Thursday, June 5, 2014

INTERVIEW: Director Bruce Pittman On HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II (1987)


 Director Bruce Pittman looks back with TV STORE ONLINE at his 1987 film HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II (1987).   

Check out Pittman's latest film THE LAST MOVIE on Amazon Instant here.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I remember first reading about HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT 2 (1985) in pages of Fangoria magazine back when I was kid...

PITTMAN:  Right, Yeah.   I remember that.   They sent a guy to talk to me and some of the cast on the set of the film.  They gave it a nice splashy write-up if I remember correctly.

TV STORE ONLINE:   One thing that gets pointed out in that Fangoria article that isn't mentioned anyplace else is how you shot the film, or portions of it, in an empty furniture store.

PITTMAN:  Right.  We built sets in that place.  That place was 300,000 square foot.  We shot the film out in Edmonton.  The money came from Alberta and we needed a number of sets because we wanted to do all of the effects in camera.  We needed all that space for that reason.  It was a very large space and we also used a few different locations around town too.

TV STORE ONLINE:  The thing that I admire most about HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT 2 is just how striking it is visually...That end sequence where the camera almost sort of fast forwards in movement through the high school and ends on the grave stone is really wonderful....

PITTMAN: Thanks. Peter Simpson, The Producer was really great about allowing us to go and do things like that in PROM NIGHT 2.   His company wanted to do three budget movies and the idea behind that -- was that most films are financial failures but we figured that out of three films we might be able to have at least one success.    Simpson thought that I'd make another script that he had at the time which was a serious drama, but then I read the great script that Ron Oliver wrote.  That script was wonderful, it was very tongue-in-cheek and it really played with a lot of horror conventions that were around then and still around today.   It was originally going to be called THE HAUNTING OF HAMILTON HIGH.  We had a great special effects guy on board with us.  I had a great cameraman and designer on board. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   That Ron Oliver dialogue is so fun in HELLO MARY LOU as well...

PITTMAN:  Exactly.  I would agree with you.  His script was so good.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I love how PROM NIGHT 2 opens with Lisa [Schrage] as Mary Lou in the confessional booth and how you force perspective in that opening with the actors looking directly into the camera.  The way you frame those opening shots is really incredible...

PITTMAN:  Well, I was just doing what a director does.   I was trying to shoot the film and cut it in the camera too while gathering the best possible shots for the editing room.   I still go after the master shot but I do tell actors to save emotion for the close-up.     It has to do with being very prepared going in to shoot the film because it was a low budget film and I had a plan to go after what I wanted, and I had to do that because of the budget and because our shooting schedule was only 30 days.

TV STORE ONLINE:   PROM NIGHT 2 also has this wonderful lucid dream-like quality about it...

PITTMAN:  It's as if all of the characters in the film are living in the milieu of the horror movie really.

TV STORE ONLINE:  There are references in the film to THE EXORCIST (1973) and CARRIE (1978) as well...

PITTMAN:  Right, those come from Ron Oliver and his screenplay.    And those characters were off-shoots of the characters that everyone was seeing in horror movies.  That was the idea there.   We didn't want to make the characters cliche, we wanted to make them ideal characters in the horror genre.    I think we tried to make the film timeless as well. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did the film do when it was released? 

PITTMAN:  Well, I didn't see all of the reviews.  It wasn't like today where you can Google what a critic in Des Moines, Iowa thinks about your film.  But I did see some of the reviews and they were mixed.  The film was dismissed here in Toronto, Canada, but we got a really great review by critics in New York and Los Angeles.   I didn't think the film was a bad as the critics wrote that it was here in Canada, but I didn't think it was as good as the critics said it was in New York and Los Angeles either.   The nature of the beast though is that some people like the film and some don't.    I get emails from people today such as yourself who tell me how great of a film it is, and that's a nice perk to receive as these years later.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Horror fans know the name Ray Sager for his work with Herschell Gordon Lewis... But some don't know that Sager was one of the producers on HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT 2...How did he become involved with the project?

PITTMAN:  Ray and I had known each other through a producer that I had worked with previously, and Ray was friends with Peter Simpson and he suggested me to Peter as a director of one of the three low budget films that he wanted to make.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Again, the film is so visual...and in particular the death scenes in HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT 2 and how the camera captures them.....Did you storyboard any of that stuff out prior to shooting?

