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Navigating the Past and Present: A Conversation with Gilles Paquet-Brenner


Dark Places

Libby Day (Theron) was only eight years old when her family was brutally murdered in their rural Kansas farmhouse. Almost thirty years later, she agrees to revisit the crime and uncovers the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night, but what happens when you try to find light in dark places?

DARK PLACES features an all-star leading Hollywood cast including; Charlize Theron (Prometheus, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Mad Max: Fury Road) as Libby Day, the protagonist; Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-Men: Dys of Future Past, Kill Your Friends) is Lyle Wirth, the leader of the Kill Club, a club fascinated with true crime; Christina Hendricks (Drive, I Don’t Know How She Does It, Mad Men) is Patty Day, Libby’s mother; Corey Stoll (House of Cards, The Good Lie, Homeland, Ant-Man) as Libby’s brother, Ben Day, and Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Hugo, Dark Shadows, Carrie) plays a young Diondra Wertzner, Ben Day’s secret girlfriend.

The Fan Carpet‘s Jen Scouler spoke to Gilles Paquet-Brenner about Dark Places, he tells us about getting the story adapted to the big screen, working with Gillian Flynn and directing the younger cast…

 

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How did Dark Places first get into production?

For production, you have to go back to when I read the book actually. I read the book in 2010 when I was finishing my previous film called Sarah’s Key and I read the book and fell in love with it and it was before Gone Girl was even written. At the time, it was this small, dark thriller that I love and we acquired the rights and started to write the script. Then what happened was that Sarah’s Key played well internationally and was successful and then Gillian Flynn became this sensation so it helped us tremendously and it attracted a lot of actors interest.

 

Your last film Sarah’s Key was also based on a novel. Do you find particular challenges in adapting a novel as a writer and director?

I guess it depends on the novels. Some novels are very, very cinematic which was the case for both Sarah’s Key and Dark Places. It was challenging for Dark Places in a way in that there was a lot of materials, a lot of characters, a lot of timelines and events. So obviously, when you have to put that into a 2 hour movie, that’s a bit challenging.

 

Did Gillian Flynn have a lot of say in the film’s production?

Well, we became friends and I consulted her- when there was a new draft I would send it to her and she would give opinions on things but usually she was pretty happy, she liked what I did. It was an informal collaboration but she was very respectful of what I was doing anyway.

 

Do you think you could direct without writing or is writing always going to be a big part for you in doing movies?

I don’t know if I feel like a real writer. In France, that’s what we do but now, if I get the perfect script, I certainly won’t touch it. It’s not an obligation for me to write. It might be a bit harder because when you’re a writer with a director, sometime the director does not agree with the writer. So when you’re the writer it’s easier to make difficult decisions!

 

Of course a lot of the film is moving back between past and present. How did you find balancing those timelines?

You just do it the way you feel is right! Sarah’s Key had the same structure so i was kind of used to it and it didn’t feel so challenging to me. The only thing is that it goes back and forth a lot more in Dark Places so in the editing room it was a bit of a challenge because you could have had scenes that were too short.

 

How did you find the cast and how was your time working with it?

When Gone Girl became this sensation, we had a lot of interest from actors. I don’t remember exactly how Charlize Theron came into the conversation but we’re in the same agency and she really liked the project. Once she signed on, we were flooded with phone calls from agents because everyone wanted to be a part of it. It was great, for me to have access to all these amazing actors that wanted to be in the project and it was a blessing. It’s a very small movie, I know it doesn’t look like it because of the cast but we shot in 24 days, in Louisiana, and they brought their A-game because they really liked the project so much.

 

Christina Hendricks is really fantastic in this film. How did her casting come about, because of course some might see her as being cast against type?

Of course, she has this image from Mad Men but I think that she’s really an amazing actress. You know, they’re actors, they can play supposedly almost anything! (laughs) She was the right age, she’s a great actress and it felt pretty natural.

 

Was it a challenge directing the younger cast in some of the difficult scenes?

Well what you see on screen is not what we experience on set. The kids were having fun together actually on set so it wasn’t that gloomy, where everyone was depressed on set. We were just running around like crazy because the schedule was so tight.

 

Did you feel like you had to take a break because of the dark content?

Not really, what’s weird is when you do comedy there’s a lot of pressure. You’re terrified not to be funny but when you’re making dark movies or horror you’ll see that people actually have fun doing them. Now, what was pretty heavy was the scene with Charlize and Corey (Stoll) in the prison. That was amazing but yeah, that was quite heavy because it was a 6, 7 page long scene about a very heavy concept.

It depends on the actor as well. Chloe (Grace-Moretz), you push a button and she’s there. It’s very easy for her! Other actors have to be in a sort of mood to get into that mindset.

 

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What was your biggest challenge during the shoot?

The challenge was the tight schedule and the lack of money, that was quite a struggle. It was just a miracle every day when we could just make the day, basically.

 

So did it take a while to get the funding?

Once someone like Charlize Theron signs for the movie, then obviously the financing becomes quite easy but because of the dark nature of the film, you can sign up all the movie stars you want, but you won’t get the funding you need because of the nature of the material. So yeah, it took a bit of time to find a budget and a schedule that would fit the money we had. And then, the time it took to be released as well- I learned the ‘Hollywood process’ the hard way so we had eighteen months of post-production and a lot of fights behind the scenes so that was tough.

 

Would you do the ‘Hollywood process’ differently next time?

Yes! I definitely learned a lot, especially about the politics of it all. As a French director, you’re just not prepared for it because we have the final cut on our movies by law and so we are not used to have to deal with some of the opinions from the producers and so, I definitely learned a lot and I think I’ll be way stronger on my next project.

 

I know you’ve said that the process is different on a French language film but do you find that the language affects how you approach a film?

I think I’m used to it now. For me, it’s really about the story you’re telling. I would love to make another French movie, I will probably at some point. The thing when you do a movie internationally, you do it for a much wider audience and that’s definitely exciting and should be taken into consideration.

 

True crime fanatics push the story forward in Dark Places. What’s your opinion of the fanatics?

I don’t judge them in terms of why they’re obsessed by these things, everybody has their own weird passion, so they have that, that’s fine with me! It’s more about what it says about us as a society, you know, it’s more about this voyeuristic thing and how anybody could become a celebrity including victims of murder. It’s how they create this cult status that’s really interesting, because I can really see why people can have weird hobbies, or be obsessed with notorious crimes, but then yeah, it’s more the cult of it that is weird.

Yet also, I think if you think about that, 20 years ago, for these people to meet it would have been difficult. Now though, with the internet and Facebook, it becomes way easier for them to connect and create these groups.

 

What do you hope audiences will get from this film?

There is certainly something about there being a time in your life when you have to face the truth, and as difficult as it is, you have to do it because it’s the only way you can move forward.

 

What have you got planned next?

I do, I don’t want to talk about it as I think it’s a bit early but we’re shooting this summer.

 

Can you give me a clue as to what language it is? Is it in French, is it in English?

Oh, it’s in English.

 

Is it a novel adaptation?

..Yes. (laughs)

 

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Dark Places Film Page

DARK PLACES is out on Blu-ray™ and DVD from February 22, courtesy of Entertainment One

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