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Paul Solet talks to Live for Films about Dark Summer

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Paul Solet wrote and directed the truly chilling blood-sucking baby movie Grace, and directs a segment of the upcoming horror anthology Tales of Halloween. If you’re a fan ofHatchet director Adam Green, you may also know him as the star of the hilarious short film Jack Chop.

Solet’s latest film is Dark Summer, which is released in the UK on the 20th of March. In Dark Summer, teenager Daniel (Kier Gilchrist) is put on lockdown after a stalking incident concerning a fellow female student, Mona. Daniel’s parole officer (Peter Stormare) tags him with an ankle bracelet, cuts off his web access and puts him under house arrest.

Daniel’s friends Abby and Kevin (Stella Maeve and Maestro Harrell) attempt to perk him up, but he is still obsessed with Mona. After a horrifying Skype session with the unrequited object of his affections, Daniel starts to believe that Mona is haunting him as punishment and the gang must try and rid themselves of the ghostly presence, solve the mystery of Mona, and keep Daniel out of jail.

Dark Summer is a great little film that’s like a paranormal Disturbia, with a dash of Scooby Doo. I got some Skype time to chat with writer-director Paul Solet and luckily nothing too scary happened.

Hi, Paul. I’m Alan from Live for Films. How’s it going?

Im good, man. How are you doing?

Yeah, yeah, I’m alright, thanks. So, I saw Dark Summer on Monday night and I really enjoyed it – it was really cool.

Thank you!


So how did you come across the Mike Le script? Because you didn’t write this one, like you did Grace. How did you come across Mike’s script, and what drew you to it?

I, err, the producer, Ross Dinerstein, is someone I’ve known for a long time… It’s funny, in Hollywood you meet these people that you really like, and then you pitch back and forth, and we had been pitching back and forth for a long time. Then I had a general meeting with him and he told me that he had this script. It was called House Arrest at the time, and he said, “We’re gonna make this movie in three months, and you can have a lot of freedom as long as you’re willing to make it to the production guidelines”. And I just really liked Ross. The first thing that attracted me was Ross. He’s just a really good guy.

Then the script… you know I don’t usually respond to sort of teen ghost stuff, but there was something really exciting to me about the idea of… It reminded me of how it felt to be a teenager – when the stakes for everything felt so high, and every decision felt like it could be the end of the world. It’s the kind of time in your like that kinda vibrates with intensity. Those kind of stakes and that sort of intensity are what get me excited about cinema in general, you know?

I met with Mike Le and he was really sweet. Mike is just this super, super nice guy. It just seemed like, “Let’s go do this!”

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It’s interesting to hear you say that before, because, yeah, it feels for teenagers, but it doesn’t feel patronising at all. It rings really true. It’s got a bit of an edge, and it’s just nice that it’s the kind of film that will appeal to teenagers – but I liked it too – but it doesn’t feel pandering at all. It feels like the kind of film that a young adult audience deserves to have.

Oh, I really appreciate that, man. And nicely articulated, I mean… I… that really was a goal, and I really wanted to cast… I mean, I didn’t feel like a kid, when I was a kid. I really didn’t. So casting the movie was a really, really important thing to me. That was one of the the things that was so appealing, was the team was so open about casting. They just let me cast who I wanted.

From a craft standpoint they’re amazing. Every single one of them. They were a really, really good cast and they’re all wise beyond their years. I was just continually blown away and it’s a very fast schedule to make a movie like that, and they were able to get their so quickly. I was so impressed by them.

Is it harder to cast teens than to cast adults? Did you approach casting them any differently to how you would have done adults?

That’s a good question. No, actually. Part of the point was to approach them as adults – like the whole thing. They had to be kids that were not kids, and so that’s what I looked for. We had a really great casting team and they got everyone in – we saw a lot of amazing people.

Your cast is rounded out by Peter Stormare, which is obviously a real coup.

Ohhh yeah!

How did you find directing him, and what was he like to work with?

Oh, I love Peter. He’s such a good guy. He’s so interesting, and, I mean, who isn’t a Peter Stormare fan?!