PITTMAN: No I didn't create storyboards, but I did sit down with the special effects guy to figure all that out.   We wanted each character to die very interestingly.   My big idea for the film was to put the girl into the locker and then have it collapse from the outside to squash her.

TV STORE ONLINE:    That's a great scene...

PITTMAN:  Thanks.  It took us about six times to get that right.

TV STORE ONLINE:   So how much of that uniqueness was in Ron Oliver's script?   People comment on references to US horror films in HELLO MARY LOU, but I see many references to Italian horror films by Mario Bava and Dario Argento in the film as well....   When actress Wendy Lyon is in that giant spider web...That's straight out of Mario Bava, and then there is that Argento-esque scene where the girl is strangled by the sheet from the ceiling and the giant paper cutter blade attacks her...There's a Euro sensibility to the film...

PITTMAN:  Well, if you look at my other films...I think you'll see more of that.   But Hitchcock had a Euro sensibility in his work as well... He was from Europe, and Hitchcock has always been a huge influence on me as a filmmaker.    In some ways we were really making up a lot of that as we were going along, but not on the day we were shooting the scene.  It was very important to me that we were always making Ron Oliver happy as the writer of the film.  It was Ron who really kept me on track with the original tongue-in-cheek humor that he put into his script in the first place.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Going back to that whole thing with the look of the film and deaths being Mario Bava and Dario Argento- esque....The lighting in the film really feels in that spirit too...

PITTMAN:  Right.  I had worked on two or three films before HELLO MARY LOU with a Director Of Photography named John Herzog.    With lights I've always thought that less is more, and that shadows are much more interesting.   John was really on board with that idea and he really kept that consistant across the shooting.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Can we talk about the casting of the film?

PITTMAN:  Well, Michael Ironside was wonderful.  He was a real pro.   Most of the others were really unknowns at the time that we shot the film.  Three actresses were brought in from Toronto and the rest of the actors in the film were locals from Edmonton.   It's a really good cast too.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I'd agree...It's interesting.  It seems like this film couldn't have been made in the United States.    It has a very unique, Canadian sensibility to it.   The actors, in particular, the boys -- the choice you made for the male characters, they all sort of visually blend together, meaning that you can't really tell them apart from one another but yet you can at certain times...If that makes sense?  It adds a very special element to the film...

PITTMAN:  I understand what you're talking about.  We had some great talent that we put into the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I think Wendy Lyon is really wonderful in the film...

PITTMAN:  I'd agree with you. Her performance is really great.   It wasn't an easy role because of how she had to handle the comic elements but also have the character do a complete 360 degree change in personality as well. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   What do you remember about the shooting of that opening sequence where 'Mary Lou' catches on fire at the high school prom?

PITTMAN:   Just that we were very careful with that.  The stunt woman was padded very heavily for that and we had to put the camera up high in the air pointing down at the action because she looked like the Michelin Man because of those pads.  It was pretty intense because once she was lit on fire she had to stay that way for a very long time.   When you're in a situation like that, as the director, you let the stunt person become the director because when they've had enough of whatever it is that they're doing they tell you when to cut.  She was on fire for something like 5 or 6 seconds, and that's a very long time.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  No discussion about PROM NIGHT 2 would be complete without a mention of that nude locker room sequence....

PITTMAN:  It was purely gratuitous...I just went to Wendy Lyon and told her what I had in mind for it.  The other actress in the scene was a bit worried about it, but once she got the towel on she was fine.  I said to Wendy, "What are you worried about a towel for?  It would much more effective if you walked into the scene completely nude."  She said, "Let's do it!"  

TV STORE ONLINE: Well, the sequence is phenomenal because of how you shoot it too.  There's that literal steaminess in the visual of the scene,  but also your choice of angle and the deep focus throughout the sequence that really makes it one of the best sequences in the film...

PITTMAN: Yeah, the deep focus was very difficult to do.   I was always a big admirer of John Frankenheimer and his films and he always used deep focus.   In particular, if you watch what he did in THE TRAIN (1964) you'll see that nothing is out of focus there.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
Check out Bruce Pittman's latest film THE LAST MOVIE (2012) on Amazon Instant HERE