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Interview with Director Rod Blackhurst for the film Here Alone

Here Alone was one of the best films at last summer’s Frightfest. Directed by Rod BlackhurstHere Alone is set during the aftermath of a viral epidemic that renders the majority of the human population deranged monsters. It’s an interesting spin on the zombie genre, which has at times become a little stagnant. We enjoyed the refreshing take so much it earned our highest accolade, a full five stars.

Today the film lands in U.S cinemas and on UK iTunes. Ahead of the release we fired some questions at Blackhurst, here’s what he had to say about the project:

Interview with Director Rod Blackhurst for the film Here Alone

How would you describe Here Alone to someone not familiar with it? 

People often ask me is Here Alone a genre film or an indie drama. Here’s what I tell them.

Here Alone is a story about relate-able characters existing in fantastic circumstances. So while the film is set in a post apocalyptic landscape, with an infection lurking beyond the borders of our protagonist’s woods, Here Alone is about humanity and relationships. Our main character Ann, played by Lucy Walters, is an emotionally damaged warrior. She may not be fully equipped to survive in the circumstances David Ebeltoft wrote for her, but she’s doing everything she can – because she has to. Past the daily routines we observe her struggle with we quickly realise that this film is about loss, pain, and human connection.

Usually zombie films follow the same kind of formula, but Here Alone subverts that, what made you decide to approach the post-apocalypse from this angle?

As a filmmaker I believe in the the power of craft to convey a sense of tone and feeling – without words. The first 30 minutes of our film are largely dialogue free but not just because Ann is struggling to survive alone in the woods months after a strange flu like virus wiped out society. Directors like Denis Villeneuve, Kelly Reichardt, and Michael Haneke, who through craft can make you feel something without saying anything, inspired our approach to Here Alone. That immediate sense of loneliness, despair and dread in our film just happens to butt up against our elevated genre setting.

Interview with Director Rod Blackhurst for the film Here Alone

Comparisons can be drawn between Here Alone and TV show The Walking Dead, which also highlights the human condition amongst zombie carnage, would you agree with the comparison, and are you a fan of the show?

I’ve never seen The Walking Dead but we’re hoping that fans of that show will also support and love Here Alone.

And you’re right; the human condition is the most important element of these sorts of stories.

Imagine this. Starting tomorrow a mysterious flu-like virus ravages society, infecting individuals at an alarming rate. The entire energy and communication systems go down. You’re offline. Your radio, cell phone, internet – all dead, nothing works. You don’t know why this is and there is no way to figure out why. There’s no information coming from anywhere, other than what you can learn from the few uninfected people in your immediate vicinity. Things begin to go to hell in a hand basket quickly. Food, water, and fuel resources dwindle. The infected begin to behave strangely, almost zombie-like, acting like animals, savagely attacking anything with a pulse, eating to survive and surviving only to eat. Violence erupts amongst those who aren’t infected. Chaos ensues.

What do you do? Do you stay? Hunker down and cling to the hope that things will come around? Or do you leave? Try to find a safer place, if that safer place even exists? Whether you stay or go, do you help others or do you fend for yourself? Could you kill an infected individual, knowing humanity lies beneath? Even if someone is not infected, is he or she a threat? Could you kill that threat to survive?

Our film exists in a world where there are endless solutions and permutations to these questions. Our protagonist, a young woman named Ann, is alone in the woods, running low on supplies and barely equipped to handle her environment and circumstances. Ann, like the infected she fears, has nearly been reduced to her own animalistic existence in order to survive. While fighting for that survival, Ann continually faces a gnawing uncertainty about what to do and how to do it. Throughout Ann’s bleak journey, we see her make new discoveries, meet new and unexpected threats, and learn about how she came to be alone in this dismal environment. The circumstances of Ann’s existence quickly and fearfully allow all of us to wonder what it would be like to be caught up in a similar narrative of fear, confusion, and regret.

Interview with Director Rod Blackhurst for the film Here Alone

What was the shoot like? It seems that these days, smaller productions have fewer and fewer days to work with.

It rained sideways on our first day of principal photography. I’m talking about a sideways deluge that set us behind almost three hours on our schedule. On a small independent film there’s no time to get behind and there’s never time to catch up (especially when you’re making movies for pennies while everyone else has millions). While battling shin deep mud in the woods under pop up tents that blew away in strong wind gusts, one begins to question everything. Am I meant to be doing this? Then you take five deep breaths and lead. Being a director is not just about having a vision and being able to execute that vision – it’s about being the consummate leader that knows how to manage people, situations, goals and personalities. Rely on your instincts that got you to that first day of photography and be the general leading troops to battle. Look around and know that these women and men surrounding you are whom you selected to share your muddy foxhole with so hunker down and ignore the enemy fire. Not only did we somehow make our day that first day we actually found time later in the month to re-shoot several key scenes. From that day forward we were defined as a battle tested team and nothing else could hold us back.

