Gavin Schmitt Interviews Director Kaare Andrews
On November 2, 2010, I called up award-winning comic book writer, artist and now director Kaare Andrews to chat about his past work, his recent release Altitude (affiliate link) and an upcoming project that is still in the works…
Altitude Overview: After a mysterious malfunction sends their small plane climbing out of control, a rookie pilot and her four teenage friends find themselves trapped in a deadly showdown with a supernatural force.
Director: Kaare Andrews
Writer: Paul A. Birkett
Producer: Ian Birkett
Cinematography: Norm Li
Starring: Jessica Lowndes, Julianna Guill, Ryan Donowho
Genres: Horror, Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
We also discussed Tegan and Sara, “The Twilight Zone”, (affiliate link) unsung comic book characters, Gale Anne Hurd… (affiliate link) and again, of course, “Altitude”. (affiliate link) Kaare is amazingly friendly, and I cannot thank him enough for taking the time to chat. I eagerly await his next project.
GS: You have had the privilege of working with Tegan and Sara on their “Living Room” music video and even put “Divided” in your movie over the end credits… how did that come about, what was it like?
KA: I’ve known Tegan and Sara for over ten years. I met them through mutual friends and was a big fan of their music. I moved to Vancouver, Canada about the same time they moved to Vancouver and we started hanging out socially.
I ended up helping them out with some website stuff, some photography, and then the music video. They’re just good friends of mine. And in return, they helped out with the movie by giving me the song for the end credits, as a favor. Pretty cool girls.
GS: By drawing the storyboards and other artwork for “Altitude”, did that help you gain even more creative control over the film than you would have already had as the director?
KA: I guess I don’t really know either way. Even with short films, I’ve found that storyboards are the best way to communicate a scene and your intentions to the crew and the actors. Especially any kind of visual effects. I’m looking forward to having a bigger budget and working with artists because I like artists, I’m an artist myself. But I’ll probably still draw. Even Ridley Scott draws thumbnail storyboards that he calls Ridleygrams. They’re not very polished, not something you’d want to frame, but an easy way to communicate what you want to do.
GS: I know that “Twilight Zone” has been a big influence on this film, and I’ve been trying to find a way to work “gremlins on the wing” into a question, but I can’t. Can you help me?
KA: (laughs) I know that was definitely a touchstone for the writer before I came on board. What’s the episode called… “Terror at 20,000 Feet” or something like that?
GS: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, yeah.
KA: It stars William Shatner, who was awesome in all his low budget glory. I was a big fan of that episode. And then they redid it for the movie with John Lithgow, who really rocked. But actually, originally the idea was that “Altitude” (affiliate link) was going to be a small, microbudget shoot. The writer (Paul Birkett) wrote the script for a small budget, his brother (Ian Birkett) was the producer. I signed on after the fact, but originally we were going to film it in a black warehouse. But it turned into something bigger once we shot a fake trailer to raise money. We raised enough that we actually had to rethink our strategy. Shooting in a black warehouse would have been cool, fun and “niche-y”, very much like “Twilight Zone”. (affiliate link) But then we had the budget and rethought the effects and the idea of a green screen, and we needed the right actors. Expectations get a little higher when money is thrown in.
GS: The film looks visually stunning, and yet you worked with a relatively modest budget. Can you tell our techie readers what kind of camera you used for shooting?
KA: It’s becoming less common to shoot on film, but it’s still the best way to get as much production value as possible. So we shot on Super 35mm Fujistock film with 35mm cameras. It really makes a difference. My girlfriend is a veterinarian who loves movies, but she really doesn’t know much about them. I’ve shown her movies and she’s like, “Oh, that looks cheap.”
GS: I understand where she’s coming from. I think a lot of digital looks like a home movie.
KA: Yeah. Sometimes I’ll show her a movie and she thinks it looks cheap, and another movie she’ll think looks expensive. People react better to film, with the way the colors come out in the chemical process. And there’s the grain. For me, shooting on film is the best way for the money to elevate your movie visually. The camera work of my cinematographer — he’s a cool guy, his name is Norm Li — that’s the big thing, the shots and the composition, which cost the same in either format.
The biggest challenge was that we were shooting on a set the size of a minivan. You couldn’t even stand up in that thing. Planes are small — they want to pack you in and fly you as economically as possible, so there’s no room. We had the actors, the camera guy and me in there — how did we fit? It’s all angles. And I had specific ideas of how to cut away the walls, but at the end of the day we just didn’t have enough money to do that. We had some panels that came off, but the front didn’t come off, so any time I wanted to put the camera in front of Jessica we had to move her back and use the second yoke to just pretend that she was in the cockpit. It was challenging, and at the end of the shoot, I wanted to destroy that plane. I guess we pretty much did because we were so rough on it.
GS: The geek character, Bruce… I can’t tell if I’m supposed to feel pity on him or despise his creepiness. How did you approach his character?
