Today we are very excited to welcome both Ben & Chris Blaine to the site in order to talk about their indie hit Nina Forever. We here at Rumsey’s loved their story about a new couple who, every time they try to have sex, are haunted by the sarcastic ghost of the man’s ex-girlfriend. To Nina the simple fact that she is dead doesn’t mean that her and her man have broken up, which as you can imagine complicates things just a little. Fresh, funny and insightful Nina Forever was one of the surprise hits of 2015. Read on for our interview with the brothers who wrote and directed this little gem….
Hi, what are you up to today?
Currently we are dividing our time between promoting Nina Forever and writing for other projects. But it’s a bit hard to stick to that as religiously as you’d want to.
Would you like to give our readers a bit of background on Nina Forever?
Nina Forever is our first feature film, and it’s a low-budget, independently-produced, multiple award-winning horror movie about sex and death.
Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Sex and death [laughs]. It was an idea that had been on our minds for quite a while. It initially came from seeing people going through that experience of grief, and then unfortunately from going through it first-hand. And we had been looking around for an idea for a low-budget film, and we ended up coming back to Nina, and realising that here was this idea that was weird and that was beautiful. Up until that point we’d always done short films that were comedies, and Nina made a great bridge, because it’s still darkly comedic.
Was there a tendency during the writing process to go for gags, or did that comedy come about more organically?
We did actually write the occasional gag here and there, because it’s natural to us when we’re writing to try to make people laugh. But as we went on we found that often the best comedy did come about when people are taking it more seriously, when there’s not that element of a wink to the camera.
Having previously worked on shorts, did you find transitioning to feature film made a difference to your writing?
Well, we’ve actually been writing feature films for about fifteen years, and one thing we found is that the features we were writing were a lot more serious than the shorts, because in a short you’ve only got so much time to produce an effect, so if you can make someone laugh, then you’ve achieved something. We didn’t really have any comedic ideas for feature films, we only had serious ones. But they say you have to write scripts for a long time before what you’re producing is actually decent.
The film’s central image is Nina materialising in the bed next to Holly and Rob as they have sex. Did you build the script around that image, or was it something you came up with later?
No, that idea actually began as something different – we had Rob walking up a hill, having a conversation with Nina in his head as he’s going. That actually became the basis for a one-act play that someone had asked us to write, and that one-act play was essentially the first bedroom scene from the film. And Rob was the protagonist at that point, but we realised that Rob isn’t the protagonist of the story; he isn’t the one that changes. And Nina doesn’t change, because she can’t – she’s dead. So the question became, “Why is Holly always coming back? What keeps her there?”. The rest of the film took shape pretty quickly once that idea was in place.
When you were trying to raise funding for the film, how did you pitch it? Is it a horror film? A black comedy?
Well, when we were writing it we thought it’d be something we could make ourselves, like we’ve done on certain shorts before – just three actors and a couple of handheld cameras. But our producer on the film, Cassandra [Sigsgaard], was working with us on something else, a romantic comedy, and actually we were hesitant to show her this script because it could have utterly destroyed our chances of doing a romantic comedy. But she loved it. But the main thing we thought of it as wasn’t a horror film so much as a magic realist story, really.
Were there any other pictures you looked at for inspiration?
There were a couple of big ones for us, The Wrestler and Let the Right One In. Those both had a similar feeling, where everything is so ordinary but these extraordinary events are taking place.
In casting the film, what did you look for in your lead actresses?
First of all, we wanted to make sure people had the full script, because a lot of the time for audition you’re only given a couple of scenes, and it might totally misrepresent the nature of what you’re working on. Although even that was a problem, because the descriptions of the sex in the script are fairly nuts-and-bolts; it makes it look like it’s even more of an out-there project than it really is. But we wanted to make sure that whoever we cast was someone who found the idea we were going for really appealing. Actually, Fiona [O’Shaughnessy, who plays Nina] turned us down at first, she was worried she was going to be playing too much of a monster. But then that character really got under her skin and she called us up saying that she regretted saying no. I think she wanted to make sure that we saw the character the same way that she saw her, which we very much did.
Once you came to the actual shoot, how long did that last?
The initial shoot was four weeks, but then we did an extra shoot which we raised money for on Kickstarter, it’s the accident scene in the film, so we wanted to do this scene with all these ambulances and firefighters. But we knew it was only going to be four weeks or so shooting, because the film had such a low budget.
And how much of that budget went on special make-up effects and fake blood?
Well with the blood, we only had a few litres, so we had to stretch that as far as we could. With the make-up, it was a fair bit. We had Dan Martin working on the special effects, who’s worked with people like Ben Wheatley. The best thing was the fake leg for Fiona, which could bend in all sorts of different ways.
Working together as brothers, does either of you slot into certain rôles in the process, or do you both do everything?
It’s very fluid. We write everything together, and we have the same intentions. So when we’re on set together, that’s just second nature, because we already know what we’re trying to achieve. So if anyone wants to ask a question, either one of us can answer it. We can give different kinds of reactions to different people, based on what they need – a long chat, or just a quick answer – but we’re just saying the same thing in different ways.
Was there anything you disagreed on?
Not on this one, no. Sometimes other people would contribute ideas, because they’re looking for the same thing we are, which is the best way of putting across the ideas we’ve got in the script. And sometimes those work, and sometimes it’s a brilliant idea but it isn’t right. But we don’t want to be on set, going “This is my vision! Shut up and do as you’re told!”. We’re open to all of those ideas.
How much did you find that the film came together during editing?
The final film is very different from the first draft of the script, but at the same time it’s very similar to the first draft. So there came a point where we had to go back to that and try to work out what it was we were trying to say in that draft. But a lot of the time, we’d end up with scenes that were saying the same thing, but maybe they were in a different place, and they were saying it with different words. And then when we had a finished version put together, and we screened it to an audience, we ended up changing it a lot.
What did you change?
We had put together a cut that was really clear in terms of what was happening, and we went away and made a version that was more mysterious. But it’s really useful to screen films to audiences, because you can see how well they respond to you, how much they’re willing to just go along with you. Audiences are smart, and they like being challenged. People in the industry will tell you that, if you’re working in horror, you’ve got to have a certain structure, and you’ve got to make sure it’s scary enough and it’s gory enough. What we had was something that was completely different from that, and people told us that horror audiences wouldn’t go with it. But when people go to see a film, they’re not a demographic. They’re not a tick in a box, they’re just a person looking to go and see something. And Nina Forever isn’t violent, but it is creepy, and it’s weird, and it’s talking about a deeper fear, about loss and how you deal with that. So it’s a horror film in that it does the same thing you see in other horror films, which is that it’s willing to talk about dark stuff, the things you don’t want to think about in day-to-day life.
What projects are you working on now?
We’re working on a script for something that’s about as much as a thriller as Nina Forever is a horror film, all set in a single building, with a character that I think audiences will recognise. It’s a character that we’ve seen before, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen them in this kind of film.
Thanks very much, and congratulations on the film.
Thanks, take care!
Nina Forever is available on EST today (15th February) and will be coming to DVD and Blu-ray on the 22nd February, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!