Director Jordan Galland and star Louisa Krause talk to Culture Crypt about what goes into creating the slightly surreal world of “Ava’s Possessions,” including influences, intentions, and what makes Ava so cool.
Culture Crypt: “Ava’s Possessions” has elements of comedy, horror, and drama, but to me, it doesn’t blend genres so much as it defies them. How do you describe the world where the movie takes place?
Jordan Galland: When you say, “defies genres,” that really speaks to me because the movies I love, I feel like they often defy genres. They can be qualified as action-comedies or horror-comedies. There’s always a “slash comedy” in the movies that I love, but I feel that’s not really accurate. We just have to put everything in boxes to understand it. But I know what you mean. People watching the movie describe it as a new take on a possession film. It starts where possession films end and there is this recovery element. It’s a version of our world where possessions are a lot more common and treated like a normal occurrence. Not an everyday thing, but it’s a normal occurrence. I actually realize because of the amnesia-mystery-detective element, the other side of the coin for me is that it is actually a new take on a detective movie, where the detective happens to be a victim of demonic possession. In a way, it could be looked at from both of those perspectives and that’s why it seems to live in different genres.
Culture Crypt: How did Jordan describe the project to you the first time you talked about it?
Louisa Krause: He said that it was a post-exorcism film and that immediately intrigued me because I had never seen anything that hasn’t been covered ever. That’s what really got me interested. But also that it is this mystery and this young woman is trying to piece her life back together, so there’s some strength there that I can hold onto as an actor. And then he had me watch “My Own Private Idaho.” That was the first film that he had me watch, more for style reasons, but I was also intrigued by River Phoenix’s performance because he sort of has this natural coolness as he drifts through the film. He’s dealing with his narcolepsy like I’m dealing with my demon. I liked his sort of natural cool vibe. I had never ever played a cool character. I’ve always played these really weird characters, but not necessarily “cool.”
Jordan Galland: I realized I didn’t even know it, but on top of the other elements of the film, I also wanted it to have a kind of youth culture film energy. Which is why it was “My Own Private Idaho,” “Trainspotting,” even some “A Clockwork Orange” and “Fight Club” elements. I just wanted it to also have that kind of an energy to it. The clothes, the style, the cinematography, and the music all helped it be that. Which also is not what you find in most horror films, or even detective films. So there was another layer.
Culture Crypt: The cinematography uses a lot of Dutch angles, party gels, and Dario Argento giallo-style lighting washed in heavy colors. How did you communicate the look and feeling you were going for to your D.P. Adrian Correia?
Jordan Galland: We talked so much about it and there were so many movies that we were referencing and trying to combine into our own style. Dario Argento was one. “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” (Adrian’s) friend shot that. When I was initially interviewing people, I would mention “Beyond the Black Rainbow” partly because it is tonally so different, but there are similar elements. I just love the way that film is more retro than I wanted to do, but it really played with color in a way that excited me. One of the things I said to him was, I don’t want to make any safe choices. If we make safe choices, we’ll live with that forever and I think that we’ll be disappointed with ourselves. We only have 18 days and we’re going to be running and gunning. We can control certain elements like Ava’s apartment. We actually built walls inside this gutted out industrial building so we were able to really control that environment, but certain places we couldn’t. In prepping him for the production I would say, let’s just try to push ourselves to be more creative and never make a safe choice about it.
Culture Crypt: Once you were on set, how did Jordan keep the actors in tune to that delicate balance between the horror and the comedy and the drama?
Louisa Krause: It was really just about keeping one foot in reality at all times. I’m aware that this is a different world, but whatever world the script is in, that’s the world I live in. I just want to try to be genuine with whatever words I’m given. And so for me it was like, “alright, did it seem real to you Jordan?”
Louisa Krause: Or you know I can keep doing it in a bunch of different ways!
Culture Crypt: Because that tone is so delicate to get, did you have to do multiple takes in different styles?
Jordan Galland: Well, time is of the essence. I mean, Louisa is great because every take is useable and some of them are different, there usually is a variation. I did feel like what’s cool about that is there was safety in the editing room. If I wanted to change something or shift something, I could. I might be able to change a take so that it fits whatever the character is going through. But I don’t feel like we spent a lot of time-
Louisa Krause: No.
Jordan Galland: It was really like two or three takes.
Louisa Krause: Before the take though, or before the scene, or even riding in the car, if I had any questions I would ask then. Or I would also just ask, “ok, what is it that you want in this scene? What do you want from me so I can just give it to you?” And then he would be clear with that.
Jordan Galland: There were a couple of times when I’d say, ok, let’s take lunch to just discuss.
Louisa Krause: Figure it out.
Jordan Galland: One thing for me was just making sure that before the cameras were rolling, everybody felt comfortable.
Louisa Krause: Right.
Jordan Galland: The worst thing is when you’re getting ready to shoot: you block, you practice, and no one really thought about something in the scene that is just problematic for everyone. And then you’re there and you’re filming and you’ve got a bunch of other scenes to film in the same day, but you’re caught in this one thing in the middle of a scene. Like maybe I did a last minute rewrite to clarify the plot, but really that didn’t seem natural. Those are the types of things I really wanted to avoid. That helped. It’s what you’re supposed to do, but making sure that everybody felt, as supernatural as the movie is, that it was going to feel natural when we were filming.
