It is often said that if you want something badly enough, you find a way to make it happen. This is certainly the case for the British director/writer/producer, Gary Sinyor, who had his heart set on creating a suspense thriller since his film school days. Although famed for his string of tongue in cheek comedies such as Leon the Pig Farmer, United We Fall and Hollywood blockbuster The Bachelor starring Renee Zellweger and Chris O’Donnell, he never lost site of his dream project. Sinyor’s 12-year-old brainchild finally came to fruition with its UK release in December 2017, as The Unseen, aka Scared Blind worldwide.
Picked up for global distribution by TriCoast Worldwide, the haunting psychological thriller gained great momentum with its recent presence at Berlinale’s EFM. Starring Jasmine Hyde, Richard Flood and Simon Cotton, the intelligent slow-burning plot takes us through the gripping reality a grief-stricken couple experiences after losing their child. As one parent questions his sanity during paranormal episodes, the other suffers amaurosis caused from her horrifying panic attacks. The film is a carefully calculated, riveting rollercoaster of emotions, forcing the audience to experience the blind episodes through Sinyor’s unique filming techniques.
LRM recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the delightful filmmaker at Berlinale to talk about his journey from directing comedies to psychological thrillers, the conception of his film, the twists and turns he took in bringing it to life, and what’s coming up next for him. See below what Sinyor had to say about Scared Blind.
LRM: So, Senor Sinyor. I’m sure you have heard that before?
GS: Of course. I made the mistake of wanting to call my daughter CeeCee and then I realized that it would be CeeCee Sinyor and said, hmm (laughter).
|LRM: That would have been funny but torture for her (laughter). So what is the actual title of the film? The Unseen or Scared Blind?
GS: It’s called The Unseen. No, it’s been released in the UK; it was released opposite Star Wars on December the 15th in cinemas. And for years when it’s been in development, it was called The Unseen. And then when I started working with TriCoast, it became apparent– when we released the film in the UK, on Rotten Tomatoes– there was another film called The Unseen and they started to merge our reviews and our cast and everything; it was crazy. So I thought, we obviously have to change the title, so we undid them. But, it became a real problem because the 2016 film is also a thriller, and so the problem is, people would look up The Unseen and they wouldn’t know which one was mine and which one was theirs, so we decided we have to change the title, so it’s now called Scared Blind everywhere other than in the UK. But, in the UK it just came out on Monday on DVD and iTunes and on Amazon as The Unseen, with a poster and a UK campaign, but internationally it’s going to be, Scared Blind.
LRM: Okay, and it’s not an issue in the UK to call it The Unseen?
GS: No, because we were always the bigger “The Unseen”.
LRM: I love suspenseful thrillers, but when it gets really dark and gory, it just freaks me out.
GS: Well, I’m not a huge fan of gore films. There’s been a very interesting thing with The Unseen– oh, Scared Blind I’ll start calling it. But the very interesting thing is that where it gets pitched, because the horror fans have really responded well to it as it being a psychological horror film like Don’t Look Now and they are making that comparison, but critics are saying it’s a bit like Don’t Look Now, which I would call a thriller, they would call it a psychological horror. So there’s this thing, it’s clearly not a horror film like Saw. So I always thought it was a Hitchcock-ian kind of psychological thriller, but it’s up to other people, if they want to call it a thriller or horror.
LRM: Scared Blind is definitely not a horror, I would call it a bit of a psychological twister. The film kept you sort of on the edge of your seat waiting for the plot to unravel, whereas the trailer was cut much more fast-paced, so I thought I was walking into an action-thriller.
GS: I have a UK trailer which is more in keeping with the film, and TriCoast have cut a sort of action-thriller kind of trailer, which again, it’s not my bag to say what is right and what is not, but we have two different trailers but the one that I have, the UK one, is much more slow-paced. I mean it starts off slower and explains the story a little bit more until it gets slightly more crazy at the end. But yeah, it’s carefully plotted, slow-ish. So I would call it slow-burner.
LRM: You’ve created a lot of comedies like, The Bachelor with Renee Zellweger, which I loved. Wow I can’t believe how many years ago that film was released.
GS: Let’s not talk about it. It’s seventeen, Eighteen?
LRM: Yes, let’s not talk about the years, but I love that you have such a great sense of humor. Tell me how and why you decided to sort into the thriller genre and what inspired the film?
