Kasra Farahani’s The Waiting (my review) had its world premiere at the 30th Annual SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals on Sunday March 13. Starring James Caan (Misery, The Godfather), Logan Miller (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) and Keir Gilchrist (It Follows), the film tells the story of two teenagers who try to convince their cantankerous neighbor that his house is haunted. I was lucky enough to interview Farahani, Caan and Miller in a roundtable interview with several other members of the press, so I’ve posted the transcription of that entire interview below. We were just getting ready to start the interview when Caan got a phone call from his son. He took the call and after a minute or so, he jokingly told his son he was boring and told him he had to do an interview. With that, the interview finally began.*
*The interview has been edited to remove spoilers of specific plot developments in the film.
Logan, you seem pretty comfortable in the skin of a prankster. What is the worst thing you did to your neighbors.
Logan Miller: Oh God I did terrible things. We were always getting into trouble, egging other people’s houses and TP’ing as kids. I mean we didn’t do anything to terrible. We didn’t burn down anyone’s house or anything. But I love playing characters like this because it’s always fun to be that sociopathic mind, a little bit. To try and manipulate others and be the enforcer is a huge treat. So that was a lot of fun and Kasra took a chance with me.
Kasra Farahani: Not at all.
Miller: And he let me work with Keir [Gilchrist] too, who is one of my best friends. So, I don’t know. It worked.
Farahani: And by the way, Logan is actually a really nice guy.
Miller: Correct. I am not a douchebag. I’m a lovable sweetheart and when you guys get to know me you’ll want to kiss me.
Kasra, this film had a lot of different elements from different genres. This also applies to the filming technique with using security cameras. What was your inspiration for the story of the film and how you wanted to film it?
Farahani: I think when you read the script it presents itself pretty clearly as having two different voices for these two different stories. Things that start out as two different stories and completely different points of view. The film is about the progression of this slow-motion car crash of these two worlds. So conceptually it was pretty clear. Actually figuring out what to shoot and how to shoot it was complicated. One thing I thought is that the boys are making a documentary with the combination of surveillance photography and DSLR photography. That’s pretty typical on YouTube or Vimeo where you see these increasingly well-made documentaries from young people who are interested in filmmaking. I think so many tropes of the found footage film are silly, you know? The cameras are always shaking and needlessly zooming and in actuality kids, even quite young kids, are pretty sophisticated with this technology. They’re good at it. My nephews are seven years old and they’re already able to film things on my brother’s iPad. I think that by the time they get to a teenage level that they’re pretty adept. So we wanted to make their story this kind of crisp, almost too crisp and clean, DSLR look. We shot it on these really crisp, spherical lenses and in the 16:9 aspect ratio. Then we were in the world of Grainey, Jimmy’s [Caan] character, we used this fully cinematic, omniscient 2.40 aspect ratio world. We shot it in a vintage, anamorphic way because we wanted things almost to feel jarring when you cut between the two styles so that when the characters merge as the film progresses then it means something. You see characters in this crisp, orderly documentary world entering this cinematic world.
For both of the actors, what was it about your characters that drew you in to this particular film?
Miller: Well for me there were so many things in this film that were combatting how I feel about the Internet and I found it really refreshing to be able to tell this story in a unique way. Like Kasra was saying: the whole found footage thing has been so overdone and in not very good ways lately. So to be able to take that and morph it and mold it in a way, I found it really refreshing. To show these two millennials that kind of have this desensitization of the reciprocations of their actions. They never once thought that events would unfold the way that they did and then they kind of see what they do online really effects somebody. I liked that aspect.
Caan: I don’t know enough about that stuff. I can play Solitaire now and that’s about it. But it was definitely that appealed to me. The idea of doing something unique is refreshing. And to play a character that doesn’t talk but yet try to…I don’t know….portray somebody that may be at odds with the audience? This character goes through a lot and to not say anything, which is for me nearly impossible [everyone laughs], was very unique and pretty difficult. I was just really interested to see what Kasra was going to do with it. He’s great.
