Barry Levinson is one of those rare creators who seems to have a handle on how to make successful films (he won an Oscar for directing Rain Man) and television (he won an Emmy for directing an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, a show he also produced). His television work has been groundbreaking, and he’s directed some truly great films (Wag the Dog, Good Morning Vietnam, Diner), so I was surprised that he was set to direct The Bay, a found footage horror film about a mysterious medical emergency that happens during the July 4th celebrations in a summer resort town (and after seeing it at the New York Film Festival I didn’t think much of it). But I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable interview with Levinson, and while I’m not going to say my opinion on the film has completely changed I at least have a stronger appreciation for the film and have a better understanding of what Levinson was trying to accomplish. Much of that probably has to do with the fact that Levinson was a GREAT interview and even spent extra time with us beyond how much we were allotted.
I’ve transcribed some of the best bits of the interview, but you can listen to the whole 20+ minutes below:
When asked why he decided to make a found footage horror film, Levinson answered:
I wouldn’t know how to approach a frightening, scary movie as like ‘I got to think of an idea.’ What happened is, because I come from Baltimore… I was approached about doing a documentary about the Chesapeake Bay because its forty percent dead and it has all those ecological issues. And so I gathered information and went ‘Well this is really frightening’ and I thought ‘I don’t know if a documentary is the way to go.’ But I began to think about it and said ‘Well, look, I do tell stories, why don’t I take all the information and weave into the story so it would become more credible?’ And that information that floats out there seems credible and frightening. So it began to evolve that way.
On filming the movie with non-professional cameras:
I think it was the best thing to do… We did the tests by taking a high end camera and degrading it and I looked at it and it still to me looked like a high end camera that’s degraded. To my eye it didn’t look real. And so, we took about a hundred and some cameras and we just kept testing them and projecting them and seeing what they do and out of that we picked about twenty-sum that seemed, ‘All right, we’ll use this, we’ll use the Sony for the underwater thing for the kids and they can go under and whatever, we’ll use this, we’ll use the iPhone, and we just picked and choose so we had this visual palette. And that to me became as real as you can make it, because it is real.” He then mentioned the biggest difficulty was putting the cameras in the hands of the actors, which meant he didn’t have playback (and some actors forgot to hit “record”!)
Check out the whole interview audio below, in which Levinson elaborates on working with the relatively unknown cast, shooting a film set in Maryland in South Carolina, movies that scare him, and a great discussion about the famous “flower girl” scene in the original Frankenstein: