Eric Nicholas takes us into the mind of a stalker in this highly innovative film
When you make a film "shot entirely through hidden cameras" you had better hope that your film is entertaining. For Director Eric Nicholas this was mission accomplished with his movie Alone With Her. The story is simple, Doug (Colin Hanks) begins to stalk Amy (Ana Claudia Talancon). Taking us into the mind of a sociopath, we see just how easy it is to break into and manipulate somebody's life. However, beyond that, Alone With Her examines relationships and the roles people play within them.
Nicholas recently sat down with us to discuss the movie and his current project, The Weaker Sex.
What made you want to tell the story of Alone With Her?
Eric Nicholas: I was looking at the time to write and direct a low budget thriller. Until that point I was working as a screenwriter, here in L.A., professionally. I had this feeling that I wasn't getting any younger so I said, "You know what? I'm going to write something that in a pinch I could finance myself." That was the beginning of it. After that, I was very inspired by what The Blair Witch guys did. How they, not only made something that to me was terrifying, they did it on a very bare-bones level and made it feel hyper real.
I started doing research on various things out there. I came across a website selling dirt cheap spy equipment to the general public. Hidden video cameras, lock pick guns, mics, a lot of scary sh*t. To me that was the spark. It was like any sleaze-bag with a $100 could get their hands on this stuff and make somebody's life a living hell. That was the beginning of it. After that I tried to conceive it in a way where I was making something that was new and fresh; that was bending the rules a little bit. That's partially why I chose to shoot the film through hidden cameras. I also felt that that would make the film feel more real. I also felt that it would create a completely voyeuristic experience from which escape is impossible.
Like you said, this movie is hard to turn away from. Was it your goal to bring out the voyeur in all the viewers?
Eric Nicholas: It was and yet its funny. A lot of the reviews noticed this and I was thankful for that. Its like you said, you can't help but watch but I never wanted the film to be titillating or exploitive or cheap or anything like that. I wanted, through complete voyeurism, to make the audience feel dirty in a sense. And make them really pity what Amy is going through. I think we accomplished that. I think we have sympathy for Amy from minute one. Obviously, she's a sweet, vulnerable character, very pretty... also, from minute one, we know that her privacy is being violated in the most extreme fashion possible. I think that also makes us sympathize and pull for her and, I believe, makes the ending all the more tragic and heartbreaking.
Was it imperative to always make it seem like the camera was moving? Because of how you shot the film?
Eric Nicholas: Its a funny question. Its a sensitive question, I'll tell you why. When I originally wrote this, I always described it to people as a stage play. What I meant by that is that during the early stages, I never imagined we would have as many camera angles as we ended up having in the film. As you get closer to production and you start mapping and storyboarding all this stuff, on a practical level I needed to make sure I had enough coverage. If I choose to truncate a scene or turn it around, or get the best performances... in each case I had that option. I think I probably found a decent balance. I believe there's ten total in the apartment.
The way you cut the movie was so fluid... you cut it so finely it just felt like it was always moving.
Eric Nicholas: Thank you, we worked really hard... for months, to get it just right. We did a couple of research screenings during the rough cut stage, just to get audience reaction, where do they feel the movie sags a little bit? What can we do to tighten that up? That kind of thing. Thanks, I appreciate that because we worked very hard in the editing.
How did you direct the scenes in Amy's apartment in which we're watching Doug watch Amy and her friends?
Eric Nicholas: The scenes in Amy's apartment, a lot of people, because of the natural performance that Ana gives, a lot of people have asked me, "Did she improvise a lot? Did she ad lib?" The truth is the movie was scripted pretty tightly. Within the parameters of what I was looking for, from scene to scene, I did let the actors experiment and improvise a little bit if they had something they wanted to embellish or expand. I think that gave them the freedom to deliver realistic performance I was looking for.
One example when this came into play, when Doug is wearing the body cam, and he's talking to Amy at the coffee shop, or in the parking lot or whatever, they had complete freedom to move and step wherever they wanted. I think that kind of freedom, from a blocking standpoint, really, really helped them relax, get in the moment and be present. I think that really allowed their performances to be very natural.
Colin Hanks looks so much different in this movie than I've ever seen him. How was that achieved? Because he's a good looking guy but he doesn't look that good in this movie.
Eric Nicholas: (Laughing) It was a few things. First of all, it was Colin's idea to gain a bit of weight for the role, which I completely supported. Those are his real glasses that he's wearing. In terms of wardrobe, we both agreed that he would dress like a social misfit. I didn't want to push it too far. I didn't want him to look like a reject from Revenge of the Nerds or something. I wanted him to dress the way a socially isolated young man might dress. For example, when he first goes over to Amy's apartment to meet her in person for the first time, he's wearing a blazer, he has his blue shirt tucked in, he has these brown shoes. He doesn't look like a complete dweeb but he's pretty close. We discussed things like that.
We both agreed that despite being very prepared whenever he met her, whether it was at the coffee shop or whatever, he would still be very nervous. I think that comes across is in the early scenes where he's very soft spoken and tentative. Sometimes, despite himself he starts rambling on before somebody saves him. There's that scene that I love in the coffee shop where he starts rambling on about how he loves to buy various DVDs. I literally think he would have ended up shooting himself in the foot if the coffee girl... didn't call out his name to kind of interrupt him right there.
We also lit Colin, particularly at the end, to really enhance his paleness which I think enhances the unattractiveness that you're talking about. I think you're absolutely right.
Did you ever find out what his father (Tom Hanks) thought of the film?
Eric Nicholas: You know its funny, I did not.
What are you working on now?
Eric Nicholas: I am working on a thriller called The Weaker Sex. It is in the same vein as Lord of the Flies. We're planning to shoot it late summer of this year in Fiji. It's basically about a group of college kids that get stranded on an island in the South Pacific and savagely turn on each other in a battle for survival.
Who's starring in it?
Eric Nicholas: We haven't cast the movie, yet. We're literally gearing up to go as we speak.
Alone With Her is currently available on DVD from IFC Films.
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