Because you have so little dialogue in the film, did you find it difficult to play that part?
Caan: Yeah dialogue is not very easy. It’s pretty secondary to acting. I’m not slamming dialogue but you can’t say “fuck you” nicely. [everyone laughs] “Fuck you” is “fuck you” so basically it’s just taking away the easiest part and figuring out how to give this character life with nothing to go off of. I’ve had a director go to me “Jimmy can you talk faster?” And I’m like “No.” [everyone laughs] I can talk like I have to take a piss, but I can’t talk faster. So it was all behavior. It’s was interesting to try to give this character an inner life with no dialogue.
Farahani: That was a constant challenge because the story is really focused on the mystery of Grainey, Jimmy’s character, you know? Who is this guy? Is he a good guy or is he a bad guy? Trying to balance giving an honest performance without red herrings and keeping the suspense up-
Miller: Well and what we say to is that from our perspective in the film it’s so dialogue heavy. There’s so much technical jargon that we talk about and so we have this perspective that we know these kids automatically. But I feel like some of the greatest moments in cinema are the unspoken. To have Jimmy’s silence combatting against us in the film gives a good steady flow into the film. We are in two different worlds. We see these very tech-savvy and talkative jargon-speaking kids. Then you’ve got the loneliness of Grainey and-
Caan: That’s what is interesting though. Because there was a balance of dialogue where it’s like “Shut those fucking kids up already.” So you go from having almost too much chatter with the kids and then not enough with me. There’s a lot of innovative stuff involved with the film.
I think there was a great authenticity to that. The end product ended up being a lot more genuine that had the film gone a more traditional horror or thriller route. Would you mind sharing the developmental process of how you got involved and what the product ended up being vs. what was tried with it initially?
Farahani: Sure. Well, I can’t speak too much about what other people tried to do with it. I know this script was written five years ago. It was on the blacklist and was picked up by a studio. The studio wanted to take it in a more supernatural/genre direction and it didn’t end up happening. Then the script kind of sat on a shelf and our guys found it. They really loved it and then they decided to make a play to get it, which is not a very fast process. I don’t know the details but I know it is really hard for them to liberate this cool script that is shelved like so many scripts get. Anyway, they were able to pull it out and they wanted to make the original version of the script. So we had a meeting with our agents and it just so happened that what I responded to in the material is sort of what you’re talking about. They fact that it isn’t a trope-y genre film. It has some of those elements but it has a lot of discipline in terms of staying focused on characters, which I think is weird, you know? The fact that people think a film has to be a horror/genre film or a character-driven film. It can’t be both. But every one in a while you get a film like Ex Machina, where it’s a genre film but it’s got strong character work and people love that. So it was our ambition to try to do something like that. A lot of it was in the writing and we just wanted to try to make a classy and substantive genre picture.
Miller: Well this film has the bottom-line structure of a thriller. The idea of this haunting project is there, but we give you the outside perspective of who is actually manipulating it so it ends up not being a horror film at all. You’ve got this story of this man’s life and along with that it ends up being this character story between these kids and the desensitization of youth. It’s good to have that structure of a thriller and be able to manipulate it into different genres.
Jimmy, you are also forced to act by yourself.
Caan: I’m never by myself.
Can you talk about the challenges of not really having someone to react off of?
Caan: Well in truth it’s a little more difficult because I was trained with listening, talking and being available. To do all of that by myself was a little difficult. I basically had to create my own dialogue within myself.
Last question: Jimmy, it was really cool to see you locked in a house again on screen. Did you get any flashbacks to the Misery set with all those scenes sitting in a chair and in a bed again?
Caan: Nah I was able to move around. Misery was Rob Reiner getting emotional. He thought it was funny to leave me in the bed for the entire time. This was different. I don’t know, it was interesting and new to me, but it was a different experience.