notions are often wrong. We take away our limitations when we try to impose all our preconceptions on a character. Danielle played the role as if she was not just the victim, but also Rick’s tormenter. In the end, she played the character strong and almost more likable. Writing a character as a victim is only one note. So to have an actress add so many dimensions to a character I wrote is so exciting. It was really a joy to work with her.
SY: Were you able to any rehearsal time with the actors before you began shooting the film, to help them build their relationships?
GB: Rehearsals almost felt as though I was a conductor, because there were so many scenes were nine characters are sitting in a room, confronting each other about relationship issues. (laughs) There were so many other issues at play, such as pacing. I was greatly worried that the actors wouldn’t build strong relationships. So I was constantly trying to foster little nuisances in each of the characters’ feelings towards each other.
SY: Besides being a helmer and writer, you are also an actor, and have appeared in such films as ‘A-List’ and ‘Boston Girls.’ How does being an actor yourself influence the way you directed, and worked with, the cast on ‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond?’
GB: I think coming from an acting background is invaluable. It’s taught me the best way to work with a great actor is to let them do their thing. So I actually spent less time with Danielle Harris or Jimmy Duval than some of the other actors. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, and so many directors fall into that trap.
SY: ‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond’ is the first horror film you directed, after the 2004 comedy ‘Buds’ and the 2001 crime mystery, ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class.’ Why did you want to make the transition into the horror genre?
GB: I’ve always been a fan of horror. I actually did a horror comedy just prior to this film.
I also have a lot of fond memories of sitting around with my friends, watching horror movies from the ’70s. I had so many of them-I had a collection of VHS tapes. I remember the tapes becoming unspooled, and having to use a little pencil to put them back into the tape.
I’m a fan of that style of filmmaking, where there isn’t a lot of cuts, and where there’s character development. I like when the greatest evil actually comes from within. Now, there are more external antagonists in horror films. I’ve always been fascinated with the human side. That’s what I brought to ‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond.’ My writing partner, Sean, is also a big fan of horror movies from that era.
SY: Besides directing feature films, you have also helmed a couple of short films as well, including ‘The Trench’ and ‘Girrl.’ Are there any particular lessons you learned from your shorts that you brought to shooting ‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond?’ How is shooting shorts similar and different than features?
GB: I’m for all directors shooting shorts, whether they’re just starting out, or they’re career directors. You’re always working on your craft, and you can always find a gem to add to your team. I’ve found stunt coordinators and sound design engineers and even my DP (Director of Photography), Massimo Zeri, on a short I worked on. So you end up building a strong artistic support group in a short amount of time, that you can bring with you on a long-form project.
SY: The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond’ was shot independently. Did having that low budget pose any challenges or difficulties while you were shooting?
GB: (laughs) You know, I often feel like a pirate when I’m doing an independent film, because we’re constantly breaking rules, and going against the norm. One example is that we had this very expensive game constructed for the film. There was a moment where we had to shoot this scene where Jimmy Duvall’s character looks into this mirror that morphs into this other worldly, black goo in the center of the game, which represents Echo’s Pond. With all the bells and whistles on this game, there was no way to shine a light through it.
So we were behind schedule, and my production coordinator is telling me to just move on. I said “No, we have to get this amazing effect of the light shining through the game. It has to look watery and glistening.” So I picked up an axe, and was smashing through the game with it. The game was the most expensive set piece of the whole film. I said to Sean, “Go out and fins something that sizzles that we can put in a glass bowl, and we can shine the light through.”
He ran across the street and went to the gas station, and got some Alka-Seltzer tabs. He then dropped it in a glass Tupperware container. I finally smash through the game to the point where we were able to put a light in it. We put the Tupperware container inside the game, and it turned out to be the greatest effect of the entire film. It was done with an axe and Alka-Seltzer.
SY: Speaking of Sean, besides being a co-writer on the film, he also worked as a producer. What was the process of working with him, as both a co-scribe and producer?
GB: I would call Sean my cinematic hit-man, because I would send him on a lot of messy jobs. I made him my second unit director, because there really wasn’t anyone else on the film who understood the important elements we needed to shoot.
It’s a major taboo, using your writer as your second-unit director, because you step on a lot of toes. Sean didn’t know it at the time, because this was his first film, but writers aren’t given that much power on the set. I saw to it that he would shoot certain segments and shots for me. I would also send him to work with the actors while I was busy prepping a shot. We ended up having a great collaboration together.
SY: Anchor Bay Films is distributing ‘The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond’s Blu-ray and DVD. What was the process of securing the deal with the company to distribute the film on home release, particularly since the movie hit theaters over three years ago?
GB: Since I was the director, and not the producer, I wasn’t really in control of the sale of the film. So I wasn’t part of the deal with Anchor Bay. When they picked up the film, they put in an alternate opening in the extras feature.
I think they’ve done a great job of promoting our Blu-ray release. It’s a very strange experience when you spend so much time on creative on something, and then you have to wait for your producers to sell the film. Obviously, they want to get the best deal, which is why they held out. I’m really thrilled that Anchor Bay is pushing for our film.
Written by: Karen Benardello