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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 04.10.18] horror fantasy

SXSW played host to a number of world premieres and one of the most well received projects at the festival was Wildling.

The directorial debut of post-production supervisor and VFX artist Fritz Bohm, Wildling stars Bel Powley as Anna, a young woman whose father, played by the always creepy Brad Dourif, has kept her locked up since she was a child. A series of events leaves Anna under the care of the town sheriff, played by Liv Tyler, but it's clear from early on that Anna is more than a typical teenager.

What unfolds is an adult fairy tale about a young woman navigating her coming-of-age while also dealing with the fact that she's more than human.

We had a chance to chat with director Fritz Bohm about the concept for the story, finding the right cast and how he maximized his short shooting schedule.

A truncated transcript of our interview is below but for more in-depth discussion, including more on working with cinematographer Toby Oliver (notably Wolf Creek 2, The Darkness, Get Out), listen to the audio.

Wilding opens theatrically in NY and LA and is available on VOD and Digital HD on April 13.

Congratulations on the movie. It's an impressive debut and you have a lot of ideas in the movie, both visually and thematically. Where did you get the idea for the film?

I said the other day, jokingly, that my mother is to blame because she always read fairy tales to me as a child even before I was able to talk - The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Those became embedded in my brain and later on, I developed this wish that one day I would make my own fairy tale and create my own misunderstood creature.

How long have you been working on this script because in addition to the dark fantasy elements, you also have some really interesting social commentary mixed in there. How long did it take you to develop the full story?

The script itself was written in eight days so that was super fast but preceding that was at least four years in which I was toying with different ideas on and off and talking with the people who later became collaborators on the project.

One of the things that I think really works in your favour is the casting. I'm curious about how that came together because Bel [Powley] has this amazing face that conveys so much innocence which is key to the character, because you really have to buy into the fact that she really does not understand what's gong on around her. But even with the casting of Brad [Dourif] as the father figure and Liv [Tyler]; they automatically bring with them these character traits that you build into the characters which adds another layer.

I was really nervous. I had the script and I knew I needed an actress who could carry the movie alone because nearly every scene will be from her point of view and she has to do quite a transformation from being a little girl to being a powerful, majestic creature that has physical capabilities.

My producers had suggested Bel and in the meeting, I knew: she's the one. She can transform like so few actresses in that age range can. That was a big sigh of relief.

I was reading that you shot this in 23 days, which is shocking because in addition to this being your first feature, you have a number of things which is commonly avoided by first time filmmakers: you have children, you have animals, there's tons of rain, you've got the outdoors, you have special effects... I'm not sure how you pulled this off!

It was a tough challenge. I originally thought that I'd need at least 35 days minimum but in the end, you can do a lot more than you think. It's important to have a great crew. It's also important to design your days in a very efficient way, shoot with multiple cameras and to allow for zero dead time on set.

While we were shooting a set-up, the second camera was setting up for the next set-up so that all I had to do is walk over to the other camera and shoot the next set-up.

I guess my experience as a post-production supervisor back in Germany came in very handy. All I was looking out for was to get the performances right. That was my main focus because if there's some issue in the shot, I could maybe retouch it digitally or I could put in something digitally later on. Since I knew how to do that, I could work with very few takes.

I have to thank my actors for that because they were so good. There was always some magic in the first couple of takes so that we could always move on.

And I have a great cinematographer. Toby Oliver knew a lot of tricks on how to further improve the efficiency of the days and then with the children, I had read somewhere that it might be a good idea to let the camera roll before they even enter the set. I tried that out and that was actually very good.

How much prep time did you have before the shoot?

I think it was probably six weeks. I remember telling my producers that if we wanted to shoot this year before the leaves fell, to book me a flight today. Otherwise we're going to run out of leaves on the trees! So they booked me a flight and I set-up my laptop in the office and the next day I was scouting locations.

One of the scenes I was really impressed by is the scene in which Bell starts to transform into the Wildling because so much of it is on-camera and the combination of special effects, make-up and sound design is so creepy and effective. How did that scene come together and how you decided what to do as practical effects and what you decided to do as visual effects?

Originally the plan was to do everything practical. To use contact lenses, do fur application on the skin. We did a huge breakdown, 60 or 70 page make-up breakdown, and handed that to some of the make-up companies in New York and they came back with quotes for twice the budget we had for the entire movie.

Hats off to my producers who still believed in the movie and asked me to find another way to do this. It ended up just being that blend that you talk about. Certain things you can do practical and you're not going to get all of the detail perfect if you don't have the money and the time but you can get quite a bit done and then join forces with visual effects and post-production to add to that and shape it.

Wilding opens theatrically in NY and LA and is available on VOD and Digital HD on April 13.

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