Culture Crypt: How much of what you originally wrote ended up in the final cut?
Louisa Krause: Everything.
Jordan Galland: Yeah actually, every scene is in the movie. But there is a bunch of stuff that is shaved away.
Louisa Krause: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that got shaved down. Some stuff. It really came together in the edit.
Jordan Galland: I wanted for the film to be a little quieter than the script was. The script was similar to my first two films in that there was Woody Allen, Kevin Smith, Tarantino inspired dialogue. I love that. And I always find myself writing these things. But you’ll find characters saying things and just going on and on because there’s so much fun stuff to explore. If you take a quotidian approach to something that’s much bigger, like superheroes discussing what a supervillain is up to, it’s really fun to explore that. How would they talk about that if they were at a diner? So I found that too in exploring black magic and a girl who is talking to her friends about being possessed. But I also knew that with this budget and this schedule, it’s really hard to maintain long dialogue scenes. It is a visual medium and it is part horror movie, so I wanted things to be a little quieter. I found in the edit that I shaved dialogue away to give it more space, more room for tone and music.
Louisa Krause: It ended up being simpler.
Culture Crypt: Speaking of the music, the score plays a big part in making that mood fit the world.
Louisa Krause: Oh yeah.
Culture Crypt: What conversation did you have with composer Sean Lennon to get the tone you wanted from the score?
Jordan Galland: Sean and I have done two movies together and we also used to play in a band together, so we have a pretty good vocabulary working together and we share a lot of the same references. Even when we were in a band together, we used to listen to film scores.
Culture Crypt: Who were the favorite film score composers?
Jordan Galland: Ennio Morricone is a big one. He is the legend. He’s the godfather of the whole thing. Speaking of “The Godfather,” Nino Rota. Angelo Badalamenti. Alain Goraguer, the “La planete sauvage” (“Fantastic Planet”) jazz musician.
Culture Crypt: Did everyone get into the vision right away? Was everyone clued into exactly what it was that was going to give this such a unique feeling?
Jordan Galland: I tried to give everyone “Mona Lisa,” the Neil Jordan movie with Bob Hoskins was something that I gave to thecinematographer and the costume designer and the production designer. I tried to have them watch a lot of the same movies so that they could understand it, put it all together, coordinate it. In my other two films, I didn’t ever have a meeting with just the department heads. There was never time. By the time we were hiring people, everybody was off in different directions trying to figure their sh*t out. So we actually did have a meeting in the space as (production designer James Bolenbaugh) was putting up the wallpaper. The cool thing about it was that Ava’s apartment was in this building where we had the costumes, Ava’s room was being built there, so we could really discuss color palette and the way I wanted patterns to play (in the actual space). The same conversation I had with Adrian was what I said to everybody else: let’s not make any safe choices. Let’s try to push ourselves as hard as possible. And it’s daunting because they’re like, you don’t have six million bucks for costumes!
Culture Crypt: You say that this is your first “cool” character that you’ve played?
Louisa Krause: Yeah! I was sitting there watching the movie the other day and I was just going, wow, the young Nancy Drew girl back in the day that I wished I was with my “Ghostwriter”- I watched “Ghostwriter” and I had a pen and I had a binder and I had all this, I was such a fan!
Jordan Galland: So cool!
Louisa Krause: I had my little weirdness to me, but I would have loved Ava! The style has this Lisa Frank color scheme. Young girls I think will really dig the world of Ava.
Jordan Galland: When we were talking about it, we were shopping for clothes or going to showrooms – I had a friend who had a showroom and she was pulling some clothes for us – and that helps figure out what the character is going to be like a little bit, right?
Louisa Krause: Yeah.
Jordan Galland: Like, why would she choose these clothes? And Louisa turned to me and was like, “oh my God, Ava’s cool. Ava’s cool!”
Louisa Krause: Yeah, yeah! I don’t freak out too much, you know?
Jordan Galland: Ava is definitely trying to keep her cool.
Louisa Krause: I’m keeping it in. I’m trying to keep it cool because I want to appear cool to my family and I guess to my friends. But on the inside, and I think I let it out a little bit, you can see the struggle slightly. But I definitely was like a recovering alcoholic.
Culture Crypt: Is that the way you looked at the role then?
Louisa Krause: Yeah, I had a whole notebook and I was writing a bunch of stuff and for me, it was about just being real. For me it’s always about being real, and not being a total wussbag! Finding the strength in the character. I’m glad even in the moment in the end, the take that was used is the one where I’m showing strength. Because we all are just humans and we are all here for a slight period of time and we are all dealing with our own stuff. As long as I can show that… As a human, I feel for everybody. And so in every character that I play, I just want to do them justice so that the world can connect.
Culture Crypt: So would you say this was a more “fun” type of role for you?
Louisa Krause: Yeah! This one was a more fun role for me, for sure! When I was possessed, that was so fun. It was just a blast, really fun!
Culture Crypt: Is there something you’ve really wanted to say about the movie, but haven’t had the opportunity yet?
Jordan Galland: I’ve gotten to say this, but no one really talked about it: it’s questionable whether or not the demon is a bad thing ultimately. I was comparing it to “Star Wars” and The Force and how you have to go to the dark side to restore balance to The Force. I kind of feel like that. To me, that’s the message of the film in a way.