David Marmor (Director, 1BR)
The Horror Revolution: First of all, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
David Marmor: I have different answers to these two questions. If I had to choose a single favorite horror movie, it would probably be The Shining, for all the reasons it's a classic: it's beautifully crafted, visually gorgeous, so unsettling and enigmatic, and really rewards repeat viewing. As for the movie that scares me the most, that one is easy: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The lo-fi, documentary shooting, the sense of rot just hidden under the surface of everyday society, and the utter trauma the main character goes through are all just terrifying to me. She escapes at the end, but you can see in her eyes that she's not OK, and maybe never will be. It's such a deeply disturbing movie--but also not a lot of fun for me. No other movie has scared me as much, but I've seen it twice and might not ever need to see it again.
THR: I really enjoyed 1BR, and the concept of stumbling across a cult based solely around where you decide to live is definitely freaky. What inspired the film?
DM: 1BR came out of my personal life, really. I was fairly new to LA, trying to make it in Hollywood all alone as Sarah is, and moved into an apartment complex similar to the one in the movie. Having grown up in a fairly small university town, I found LA to be such a strange, alienating environment, and this apartment complex was like a microcosm of that. Beautiful sun-drenched courtyard, friendly waves from neighbors whose names I never knew, and the unsettling knowledge that in an emergency I would need to knock on the doors of these utter strangers. At the same time (probably not coincidentally) I was getting interested in cults and reading about them, and those two ideas crashed into each other and led to 1BR.
THR: Was there an intent to parody other cults or cult-like societies, and if so, which ones?
DM: I wouldn't say I intended to parody any cults, but the Community in the movie is definitely inspired by several LA-based utopian communities. A lot of people tell me they see parallels to Scientology, and there are definitely scenes inspired by their practices, but the most direct inspiration was a community called Synanon that started in the 1950s. It began as a drug rehab at a time when there were very few resources for people with addiction. They had very pure, good intentions, really wanting to help people nobody else would help. But through a combination of utopian thinking and a cult of personality around a sociopathic leader, it evolved into a violent, repressive cult. There's much more to the story of Synanon, and it's worth at least a spin through the Wikipedia page. It's pretty wild!
THR: The music in the film was great, often contrasting the more horrible scenes by providing a fun, happy soundtrack to help throw off the audience. Was this a choice that you made as director, or was it something somebody else suggested?
DM: The score was a very close collaboration between me and our brilliant composer, Ronen Landa. I came in with the idea of taking seemingly sweet or innocuous music and slightly tweaking it so it would sound just a little unsettling. Ronen took that and ran with it in directions I hadn't expected. We worked so closely together that I can't remember any more which ideas originally were mine and which were his, which is the kind of collaboration I dream of. We had so much fun shaping that score and I'm so happy with how it came out.
THR: With one turn after the other, this was one of the twistier movies that I’ve seen recently. Is it difficult to keep all of the twists straight when you’re writing the movie, and did you ever find yourself having to rewrite a section because it affected the twist that was coming next?
DM: I didn't really have trouble keeping track of the twists, I think because the overall shape of the movie came to me fairly early and stayed pretty consistent throughout the process. But as far as rewriting, the answer is a resounding YES--any time I changed anything, it rippled out to everything after it, and often parts before it too. Working on the script for 1BR actually really drove home to me how interconnected all the parts of a movie are. Producers (or others) sometimes blithely suggest a seemingly small change, and I now make sure I think through the whole story before I answer, because very often that small change is actually a huge change...
THR: In regards to casting the film, were the actors given the whole script beforehand? Did they know the ending going in, and if so, was it difficult to have them portraying kind people near the beginning of the film after knowing where they’d end up?
DM: The actors had the whole script. I didn't hide the ending or try to keep them in the dark. In my experience (I come from a theater and acting background), actors are generally really smart and very capable of preserving spontaneity, and I've almost never felt I needed to play psychological games with an actor to get the performance I want. In this case, it wasn't hard at all to have them play the roles both before and after the reveal. My one overriding direction to the Community members was that as far as they're concerned, they are the good guys. Everything they do, they truly believe it's for Sarah's own good. So their performances actually don't change after the reveal. It's only the context of how we see them that changes. And they all did an amazing job of embodying that.
THR: There are a lot of horror movies that are overly reliant on gore (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but 1BR is definitely more of a psychological horror. Is that the genre of horror that you prefer?
DM: There's a huge range of horror movies I love! A lot of my recent favorites have fallen on the psychological end of the spectrum, including some of the prestige movies like Get Out, It Follows, The Witch, and so on. But I equally love more "splattery" movies like You're Next, and I have a real soft spot for the really bonkers horror movies of the 80s like An American Werewolf in London and The Thing.
THR: Writing and directing a film is awesome, I’m sure really helping to make sure that the idea in your head was conveyed correctly once shooting began. Which role do you prefer in the film process?
DM: That's so tough! I think if I was told I could only do one or the other from now on, I would choose writing, only because it's the most fundamental and important part of creating a movie. That said, it can also be pretty miserable a lot of the time! I consider directing my script to be kind of like dessert. Of course it has its stresses, but on the whole it's a whole lot more fun than writing--you're surrounded by people instead of alone in a room, and you're getting to see what you worked so hard on come to life.
THR: What made you want to become a director? Were there any particular films that you watched and were like, yeah, that’s gonna be me someday?
DM: It's funny, I've wanted to be a director for so long I'm not sure I really remember the genesis of it. But I think the roots were in the movies of Spielberg and Zemeckis and so forth (as they were for many filmmakers of my generation). I have memories of running around as a kid pretending to be Indiana Jones or an X-Wing pilot, and when I realized the scenes I loved so much hadn't really happened and were made up by people, that kind of blew my mind.
THR: What’s coming up next for you? Are there any projects you’re excited to talk about?
DM: I've just finished the first draft of a sequel to 1BR! Our producers would probably kill me if I said much more about it than that, but I'm really excited to see where we can take the story next. At the same time I'm working on a science fiction project I'm super passionate about, that's pretty far away from 1BR in tone and content, so that's been a lot of fun too.
THR: Finally, if you could have one song playing every time you walk into a room, what would it be and why?
DM: Wow, that's probably the toughest of all these questions. We have a 4-year-old, so all I listen to these days are songs from Moana and Encanto (which are great, actually!), but I'm very out of touch with non-kids' music. I don't know, off the top of my head maybe Billy Preston's Nothing From Nothing? It has that goofy circus intro that would be great to enter a room to, and then it transitions into this effortlessly cool piano hook. But no deeper meaning there--I just really like that song!