GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH JEFFREY A. BROWN
In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, director Jeffrey A. Brown discussed his claustrophobic directorial feature debut THE BEACH HOUSE, speaking about the appeal of movies that don’t make sense, his belief that films are dreams, and how he and the film are inseparable.
THE BEACH HOUSE begins when Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros), find their off-season trip interrupted by Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagel), an older couple acquainted with Randall’s estranged father. Isolated, the two couples enjoy one another’s company and begin to bond, until a strange environmental phenomena disrupts their peaceful evening. As an infection becomes evident, Emily struggles to make sense of the contagion before it’s too late.
FRIGHTFEST: Speaking with Pollyanna McIntosh about directing her feature debut DARLIN’, while she described the experience as being a joyful one, she admitted humorously, “…there is a part of you that thinks, ‘Oh my God, I made it through; I’m still alive.’” How do you look back on the experience of making THE BEACH HOUSE?
JEFF BROWN: My experience is a little unique because I worked in production for twenty years before we made it. But that said, until you’re doing it, it’s not the same. Helping other people make theirs is one thing, and it maybe prepared me for some of the decision making and some of the logistics for actually shooting it, but then the process of putting yourself out there is really hard. I don’t mean to be defensive, but I feel like the only response is to make your own movie. After, I tailored my criticism of others because I know how hard putting yourself out there is, and I’m getting used to it - my skin has grown an inch.
There’s a metal album by the band Death, called, THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE. The second or third song is called SPIRIT CRUSHER and that sums up the process of making it. You have your really bad days and then you have really good moments too where something goes right, and that’s part of the collaboration of it. But it’s a marathon and it was supposed to be a simple little movie that has become this four year process.
FRIGHTFEST: From your short films to your feature debut, why have enclosed spaces been a recurring interest?
JEFF BROWN: I really feel that suspense is walking down a hallway, and even walking down my own hallway can give me a little bit of a charge, and so that is part of the enclosed space thing. My wife brought up that in all of my shorts and THE BEACH HOUSE, clean interior spaces get wrecked – they’re always a mess. I hadn’t thought of it, but I’m a bit of a neat freak - I don’t like mess and I don’t like smells. It was a sub-conscious thing, and when she watched the film she said, “All of these have ruined rooms.” The film was an attempt to exorcise, or as film is cathartic, to try to confront my fears. It’s not that it has solved the problem, but if I’m going to make a movie about it, then I’d rather express the flaws in myself, writ large than something else.
FRIGHTFEST: C.G Jung contextualised dreams as a means for us to understand the problems we cannot solve in our waking state. If cinema can help us to understand ourselves can we say films are built on a dream logic?
JEFF BROWN: I don’t see a difference between a film and a dream; films are the manifestations of dreams. And that’s why I actually dislike dream sequences in movies, except if it’s DREAMSCAPE, INCEPTION or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, where it’s part of the narrative.
Another thing with horror is that even more than science-fiction, it’s the id, it’s the uncontrollable. US and GET OUT have a nightmare logic to them, and I wanted THE BEACH HOUSE to have a nightmare logic too, where you ask, “Did I just see that?” But it’s not that it doesn’t work if you put a conscious logic to it.
On SHUDDER they have all the old [Lucio] Fulci movies, and I respect him, but those are not movies that I emulate. They’re dream heavy movies, even more so than [Dario] Argento who is dreamy, but with Fulci there’s no sense to what’s going on. I actually like movies that make less sense in a weird way, and the more movies I see, the less I am attracted to narrative being this firm line. I like it when they’re broken and don’t totally make sense, and I’m sure that’s sometimes by accident, because having been through the process and seeing that sometimes these guys would have shot for 25 days, and thought we’ll make something of it, but then it doesn’t quite add up. There’s something true to that, and there’s something very true to Fulci. Even though he made some really bad films, when you get into the core zombie movies of his, there’s something about them.
I’ve had a lot of insomnia lately and I found that the movies I want to watch at two o’ clock in the morning are usually 70s exploitation or horror movies that don’t totally make sense. But at that time of night, that’s the tonic I’m looking for – then I go right to sleep [laughs].
FRIGHTFEST: Discussing the relationship of the film and the filmmaker, writer/director Rebecca Miller remarked to me: “If they are made honestly, all pieces of art are self-portraits of the person making them.” Would you agree?
JEFF BROWN: It [THE BEACH HOUSE] is me. Next to the editor my wife has seen it the second most of anybody, and there are things in it that are in-jokes almost to my wife, or to my friends, and even to myself. There is a lot of hand washing in the movie, which I have a thing about, and so it’s these kinds of weird things. When you make a film, you don’t know everything that will get in the first cut, which is very long.
I became very interested in intuition in filmmaking. I don’t find directing to be an intellectual process, it’s athletic because you have to make decisions very quickly. This was something else from my production background, where in the production aspect there’s much more problem solving, which I would call logic. Directors do have to problem solve, but they do it in a weird, make a mess and let someone else clean it up way. “I want that house” and you say, “I’ve got to get that one huh? Damn.”
There was this flow to the writing, the locations and then the directing for me. Once we got into post, which is a much longer process than all the other ones, that was where I was learning a bit in the process of making it. But yeah, it’s me for better or worse [laughs].
FRIGHTFEST: I recall speaking with Larry Fessenden, who told me that a film is ultimately abandoned. Would you agree?
JEFF BROWN: I don’t know about the abandoning of it because it wasn’t self-financed. If you are an ERASERHEAD where it’s a very small budget, you can play with it for years and years, but we never had that, and it was never going to be an option. I used to paint for fun so I understand that of an artist - you finish it when it’s right and you don’t quite know when it’s done. I don’t think we abandon and there were too many other people saying we need it done by a certain time, so the editor [Aaron Crozier] and I were always working towards a goal.
I had a great experience with the editor in terms of that because earlier in my life I had a big problem in finishing things - I would never finish, and even writing scripts, you can’t start tweaking or playing with it until all the clay is on the table, and you’ve finished it. Over the years I’ve worked on processes for myself to not abandon them, and to take ideas through to the end because that’s when you start seeing what it can be.
You do have to finish and also I want to see the film. I love movie posters and trailers, and so I wanted that more than having something that I was going to get perfect, because perfection is a lie - I don’t believe in it at all. Nothing is perfect; there are no perfect movies, and the flaws make things human in a weird way - people are not perfect.
FRIGHTFEST: Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me, "You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before." Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process?
JEFF BROWN: Yeah, do you see the grey hair? [Laughs] It’s another thing where you learn a lot about other filmmakers from doing it - you see why they are the way they are. The process does toughen you up and it had to change me in my goals for life, and what I think is achievable. So it’s an 100% transformative, and when we were done shooting it, I thought, ‘I can do anything; this is amazing’, and then you watch the first cut of it and you think, ‘Oh my God, I need a drink, this is awful. No one will ever see it.’ Now I’m back to, ‘I can do anything’ and I love the movie again. It’s a creative baby in a weird way, but it definitely has changed me, and hopefully for the better - I think so [laughs].
THE BEACH HOUSE is streaming now on Shudder in the UK, Eire, Canada and the U.S.