Today we are very pleased to be able to share the interview we conducted with Severin Fiala recently. We were talking about his new film Goodnight Mommy (which we here at Rumsey’s showered with praise¹), finding out what inspired the dark film and learning lots about the process that he and Veronika Franz (Fiala’s co-writer and co-director) went through in birthing the film, how they approached creating the film’s clinical environment and much more. Read on for our interview….
Hi Severin, thanks for joining us today. Firstly, would you like to give our readers some background on the film?
Well, when I first met Veronika we just started watching films together, and I was delighted to find that she had many of the same interests as me, everything from art films to Friday the 13th, Part VIII. We started working on a documentary [Kern, 2012] about this very impossible arthouse director, Peter Kern, who was always fighting, always shouting. We were asking around, trying to find materials for the documentary, but a lot of other actors seemed too scared of him! But in making the film we realised that we worked together quite well, and we ended up writing the screenplay for Goodnight Mommy at the same time, so we decided to direct that one together, too.
What inspired the storyline for the film?
Actually, there’s a television programme in Germany similar to Total Makeover or something: they take women away for two months or so, and give them all of this plastic surgery, and then at the end they show their new look to the family. But we’d seen episodes where, if you looked closely at the children’s faces, you could see they looked very disturbed. We even saw one where a little girl told her father, “That’s not my mother!”. That was the basic idea, and the rest of the script came out of us working from that idea, trying to see what we could do with it, always trying to surprise each other.
Did you know you were making a horror film all along?
I think it’s a bad idea to start putting films in these categories, to try to compare it to other films. It’s better to focus on the characters, to let it go its own way without any expectations. So we weren’t thinking about it in terms of other horror films, but rather trying to be true to the story. But we love horror, it can be filmmaking at its most essential.
Were there any other films you looked to for inspiration?
Of course, we always try to live up to other films. One in particular was Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, an adaptation of The Turn of the Screw. But there were others – maybe not as many as people think! People often ask us, have you seen this? Or have you seen that? And we have to say “No, sorry, we haven’t”.
Visually, the film makes use of a very precise style – clean, bright, modern – did you find that not making use of the old, dark house altered the approach to the horror film?
We wanted to make the house a reflection of the mother, and so it has to create an environment that’s almost a prison for the boys. It had to be a very strict, very symmetric, very cold environment, and we were more interested in creating something like that than in going back to the haunted house of horror films.
Was it difficult finding the house you used in the film?
Very much. To begin with, we’d actually found a house that we loved, that was exactly what we’d had in mind – the only problem was that there was a highway on one side of it, so as soon as anyone opened a window that meant we’d have to throw out any sound we’d recorded. And we wanted the kids to have an open environment on-set, to be somewhere they would feel comfortable, so we had to find somewhere else. And the house we used belonged to a very rich man, and the problem with rich men is they don’t actually need to hire out their homes, so it’s difficult to get people to go along with it. Plus once we got in there, we had to throw practically everything out, remodel everything.
So had you had a definite idea of what your house had to be like from the start? Or did you allow circumstances to alter what had been scripted?
No, the script was quite precise. We didn’t end up altering the script very much at all – although, we didn’t want the boys to learn the script, because then what you have is child actors repeating lines they’ve learned. So we used almost games – we had the other actors in the film trying to lead the boys to where we wanted them to go, and their responses in the film are often quite genuine because we also shot the film in chronological order, so they didn’t know where this story was taking them.
And what did you look for when you were casting them?
Well, we were limited by needing to work with young actors, in the area, who were twins, who were available. And then, the main thing we looked for is a sense of having something secret – most of the film is quite superficial, everything that happens is only on the surface, so we needed actors who, when you looked at them, you sensed something hidden.
Was it difficult shooting with the boys? The film has a number of fairly disturbing scenes; was that something you wanted to shield them from?
No, the film is very technical, when you’re actually there on set – if it looks very dark and disturbing on film, it’s very different on set, so the boys never had to see anything disturbing or feel that there was something wrong. There were times, like when the blood comes out of the mother’s mouth, that we had to be careful, but there were always people around and I don’t think they ever felt anything about it. The worst thing was boredom, but I don’t think that was too much of a problem either. In fact, they told me it was the best Summer of their lives doing the film!
Goodnight Mommy is released today (4th March) in UK cinemas, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!