KA: Yeah, he was definitely the hardest character. He was hard for a number of reasons. One of which is that he’s unconscious for a half hour, choked out. In terms of his creepiness, he was the hardest and I don’t know if we really did a good enough job. Here’s a guy who’s terrified of flying, he has a secret that he’s keeping from Sara about her mom, and that alone is hard to play, but as the story progresses, he has to deal with what’s going on… it was pretty tricky. What we did was we just tried to focus on his fear of flying and his relationship with Sara. For the actor, you have to focus on the biggest emotion at any given time. If you’re in a house and want to get out, your first emotion is fear, you have to get out of that house. His relationship and all that other stuff, his back story and situation, it comes out through the script, but you have to focus on the page you’re on.
I kind of feel bad for Landon Liboiron, the actor, because he was tied up for days at a time. He was unconscious, but still had to appear on set because you can’t go anywhere when you’re still in the background on a small plane. He had days of shooting where he’s just tied up, and the other actors are moving around…
GS: You have said that the Canadian version of “Altitude” does not have as many features as the American version… what’s up with that?
KA: It’s a weird system where technically we’re a Canadian movie, so we have Canadian funding. And because of this, we have to have a Canadian distributor, which is different from our American distributor. In Canada it’s Alliance. In America we’re distributed by Anchor Bay, who paid for and arranged some special features that Alliance didn’t. The Canadian DVD even has a different commentary than the American version. Everyone was kind of doing their own thing, and I wish there had been more communication between the two distributors, but that’s life. Anchor Bay was awesome to work with and getting it right. The Canadian distributor, I know they’re a good company, but they haven’t really impressed me so far.
GS: The past decade has involved pretty much every major and many minor comic characters coming to the big screen. Who do you think has been overlooked?
KA: Oh, there’s a few. Most Tier 1 characters have been turned into movies, and now they’re getting on to Tier 2. Iron Man (affiliate link) is really a Tier 2 character in the Marvel Comics world, but the movie has elevated him to Tier 1. I think they’re developing a Cloak and Dagger TV series.
[Gavin’s note: Cloak and Dagger were chosen as one of the many properties in Marvel’s film deal with Paramount Pictures, along with Captain America, Nick Fury, Doctor Strange, Avengers, Hawkeye, Power Pack, Shang-Chi, and Black Panther.]
GS: Yeah. I’ve heard there will be movies for Iron Fist and even Shang-Chi… some relatively obscure characters have movies coming out.
KA: Yeah, totally, right? It’s awesome. There’s a character that I think no one really knows or likes, but I have fond memories of as a kid, called Dakota North.
[Gavin’s note: North debuted in 1986, and has since become a part of the Daredevil family in Marvel Comics.]
She was a Marvel character, a private investigator and bodyguard for supermodels. So she’s this hot redhead chick who kicks butt and protects models. I always thought that would be a pretty good TV show. But I’m interested to see what will happen.
I wish they could get back the rights to X-Men, Spider-Man and Daredevil, you know? Eventually they’ll buy them back at some crazy price. I’m interested to see what it will be like with Marc Webb directing it and the reboot. [Gavin’s Note: Marc Webb is a native of Madison, Wisconsin and is best known for directing (500) Days of Summer.] What will that be like? I don’t know. It could be a train wreck, it could be boring. It’s interesting to see how they rethink the character. It’s actually not much different from comics, when they get a new writer or illustrator.
GS: You have an upcoming project with Gale Anne Hurd, who has a long career in the horror and sci-fi genres. I don’t know what you can say about that… are you directing?
KA: It’s a project that I’m writing and directing. It’s a much larger budget than “Altitude”, (affiliate link) and it’s kind of an action movie. Imagine if Blade Runner (affiliate link) was a ninja movie set in modern day, but there are no ninjas. That’s the pitch. It’s in the early stages. We’re just drumming up financing and talking to different studios. It’s a very visual idea that I’ve never seen in film and I want to push the medium. I’m a visual guy and I love action. I’m excited to get more money and shoot a movie that’s not just in a plane.
Here’s the thing. Film-makers are always bitching about shooting scenes at a dinner table. If there are five people, it’s called a five-hander. Our entire movie was like shooting at a dinner table. We had two characters facing the other direction, away from the characters. So I have no tolerance for anyone who complains about shooting a dinner table scene. We did that for 20 days.
And Gale’s awesome. (affiliate link) She produced like two of my favorite movies ever, The Terminator (affiliate link) and Aliens. (affiliate link) And “Walking Dead”, I don’t know if you’ve seen that yet…
GS: No, I haven’t caught it.
KA: Oh, you have to. The ratings are amazing! They released the numbers yesterday and it was the highest-rated TV show debut of the year and the highest-rated for AMC ever.
GS: I’ll check it out. Thank you so much for talking with us!
KA: Thank you, Gavin.