I know, right? Everyone should be.

I think everyone is! He’s a delight to work with, and I always had a grin on my face any time I was around the guy… and he’s so good. He’s so thoughtful, and he approached this like it was a big movie, you know? We did a lot of work together and went through all of his lines. We talked about what was going on below the surface and a lot of the time… he always has a secret.

He always has something that he’s working with, and every take he’s capable of giving you something completely different with these little subtle nuances. Cutting him is very hard because everything is good! He’s really exceptionally talented and watching Keir (Gilchrist, who plays Daniel) work with him was so cool.

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So what’s your directing style? On your IMDb you are described as a very “prepared” director. How do you approach your days?

Well, you know, it might be that some day (as a director) that I’m so confident to not be prepared, but [chuckles] I’m not there yet, so I just… A lot of work is in the prep… I have a photographer, Zoran Popovic, who I’m very, very close with and we start preparing very early in the process. If it’s something that I’m serious about then we start preparing when I’m pitching it. Technical stuff is very important to me – because it’s story craft – I don’t think those two things are separate.

Yeah, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

No, they shouldn’t be. I feel like great photography… Good photography can happen in a vacuum, but great photography needs to come from the situation and the story and the characters and the conflict. So I storyboard everything that I possibly can as part of that process of pre-visualisation. In doing that, you ask yourself a lot of questions: “ What is this shot?”, “Why am I doing this?”, “Is this a sort of ego-based thing here?”, “Or is this coming from the story?” You sort of explore what doesn’t work, and why.

I’m most comfortable working when I know that I have done all the footwork for everyone. I see my job as being of as much usefulness to my collaborators as I can. So I want to know answers, or to know why I don’t, and why I have questions instead.

Part of it is the pre-visualisation, and part is working with the actors to break down the scene and connect with it personally. I think, as a director, you have to really put yourself out there and be more vulnerable than you’re asking the actors to be. They have to trust that you’ve got their backs and that you’re not going to let them fall on their face and look like an asshole.

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The house you shot in is cool. It seems like a regular house, but still has enough character to it to be visually interesting.

It’s a funny story – finding that house. It’s a tiny little house, and I’m always trying to be mindful of practical stuff because you want your crew to be able to work. So we were scouting and saw this house, and it was gorgeous but it was so small. I was with Zorin and the scout, and I said, “I’m assuming you can’t work in here”. He was looking through his camera, that he had brought, and he was like, “Dude, you gotta look at this”. Everything looks beautiful through his camera, but this house had so much character. There were these vertical lines everywhere, that were like the bars on a cell, and there were these mahogany walls that were really rich, and it had this kind of timeless feel. It really fit the look of the movie that we had talked about.

I talked at length with the production designer, Ariana, because I’m always very wary of movies that build themselves a shelf life with technology. So one of the things we thought about was that ten years from now, you should be able to watch this movie and it should feel like a tasteful period piece. So a lot of that was finding things that can’t be so pegged to a specific time. So you have this merger of retro technology with current technology and this house really lent itself to that. It’s not a gaudy McMansion, but at the same time it’s not an art deco place – it had this sort of seventies feel to it.

You mentioned the vertical lines, I really liked the lighting too, which adds so much atmosphere and production value – it’s obviously something you took a lot of care with too.

We wanted people to sort of get lost in the geography of the house. So it’s very close, there’s a lot of very close stuff and you’re forcing the audience into this subjectivity over the course of the film. The lighting itself… the atmosphere was very important. It had to be a place where you felt a number of things. I’m always thinking about who’s point of view is this and how are we going to realise that and why?

This movie is very much his (Daniel’s) point of view, and his point of view has this terrific arc to it. His perspective is being corrupted by all these different factors, any of which would be enough to make a really visually interesting movie, but he’s alone at home – so there’s some cabin fever elements going on, he has this sort of phantom, emerald green, oppressive force over him, and you don’t know if it’s sickness, or he’s being haunted, or he’s losing his mind. That was made me think, “This is a profoundly visual story”, so that was what always made me go back and think about what his perspective was and what it would look like.

