BY: DAKOTA DAHL
Isabelle tells the story of a happy young couple who are expecting their first child while moving into the seemingly perfect new home. What should be the start of a happily ever after turns upside-down when a sinister neighbor begins to torment the expecting mother. Or is she really? A story of love, loss and shifting realities, Isabelle is a supernatural thriller with an endearingly human element.
We were lucky enough to chat with director Rob Heydon (The Pinkertons, O.G.) where he gave us a look at what life is like behind the camera.
Your directing, writing and producing credits are very eclectic, from the Western aspect of The Pinkertons to the Drama of Ecstasy and O.G.. Do you have a favorite genre to work in, and why?
I don’t really have a favorite, it’s more about telling great stories. For example, I wanted to help the film O.G. because it was a great story. We got to shoot in an actual prison with Jeffrey Wright which is amazing, but then one of our producing partners was this guy named Kareem Biggs. Kareem actually spent a number of years in prison for cannabis, I think he had 100 pounds in New York State, but he also happened to be Jay-Z’s partner on Roc-A-Fella Records, so he was one of the few guys who could afford to have a living once he got out of prison. He set up a foundation to help people transition from being in prison to coming out and facing the real world. I thought that was a great story, but I also thought it was great what they were trying to do, trying to bring awareness to how uneven, how unfair it is for minorities in America when going through the court systems and being incarcerated. There’s a much higher percentage of minorities than there are of whites in the prison system over there.
For Pinkertons, I had not done a TV series before, and I wanted to get into TV a bit, so that helped just by having a TV credit, and now I’m working with Brad Peyton on a murder mystery set in Iceland based on a book series. A German student is found dead at the University of Reykjavik with his eyes gouged out and some symbols cut into his body, and it turns out he’s been studying the history of witchcraft and human sacrifice in Iceland.
So, it’s a diverse slate of projects. Fox & Hare is a preschool animation project, so it’s whatever the story warrants, we enable storytellers to bring their vision to the screen, whatever the screen may be, whether it’s a TV series or a film or a set up for one of the streaming services
Compared to other genres, what is challenging about working within the horror genre?
I guess casting is very difficult on the best of days, but particularly in genres it’s hard to get larger name actors to do work in genre films, unless you’re like Jason Blum who’s got a deal through Universal. Actually, we cast Adam Brody first, we had a casting director who knew, from our short list of actors we were interested in, that Adam might be open to doing a genre film. Then it took some time to work with our sales company to figure out which Canadian actresses had value in the US and international marketplace, and our sales company had worked with Amanda Crew before, so they suggested her and she just happened to be available and interested. Then, to find a slot when both Amanda and Adam’s schedule lined up, that took about another year. Then we were able to get Shelia McCarthy and Zoe Belkin, and a great cast for all the other supporting roles.
What was it that most attracted you to Donald Martin’s script?
I think it was about a young couple who seemingly have the perfect relationship, moving into the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood and then everything goes wrong. It was that initial introduction to the hero couple and their relationship that I felt really grounded the story, that the audience could really emote through this because so many people experience relationships that take a turn or have complications and so on. Then the fact that our lead faces losing her child and is suffering from post-partum depression and reaches the point where she isn’t sure what reality is or what’s really going on. I thought that was really interesting.
Isabelle seems to draw a lot of inspiration from movies like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. What other films have inspired you, and how did they affect how you approached this film?
I guess a film like The Others is another one, or The Sixth Sense, where you think the character is in one reality, but it is something completely different, and you don’t find out until the twist at the end. I guess those, and there was a Chris Marker film that was all told with stills from the sixties, it was an experimental short film. I can’t remember the name of it, I’ll have to look it up. It was one that we studied in film school where this guy shows up at an airport warning of a nuclear war, and this was the inspiration for the film Twelve Monkey. *Writer’s note: the film Rob is thinking of is La Jetee. You can watch it for free on YouTube, which I totally endorse because it is incredible* It was all told in stills, and it was very cyclical in fashion as well, where the beginning of the film is actually the end of the film, which I thought was interesting. Then also drawing on inspiration from art and sculptures. My daughter, who is about nine at the time, saw a rough cut of it and said “All the evil spirits, you can see it in their eyes.” When I was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that fall for the American Film Institute, I went on a tour through the galleries, through these sculptures of Satan and paintings of evil spirits and people who have fallen into hell and stuff like that. Just kind of studying their eyes and their energy for the Isabelle character, drawing on that as well.
What did you learn while filming Isabelle that you plan to apply to future films?
I guess just make sure the entire team is on board with making the project, that everyone has the same vision for making the film and to work out the entire film in storyboards before moving into production. We had a very limited amount of time for pre-production on this film because of people’s schedules and commitments to other productions, so we had a hard-out date with Amanda Crew because she had to get back to Los Angeles to shoot the next season of Silicon Valley. We also had a hard date with Adam due to personal commitments to another project, so we had a very limited number of shooting days, we had even less time in pre-production, we were literally just running into it. On future shows I’d like more time to prepare storyboards and getting the script polished as much as possible in preproduction, so we don’t have to scramble as much while shooting.
Without giving too much away, what was your favorite scene in the film, and why?
I think one of the most difficult scenes is one of the shortest, is with the real baby. We had three different babies we were filming with, because the union only allows us to film them for about five or ten minutes at a time and then they have to have an hour off in between. We had a couple of babies waiting, but one baby in particular was very hungry, and we only had that five minutes of filming with him in-between his feeding, so he was very hungry, very upset. We placed him on this cold metal table, which was really a chef’s table, but it was supposed to look like a medical table, and for one moment he’s dead, then he comes back and he’s yelling and screaming at the camera. That was so hard to do because really, everyone wants to protect the baby, the mother, the father, and I’m a father myself, so the last thing you want to do is have a screaming baby on set. We could simply let the mother pick up the baby, and it would stop crying, but as soon as we put it down on this cold metal table, while it’s hungry, that was the hardest scene to film by far. We needed this one shot of the baby for the film, and the mother is holding the hand of the baby. It was literally just an insert shot but it took an afternoon to film. Once we got it, we knew we had got it, but then we had to get the other shots leading up to that, where the baby was calm and a bit more relaxed. And then we had to, in post-production, cut and paste some of the arms and the eyes onto the baby to make it work so that the baby, for those shots, was not moving and then it’s moving a little bit, and then it kind of wakes up and starts screaming. Not a very easy sequence to do, and of course your heart goes out to the baby because you just want to help it stop crying.
Can you tell us anything about any of your upcoming projects we can look forward to in the future?
In the near future is this TV series based on a book called Last Rituals by an Icelandic author named Yrsa Siguroardottir, which is this best selling book series about a lawyer in Iceland who is hired by a German family to investigate the death of their son. That’s season one, and season two, she’s on to other cases. It’s definitely going to be a dark, thrilling murder mystery with a large scope. I’m looking forward to that production, for sure.