Gavin Schmitt Interviews Director Jeff Chan
After years of making short films, director Jeff Chan was noticed and moved on to feature films. His first film, “Grace: The Possession”, (affiliate link) takes the old saw of demonic possession and gives it a new twist: a POV angle. Not “found footage”, but an actual look from the character’s point of view that required some interesting camera tricks, especially for mirror shots.
I had the pleasure to briefly talk with Jeff about his film and get a little insight into the process.
GS: This is your first feature. How did you know it was time?
JC: I don’t think it’s something you actively pursue as a director. I had made a couple short films, they got the attention of the right people. I headed out to LA and had some meetings about movies we wanted to make. We came up with the idea of doing a possession movie from the perspective of the person being possessed. I was with my writing partner, Chris Pare, and we basically went and starting hacking away at it. A year and a half later, there it was.
GS: As I’m sure you know, POV filming gets a bad rap…
GS: But without giving away the ending, you actually make the format pay off.
JC: (laughs) Obviously, we’re not the first people to do a POV movie. But it was important to me to be cinematic, to keep the same filming language and put that in the movie. And we wanted everything to be literally the perspective of a person and not a documentary like you normally see. We very much wanted the audience to have a subjective view. (Rest of the answer is cut because Jeff reveals the ending.) We wanted to play with the idea of audience expectations, and using one character’s perspective does that.
GS: Possession movies are a big subgenre in horror. What about this subgenre really strikes you?
JC: We wanted to go with a wide range and watched a ton of movies. We wanted to find something we could relate to. There are the classic films. We were also watching transformation movies like “The Fly”. You have this genre, and you have the transformation of a character, but it’s really the shading and color that we were tasked with. With the POV, a lot of that was backwards engineering and trying to figure out how to get the look we were going for. Since the movie is different from any other movie, we wanted to give broad license when going into it.
GS: In writing this, did you do any background in researching the Roman Catholic Church, or have any background in it yourself?
JC: That’s an interesting question. My parents, when I was growing up, enrolled me in a religious school. Around grade four or five, they pulled me out and put me in a public school. It was a shock, the difference between the two schools. And then they gave me a choice of what I wanted to pursue in terms of my own spirituality. That set up a lot of questions…
GS: Right. I’m curious as to the possession factor. It seems in movies, with few exceptions, the possession happens to a Roman Catholic or requires a Roman Catholic to exorcise it.
JC: That’s a good question. We looked at real life possession cases, and in most cases the people who get possessed are generally religious. Possession and religion definitely go hand in hand. One of the themes we wanted to hit on was that oppression leads to corruption. The church that Grace is raised in is very strict and strong. Listen to the speeches given by the priest, played by Alan Dale. For us, throughout the movie, the demon gets closer any time there is more oppression. So oppression breeds corruption.
GS: If you’re a horror fan, Jeff, it must have been great getting Lin Shaye on board.
JC: She’s an icon and a legend. Not just in horror, but in general. She’s fantastic. Working with her was so incredible, because Lin is constantly creating. She comes to the set very prepared and if there is anything technical, she is full of questions. The way she comes up with ideas and really defines her roles, her characters. She’s also very flexible, open to dialogue and trying new things. For me, while writing this, we actually had Lin Shaye in mind. We were hoping Lin would like it, so when she read the script and responded to it, that was one of the most exciting moments.
GS: Likewise, was there any story involving Joel David Moore on set?
JC: (laughs) I’m trying to think. You know, Joel is a professional. He’s incredibly collaborative. He’s actually an incredible resource, especially for me as a first time director. He’s directed a few movies himself. We totally hit it off on that level. When we faced a directorial problem, he was a great ally. And he’s funny, constantly cracking jokes. So there’s no single incident, but he was such a pleasure to work with. And obviously, we’d love to see his tale continue, see the next part of the story.
GS: The clock’s ticking, so any last projects you want to mention before they kick me out?
JC: I’ve got a movie at Lions Gate, a firefighter film written by Sascha Penn. The producer on that is Greg Shapiro, who also produced “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”. It’s a really incredible and really important story to tell, about what firefighters have to deal with day in and day out. I’m also doing a genre film where everyone over the age of 19 becomes a zombie. So the world is run by kids and teenagers and how they survive.
GS: It’s “Logan’s Run” with zombies.
JC: Sure. It’s “Lord of the Flies” with zombies, let’s go with that.
GS: (laughs) Thanks, Jeff.
JC: Thank you!