3rd Night screened at this summer’s Frightfest and was one of the films that caught our eye. Directed by Adam Graveley, the film told the story of a young couple who found themselves stalked by someone known only as The Watcher during their first three nights in their new home. It was a film that managed to tap into all those fears that we have when we first move somewhere. It created a lot of tension based around that unfamiliarity of a new home, whilst at the same time exploiting everyone’s fear of our personal space being invaded.
3rd Night was shot in Australia, but director Graveley has ties to the UK, having spent a number of years living here before deciding to relocate to sunny climes. He left as an aspiring writer and returned to the UK in August as a writer / director with his first feature film under his belt. During Frightfest, we sat down with Graveley and probed him about his first time feature project.
So 3rd Night, I read that the idea came from a true story…
Yeah, it came from a news report that my brother-in-law sent me on Facebook. It happened to a family in Upstate New York. The little nugget of the idea that came from that was this guy was leaving creepy notes around the house for them to find. He called himself The Watcher. He’d say stuff like – ‘Thanks for bringing young blood to the neighbourhood’, ‘When are you going to introduce me to your children?’ Really quite creepy shit. They basically left the house, they sued the sellers for non-disclosure because they knew about it. So that’s the true story, but for me it was the idea of someone watching and antagonising with notes was what I effectively nicked from that. That was the idea and everything else is made-up, and it all fell into place. To be honest, I didn’t want to get sued. In the middle of writing it I read that a studio in the states had already got the rights and they were shopping that story round, so I thought okay, no references to young blood, no matter cool it is, I’m just going to do my own thing. So I made up the little song, and the backstory of Deidre and the kid, the child abuse, her house. It’s so far away from that story, but that’s where the initial idea came from loosely.
We completely self-financed, and it’s a feature film. I’ve made one short film and my background is in art direction and design, and then I moved into film-making. So I did commercials and corporate videos, but nothing on that scale. To just chuck myself into a feature film was a little bit crazy, but I just wanna make films. Although the short film thing is good for practising and proof of concept, I kinda feel if it’s going to take so much time and energy to do a short film, you might as well, if you’ve got the chance, do a feature. This was also written for the house. The house was a mate’s place, one of the producers basically said, ‘look we’ve got this house, do you want to have a look at it?’. So we saw it and it had the orchard, the bush land, everything so we thought it was great and we had access to it. So the story was written for the house, it all fell into place quite easily. I think it was around July / August [that we started] and we were shooting in December. So from having a blank piece of paper to having the script and pre-production done was literally three or four months. In hindsight it’s crazy fast. When I pick the film to pieces – cause I’m allowed to because it’s my baby, even if it’s an ugly baby you still love it because its your baby (laughs) – I think that was a little silly. I should have spent more time on that, but it was really quick.
At the end of the day, it’s a marketing tool. If you say that something is inspired by, or based on, it all of a sudden gives a bit of validation. People are thinking – ‘Oh shit, this actually happened’. There’s a little bit of this.
3rd Night definitely taps into the unease of moving house. I had recently moved house when I watched it and it captured those first few night jitters. Have you had any weird experiences moving house?
Funnily enough yeah. Writing it so quickly, it was just tapping into everything that had happened to us. We had brought our first home, that’s kind of what I based it on as well. Literally with our cat Percy, Percy gets a credit – he ‘plays’ Nook – he went missing on the first night. We were searching the neighbourhood, calling out his name. I’m thinking A. he’s a cat, not a dog, so he’s not going to come running to his name – anyway the bloody little thing was behind the kitchen sink. He’d found a little nook and was fine. Even things like the dialogue, so when they’re sat in the lounge and they’re having their chat, and it’s probably the most dialogue in the film, it’s a four minute scene where you sit down with them and get to know them. When John’s talking about what he’s done before and we found him hidden behind the sink, that’s exactly what really happened.
The couple did feel like very real characters, and I guess if you’re drawing so much from reality then [that’s why]
It was really weird. He was even wearing my shirt! Again, no budget right, so what do you do? It was like just wear this (laughs).
Have the shirt off of my back
(Laughing) Literally! It was our bedding too for God’s sake. The bed was ours, I was like, ‘babe, do you mind if we don’t have a duvet for a while?’ (laughs) She was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and I was just like, ‘I just need this for the film’. Everything was like that. The ladies whose house it was, so Tony owns the farm and it’s a working orchard, he owns two properties and that house is his mum’s house. She’d moved out, this is over Christmas in summer as I was saying before, the hottest part of the year, down in Jawedall so it’s dry. It’s about an hour away from the city, so 40 – 45 degree days, we’re shooting mainly at night. The nights were still 30 and because it’s summer – it’s not like over here cause some crazy Australians had a vote to not do daylight saving, so half the country does, the East do, but the West for whatever reason don’t – so it basically gave us a 7 – 8 hour working day, because by the time the sun dipped and it got completely dark it was like 9 o’clock at night, and then come 4am the Kookaburra’s would start singing and the dawn would break. That put a lot of pressure on. At least half, if not 60% of the film, was shot at night. For that scheduling we were running on 7 – 8 hours days which sounds luxury, but as you know, making films are at least twelve hour days, going into more 16, 17, 18.
So how long was the shoot? Each year at Frightfest I speak to filmmakers and it gets shorter and shorter.