The score is really interesting with it’s intentional digital corruptions. Can you tell me how you went about creating that with your composer Austin Wintry?

Austin is so good. He did Grace for me. One of my most treasured collaborators. Austin comes from a very classical background, so this was very different for him. Usually the composer comes in very late in the game but, like Zorin, he’s very generous with his time, so we started talking very early in the process. That really allows you to… triangulate. To fuck up. You need to be able to get it wrong a few times to understand why it’s wrong and end up in the right place.

This movie is very much in a digital universe and there’s this sort of digital paranormal phenomenon going on, so you start with the notion of 1’s and 0’s. We started pushing against that though, looking for another way in, and there are all these organic elements too. It’s a love story, it’s a fucked up love story, but it’s a love story. So we ended up circling back to the 1’s and 0’s, but bringing in these other textures with a cellist, who worked on Grace too, and then corrupting them.

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You talking about the 1’s and 0’s just reminded me that I wanted to ask you something. Daniel has this binary code of 1’s and 0’s on the ceiling in his room – do they actually spell anything out?

Yes it does.

What does it say?

I can’t tell.

[frustrated noise]

[childlike] I can’t tell. But it does, it does. I love stuff like that. My art department was so good, and they only had ten days to prep for the shoot. It’s a really demanding movie visually and we really wanted it to look beautiful. They did so much work, and it’s so textured, and you don’t really see that in lower budget movies.

You are well known for making some very well received shorts. How helpful was it to have done that before directing features?

Oh, so much. So much. It’s the same thing. It’s the same exact thing. There’s nothing different. The production process is the same, and I love doing that – I still do that. I just got done doing one for this Halloween anthology and it’s so much fun, man. You get to dive into a world and learn it, and you’re done in a month. A feature is a much longer process, but you get to practice so many things. I can’t say enough about short film making.

Did it help you learn how to craft fear and scares too?

Possibly. I don’t know… I think about shorts and features the same way – atmosphere is atmosphere, a scare is a scare is a scare. As far as scares are concerned, you have shocks and suspense and you’re duty atmospherically to an audience is to have enough intuition about hat their natural rhythms will be and to scramble them. That’s the same for shorts and features.

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Going back to the anthology you mentioned, can you tell me anything about your bit of Tales of Halloween?

Yeah, I had so much fun – they let us do whatever we want, so I was like, “OK, well what are my fetishes here?” I’m a huge Sergio Leone fan – I love Spaghetti Westerns, and I’m a big Walter Hill fan – I love The Warriors and Driver, so I was like, “I want to do a Spaghetti Western meets The Warriors!”

Cool!

And they let me do it! It was so cool, man. Again, tight schedules, but everyone worked their asses off, and I had a great cast: I had Kier from Dark Summer (Daniel), and I had Grace from Dark Summer (Mona), and I had Noah Segan from Looper (Kid Blue), and Booboo Stewart from Twilight, and these kids… these little kids. We cast great little kids! They were so, so good, man. I can’t wait to show people that.

What’s it called? What’s the name of your segment?

It’s called The Weak and The Wicked.

Nice. Our time’s nearly up, so I’ve got two quick questions for you if that’s alright.

Of course, of course.

If you could remake any movie, which would it be and why?

Oh, gosh… … … I don’t know that I would remake a movie right now.

No worries. Last question: if you could be killed by any movie monster which one would it be, and what would your last words be?

Oh. God, that’s a good question. I guess I’d probably have Claude Rains, you know?

Cool. Invisible Man kill.

Yeah, I’d have to go Invisible Man, and I probably wouldn’t have any last words because I wouldn’t see him coming!

[both laugh]

Great. Thanks so much for your time – it’s been a pleasure to talk to you. Good luck with Dark Summer, and I can’t wait to see Tales of Halloween.

Thanks so much, man. Take care.

You too, Bye-bye.

Dark Summer is released in the UK on the 20th of March and VOD on 6th April. Big thanks to Paul Solet.

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