GS: So, I guess the first thing that I wrote after film school was a thriller which, it was so far back that naturally, it doesn’t even exist anymore because there was no such a thing as a hard drive. But I was always a fan of psychological thrillers I mean I just have. And then funnily whatever I tried, even Leon The Pig Farmer, which was my first film, which was a comedy; when I first pitched it, it was about a woman who’s found out they had problems with insemination. And I pitched it as a thriller. And as soon as I started talking about artificial insemination, and this was when I was at film school, people started laughing. And so I thought maybe I should just do some comedy.
So I sort of just geared towards doing comedy. And of course what the film industry wants you to do is, as soon as you do a comedy, is do another comedy. They sort of just go, “Oi, you, comedy bloke, do comedy.” And in the meantime obviously the thriller thing, the psychological, it just sits in the back of your head. And eventually, I decided to write The Unseen (Scared Blind). And this was about 12 years ago. And came up with the idea of– as with any film, you have to come up with an idea and think, “This is going to be a painful process to get made. It’s going to take up all the time.”
And then I came up with the idea of having a woman who suffered from panic attacks and started going blind. And when she went blind, the audience would be put into her position. I thought, “This is a unique thing, but I really feel I could do strongly and make it cinematic and powerful.” And so, I wrote it and for a long time – what was the Lake District, where Paul [played by Simon Cotton] lives – I’d written as being a lighthouse. And thematically, it was fantastic. And the script had a lot of light and dark going on within the film, so you could switch the light on and off, given that there was periods of blindness that added to the tension of the cinematic scale of it. So I spent a lot of time looking at lighthouses all over the world. I went to Puerto Rico, I went to Mallorca, I researched Australia. I researched everywhere I thought there were lighthouses. I was literally going up and down lighthouses all over the world. There was one in Mallorca that was astounding, but you’re just thinking, “God, getting a film crew up here is going to be difficult. And where do we put people?” It was sort of imagining where scenes would be.
I would have done it in a lighthouse but there was always an issue of financing, you get an actor, and then they’d pull out, and so it was not happening. And then I approached some people in Ireland who said that they could do it in Ireland, I looked at lighthouses in Ireland, and then I just thought, “You know what? Just in case I can’t get a lighthouse, let me ditch the lighthouse thing. It’s been 10 years, I don’t want the lighthouse to be the reason why I didn’t make the film. I don’t want that to be– there’s too many other things that I think are important, that I have to say, that I want to express, that are not particularly relevant to the lighthouse.” So I removed the lighthouse and turned it into a guest house by a lake. At that point, it just rooted up completely. So when Ireland didn’t happen, I was like, “I can do this. I can do this in my home country. I can go to the lake districts.”
I found that house in the film and it was perfect. The crew stayed in that house. So we literally lived upstairs in those bedrooms that are in the film, and then in the morning we came downstairs, we had breakfast in that kitchen that you see in film, we cleared up, and we started the filming. So it was a joy to be able to make the film in that kind of fashion where you’re not going as a big circus tracking around with lots of people in a van with walkie-talkies. We shot in the house, and we shot in sequence, which was amazing. With as many twists and turns as there are with this, to shoot it in sequence is just such a great bonus of the film because Jasmine Hyde, the lead actress, always knew where she was and what she knew and what she didn’t know and what she had to find out. She could literally follow the script.
For me, that made it into a much easier process for directing actors.
LRM: Both houses where the film was set, were amazing. Did you do the location scouting yourself?
GS: Yeah. I love location, one of the things I did at film school. One of the first things I did was a location workup exercise. And I find that when you get to a location when you find those houses, I rewrote the script to make them work in those places. So I would literally say, “Okay. This is what the bedroom looks like, so this is how I can adjust the script, adjust the drama so that it works in these places,” so it was very specific. The swimming pool was a difficult thing. There were only two or three houses that matched up, if wanted to shoot in Manchester. A few of them were owned by very wealthy footballers, so they were a bit over the top to have my cars inside the house.
LRM: Which footballers?
GS: I can’t say.
But they had a huge garage with five cars. That kind of sort of ridiculous. And actually, the reason for the pool because it was originally going to be set in a hot country, the swimming pool wasn’t an issue. I tried to think of another way in which the drama could start that would be as powerful, and of course, there were other ways in which tragedy could strike, but I couldn’t find anything where that direct pushing of the button that Gemma has to do, that creates so much accidental blame – I couldn’t think of anything that bettered that. I just couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t be more direct and accidental at the same time.
LRM: Was it a conscious decision not to show the young boy?
GS: Very conscious. Very conscious.
I didn’t want people to associate the face with the voice. I thought it would be too painful for people to constantly be reminded of a sweet child. I thought that it was better that that was in our heads, the audience’s heads, and leave that to the characters. They knew what their child looked like.
The film is partly an attempt to engage people’s imaginations. That’s partly what I’m doing. You’re sort of going, “I’m not going to give you everything. You do some of the work, get your brains working, make your own imagination to make connections about what you think might be going on. I’m not going to tell you until I decide to tell you.”
And people do make connections and some people think– at various time, people have drawn their own conclusions. And I can’t feel better than that. That to me is what to me cinema’s about. I grew up with my mother sitting there going, “What’s happening? What’s happening?” I like that process. I want people to go, “Huh?” Maybe, watch the film, rather than me constantly giving people information and saying, “Here it is.”
So even at the end– and it became quite difficult — I could have had flashbacks, visual flashbacks to what had actually happened. But again, I thought, “No. Within the style of the film, I can only use audio flashbacks on the computer to take us back to that night. I can’t use more than that.” I didn’t want to– so for example, The Sixth Sense, which is obviously a film that I had in mind in some way. They did do that at then end to make clearer exactly what happened, “We’ll go back and we’ll show you these shots of what happened.” But we’re not that film. I couldn’t do that.
LRM: Right, and what inspired the story and the script?
GS: I’m a father and my daughter was probably around four or so when I came up with the idea. So I guess if you think, “I’m going to write one thriller maybe in my entire life,” you want to put the things that relevant to you. I’m very interested in the concept of people accidentally doing things that are going to screw their brains. The human brain is wired and it’s just not wired to potentially blaming yourself for the death of a child. And so I’ve wanted to explore that. I wanted to explore what the brain is not wired for. It’s wired for conversation, wire for having a cup of coffee, wired for eating and working, but it’s the things beyond what we should be able to do that I find interesting. So I knew I needed to come up with something like that and I knew also that I didn’t want to have a film with baddies and goodies.
So I didn’t want to have a character, who was a psycho-killer, like an evil guy from birth. I wanted to create legitimate people that I see. Someone who gets on the tube in London because he fancies a woman, sits opposite her, quite like so. The next day she is there again, so regular kind of obsessions which could develop. So I wanted to deal with those kinds of issues.
LRM: And realistic tragedies as well….
GS: Yeah. And I wanted also to deal also with the spiritual. I wanted to deal with – and this is me wrestling with and after life. That’s very clearly a dilemma in my mind, so I had two characters go different ways and one will say, “No, there isn’t. This is not happening.” And the other going, “Maybe there is.” And so you get that between Will and Gemma, you get these two different perspectives. That’s a complete exploration of where I have been going in my life. I going one way and then I go the other way. You want there to be an afterlife, but you want there to be something else. Rational thought says there isn’t and so I wanted to portray that in those characters.
LRM: There are so many ways of dealing with grief and you see that in this film with Will and Gemma. I expected Gemma to be more expressively dramatic upon her loss…
GS: It’s a very valid point and I discussed this for a long time with Gemma, the lead actress. She hasn’t just lost the child. She has worse than lost the child. She’s blaming herself. So what her brain is doing is closing down the shutters. And that’s why she has panic attacks.
LRM: Would you say that you have a particular style of directing your films?
GS: I don’t know that there’s a style….but there are certain things that I don’t do, that don’t appeal to me. I don’t like to spend too much time with overly technical camera moves. You’ll notice The Unseen (Scared Blind) is shot almost entirely point-of-view. So again, if you look at The Sixth Sense, he did this all the time. The reason why you get dragged into the story, and you’re trying to work out what the hell is going on, is because the camera is almost always looking at people’s faces. And so I’m talking to you, and you’re talking to me, and camera’s back and forth, which means that when you talk to someone, you have a habit of believing them, right? If I put the camera over there and you’re watching them, then it’s entirely different. So I was a huge fan of that and I take that forward as something that I’ve enjoyed doing.
LRM: What’s next for you? What’s on your filmmaking wish-list?
GS: So I’ve written a comedy [laughter].
LRM: Which you’re great at.
GS: Well, it is a good one. It’s a really good one and again, like the others, it took me a long time. I had an idea for a number of years, two, three years and then funny enough, I flew into Los Angeles and I was trying to get to sleep and suddenly the idea just went ‘kachang,’ and I started writing immediately. And so this is a fairly rude R-rated wedding comedy with very high concept. And the script is gone very well so I’m hoping that that will be the next thing that I get to do. Yeah, but I quite like getting to do the thrillers and the dramas. I mean, maybe as you get older you want to do a bit more serious stuff. But, the comedy’s got serious things in it, so it’s not trivial. So yeah, Something Blue is the next thing– And that’s not changing.