Don’t go in the water.
“Beneath” is about a group of friends who take a rowboat across the lake only to be attacked by a flesh-eating fish. But, it may seem that the real monsters may be on the boat as they fight for survival.
Latino-Review had an exclusive interview earlier this month with director Larry Fessenden on this horror project, which is described as homage to “Jaws.” We discussed various details about “Beneath” ranging from the script to the creation of the monster. And, we talked about his involvement in the upcoming movies of “Jug Face” and Lionsgate’s “You’re Next.”
“Beneath” is currently being played on Chiller TV and available on VOD.
Listen or read the full transcript below.
Latino-Review: Tell me how you were attracted to this script.
Larry Fessenden: Well, it was really a practical situation. I went in to pitch some low budget movies to Chiller for their TV show. I had a number of other projects by other directors that I was supporting and excited about. In the end, Chiller pulled it out of a drawer and said, “Would you guys consider making this movie?”
I read it and said, “I would like to direct this one.” It’s been a while since I’ve made a film. I was raising money for some challenging projects. And here is a project that they wanted me to make so I said I’ll do it.
I just like the simplicity of the story. I love giant monsters of any kind. It seems like a really fun opportunity. I love low budget, but some budget.
Latino-Review: That begs to question about the script is why a catfish? Especially a man-eating catfish.
Larry Fessenden: That’s the way things end up looking. I designed something that was pretty bad ass on paper. It’s interesting that the profile of the fish was pretty awesome. Of course, you can’t anticipate in what angles will end up being practical. So it emphasizes the catfish element, but I never intended to make a fierce looking creature. I just wanted to observe on what nature creates in all kinds of guises. So it’s not about just making a monster look evil.
I never really see the fish as particularly evil. It’s just behaving as a natural creature would do. And then the story really becomes about the kids and their response to this menace. And it’s also kind of scary to be chewed on by something that’s a little goofy.
Latino-Review: Was it described as a catfish in the original script or was it more of your idea?
Larry Fessenden: Well, I didn’t design it as a catfish. It may look like one, but it’s actually components of different types of fishes.
As for the script, I feel like it’s just—it had the whole concept of the spear seeing out of the water. It wasn’t carefully described. It’s mostly about the size and it was hungry.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] I understand that the design of the fish was an homage to “Jaws.” You used animatronics rather than CGI to design the fish.
Larry Fessenden: Absolutely. It wasn’t just “Jaws,” since I grew up with since I’m an older guy. When I watched movies, the creatures were not entirely convincing but somehow they had an essence. There was someone in a suit or something was being controlled in the physical world all the way into effects like in John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” All the great effects from the 80s, they all had the tactile element which never left a question in my mind is that what’ll we do with this.
Also to do CGI water, in which you have to do with a water creature, is expensive beyond the budget. Aesthetically, I wanted something to interact with the water. Obviously, in the long term, you may see a giant creature [make] you think of “Jaws,” which is my favorite all time movie ever.
When I was little, I loved sharks. I saw “Jaws,” and I knew the fish was fake looking. It’s still incredibly evocative to the imagination. That’s always been my approach with special effects—not being obsessed with the realism of it but more of the vibe.
Latino-Review: When you built this monster, how many people were manning it? Was it difficult to create this underwater?
Larry Fessenden: Yeah, it was very hard. There were just two guys. It was built in LA and I was in New York. That was already its own problem. I couldn’t go in and help with the clay to every detail I’ve imagined it. It was all done with photographs.
Once it was delivered, it was this spectacular presence. [It was] this big, funny robot fish. It was the simplest it could be. I wanted it be even simpler. It was just these two guys setting up a line to pull the fish along with some propulsion. Then there were different issues of styles—they had some ping pong balls in stockings. They would pull up a bunch of ping pong balls, which those things would create on whether the fish is high on the water or low. It’s all very low tech.
And these two guys were great. They were puppeteers. They were in show business forever. They had stories working with James Cameron on “The Abyss” and various “Flipper” kinds of movies. They had done all kinds of stuff.
It takes several hours for the fish to come from the shore to the barge where we were shooting. We sort of lollygag around and then set up a shot. I had intimate knowledge about the problems they had on “Jaws,” it was the same kind of thing. It’s just like trying to get one image or several to make a scene. That takes a huge effort.
It’s not like you can say “let’s have the fish do this.” It took a lot of resetting, new wires, new pulleys and cranks. It eats up your time. You have to be very strategic.
Latino-Review: It comes to mind is that when I was watching your film, you went with the old school special effects rather than CGI. A lot of newer films tend to do with CGI. Why did you go with that direction?
