Paul Solet is an American director, producer, writer and actor. After receiving acclaim for his debut feature Grace, his most recent film Dark Summer tells the story of an isolated young man trapped in his home at the mercy of guilt-ridden visions.
STARBURST: The tone and the atmosphere are very distinctive in Dark Summer. How do you manage to initially generate such intensity and then maintain it for the entirety of the film?
Paul Solet: The script spoke to me in that it needed the kind of atmosphere we ended up with, and it needed to come from the protagonist as he’s under attack from a number of things that are messing with him. Firstly he’s isolated, which alone could do it and there have been a number of horror movies where isolation has provided a very specific point of view. In addition to that he has all these other things going on.; there’s the question about his medication; there’s a deep love for a woman that was never reciprocated; and then there’s this weird emerald green presence that you never know if it’s him cracking up or some kind of supernatural presence. All those things spoke to me and my photographer Zoran Popovic and my composer Austin Wintory who were very close collaborators. From that perspective came the launching point in creating that atmosphere and in order to keep it we made sure every decision we made was in keeping and tried to be fearless in executing that plan. We had many long, flowing shots that force you into the film rather than using quick cuts.
As a viewer you never quite trust some of the characters, especially Daniel, but you have to go with him and follow his story.
That was a real challenge. The question that was immediately clear to me when I first got the script was “why are we going to go along with this guy?” He’s a creep! Part of it was in the casting as Keir (Gilchrist) is just very likeable and intense as an actor. Part of it was working with him to create this sense of disgust in his own behaviour; he’s ashamed and mystified by what’s happened to him. And then you’ve got to follow him and his friends to the end of the film to find out that maybe he’s not a creep after all.
There isn’t a weak performance from the cast but we have to ask about the legend that is Peter Stormare. He’s the only adult in the film and provides a very different viewpoint, almost comic at times.
I love that guy! He’s just amazing! He’s a real professional and everything he does is so interesting. In reality he was an unusual choice as he’s not the regular American authority figure. You have to ask yourself “who is this guy?” He added so much to film and it was great watching him and Keir interact.
What guidance did you give to Keir as his performance has so much subtlety to it?
Most of it came from Keir himself. He’s far more experienced than you would realise! He is wise beyond his years and really good technically. He made some choices regarding Daniel to play it restrained and so we embraced it, rehearsed it and went with it. We also gave the three friends some history, to make sure that relationship came through. We took them on a field trip with a costume assistant and load of clothes changes and took loads of pictures around the valley. That experience built some history for them.
The set design and the visuals are very interesting and you feel after watching that maybe you’ve missed lots of little things in the background. Could you talk about that a little?
I had a great art department, especially considering they only had 10 days to work on Dark Summer. Ariana Nakata kind of just dropped from the heavens for me! She usually does bigger stuff than this and lots of commercials but she wanted to be involved as she really liked the story. There are a lot of layers there, a real tapestry, and there’s a huge amount of detail and nods all over the place. A lot of our budget went there. The house was also key as we needed one that lent itself to the themes of isolation and so on. We found this house but it was so tiny that I couldn’t have expected Zoran to shoot there but he loved it. The way he shot it made it beautiful but it was tough working in there in the middle of the summer with two camera times but we did it and it was worth it. The house gave us this chance to shoot in a way that made it feel like the walls were closing in.
You’re going back to the short film format for your next project (horror anthology Tales of Halloween).
It was great fun and I think everyone’s is now done. Mine is like a Sergio Leone spaghetti western by way of The Warriors. Two of my favourite films. You can only be so epic on small budgets but it’s definitely operatic.
Dark Summer is out now on DVD.