A sound recordist picks up a strange sound whilst filming on location in a forest. After a disturbing encounter, she wakes up alone, confused and filthy in her house
Turn up your speakers or better yet plug up your headphones. Blackwood is a short that emphasizes on sound design to drive the tension and story. Orchestrated by Andrew Montague, this simple yet terrifying story follows Nikki, a sound recordist who picks up a strange sound whilst filming on location in a forest. After a disturbing encounter, she wakes up alone, confused and filthy in her house. Her only chance at finding out what happened to her, lies within her sound recorder.
With Blackwood I wanted to make a short film that aims to subvert the genre while bringing a fresh take on the misadventure trope in horror. I had been reading a lot of H.P Lovecraft, specifically a story called “Dagon”. I wanted to attempt to modernise that format of his, where there is lots of atmosphere and dread followed but an abrupt, terrifying ending. The ending became a really tricky territory to navigate as it was really divisive whenever I screened it to people. Some people loved it and some people thought it was too much, and it was something that I poured a lot of time and research into.
I chose the sound recordist as a character to portray as their job is very solitary, almost walled off from the rest of the production, a great character to follow and put in a solitary situation. I wanted to cast an actress that could not only carry the film but do it in a subtle way. When I met Danielle I just knew in my gut she would be right for the film. She was amazing to work with and she is just so compelling on screen. I was really nervous about that last scene and directing it, as I was taking a chance by getting her to do it down the lens. But once we hit on the right approach, she just nailed it.
Capturing silence always makes you realize that even complete silence has a sound. That’s exactly what ‘Blackwood’ is able to dictate in its story by driving the narrative through the hidden soundscape. Sound designer Nick van Cuylenburg designed a specific sound, both ominous and peculiar that leads you through the film and to its terrifying source.
I love sound design and worked closely with Nick van Cuylenburg our sound designer to explore soundscape as a way to drive tension. With music I wanted that Michael Giacchino (I’m a massive fan) style orchestral build and I sent a reference to Nick for the ending. He ignored it and went and made this amazing, tense, atmospheric track that totally fits and works perfectly for the film.
After visiting the California Redwoods I fell in love with the texture and scale of the forest, which is very unlike the Australian bush, luckily there is one forest like that here in Australia and we used it as our location. I wanted to make something that was as cinematic as possible for what was a tiny budget, we shot on an Arri Alexa with a set of anamorphic lenses that were made in the 80’s. We had this one amazing day of shooting, where we had eery morning fog, then just amazing sunshine that lit the forest up. Dave Guest our Cinematographer knew when to shoot and where to make the most of the evolving light, so we could shoot all day and not let things start to feel too different.
SPOILER: For the creature, I spent a long time researching, making lots of references, things that I found creepy but often could not articulate why. I found an artist called Torstein Nordstrand, who had done a creature for a publication, and it ticked the boxes for me in terms of summarising all those references. Then I enlisted some of my really talented VFX friends, Andres Weber who recreated the creature in 3D, hand painting details. I approached another Australian animator, Daniel Fotheringham, who had worked on “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark”, “Gods of Egypt” amongst others. After a few back and forths he turned out the final animation and I was really creeped out. Another friend Corey Langelotti did the lighting and rendering for the creature and sent me the files so that I could composited it back into the final frame. That was one of the trickiest parts of the production as I was managing people in LA, New York and Miami all form Melbourne, who had not all worked together before, and were doing it for the love.
Its at points like that that you understand the real role of the director, because you are vulnerable to process and overwhelmed by details and if to look too deeply into those, you will risk losing sight of the big picture. The team did such an amazing job and I discovered that endings are tricky and you can’t please everyone.