Director Henry Jacobson talks Bloodline and the house that Jason Blum built


HENRY JACOBSON's directorial debut, Bloodline, presents itself as a duality of sorts. Shot on the heels of him becoming a father, his first narrative feature, which comes out this week, ties his "bloodline" to a long lineage of cinematic influences. "I think there is a certain scariness and horror in birth and we wanted to confront that", he explains outside the Prince Charles cinema, following the UK premiere of Bloodline. "Having the birth of my son happen when I was making the film, has been one of the most beautiful and complicated and challenging but wonderful couple of years" he concludes. Featuring a seldom seen performance from Sean William Scott, Bloodline is a high grade thriller, that points to the tradition of hard boiled crime fiction used in Noir and expands on the tension building in Giallo films. I talked to Henry at length about it's production and the house that Jason Blumhouse built.

In ways, this is a film reflective of the fracturing of America at large but more specifically, the fractured family in America today. Was that a conscious response to what's going on, made to explore the link between social work and the division of families?

Honestly, that was never something that really occurred to me. I'm very interested in what's the secret in families and what gets said and what doesn't get said, the trauma and conflict that's in every family, whether or not it’s broken, so I think that's more what I was thinking but that's interesting. That's an interesting thought.
Did you ever consider the dynamic of your own family to draw a contrast between Evan and his in order, to be able to define as effective terror as possible?
I thought a lot about the terror of becoming a new father before we had our first child, while I was doing the first re-write. He is actually in the film, so there is definitely a lot of that character work that went into Evan's character, although obviously with a more extreme take on it than he has, than I did as a father. In terms of a reflection of the family dynamic, I don't know that I was drawing any specific experiences, I think it was more trying to get into the dark heart of the family dynamic of the nuclear family, which I think in many ways is sort of a universal, if sometimes unspoken dynamic. 
When you work with an actor as recognised for his roles in comedy as Sean William Scott is, do you consider what that perception brings to a role and how an audience's relationship to his work is going to influence how they look at Evan as a character?
Absolutely. My co writer Avra and I knew when we came on to the project that Sean was already attached and had already met with him with our take on where we were going to drive the story, what we were thinking about. That was a great gift as writers because we knew we could play on the audiences pre conceived notions about him because he's such a recognisable face, He's so associated with these comic over the top roles and he's inherently kind of likeable, so we knew we could kind of use that to bring the audience along on a ride with him and have them identify with this character, even though he kind of gets darker and darker as the film goes on. We absolutely kept that in mind and were trying to use that to our advantage in both writing and making the film
There's a sensitive direction to his character that challenged my relationship with him because he's Sean Scott, so much so that, for better or worse, I accepted the choices he makes, no matter how far descended, which was part of the true psychological horror for me.
I think that without giving too much away, when his character takes some of the darker turns that he takes, I think that only makes it more potentially disturbing for an audience to self reflect on how much they've liked him up until this point and then to sort of realise, you know "maybe this is darker than I thought and maybe I need to examine my assumptions". I think knowing that he was going to come with this, I guess quote unquote baggage, we really wanted to embrace that and use that to deepen and darken the horror and disturbance of the film. 
You mentioned Sean William Scott already being attached to the project when you started. How did you make the other casting choices?
We knew we wanted Dale Dickey, we offered her the role. I'm a big fan of hers, I think she's wonderful. The others were brought in for auditioning by Kim Hardin my casting director. She just got amazing kids and for some of these kids it was their first movie. Raymond who plays Chris; it was his first movie and Larsen who plays Kelly; it was her first too. I actually worked with her on a music video a while back. Marielle of course who plays Lauren who's an immigrant, she's Cuban, which had never occurred to me to write that character that way but it brought something to the character, I think that made it much richer, which was this inherent sort of separation from home. This inherent loneliness that comes with being and living in another country without the ties of family that made that relationship more desperate and clear. 
There’s so much anger in this film and so much intellectual build behind it. Were there lighter moments when you were making it, where you took a step back from that intensity?
Oh yeah, the set was not in constant dark. It was actually quite a light and fun time. We were obviously working on dark themes and there's obviously dark experiences with that. There was a lot of laughter and it was a really good time on set. It was a lot of fun and it was. Obviously Sean had to do a lot of dark deep personal work but it definitely didn't have a dark feeling, in terms of when we were actually shooting it.
As somebody who started as a cinematographer, you have a very definite way of shooting things. When you write a scene or have an idea, you have a very direct and important place for the camera to be, or a way to structure a series of images. Do you have a favourite shot in Bloodline?

