Keep It Short Presents
The Devil Has Blue Eyes
Nicole Lefteau (Director), Shannon Quillman (Production Designer), and Jordan Wright (Director of Photography) speak about their upcoming film The Devil Has Blue Eyes, how it will empower women and show the world the true colors of abuse in toxic relationships.
Joey Wehnert: Want to tell me about The Devil Has Blue Eyes really quick?
Nicole Lefteau: Okay, so The Devil Has Blue Eyes is a horror film on the cycles of abuse, specifically on emotional abuse, and toxic relationships, and its led by an all-female crew.
Awesome, that’s really cool. Shannon, you’re the Production Designer, do you want to tell me where your inspiration came from?
Shannon Quillman: When I first read the script, I had some ideas in my head but before I really ever start designing things I always want to meet with the director and see what they had in mind. She really steered me with the color palette, obviously there’s going to be a lot of blue in it, but she said that she also wanted yell out for Eva in the apartment that they shared together that the color palette would help display the power dynamic in their relationship. With her help, I figured out what I was doing.
When you read the script, did your vision come immediately or was it when you had that meeting when it popped for you?
Quillman: I had a couple of ideas. It also helped seeing location pictures. She had those very early for me so I was able to see the space I’d be working with, so I start with a little vision then with the more information I get I can think more about it.
Lefteau: It was really cool. She perfectly replicated the location pictures I gave her and drew them out, and drew out her designs. I’ve never had a production designer be that in-depth with their designs but it was for every single room.
Jordan, you’re the DP, everything that we’ve seen so far with the sizzle reel is really cool. Everything looks tight and restricted, was that a purposeful choice?
Jordan Wright: Yeah, for sure. [Laughter] Definitely considered it. We were talking about inspirations for the movie, so a lot of the films were geared towards Wetlands and Raw. Both of those movies are very focused on a central, female character and somebody who’s dealing with something that’s very intimate and personal to themselves, so we were really drawn to the closeups of those films. With this film they’re not all closeups, there’s a lot that we’re doing that’s more observational like top-down looks, because it’s as if an outsider was looking into a relationship like this, then we do the closeups with tight, restricted shots to show the audience how’s the experience like and what it will feel like or feels like for Eva to be on the inside behind the closed doors of that experience. I think it’d be really cool if the audience choked and got caught up in this with all the restrictive closeup shots, because it’s what Eva is going through.
Is this different than any other film that you’ve worked on before or do you find it easy to work with Nicole?
Wright: It’s super easy to work with Nicole. I know Nicole pretty well and our vibe was that we were really honest with each other. It’s actually been a cool experience going through the script. Whenever I was designing shots, there were certain things I was like “I don’t know about this” and she was was like “I don’t know about this” and it was cool to develop that together as far as how we’re going to visually tell a story.
As far as this being different than other films, a lot of movies that I make I’m not afraid to venture out into experiences that I’ve not experienced myself, but the experience that Eva has is very true to all women in the sense that not all women are going through the exact plot-wise story that’s she going through but the feelings being unheard and owing something to somebody are pretty relatable for most women, especially when they’re our age after you go through adolescences and stuff like that. So I think this is different in the sense that it’s a film that’s very sensitive, especially with an all female crew, is going to have a lot of deeper and “close to home” feelings. It’s definitely a big undertaking to tell Eva’s story, because it’s very sensitive. It’s what I took into consideration when I made the shot. That’s what’s different to me.
Nicole, this a very personal story for you. How did you go about writing that? Is this different than something that you’ve written before or other personal stories?
Lefteau: My writing process is similar, but it did take me a long time coming to a psychological place where I was comfortable enough to talk about it and ready to speak about this. I went through years of counseling, processing, and worked with a lot of different support systems in my life to get to this place, but my writing process was basically sitting down and writing my own thoughts. I actually interviewed three different people about their abusive relationships. One was physical, one was sexual, one was emotional, and what I found really fascinating was that I thought they were going to be three completely different experiences but the processes in which they were conditioned for abuse where abusive tendencies showed up and the cycle restarted were super similar in all three and in my own experience. Looking at that is how I approached writing the film and setting, where the beginning he’s lightly gas-lighting her and lightly having her question herself and it gets further and further more hash in the abuse.
