The director discusses making the film, using practical effects, working with Christian Slater and the movie Slayer he's writing for Lionsgate

Sequels can be daunting propositions especially when dealing with films that are continuing a story in which a great deal of special effects were employed. Also, how do you keep up the level of effects expectations when you have less of a budget than the film's predecessor?

It was these issues and more that director Claudio Faeh faced when he took over the Hollow Man franchise from director Paul Verhoeven. While Faeh admits to having a great admiration for both the first film and the director, he felt it would be best to take Hollow Man 2 in a different direction. As such he has created a more cerebral movie that while maybe not being layered with as many effects, manages to instill fear in other equally chilling ways.

How much did you draw on the first Hollow Man when you made this movie?

Claudio Faeh: We started with a script that was written in 1991. Which was intended to be the original Hollow Man, the first one. Back in the day Wolfgang Peterson was attached as far as I understand. He was attached to that movie and the script was really quite fabulous and really cool. The only problem with the script was that it was written to be like an $80 million dollar movie and that's definitely not what we had in our budget.

To answer your question, it was intended to be the original Hollow Man and naturally there was a lot of Hollow Man 1 in it already. Luckily, the studio and Doug Wick... they really allowed me to make my own movie. I didn't have to bring anything back from the first one that I didn't want to. In other words, I always felt like this movie should be much darker, because, to me, it kind of goes one step further. It's not about establishing anymore that there is a Hollow Man out there; that people are being turned invisible.

It's not about establishing that the Pentagon is pouring money into this particular type of research. It kind of goes one step beyond that and it asks the question, 'Well, what happens if there was an invisible killer put together by the Pentagon? What would happen if this guy goes rogue and is on his own out there in the world?' I thought there was a huge potential to make a very paranoid, dark, scary movie with this sort of premise and naturally, I wanted this movie to be much darker. Much more film noir. Much more about these two people having to figure out a huge puzzle and being on the run, trying to overcome tremendous obstacles and figuring things out on the way. It really reminded me of movies like Three Days of the Condor or All the President's Men in a certain way.

One thing I always told the DP was, 'I don't want to have any fill light. I want to have every corner of every room completely dark. I want to have hard shadows. I want this to look like a modern day film noir.' I think there's always a good chance with these types of sequels where you have an original movie, and you take it a step further, you don't have to go through such length and such trouble of explaining what is going on. You can really take whatever has been established and try to take it to the next round. That certainly was really intriguing and rewarding for me.

What do you think are some pitfalls to avoid especially when doing a sequel to a movie like Hollow Man?

Claudio Faeh: On the one hand, of course, it is quite intimidating. Not only is there a fantastic and legendary director at the helm of the first one, Paul Verhoeven, who I really adore, he's just outstanding and who I am to compare myself to him? And try and make a sequel of his fantastic work. That can be quite daunting and intimidating. On the other hand, the only way of approaching this for me, I think, was to say, 'Okay, I'm gonna make this my own and use the first one as a spring board rather than a blueprint.' The reality of it, in that particular case, we had about a one hundredth of that first movie's effects budget. So our money was way more constricted, that's why I always told everybody, 'Look, the first movie was clearly a visual effects movie. It really lived with these fantastic and groundbreaking effects that they put up five years ago. There's no way that we can compare ourselves to that sort of approach. We shouldn't even try to be better or as good as the first one in that particular realm.'

So I really tried hard to turn this from an effects movie to a more story driven or character driven movie. Many times if you have really limited resources you can also make it an advantage and really grow in the challenge. And that was certainly the case. My supervisor and longtime friend, Ben Grossman, who was in charge of the visual effects, really pulled one miracle after another out of his hat. And there were so many people who saw this movie as an opportunity to really show that it didn't have to cost millions and millions of dollars to come out with great effects. Great effects not just being digital effects. My approach is always to try and avoid digital effects wherever possible. I think practical effects are always more interesting. They're old school but if they're done well they really drive a point home and they always look photorealistic because they are photorealistic. They're not trying to imitate something in a computer.

Only, if I really had to, I would go to the computer and fix things up. It was funny, I think the whole crew really appreciated that approach, because it was old school filmmaking but it was not bad school filmmaking. It's really fun and it's worked for so many years and it still does work. They'll be things like this approach I took with wire removals and rig removals. That's basically, I would say, low-tech visual effects; fairly simple visual effects. They're not too costly, but they can be really spectacular. What I saw was a number of video clips and commercials that used wires, not just for kung fu stuff and having people suspended and flying through the air, but using them for what looked like invisible people and yank them around.

One of the video clips that I found was Fatboy Slim's 'Push The Tempo.' It's just hilarious and absolutely fantastic. I saw that method of strapping people into wires, into harnesses, or sometimes attaching push poles to an actor and then yanking them around really creates kind of a bizarre, eery effect. It only asks for removal of these poles which is fairly inexpensive and really rewarding to do. That approach really went a long way into suggesting that there really was an invisible man around, in the picture, in a shot and didn't completely break the bank. It allowed us to avoid costly things like motion control and all that stuff.

There was a basic sort of philosophy or mindset that we had early on, to try and achieve as many things as possible in practical ways, and in-camera ways and not use the computer unless we absolutely had to.

Do you think because you used so many practical effects that that engages the audience more because they know what they are seeing is real?