Wow, a favourite shot. There are so many! I come to this from a visual background. I started as a cinematographer, so I think there's a great deal of emotion and tension that comes through simply where you place characters and objects in a frame that may transcend any dialogue, or character work or music or anything else, so it’s certainly something that I've thought a lot about. I've spent a lot of time with my Director of Photography, Isaac Bauman, who I love and I think is an absolute genius. In terms of favourite shots, I love some of the split dioptre shots that we do and the kind of old school camera tricks that we do. 
There's one scene where I feel that there's this simple notion of framing where people are placed and how much space they take in the frame. There's a shot when Chris comes to the house and there's this moment where Lauren see's what's happening and she's sort of framed with the baby, framed in the hall way as sort of a frame within the bigger frame. There's a very sort of small figure with these two looming figures much closer to the camera. That image if you just took it as a still, shows you a great deal about the emotional state of everybody in that scene but particularly her. She's very trapped in that moment. I think that very consciously translates into where her character is at in the story. I think that's actually one of my favourite shots and its simple and there's no real trick to it. 
This isn't a film that shy's away from its visual references and outside of the influence of De Palma you pay homage in some interesting ways. How much creativity did you find showcasing your influences in different ways into your own framework?
We looked at a lot of different films. We looked at some Noir films of the 50's and looked at Giallo and Neo Giallo. Certainly we take a couple of straight techniques from earlier Brian De Palma, particularly the split dioptre shots, which he was very well known for and it’s something that I've been a fan of. It always creates a very disorientating and uncomfortable relationship with what you see on the screen. 
In terms of tone and colour we were harkening back to the sort of 80s, 90s, blues and these more dramatic nightscape colours. A lot of the framing work comes straight out of classic Hollywood from the 50's. One of the films I looked at was In a Lonely Place and there's all that great work in that movie where the perceived threat of Bogart's character is communicated just by where he's standing in relation to somebody else in a static shot. We were drawn by a lot of influences.
You do it with such a respect and singularity, which too often we don't see.
Oh yeah, I think there's a lot of respect in homage and I think that influence is inevitable and in my case I like to embrace it and be kind of cheeky and fun with it, you know?
It's very much a quiet film. Can you talk about the process of translating the language of secrets and those silent areas within family communication on screen? 
There's a number of scenes with Lauren and Evan and a particular one was when Marie, the mother, comes in where you see character's deserving each other, and where each character has some piece of information that maybe the other character doesn't have, so the audience can kind of infer a lot just based on a look or a glance or a quick cut to another character and see who may not be saying anything, or driving the scene in any way, which kind of communicates the hidden relationships and the secrets that they are hiding and the deception that they're kind of placing in front of their facade. I think there's a lot of that. This movie is largely about secrets and about the kind of darkness in families and also the length you will go for a family. It's sort of that dichotomy of the dark and light of any family. 
Are you able to reveal any secrets about the production that might surprise people to know?
Ha, ha! Hmmm. I can't think of anything that comes to mind.
I guess that's why it's a secret

Ha, ha, ha! Yeah, if I told you I'd have to kill you.


How important was it for you to do practical effects for Bloodline?

We had this great team who do all the practical effects in the movie; Sierra and Russell of Russell Effects who are a married couple. They were great and wanted to get bloody and as dirty as possible. The great blood splatter moment, which I don't want to give a way too much about, but that moment in the film was done in one take, which was good because we only had one working spray at that moment. Nailed it! Again, all of that was a great deal of fun! I think they're fantastic and a brilliant team. 
I think another person who we talked about a lot particularly with the Russell's was David Chronenberg, who I think is the king of body horror, which I don't think I'm saying anything shocking when I say that and I'm obviously a big fan. I think doing the practical effects were very important to me and I just think it’s so much more visceral.
The music within itself in the films is such a big component behind the mechanics of the suspense and the sense of dread about what's going to come and what's getting uncovered. Trevor Gureckis really manages to tap into both a retro and current space sonically with this score, doesn't he?
I've worked with Trevor a lot and because I have such incredible respect for his talent, there was no question in my mind that I wanted to work with him on Bloodline. Because of the work I had done with his synth pop band, I knew that he had a real sort of experimental side and I knew right away I wanted to do a synth score, that in a lot of ways pays homage to that period of film history that we're working with visually but I also knew that he could do that without it being just a retro device and in a way that would feel still very current and elevated. For me music too often is used as a crutch to support the emotional journey of the audience I think in films
It was sort of my desire to use music as another element in a conversation between the light and the performances and the score. A lot of it was about making sure that we were heightening and creating and driving tension throughout the story. In a lot of ways it’s harkening back to that kind of noir structure of a more of a suspense story, than a straight kind of Horror. Trevor is brilliant and I love him personally and creatively. I think he's a wonderful composer. 
What was the experience of working with Blumhouse Productions like?
Blumhouse is great! Part of their model is sort of doing things low budget, when everybody is buying in, knowing that they're not getting paid mass amounts of money to make it but also knowing that they're going to have a great deal of creative freedom in the process and in many cases, ownership over the final product. It's a very creatively fostering company. They're really supporting, which isn't to say that they don't give notes and give thoughts and all of that - they do. In my experience with them it has been creatively very satisfying. There was never a "my way or the highway" conversation. They were always sort of engaged and wanted to discuss it and talk it through and try things and play with it. I adore Jason and I think he's done something pretty remarkable with that company and to take what has always been sort of a side-lined genre and to take it to the mainstream is ground-breaking in what he's done. I'm thrilled to have been a part of it.
Did the recent controversy surrounding the release of The Hunt, ever make you nervous as a first time director releasing Bloodline?
I did have to re-cut for American audiences. What will be released in the US will be an r-rated version. I think it's unfortunate that they had to pull The Hunt. I really want to see it. I think one of the great things about horror genre films, is that you can comment on society in a way that's not preachy and deal with real issues in a way that can be an interesting and an exciting viewing experience. I haven't seen the movie and I don't know anything about it and I understand the choice, but I do hope it comes out at some point. 
This seems like an ideal situation for you as a first time feature narrative director. You make a great movie and people on the festival circuit have embraced it right away. After a success like that, how did you feel going into Bloodline?
It was very exciting. It was my first narrative feature. I think it’s always a little terrifying. I think you always have doubt about whether or not you can pull something off and I've felt that with every project I've ever started but pretty quickly the work takes over and for me I get to a place of obsession very quickly, where I don't feel any way about. I just immerse myself in the work and kind of dive in. From that perspective, it was a really joyful process all the way through. I hope that people like it. We’ll see! It has been great to be at the festivals and I'm excited for the release and curious and terrified and all those things. 
It's such an accomplished piece of work and I wish you all the luck and success with it. Thanks for your time.
Thank you so much, Luke. It was a pleasure.
Bloodline is out September 20th via Monumental Pictures.
Written Luke 'Menace' Bailey

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