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Interview with Brad Osborne, Writer-Director of Hall of Mirrors
"Brad Osborne is an independent filmmaker to keep an eye on," I said in my review of his neo-noir thriller Hall of Mirrors. And I meant it. He's the writer, director, and composer of what may be the best film ever made for under $5,000. Be sure to visit the website of his production company, Innuendo Films, for the latest news on Hall of Mirrors and upcoming projects.
When did you realize that you wanted to make movies?
I've been "telling stories" in one form or another since I was very young. It started with a cassette recorder and a microphone; I'd fill up both sides of a 90-minute tape with a story about werewolves, UFOs, WWII heroes or something of the sort, complete with elaborate sound effects. My first film -- made when I was 16 -- was called "The Ghoul" and was shot on Super 8. It was pretty awful, but I learned a lot. When VHS camcorders became available in the '80s I started doing comedy shows and various odds and ends, and when I went to work for AMC Theatres I would do these elaborate movie spoofs for their annual GM Meetings. But it wasn't until I saw some of my friends making "serious" short films on digital video that I said to myself, "I think I can do that." To tell you the truth, though, I wasn't interested in starting out with a short film; that's a format that relies less on the traditional story paradigm and more on style or message. To me, the story is everything. That's why my first serious effort was a feature.
What's your favorite movie of all time and why?
Wow... so many favorites. If I had to pick one it would probably be Jaws, because seeing that movie in a theater as a child changed everything for me. A lot of people don't realize how profoundly that film changed the face of movies. Did you know that Jaws started the whole idea of studios releasing their big hit movies in the summertime?
How did Hall of Mirrors come to be? What inspired you to write it?
That's easy. I saw The Spanish Prisoner and was absolutely entranced by David Mamet's ability to construct complex plot twists so delightfully. The whole movie is just so wonderfully unsettling... you truly don't know who to trust, or what to believe. I mean, the very first scene begins with a foreboding shot of baggage moving through an X-ray machine at an airport. I was instantly hooked. And he uses so many cool techniques to throw you off, like holding on a shot a bit too long for comfort, or inserting seemingly meaningless close-ups of actions that may or may not have profound relevance later in the story. Great stuff. So I sat down and tried my hand at something in the "puzzle movie" genre, and a few months later, I typed "The End" on Hall of Mirrors.
How'd you hook up with the cast and crew? Give a brief rundown on how you got this project together once you'd written the script.
All I can say is, thank God for Marc Pilvinsky and Bobb Truax. Somehow I convinced them that I was serious about making Hall of Mirrors with a camcorder, and that it would be something they could be proud of. I'm not sure why they believed me, but they did. So we posted a casting call notice with a few agencies here in Dallas and hooked up with some wonderful talent. I'd worked with Julie Arebalo on a short film project and she was so good I asked her to play the part of Mara without an audition. Eric Johnson, the lead, was actually cast last... just two weeks before we started shooting. All these people were wonderful to work with, considering there was no pay involved. I think one of my greatest achievements with HOM was convincing some very talented people that this was a project worthy of their efforts.
Hall of Mirrors was made for less than five grand and shot with a consumer-grade digital video camcorder, but it looks wonderful. What do you think of the relatively inexpensive technology that's now available to independent filmmakers to make great-looking films for relatively cheap (as long as they know what they're doing)?
I think the technology is totally enabling. Filmmaking used to be an art form reserved for the rich, but now anyone with passion and creativity can make an excellent movie. I know there are some people who feel there are just too many films being made these days by "amateurs," but I don't see it that way. I mean, good films will always find a way to rise above the sea of mediocrity. We just have more opportunities now for that to happen. I will say this, however: completing a feature film without a budget is a daunting task, and only those who are truly obsessed should even bother to attempt it!
How did you collaborate with your director of photography, Bobb Truax, on creating the film's dark, noir-like visual style?
Bobb and I talked early on about how we were going to give Hall of Mirrors a dark, dramatic look in spite of the digital medium. Much of the story takes place at night, and I asked Bobb to go as high-contrast with lighting as he could push it. I love shots that run the full spectrum of contrast... absolute blacks to vivid highlights. But when it comes to placing C-stands and flags, I'm out of my league. I just told Bobb how I wanted the scene to look and he made it happen.
Eric Johnson and Dameon Clarke are voice actors for the popular anime series Dragonball Z. Do you think this has garnered the film more attention than it would have gotten otherwise?
To a small extent, yes. But the Dragonball Z crowd is comprised largely (though not entirely) of young teens -- certainly not the audience this film is geared toward. I think a lot of the attention we've gotten from the anime subculture has to do with celebrity worship rather than a genuine interest in the film itself. I mean, I guess it's a novelty to hear your favorite cartoon voices saying "fuck." But don't get me wrong, I appreciate the DBZ fans, and one anime site actually posted a very thoughtful and positive review of our movie.
Despite being a suspense thriller with an intricate plot, Hall of Mirrors is ultimately a story about a character and his internal conflict. By putting so much into this character and his internal conflict, were you striving for this movie to have a deeper emotional impact than your typical plot-driven suspense thriller?
Absolutely. The suspense-thriller element was the vehicle for the story, but I think HOM is ultimately a film about the character of Dylan trying to find his place in a very hostile, brutal, and deceptive world. And there's also a definite message in there about the insurmountable power of addiction.
In addition to David Mamet (who you and Hall of Mirrors producer Marc Pilvinsky are both fans of), what other filmmakers do you really admire?
I have several favorite directors. Stanley Kubrick is my hands-down favorite, simply because he was so obsessed with visuals. Every shot in a Kubrick film is labored over, and it shows. I savor all of his works. Not many people seem to like Eyes Wide Shut, but I've worn my DVD down to practically nothing. I'm also a huge fan of M. Night Shyamalan... he's a great storyteller and he knows how to create a wonderful sense of mood. I can't wait to see what he does next.
And, finally, what's next for Innuendo Films and Brad Osborne?
As it turns out, Eric Johnson (who plays Dylan in Hall of Mirrors), is actually quite a prolific and talented writer. He and I are putting the finishing touches on a script we collaborated on which we've tentatively titled The Rialto. It's sort of a Sixth Sense meets Field of Dreams, centered around a vintage-era movie theater slated for demolition. We're going to try to get financing to shoot it on film, and in the mean time we've got yet another story idea waiting to be scripted. Hey, it's all about telling stories, isn't it?
Article published 09.09.2001.
Read Michael Scrutchin's review of Hall of Mirrors.
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