Sundance 2009 Interview: Director, Paul Solet

paul soletPaul Solet is the writer and director, Grace (read review), a chilling, character driven horror film which recently premiered at Sundance. It is a suspenseful and intense film that shows the unconditional love of a mother and how far one would go to protect their young. Solet covers new ground in a way that is horrifying and completely understanding at the same time.

Kelsey: How did Eli Roth being your camp counselor have influence on you career as a horror writer and director?

Paul: I always loved movies and was already rabidly writing and accruing as much genre knowledge as an 11 year old can, but Eli already knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life, and wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so he was the person that made me realize you really can do this thing. I mean, actually make this your career. From that point on, every time someone asked me what I wanted to do, I said direct movies.

Eli has always been a very generous friend and mentor to me. He’s gone way out of his way to make sure that I learn from his experience and never make any mistakes he already made. He’s always let me pay my own dues, just like he did, which I’m enormously grateful for. The last thing I’d want to do is make it to this awesome place and not be sure I made it here on the merits of my own work. Eli also showed me that there aren’t any shortcuts. Ever. No one will do anything for you, and you get out what you put in. He also taught me the importance of treating EVERYONE with kindness and respect, whether they’re an overweight Princess Leia at a convention, or the executive who can greenlight your movie. Maybe the most important thing Eli taught me was the importance of having a positive attitude, and being grateful for what you have, instead of getting lost in what it is you think you need.

Kelsey: What were some of the films that built your passion for the horror genre?

Paul: Guillermo del Toro’s films, like Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone are some of the most beautiful and inspiring genre films today. I grew up on Polanski and Cronenberg, so movies like Repulsion, The Tenant, and Dead Ringers and Videodrome are ingrained pretty deep in my heart. I’m also big fan of Michael Heneke’s stuff, like Benny’s Video and The Piano Teacher, and I’m continually mesmerized by Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s films, particularly because of his use of sound, like Cure and Pulse. I’m also pretty wild about some of the Italian masters, Fulci’s giallos, like Don’t Torture a Duckling and Lizard in a Woman’s Skin are genius. Argento opened the door for me, there. And then there are some more art house films, like Salo and A Bell from Hell that are fucking mind blowing. There are young guys working today who I find extremely inspiring like Fabrice du Welz and Jaume Balaguero. I am as excited about this genre as I’ve ever been. There’s so much potential here, and people are finally getting that.

Grace- Madeline with Baby

Kelsey: In Grace, there is a powerful exploration of the meaning of motherhood. As you are a single male with no children, how did the idea for the film come to you and how did you form this bond of a mother and her child? For you was the film more about loss than any specific type of relationship?

Paul: The film has deeply personal significance for me because I had a twin that didn’t survive in the womb. When I learned that this subject matter became extremely compelling to me at a cellular level. Creatively, Grace came from a conversation about the medical phenomenon that if you lose your unborn child, there’s a possibility that, if labor isn’t induced, you will carry it to term. I’m always looking for things that get under my skin, and, even as a man, the idea of carrying your own dead baby to term was an extremely potent kernel of horror. The film is definitely about the uncanny power of the bond between a mother and child, and beneath that it’s about loss, but at its very core, it’s about wanting something, needing something you cannot have. That, to me, is something that’s fundamentally human, and while I think many of us wish it weren’t true, I believe we can pretty much all relate that experience.

Kelsey: In college, you studied film and psychology. How do you think your knowledge of the human psyche plays as much of a part in your writing as your understanding of film does?

Paul: I feel really strongly that if you want to make films that really transcend, that really speak to people for longer than the running time of the film, you need to reach them not just at the gut, but at the heart and the soul and the mind. Any knowledge of the human heart and the human psyche are going to be helpful. I don’t actually know that taking psychology classes will help your writing, but paying attention to your fellows, what drives them, what repels them, what frightens them, that’s probably pretty essential.

Kelsey: There are some great psychological themes going on with the female figures in the film. The mother, Madeline, becomes a completely different person as she fends for her baby that is more monstrous than human, doing things she never would have done before. Also, her mother-in-law is suffering a great loss as well, the loss of having a child to take care for. She seems to alter her reality and do whatever she can to be a mother again. Can you talk about this life altering need to care for someone?

Paul: You really nailed it. The two women, Madeline, the protagonist, and Vivian, the antagonist, have dramatically different takes on what mothering is. Madeline’s is a much less selfish view, in fact, almost an entirely selfless view, whereas Vivian’s is largely about identity, about her own need to be mothering. This isn’t something she, herself, is conscious of, which is one of the things that makes her not just a villainous bitch. She really does believe that she simply wants what’s best for the child.

Kelsey: The pacing of Grace is very different from most horror films. Did you want to take a slower pace to the film to really share their story and give the audience a chance to understand the characters before they cross a very questionable line?

