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May 2011

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The W ard The W ar d H director’s chair John Carpenter: OLLYWOOD — Over the past four decades, director/producer/ writer/actor/editor/composer By IAIN BLAIR John Carpenter has thrilled, chilled and scared the pants off audiences worldwide with such films as the Halloween franchise, The Fog and Escape From New York. Over the past few years, Carpenter has He’s back... after a 10-year hiatus from feature films. been largely MIA on the big screen. But now he’s back with a new film, the period ghost- thriller The Ward, which stars Amber Heard (soon to be seen in The Rum Diary opposite Johnny Depp) as a beautiful but troubled young woman who awakes to find herself a prisoner in a mysterious hospital ward. Here, Carpenter, also whose credits in- clude Ghosts of Mars, Vil- lage of the Damned, Chris- tine and The Thing, talks about making the film, his love of post, why he stopped directing for a while, and how Hollywood’s changed since he directed his first feature film, Dark Star, back in 1974. POST: You haven’t directed a movie since Ghosts of Mars, back in 2001. What happened? JOHN CARPENTER: “I was involved in several projects but I stopped directing for several years because I just got burned out doing movies, and I didn’t want to work anymore.Then along came these two one- hour Showtime movies, Masters of Horror, five or six years ago. I had such a good time directing them that I started thinking, maybe if the right project comes along, I’ll get back into it.” POST: How do you go about deciding what your next project will be, and what made you choose this? CARPENTER: “I chose this because it was a great script and it fits the right criteria for what I wanted to do — something small with a small cast and limited locations... a simple story and something I can play around with, with the actors. So when this came along and seemed to fit the bill, I de- cided to go ahead.” POST: You usually multi-task, often writing, producing and composing, as well as directing. Why not this time? CARPENTER: “Because I’m older now and I found a lot of people who can do the 12 Post • May 2011 mental institution, and the part we were in was closed down; it fit our needs perfectly.” POST: What were the biggest challenges of making this? CARPENTER: “It’s always the same — time and money.You never have enough of either. As for the creative issues, we didn’t have any because the cast was so good.You have these beautiful Hollywood actresses in a mental institution — what could be bet- ter? It’s awesome!” POST: Where did you do the post? How long was the process? CARPENTER: “We shot on 35mm and then brought all the footage back to LA to edit.We went from film to digital for the edit, which was the first time for me.We used Final Cut Pro, and I loved it. In the past we’ve always gone to dailies, but there were no dailies this time except digital material, which was different and interesting. “In the end, we spent about six months on post and did all of it at Modern Digital in Seattle and North by Northwest Entertain- John Carpenter (on set) shot on 35mm, but is open to shooting digital, “if it was the right project, with the right DP...” promise. But post can also be very frustrat- ing, trying to make your footage work out better than it should. “There’s that great old saying, ‘If you have a bad film, with enough time in post you can make it fair, and with a fair film, with enough time you can make it good,’ and so on. So it’s down to the time you have to refine and edit your raw footage. One of the big prob- lems with moviemaking is that you’re always having to meet a schedule, and rushing post is never good.” POST: This was edited by Patrick McMa- hon, who worked with you on Masters of Hor- ror. How does that relationship work? CARPENTER: “I had a great time working with him on Masters. He didn’t come on the set for this. He’s very experi- enced and very talented, and after he’d done his assembly and cut we began play- job better at this point in my life.The big issue for me is always the music and com- posing, and on this I found Mark Killian, who did the music for Tsotsi, which won the Oscar. He did an amazing job for me. I didn’t have to do it, which was one less thing to worry about.” POST: Where did you shoot the film? CARPENTER: “It was a low-budget quick shoot — 30 days in Spokane,Wash- ington, which is a great, very beautiful city. We shot just 20 minutes outside, inside a ment in Spokane.” POST: Do you like the post process? CARPENTER: “I do, but it’s so different from the shoot.The shoot’s a lot of fun for me because you’re running around the set with the actors and creating the scenes. Then in post, it’s an entirely different process of filmmaking — equally difficult and time-consuming and intensive, but fun in a different way. It’s exciting as you can do so many different things.You can work dra- matically, structurally, and it’s a time of great

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