Basically I tried to take from my own personal life so I was connected to it, but I also tried to research outside of that so I could get a bigger picture what abuse looks like, because every situation is a little bit different but I think there’s also a lot of underlying connections that I didn’t even know about until I started writing it.
You’ve mentioned before that it was a horror, was that your first choice to make it into a scary experience?
Lefteau: Yeah, well, when I watched Raw I was really impressed with how they captured female adolescence, those grueling emotions, and physical manifestations that happen during puberty for women with all the confusing thoughts that run through your head. Puberty kind-of is a nightmare. In that same sense, an abusive relationship really is a nightmare. At the peak of my abusive relationship, it got to the point where I couldn’t walk down the street without whipping my head around, looking for him and feeling that presence. It reminded me of It Follows. I was literally looking for the boogeyman, in a sense, around every corner. I thought that was the best way to do abuse justice on-screen.
I’ve seen some melodramas and some dramas on the topic and they do an okay job about describing it, but I wanted to give it a new light that really hit the surreal feelings of being abused and really pull people in. We tried to do that with Lioness, my last film, experimentally. We used the experimental genre to hit the subconscious feelings of assault and now we’re using the horror genre to capture the terror of abuse and the fear tactics that work in those toxic cycles.
I assume having an all women crew plays into that. Was that something you knew you were going to do from the gecko or did that come along when you decided that?
Lefteau: We decided pretty early to do that. Mostly because I started listing out the people I wanted to work with like Jordan, my producer Samantha, and Shannon is an amazing production designer and it just fell into place. Reading on statistics, doing my research for the script, and like Jordan said, the people are most likely to be harassed or assaulted or fall into an abusive relationship are women who are 18-24, which is all the women in this department. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see an entire crew who personally or at least somewhat connected to the story and how that would add to the film, because I’m not big on authorship. I don’t look at this film as my film, I look at it as our film. Everyone, even the PA (Production Assistant), will add something to this project.
On top of that, I wanted to give the women in this degree plan a chance to get out of their comfort zone and to try things. One thing that I noticed in The Officials or in other productions, people are like “I’m not going to apply because X, Y, or Z are going to get that position” or “I’m not going to try gaffing, because that’s a guy’s thing. That’s a technical thing”, so I thought that by opening it up to just to women it would give people a chance to get out of their comfort zone and try things to feel more confirmed when applying for roles. I wasn’t sure about it, then I posted in Short Film Club that I was looking for all female roles and I got 60 applications within the first hour. [Laughter] I got an insanely, talented, and well-qualified crew. Some people are doing things they’ve been doing for years like Jordan who has been doing shorts, directing, and being a DP (Director of Photography) for a very long time. Some people are trying new things out and they’re very excited and ready to prove themselves in this industry. I’m happy to give them that chance.
Shannon or Jordan, does that affect the dynamic that you’ve seen so far from having an all women crew or is that something that’s natural?
Wright: It’s really natural to be surrounded by women, because girls tend to group [Laughter] and find solace in each other. It’s not necessarily weird. It’s not like “Oh, why is it all girls?”, it just feels right. It will make a difference, especially in the final product, but also on set since there’s a scene that’s a very difficult scene. Knowing that all women were involved recreating the scene, I think we’ll feel better watching it, even though it’s going to be very difficult to watch, very difficult to film, and very difficult to have to talk about.
Although I think it’s okay for men to speak about abuse and the hardships that women go through, even in their hand since it’s very important and need to be on that conversation, but sometimes it feels like it’s happening again whenever you’re like “A man produced that?” It’s almost as if it’s happening again. To have women do it is going to be liberating and empowering to know we got together to recreate a very real and common experience, unfortunately, among women. To know it’s from a female’s perspective and a female’s respect to it instead a male director, although may have captured it correctly, some people are like “That’s how it happened for me”, but it’s good to know it wasn’t a man doing again it, so I think that’s going to be very important.
Lefteau: I think it will also help with the actress’s performance. I don’t know how the single actor, the one guy, is going to feel on set. He’s going to have to be really confident. Especially working with Carson Cobb who is our lead, who I’m super excited to work with, I think it’ll be easier for her to be emotionally vulnerable who has felt the exact same way and knowing it’s a safe space will help her journey for this character.
Wright: We got that when we filmed the shower scene for the trailer. It was really fun and that is just a freeing and open experience. It’s interesting whoever is the male character if we talk to him about that. That’s something that women face all the time:
Wright & Lefteau: Being the only one.