Paul: Yes, that’s a big part of it. I think there’s a lot of fear driven filmmaking out there. Fear that the audience is too stupid to stay in the game unless there is a constant barrage of images. If there’s no story, the only thing that would hold anyone in the game is just that type of constant stimulation, but when you have character’s that are real, that love and bleed and cry like you do, and when you have a story that moves instead of manipulating, you don’t need spectacle or gimmickry or novelty. Audiences are very savvy these days. Particularly genre audiences. We’re more cinema literate than ever before. I believe in audiences.

Kelsey: In Grace we are dealing with a baby who is both vampiric and essentially a zombie, yet these character types really aren’t shown in this seemingly innocent and adorable baby. Grace really doesn’t seem to be a vampire film or a zombie film. It’s horror that focuses on the story and very human struggles, diving  in to a deeper, more personal kind of horror. Do you see more horror films following this in the future?

Paul: I’d love to see more films like this. If you’re doing your job as a filmmaker, you’re making films you want to see, and this is the type of film I love. That’s why it’s so important to me that people get to see this film. Watching audiences watch the movie is just a testament that people don’t need to be spoon fed to love a film.

Kelsey: How important was it for you to direct Grace yourself?

Paul: When I first started to show people the script, I got offers to option it, but people didn’t want to let me direct it because all I had done were shorts. I’m not someone who has real pride of authorship issues, so if I had been presented with a director who really got the film and was going to do something beautiful with it, I wouldn’t have resisted, but the directors I was introduced to weren’t going to do that. For that reason, it was tremendously important to me to make the film myself. My allegiance is always to the story, to seeing that the most effective film possible is the film that gets made. If that means I’m the one who gets to make it, I won’t stop till I’ve done that.

Kelsey: How did Adam Green get involved with the project?

Paul: I made a 35mm short pitch film for Grace that distilled the key beats in the first act of the feature into five minutes, and that film played a couple dozen festivals and won some awards, and got Adam’s attention. Our friends over at Icons of Fright put us together, and he reached out to see a copy of the feature. He loved it and so did his posse over at Ariescope, and so we met up. We both show up wearing Red Sox hats and taking shit and busting each other’s chops, and we realized we not only loved each other’s work, but got along really well. From that moment, he was an absolutely selfless champion of this project, and a total guardian angel to me all the way through this process. And continues to be. Adam is the real deal.

Kelsey: The ending of Grace, takes the film in another direction, setting up what the next step in this baby’s life will be and what she will turn in to. Is this a set up for a sequel or simply giving us an idea of where these people will be when the credits roll and we have left them?

Paul: Setting the scene for a sequel isn’t my goal, I just believe that, just as a filmmaker needs to know where his characters’ lives were before the story, he needs to know where they’re going once the credits roll.

Grace Film Review

Kelsey: Grace was one of the very few horror films that showed at Sundance. What was it like to have your film representing the genre?

Paul: An absolute honor! Those people really care about films, so when they call you, they’re as excited as you are that you got in! They actually called Adam Green’s partner Cory and he saved their message for two months and played it for me after our final screening at Sundance, and it was just so cool to hear all the joy that went into making this film reflected right back at you. So, being a representative of our genre at Sundance, a place that LOVES movies, was a huge, huge honor to our whole team. We had the biggest posse of cast and crew in attendance I could find, and most of them came all the way from Canada. We hit the streets, old school, and made sure we brought the horror to Park City in as big a way as possible.

Kelsey: You have stated that you have a fondness for body horror. What is it about the terror one’s body can inject that is so fascinating for you?

Paul: I’m just always looking to get scared again like I was when I was a little kid watching Alien, and it’s not easy anymore, so when I find something that gets under my skin, I’m all over it. And it’s precisely the stuff that gets under my skin that does it – the stuff where you have to face this idea that you don’t have control over your own body, that is some of the only stuff that still shakes me up.

Kelsey: It seems like this past year with films like Inside and Frontier(s), the foreign horror films are pushing the limits and giving us horror with meaning. There are fewer American films doing this, especially those that are seen by the mainstream audience. What are your hopes for horror in the future? What would you personally like to bring to the table?

Paul: I have nothing but hope for horror right now. I don’t really perceive the lines between American horror and the rest of the world’s. To me, we’ve got a totally unique community here, a global community that really fucking loves something, and will do anything we can to see that it thrives. We just need to keep supporting the stuff we really love, things that are actually breaking new ground, movies like Inside, and Calvaire and REC and things like The Strangers, as well. There are awesome horror films being made, we just need to go find them and support them instead of wasting all our energy hating on the less original stuff.

Kelsey Zukowski is a horror actress/ writer and internationally published alternative model who gravitates towards dark, complex material full of thematic exploration.

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