Claudio Faeh: Oh absolutely. I think it kind of has a jarring moment... not to long ago, before I got involved with Hollow Man 2, I saw Aliens, again. The James Cameron version. Aliens was just a little before the advent of digital technology and all of these effects were done with in-camera effects; puppetry, clever cutting, but more than anything else, clever storytelling. I think it's much more eery and much more scary than most of the digital stuff we're used to nowadays. I really feel like budget constraints, in our particular case, turned out to be a huge opportunity to kind of explore, what I consider, potentially better ways of engaging an audience. It is something that audiences have forgotten a little bit. And that's why it comes in quite fresh nowadays when you see these practical effects again.

Also, it's a clever mix between practical effects and what we consider fairly simple digital touch ups; that go along with them. Of course there's a number of ways to keep the audience on the edge of their seats throughout this movie, and one of them certainly is that we don't know at the beginning of the movie who this entity, who the Hollow Man, who this guy is and what it is that he wants. He kind of remains a cypher or a riddle or a mystery for almost half the movie, and I thought that was just a perfect setup to tell this sort of film noirish tale where they first have to find out what the hell it is that this guy wants. Why he's so malignant and why he's so mean with everybody.

That of course peaks the interest of an audience and then if you can sustain it with clever effects that allow you to suggest that he can be everywhere, at any time... he can be right in front of you and you wouldn't even know, and kind of use that to sustain suspense throughout the movie, that turned out to be a really productive and really cool thing to do. Also, one of the things that I was always thinking about and mentioned to everybody was, if you think back on Jaws, which is probably my favorite movie of all time, Spielberg back in the day, supposedly or legendarily, couldn't really show the shark because the shark didn't work. It just looked too bad. So he had to find ways of suggesting that the shark was around. Through the famous POV but plenty of other cool gadgets or tricks, using the music and soundtrack, the barrels being attached to the shark and all that stuff.

So what came out of this is something that is much more spooky because the shark really works in the audiences mind. I think having an invisible man is like the perfect thing to use the same techniques with, because by definition this guy is invisible so you cannot show him. It's not about showing him it's about suggesting that he's around without having anything to show. Without having anything to cut to. So coming up with clever ways of suggesting that he's around, that was kind of the daily bread in directing Hollow Man 2. Find cool, inexpensive but productive and suggestive ways of keeping him spooky.

What was it like working with Christian Slater?

Claudio Faeh: Christian to me is a little bit of legend because I grew up watching his movies, and it was quite bizarre to then get a chance to just meet him and talk to him about his potential participation in this movie. I went to great battle towards getting him and finally getting him excited about it, and getting him to agree to do this part felt like heaven. It was quite amazing. I think he's perfect for this part not only because I think he is a fantastic, phenomenal actor and he has so much to offer, even the few scenes that he can be seen on camera, you can tell that he really knows how to own a scene. And that was a great experience.

Also, where I think he's perfect for this role is his recognizable voice. He has such an iconic, recognizable voice. Many of these scenes, going back to what I just told you, in terms of content and all, in many of these scenes he's really just a voice. It's a voice over job, so to say. Having this sort of very recognizable voice, of course, works very much toward the concept of making him a character you want to find out about. Also, I have to say, he is a person who is willing to tap into darker sides of his personality. He can also tap into these darker sides so I thought he made just a fantastic villain in this.

And it turned out to be one of the strongest assets of the movie to have him, and I'm really grateful for having gotten him and having had the chance to work with him. I'm hoping I get a chance to do it again.

In your opinion, what is the most difficult part of directing an effects laden film?

Claudio Faeh: In the case of Hollow Man, you do have an effect in the title already. So, yes, it is all about the effects, eventually. I think the trick in these movies is you shift the weight from the effects foot, to the character foot and to the story foot, so that you consciously make an effort to squeeze as much... as possible out of story and out of characters. To encourage all your actors and all your department heads, and everybody working on the movie, encourage everybody to work as hard as possible toward making the world of the movie as realistic as possible. To make every emotion that comes with it as realistic as possible, because eventually, that's going to be the way into the movie for every audience.

If you see that even though you have an invisible man... sitting in the center of this movie, everything around it feels very much real, feels very much like in the real world. The more you succeed in doing so, I think the more willing an audience is to accept that, basically, there is an effect in the middle of it all. In terms of practical, sort of day to day work on this movie, on the effects, you need to have a strong concept. You need to know how to pull these things off. Then at some point you cannot forget to focus on everything else but the effects. It's almost more important to focus on the rest because it's so easy to ignore that. Completely be tied up with just making the effects work.

What do you have coming up next?

Claudio Faeh: I'm currently writing a script that is based on a short film that I made over ten years ago in Switzerland. It's something that is very dear to my heart. I've never been able to let that go and it's also been the short film that has found the most resonance with everybody. Both in Switzerland and also in the States. So there seems to be a core of a story there that I've always been interested in. I'm currently writing that. I don't know when that's going to be ready, I hope pretty soon.

There are a number of scripts that are on my desk now that I'm really interested in and taking meetings for and fighting really hard to get. There's also a movie at Lionsgate that I'm currently writing together with a friend of mine. It's called Slayer and the one that I'm working on by myself is called Kilometer 11. That's the one that I already made the short film for.

Hollow Man 2 comes to DVD May 23rd through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Cinemark Movie Club
Evan Jacobs