I know. From a directing point of view I’m kinda looking for if it can be done in ten days (chuckles), ten days for a feature film! It was 17 in all. It was shot over four weeks because of Christmas and New Year, we’d have little gaps, but total production was 17 days. It’s only a short film at 78 minutes so it wasn’t too bad. It was all geared towards the location. Everything was specifically designed and written to get done in that time frame. It comes down to camera movements and framing, and a lot of one takes. It fed into… not to get all meta and arty about it… it fed into that voyeurism that I wanted to get across. If you can do something within a single take that works within the narrative of the film, awesome. If you get it right it can be cool and also makes production a little easier. It also gives the actors a far bit of time to get ready for stuff.
You did put them through the ringer…
I tell you what, Jesse [McGinn] did, Rob [Hartburn] was great don’t get me wrong, but Jesse was….when you’ve got no background and it’s your first film… you’re first time filmmakers and you’re basically asking you lead actress to get undressed and we’re gonna film it and the whole point is it’s going to be that voyeuristic, creeping viewing. We’d be outside of the house, with the camera looking in, while you get undressed or you’re going to be in the shower and we’ll be filming. To her absolute credit, hat’s off, she was totally invested, which was great. I tried to push it as far as I could. It’s an interesting conversation to have when you don’t have…not that money’s a thing at all, but I guess when you do have, like if you’re going to get someone for a million or something they come with a contract, legal definite do’s and don’ts. When you’re doing something like this you have the tendency, you can stray into taking the piss or advantage, we certainly didn’t want to do that. So there was a lot of honest conversation’s about the nudity, the sex scene, we talked around how that was going to work. Again, I wanted to cover it in the quickest simplest way, so single shot, using a lot of reflections. So we’ll shot it as a mid here on the bed, and then we’ll do the same thing in the reflection of the window, that’s it, we’ll try and do it as quickly as possible. They were both great, hat’s off to them for going all in. It’s funny the things that you…when you’re writing something it’s one thing to write it, but it’s obviously a completely different thing to do it. Obviously money and budget comes into that, the majority of films you buy into the script, you buy into the ideas, the characters, the stories, whatever, then you figure out a way of making that. Then there will be a massive re-write because you can’t get the location you want, with this we knew we had the house, we knew the location, so everything that was written, 90% of that was shot. There was only one thing that we messed up and that’s because I thought there was a corridor and we didn’t have a corridor in the house. Apart from that, everything was written for it. But when you say – ‘he goes down on her’ or ‘we’re watching through the window as she gets undressed’ – it’s easy to write that without thinking. But then you have that conversation to put it into filming, it is something else.
How does the cat feel about how he was portrayed?
(Laughs) I knew there was no chance in Hell I was ever going to get Percy out of our house. I said to Kate, my wife, ‘he won’t run away. Even though there’s a 25 acre orchard and it’s surrounded by 100 acres of natural forest, he won’t run away. He’ll be fine. There will be twenty people filming, watching him’. She was like – ‘no, its not happening’. So then the challenge was, for me, if we are introduced to this character Meagan and she’s looking for her cat, she never finds the cat until halfway through and she finds it in the oven ,and you never see it in the oven, because we couldn’t afford it. To be honest, we had a fake cat, but the props girl that did it made a black cat even though I showed a picture of Percy. I thought ‘yeah, he could be that charred, but it’s black fur – he’s a ginger cat – we’ve established he’s a ginger cat’, it was hilarious. So you don’t ever see the cat apart from in little flashbacks and photographs, I didn’t know if it paid off. Would we give a shit? Normally you see the cat, if you get introduced to it, you invest more. To be honest the reference point for that was Fatal Attraction – bunny boiler – in a very early draft I was going to boil the cat, but thought you can’t because of the bunny., what can you do with it? Cook it! Because you get introduced when he’s already gone and she’s spending half the film looking for him, I was trying to see if that would work as an emotional hook. I kinda feel that you know the internet is basically cat videos and porn – I can’t do porn so cats surely, half the people would be ‘I can imagine losing my cat, I’ve lost my cat, My cats been missing’ I was thinking hopefully they’d be audience that will get it and will be ‘yeah, cats do that, I’m with her because I’ve had that’. It also helps that the time frame of the film is only three nights, if it were three weeks… you know, get over it love.
So once 3rd Night is out of the way, what’s next?
Well I’m constantly working. I’m working on one at the moment, but it’s in Australia. There’s government funding so screen works is like a governing body for film and TV stuff – so I’m trying to do a proof of concept through them, with the aim to then getting investors. Doing the no budget feature film, you ask for a lot of favours, I’m trying to avoid that now and am trying to get to that next level, get some money to make the next one. Hopefully less favours and credit cards (laughs). It’s called Breakdown, literally a guy breaks down in the outback – mental breakdown, car breakdown – it’s more of a black comedy thriller, kinda Coen Brothers I guess, that’s the tone we’re going for. If it doesn’t go through the funding because they knock it back it’ll be back on the credit card again, it’s not going to stop. We’ll see how far 3rd Night goes first, I’d like to see it get into another couple of festivals. Frightfest has been amazing for that, just the exposure, it’s been fantastic. You do these things and you try not to have expectations, you think maybe we’ll get into a couple of festivals, but when someone like Frightfest accepts… Originally I wasn’t going to put it in, I was doing my little festival plan and it was on my top five festivals. The fact that it did get selected by them was fantastic.
3rd Night screens at FEARnyc on Sunday 29th October.