Director Brad Anderson discusses Vanishing on 7th Street

Vanishing on 7th Street director Brad Anderson discusses his intriguing new thriller, shooting in Detroit, his new project Jack and much more

Director Brad Anderson may not be a name you're familiar with, but if you're a fan of cinema that cuts against the grain, you will have likely come across his work. Brad Anderson broke onto the scene with the 2001 thriller Session 9. He followed that up in wonderful fashion with 2004's The Machinist and the tragically underrated 2008 masterpiece Transsiberian. In between films, the director keeps busy on the small screen, directing episodes of shows such as The Shield, The Wire, Fringe, Treme, and Boardwalk Empire.

Brad Anderson's latest big screen project is Vanishing on 7th Street, which will be released in theaters on February 18. This thriller takes place in Detroit and follows a group of survivors who realize that a widespread power outage is really something much more sinister. I recently had the chance to speak with this talented director over the phone. Here's what he had to say.

What I enjoy about your movies is they tend to start out in a fairly simple place and the layers slowly peel away as the story progresses. This one starts out in a darker place. I was curious what first drew you to Anthony Jaswinski's script?

Brad Anderson: Yeah, I think how you just described it. You turn the pages and the mystery and the strangeness of it gets progressively more intriguing. I just found myself drawn into it for that reason. Then, of course, the clincher at the end, when you're expecting certain things... I thought that was really daring, on his part, for the story. It was a challenge to see if we could pull it off, this movie with a big central mystery at its core. For me, that was one of the reasons to do the movie. It didn't offer up any easy solutions. The characters in the movie, who are each struggling to find an explanation as to what's happening to them, you want the audience to have that same uneasiness, that uneasy feeling you get when you don't know why something is happening. I think it keeps the audience off-kilter. Some people will get it, some people won't, but that's what interested me in the script.

The premise is very inventive, but at the same time, there have been other movies, mostly zombie movies, with these strangers trapped and trying to survive. What kinds of things did you want to do to make this stand out from others that might be similar?

Brad Anderson: The zombies or the monsters in this movie are shadows and the darkness itself. I guess, a usual horror movie or scary movie, it's the monster that lurks in the shadows. In this movie, the shadows themselves are the threat. That was a cool idea on the page. It's existential. It's everywhere. You can't escape light. No matter where you go, you're going to be menaced by this terrifying thing. It's like when you can't trust the thing that you hold to be most true. If something as commonplace as a shadow can be a danger, then everything is up for grabs. The whole idea of the threat, the villain or monster, in this particular story, being darkness itself, was interesting. Then, how to realize that and execute that, dramatically, was also a challenge that felt worth taking up, for me.

In the movie, they tell the story of the Roanoke Colony. I was curious if you did any further research into that story? It's a very intriguing thing, which I had never heard of before.

Brad Anderson: It's a story I had read about, one of those extreme mysteries that is intriguing. When I was working with Anthony a little bit, to shape the script, we were moving towards getting the movie off the ground, and I encouraged him to continue to put clues and evidence within the story that could lend itself to various explanations about what was happening. Whether it's the Roanoke story or a biblical explanation, like Thandie's character thinking it could be the rapture or something. It was cool because it set up the idea that maybe there was some precedence to what was happening. It was just visually a bit of a touchstone for the movie. I don't think Anthony wrote the script with that in mind, but it was a visual and story touchstone for us.

Michigan has really become the hot spot for filming lately, with all the incentives. I was curious if the story was initially set in Detroit? Can you talk about your experiences shooting in the city?

Brad Anderson: It was initially set in New York. He wanted to shoot in in Brooklyn, but we had to change that because of the practicality of shooting in New York with the budget we had. Besides, New York has had enough disaster stories written about it. We fished around for another city we could shoot in. We looked at Vancouver, Spokane, Washington, New Orleans, but Detroit just seemed like the best choice. Beyond the incentives in Michigan, it's a city that's already sort of post-apocalyptic. It's not hard to create scenes devoid of people and life in that city. There are entire stretches, avenues, city blocks that are completely empty and desolate. We were able to capitalize on that a little bit and open up the scope of the film. We found things like the church at the end of the film, this huge Polish church that we were able to shoot at. I think you would've been hard pressed to find another place where there were dozens of empty churches. We had all the stuff we needed to get the movie going, and it's just a cool place to shoot. It's a fascinating city with so much history there. It's a city with a lot of atmosphere.

You have a really diverse cast here with Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, and John Leguizamo. Did you have any of these actors in mind, specifically, when you were reading the script?

Brad Anderson: Well, Hayden was the first on board. He had read the script around the same time that I had read it and was interested, also kind of caught up in the mystery of it all. He just liked the merciless of this character he was playing. He's just all for himself and just wants to get out of dodge and ends up kind of making the ultimate sacrifice. He was on board and then we got Thandie and John. We only had four roles, so it was obviously a very small ensemble and I wanted each of these characters to feel unique in their own way. I also wanted it to feel like a very plausible sampling of Detroit. Thandie just has this great, soulful beauty to her. We wanted to audience to feel for her and her predicament. John Leguizamo is a real character and he's playing the kind of guy where the wheels are always turning and he's always coming up with a crazy scheme or crazy explanation. Jacob Latimore, we really discovered in Detroit. He's from Atlanta but he has roots in Detroit. He's great. He doesn't really say a lot in the movie, but he conveys a lot with his expressions and the way he plays off the other actors. You needed the audience to root for this kid at the end.

I was wondering if there was anything you could say about Jack? It's a very cool premise and I was wondering if you could give us a status update on that?

Brad Anderson: Well, we're hoping it comes together. We have some of the cast, more or less, in place, but like all these movies, they're never really a go until they're a go. We're waiting to get a couple more cast members on board. We need a few names attached to get the financing, but if it all comes together, we would do it in the fall. It's cool. It's a Hitchcockian kind of story, a serial killer movie, but I think it's a good script. It will be a very commercial project for me to get off the ground.

Are Samuel L. Jackson and Liev Schreiber still attached?

Brad Anderson: They are, yeah. We still have to get other elements together to get it all going. But, as far as I know, we're still moving forward in that direction.

Finally, what would you like to say to anyone who's curious about Vanishing on 7th Street about why they should check it out in theaters on February 18?

Brad Anderson: Well, if they're looking for an intriguing, mysterious, dark, scary movie that is not in 3D or based on a Marvel comic book... if you're looking for something refreshing and different, I think Vanishing on 7th Street would be a good choice.

Excellent. That's about all I have for you, Brad. I'm a big fan of your work. Thanks so much for your time.

Brad Anderson: Thanks a lot.

You can watch Brad Anderson's Vanishing on 7th Street when it hits theaters on February 18.