Larry Fessenden: Well, it appeals to me. I wanted to feel that fish interacting with the water. It’s very hard to do good water CGI. It has been in the past and even now when you see like in “Pacific Rim.” There’s a lot of money behind that.
It’s an aesthetic thing. Every director brings something personal to the film they’re making. You could’ve done a cool CGI fish, but I think people would’ve rejected that. CGI isn’t really that cheap. It’s a really seems to be a really controlled element of the film. It was my choice.
Latino-Review: What about the blood and guts?
Larry Fessenden: That was done by Brian Spears. He’s an effects artist. He has done a lot of stuff for us. He built a beautiful arm that gets ripped off of somebody. All of that is also practical. It’s my instinct to go with practical effects.
Nowadays, what’s cool is that you can enhance them with CGI. We worked on the fish eyeball with CGI. So there’s a little of computer work in there as well.
Latino-Review: Now the setting is a lake. Where is this place?
Larry Fessenden: We filmed it in Connecticut. [More specifically] in Oxford, Connecticut. It was actually quite hard to find the lake that we can take over during the summer. In most of the lakes, people want to swim. We were hardly could shut anything down.
So this was an old reservoir that was not used much. We built a barge in the middle of this lake. And that’s where we had to boat out to the barge every day. We had a crane on the barge. We used that to film efficiently as possible. They say that shooting on water takes twice as long as on land. That’s absolutely the case.
Everything, including going to the bathroom, required the boat. You have to flag it down. You can’t make waves if you’re shooting the shot on and off.
Latino-Review: What was the most difficult thing about filming for this production?
Larry Fessenden: The most difficult thing was getting the boats to sync and to become increasingly dangerous without endangering everyone involved. There’s different ways to make movies. I had a professional crew. Everyone was mindful of the safety. You don’t want to make a movie which says, “Dedicated to some crew member who got drowned.”
In an effort to be safe, I would say the hardest thing is to convey the dangerous elements of the story like the sinking boats and all of that. There are some great shots in the end that I’m very proud of. They took a long time to get. It’s all difficult.
I’ve never been aware of the weather as I have been on this shoot. I filmed in the snow. I filmed in lots of exotic places. But, every morning you wake up and look at the clouds to pray that you have a full day of shooting. Any threats of lightning then you have to get out of the water. And like I told you, that’s an hour of people shuffling back and forth. Hardest thing was the weather!
Latino-Review: Just to wrap this up. Do you have any upcoming projects for yourself?
Larry Fessenden: Well, I never talk about my upcoming movies, because it’s always so tentative if it’s going to happen or not. But, I have several things I’m trying to get off the ground. I’m very, very eager to direct again. Of course, I also produce films and involve in things in other ways. That’s on-going as well.
Latino-Review: I also noticed that you’re an actor and you’re in a movie called “Jug Face,” that is out now.
Larry Fessenden: Absolutely, it had opened on Friday in select theaters and on VOD. So check out “Jug Face.” It’s a really nice film.
Latino-Review: Yeah, I interviewed Chad Kinkle on that film last month.
Larry Fessenden: Awesome. That’s great. He’s a lovely guy. I’m also in “You’re Next” briefly.
Latino-Review: Are you? I actually screened that movie. What were you in that movie?
Larry Fessenden: I was the first guy after his girlfriend gets killed. And I’m the corpse! [Laughter] I’m the corpse in the towel the whole time while she’s crawling around and getting attacked. [Laughter] It was fun when you show up to spend a day and all you do is lie there.
Latino-Review: It’s funny, because it seems like for that movie—all the directors “V/H/S” and “ABC’s of Death” were in that movie.
Larry Fessenden: Yeah, a lot of great directors like Joe Swanberg and Ti West. They’re all in it. It’s fun. It was a really cool project. It’s getting a nice big release, so we’re all looking forward to that.
Latino-Review: And just out of curiosity, do you love doing horror movies?
Larry Fessenden: That is really my home turf. I just feel that I like shaking people up and making them feel like how precious daily life is. It is reminding them of all the terrible things that could be happening to them. It’s saying, “Enjoy what you have, because it may be your last.” [Laughter]
Latino-Review:That’s awesome. I thank you for your time for this interview.
Larry Fessenden: Cool, Gig. Very good, man.
Latino-Review: Hopefully I’ll catch you again for your next project.
Larry Fessenden: Absolutely, hopefully it happens soon. Thanks!
“Beneath” is out on Chiller TV and VOD.