With Vanishing On 7th Street opening this week, we sit down with director Brad Anderson to discuss the film. Anderson, most well known for his film The Machinist, has a pretty impressive filmography. He was behind not only The Machinist, but also Session 9 and Transsiberian. Brad has also been involved in a number of TV shows including The Shield, Treme, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire and Fringe.
Brad discusses the film, what drew him to it, the open ending, how they captured some of the effects, and more. Check out the interview. Audio version included at the end of the page.
We Got This Covered: Hi Brad, how are you?
Brad Anderson: Good.
WGTC: So we’re here to talk about your latest film, Vanishing On 7th Street and just to start off, can you tell the audience what it’s about in your own words?
BA: It’s kind of an apocalyptic thriller. Four characters wake up in a big American city, step outside and discover that everyone has simply disappeared. Vanished. And then they realize that they’re the only survivors for some reason. They gather together in a bar in the middle of the city that still has some light. There’s been a blackout so all the power has gone out except for this one little bar that still has electricity. The survivors try to figure out what happened and why they didn’t get taken like everyone else did. They realize that something is in the darkness. Some kind of force or presence is in the shadows that is somehow responsible for this calamity. And then of course it gets consecutively more suspenseful. So ya, I guess apocalyptic thriller would be the two words description of it.
WGTC: Ya, that sounds about accurate. Now can you tell us how you first got involved with the project?
BA: I read the script that Tony Jaswinski, a friend of mine had written. I really responded to the kind of core mystery of it and in the script how he never provides any full on singular explanation as to what’s happening in the story. He never really kind of solves the mystery of it. I thought this was kind of daring and different and unconventional.
For those reasons I kind of felt like this was something I’d be interested in doing. Also, the way in his story how he describes that the darkness has become this kind of presence, because darkness really becomes the monster in the movie if you will, I was just interested in the challenge of how to literally create that. How to find a way to literally animate darkness and animate shadows in such a way that they became kind of threatening and scary. That was sort of the technical challenge of our movie and that just kind of interested me.
WGTC: Now you said that what drew you to the film was that there was no explanation or anything. So when you were reading it, were you not a bit hesitant to do it, did you not think that maybe audiences would react negatively to that? In today’s society especially, a lot of moviegoers like to have closure. They like to sit through a movie and know exactly what happened by the end. Were you not worried that they would feel cheated by the ending?
BA: Yea I think some people will need more explanation. No doubt it’s a risky kind of approach but it was intentional. There’s a difference between telling a story and not providing an explanation because you just don’t do it well or pull it off. The difference here is that was the intent all along, never to fully provide an answer. To keep the mystery of it alive, so that the audience in some ways can have that same feeling of being unbalanced and have that disconcerting feeling you have when you don’t really know what’s happening. We wanted to put the audience into the shoes of the four characters of the story, who were also grappling this big mystery.
I know that some people will respond to it in that way but others will be kind of intrigued by the ambiguity of it. But it’s just one of these movies, not a Hollywood movie in that sense. We kind of felt like an obligation to do something that was a bit unconventional, in terms of how we told this story.
WGTC: Do you have your own theory as to what happened?
BA: Ya know it’s funny, I don’t really. I kind of took the approach of sometimes too much information is a bad thing. I like being more distant from it and not even trying to find an explanation. As a storyteller and as a filmmaker I didn’t really feel like I even needed to know what was happening. We throw out lots of bones into the mix, various clues and hints and what could be an explanation or what could be various explanations. But just to keep the dialogue alive. I don’t really have my own specific explanation. If anything it would be a combination of various possible explanations. Maybe a bit of religious, maybe a bit of reckoning, maybe a science experiment gone bad or a portal into another dimension has opened up. That’s whats fun about the movie. You can have those kind of debates. And everyone can find evidence to support their argument.
I don’t want to be facetious but no one explanation is better than the next. You can extrapolate from that on peoples various explanations about what their faith is. No one faith is necessarily superior to another. All explanations are valid and in some respects when it comes to the big mysteries of life. This movie, this story, is in its broadest terms is kind of an apocalyptic thriller. For me though, it works on a number of different levels, beyond that. In some ways, it’s kind of a meditation on death and each of these characters grappling with their own mortality and that it is what interests me, beyond the more typical kind of genre-y aspects of it. That’s what drew the actors into it as well, they kind of responded to the characters and their struggle to find meaning in this weird meaningless catastrophe.
WGTC: Earlier on you mentioned creating the darkness, could you tell us how you went about creating it and how you get that very moody and tensioned atmosphere?
BA: In terms of creating the shadow effects themselves, which sort of create the sense of threat in the story, we wanted to find ways to have these shadows grow and morph and move in ways that were very unnatural and weird. At first, we’d do it subtly and as the movie progressed we’d make it more exaggerated. But we didn’t want the shadows to feel too humanoid. We wanted them to have a more organic feel. So we looked at natural phenomenons. Like the way clouds form in the sky, or how mold will grow. Natural phenomenons were the template for how we created the shadow effects.
The effects team here in New York really handled that. In terms of the look of the movie, we wanted to take out a lot of the colour and keep it very monochromatic so that the story was more about the interplay between darkness and light. That kind of flushed out look felt kind of fitting for the story. Trying to get a level of darkness, literally in the story and in the film, that was just on the edge of being readable, that was one of the big challenges, at least for us. Especially since we were working on a limited budget. These days thankfully digital effects and digital technology are all really affordable, even on a smaller budget movie. So you could do quite a bit, get a alot of bang for your buck.
WGTC: Just before we let you go, can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
BA: Well I have Jack, a serial killer movie. We have a few cast attached and hopefully we’ll move forward with that in the fall. Then I have another project that Scott Kosar, the writer of The Machinist is writing, based on J.G Ballard’s novel called Concrete Island. It’s a cool, urban, suvival story. Christian Bale is attached to be in it when he is available.
WGTC: Well thank you once again for taking the time to talk to us, we really appreciate it!
Be sure to check out Vanishing On 7th Street when it hits theatres on February 18th.