As disturbing as possible
Eoin C. Macken, probably best known as an actor in television series Merlin & The Night Shift, is also a director of horror movies. Following his Christian Blake & Dreaming for You comes The Inside, a story of five girlfriends who are dropped into a pit of both real-life & supernatural terror.
Eoin (pronounced Owen) is currently on location in Morocco. But HMPod managed to scribble some questions on a pound of old dates, strap those dates to the back of an antiquated dromedary & send them off into the desert. Eoin’s answers arrived this morning.
The Inside releases On Demand & DVD October 21. A seriously scary little movie for Halloween.
HMPod: Congratulations on The Inside, a truly creepy movie. The long scene of brutality with the human maniacs menacing the young women is harrowing. How did your actors fare? How long did it take to shoot that scene, keeping up that high level of terror?
Macken: Thanks, we tried to make it as disturbing as possible by being as potentially realistic as possible so those scenes are hard to watch and were just as hard to shoot and be around. The atmosphere was palpable; that’s what made it extremely unnerving for the actors. I shot in straight 9–10 minute takes, and that sequence is only three shots in its entirety. Because everything was so heightened and we had 10 actors all really engaged without a break we could only do each shot twice — people weren’t able to do it again, they were too drained. There were moments where it was really on the edge because people completely lost themselves in the moment and one actor in particular was afraid afterwards of how he had drifted into a “different head space” and totally believed what he was doing. So it was important we had control because it was on the brink. It meant most of the emotions and reactions were as close to real as possible.
HMPod: How has audience reaction been to that scene? I heard even your sponsors were badly shaken.
Macken: I don’t think people expected what they saw, especially not from an Irish movie. People aren’t used to seeing such raw emotion in continuous fashion, and being from so many actors at the same time meant it took on a new reality — which scared people. The entire point is that the fear/horror of the man-on-man is so extreme that it awakens and draws in the supernatural creature, but by the time the creature arrived a lot of people couldn’t handle what they’d seen and they left. It was too much for them.
Macken: Well, we kept it real. I wanted people to be able to lose themselves on long takes so that they were “in it.” It’s how I would have loved to work as an actor. We also shot at nighttime and it was a genuinely fucked-up place. We had some strange things happen, which sounds stupid if I write them down, but we are all convinced it was haunted. Some buildings have an energy and I think that negative energy fed into the actors and their performances. At times we all believed it may be disrespectful to paint satanic symbols on walls and tempt fate with what we were doing — it felt like it could switch and become about us. Even if that sounds silly, that’s the underlying level of tension we created on set.
HMPod: Where did you find such amazing spaces — specifically, the brick-walled underground tunnels & rooms?
Macken: We discovered the tunnels by mistake at the end of the last store room [where we were shooting]. Franco Noonan, my producer, found a hole in the ground and genuinely opened it up and went down with his phone light. I ended up leaving some lights down there because while shooting down there we heard noises, voices, movements and by the end nobody — not even Franco — wanted to go back down and get them ‘cause we only ever had torches [flashlights] down there and enough was enough by then.
HMPod: Are the actors ever really handling the camera? Is there still a need for a director of photography on found-footage movies?
Macken: I handled the camera always, and I lit everything to look a certain way. I used an LED on top of the camera at times but it was still important to compose the shots. Maybe you can’t tell sometimes because it’s so shaky, but I did compose many frames cinematically and then constantly “shook” the camera. Maybe I overdid that at times, but there was never a moment that the actors actually handled the camera. I was always beside them, even in the big long multi-actor scenes and I was directing with hand movements behind the camera constantly and also “pushing” the camera in a direction to indicate where the actors were to go, when to run, to move, etc.
HMPod: Without being overly facetious, should actors today get themselves trained in basic cinematography?
Macken: As above, I don’t think it would be necessary. I think in general it’s important to understand it, but I was dictating their moments beside them and we rehearsed each take and movements from an A to B to C to D fashion.
HMPod: How much of a script did you have? Are the actors responsible for a certain amount of ad libbing?
Macken: Actually apart from screams and pants, the majority was scripted. I wanted the actors to ad lib a lot, but with so many people it was an overload on sound and we couldn’t follow everybody as there were too many characters so we followed a script quite well. They improvised within the lines and changed them a little, but it’s a testament to how brilliant the acting is that people think it’s all improv. The big homeless men scenes attacking the girls, for example, was all scripted and while some went beyond the script or dialogue — changed as it should with reactions — it followed an A to B to C to D to E to F best point movement pattern where I had it timed and we followed the movements of the scene. That’s why I could direct that pacing when I was holding the camera and wave or push people into place.
HMPod: Could the current found-footage craze in horror movies ever migrate to other genres? Could there be a handheld romantic movie, for example?
Macken: I don’t know if I’d watch a handheld romantic movie. I think it works for horror because you’re never sure what’s behind the camera or to the side or what’s going to appear and then the movements of the camera bring a viscerality to it.
HMPod: There have not been a lot of Irish horror movies. Any thoughts on why that is? Is the future bright for the Irish horror movie industry?
Macken: I’m not sure. But recently there is The Canal and Citadel and others which are doing brilliantly. We don’t have a huge history of horror, but there is a wealth of stories here so hopefully that will change. Horror films don’t traditionally do that well in Ireland though, and Irish cinema isn’t renowned for that.
HMPod: So far, your best-known roles — as Gwaine in BBC’s Merlin and Dr. TC Callahan on NBC’s The Night Shift — are a far cry from your own projects. Do you have a preference, being in front of the camera as an actor or being behind it as a director?
Macken: I love making stories, creating a project, being on set. That’s my favourite thing in the world. And making my own projects allows me to be on set with people I like, my friends are crew I like and want to work with and have a beer with, and all the actors are people I’ve worked with generally and I like. It’s fun and that’s very important; why else would you make movies? It’s too much hard work otherwise! Directing has taught me a lot about acting, as I get to work with actors and see how they are, and I have also been able to create roles for myself which allows me to explore. Doing both has encouraged my writing by comparison and letting the different crafts inform each other.
HMPod: You’ve worked as a model for GQ, Abercrombie & Fitch and Ralph Lauren — as well as being the face of the 2008 Braun campaign. Do you ever get tired of being called a pretty-boy?
Macken: Very much so. But modeling allowed me to pursue acting as I earned the money to go to acting class or make my movies or go to London to audition. Modeling financed my first few movies and got me my initial America visas. So without it I probably wouldn’t be where I am. I was broke and was going to have to stop auditioning in London and move home until I got the Braun advert, which meant I could go to New York, train in Meisner and also make Dreaming for You. It was also fun, and you meet some very pretty girls doing modeling!
HMPod: Sometimes you use your middle initial & sometimes not. Do you only use the C. when you are wearing your filmmaker hat?
Macken: I like my full name, but with acting it wasn’t important, and then to try and draw some distinction I use it for writing and directing. Not sure it makes a difference, but I feel that’s there’s a distinction!
HMPod: Got to ask: what’s next from you, horror-wise?
Macken: I have a dark, dark vampire script that really flips the genre back to its origins a lot and it’s incredibly real and psychological. I’m actually terrible at watching horror, it scares the crap out of me and the vampire script I’ve written is incredibly freaky and messed up and I think it’s given me a few nightmares, so I needed to let it lie for a while, but hopefully get my teeth into that one soon — after I make a romantic comedy!