Mud is used as a cloaking device, a way to stay off of the zombie radar, where did that idea come from? 

In researching and writing Here Alone David Ebeltoft was inspired by the work of the Cuban American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist Ana Mendieta who was known for her “earth-body” artwork. What you see on screen is an amazing interpretation of that by our hair and makeup artist Lisa Forst. Lisa deserves all of the credit for crafting the shit/mud look, all of which was done practically on set. Lucy and Gina started calling the ‘mud look’ the ‘spa treatment’. It took hours to layer on the different makeup and clay that you see on screen and to this day Lucy and Gina tell us that they still have dirt under their fingernails and behind their ears from all that beautiful grime.

Interview with Director Rod Blackhurst for the film Here Alone

What films, if any, inspired the look and feel of Here Alone?

Cinematographer Adam McDaid, who is a master with natural light, shot Here Alone. The look book he put together for the film before shooting referenced David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Lynne Ramsey’s Ratcatcher and Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines.

As a director I’m inspired by the work of The Coen Brothers, PT Anderson, Dennis Villeneuve and Alfred Hitchcock. We didn’t have the time or the resources to pay as much respect to these artists as we may have liked, but there will be time for that on future projects.

There’s some really dark moments in the movie, especially the scene with Ann and her child. What was the set like that day? It feels pretty intense to watch…

Our baby actor was perfect. He (yes, our girl baby was played by a young boy, Ryken, whom we cast on Craigslist) nailed his takes. You can’t direct a performance like that – you just have to take what you can get, and we got lucky.

At times the young boy’s mother would double as Ann – but one of the most haunting scenes in the film unfolded naturally. Without spoiling the moment I can say that we were gearing up for a take, the set was in chaos, as things are normally before calling action and then we suddenly noticed something the baby was doing and we all just stopped making noise, stopped talking, and rolled the camera. Lucy slipped right into her character and we didn’t even call action.

Both David and myself are fathers, and as many viewers have told us, these moments affect us deeply.

Interview with Director Rod Blackhurst for the film Here Alone

Here’s the inevitable question: were you to find yourself in the world of Here Alone, how do you think you would cope?

As a kid growing up in the Adirondacks, I became instantly fascinated with the post-apocalyptic world while reading Nevil Shute’s ‘On The Beach’. This fascination grew and matured into a deep love of books like Peter Heller’s ‘The Dog Stars’ and David Michod’s film The Rover. I find myself continually drawn not only to the physical circumstances and realities of these worlds, but also to the psychological and human consequences of these times.

For many, myself included, the woods, mountains and back roads of rural New York are a beautiful natural environment – a place where one can go to escape the hustle and flow of a regular routine. These idyllic settings are a sanctuary at times – visited by choice as a way to escape and to get away – a way to have some alone time. In Here Alone these woods and being alone are not choices for Ann. This naturally beautiful environment becomes a prison. There’s no escaping to return a ‘regular life’.

And to answer your question a little more directly, I do I have a plan. I don’t own a ‘go bag’ but I’ve got my strategies.

Interview with Director Rod Blackhurst for the film Here Alone

What are you working on now, IMDB lists a film called North?

David Ebeltoft just adapted Richard Hell’s novel ‘Go Now’ into a feature film called Prick for Crush Pictures and Noah Lang co-produced the 2017 SXSW film The Strange Ones. I’m hoping to direct Season 3 of True Detective for HBO. But all those individual endeavours, we’re trying to make a number of movies together, North being one of them..

North is a film about a violent ex convict who breaks parole to disappear up the coast of California. David Ebeltoft and I wrote North with our friend Elgin James. North is very much about the power of a landscape and an environment to transform a person – and it’s also a film about what it means to be free.

We know that making movies is a privilege and getting to make movies with your friends is all I want. If we can make a living doing just that for the rest of our lives then I’ll be happy and content. So when we come across the briefcase of cash or the pot of gold necessary to make North we’ll be getting the band back together to jump back into the fray.

 

Here Alone arrive is in U.S cinemas now. UK film fans can download the film via iTunes now. Read our review now