Industry Interview: Nicolas Pesce

I spoke to Nicolas Pesce about his debut film The Eyes of my Mother, a horror set in a family’s country home which he wrote and directed. Here’s what he had to say about his movie, his love for the genre and what he learned about himself.

When you finished this project, how did you feel? Relieved? Excited to get on with the next one?

I was both, relieved and excited. The movie went so quick I didn’t have much time to think about it. We shot it in 3 weeks and I had to cut it in 21 days before submitting it to Sundance, so the making of this movie was the 6 quickest weeks of my life. It was nice because I didn’t have time to be anxious or second guess myself, it was a really pure film making experience. I can trust my instincts, I didn’t have the time not to trust myself, that said I’m the kind of guy who is like as soon as it’s done and screened I’m like “Yes! On to the next one!” I’m ready for a new world to dive into.

That’s great! I found it quite creepy and eerie.

Well, good!

Yeah! What I found interesting was that it was more the horror that was implied the horror. It was cut from one scene to another, certain things seemed to happen off screen. Was that an early decision to not be too graphic?

Yeah I think the only moderately gorey thing you see is someone having their wounds stitched up. That’s because a lot of people have stitches. I think that the audience is better at scaring themselves than I am and if I put something on screen you can look away or divert your attention. All I have to do make you ask  yourself “What’s happening off screen?” and then your brain paints an image and now it’s just ingrained in you. It also forces you to engage more with it and it makes you more interactive which makes it scarier

What added to that was the fact that it’s shot in black and white. Is that your preferred way of doing things?

I wouldn’t say it’s my preferred way but for this movie it felt very appropriate from my inspiration off of the William Castle movies, the 50s and 60s American Gothic horror and none f these are in colour! When Hitchcock made Psycho, it wasn’t the norm to make a black and white movie, as  everyone was making colour movies. He made the choice to make it feel dated. I want the look of the film to be a more expressionistic view of an extension of what’s going on in this character’s mind who lives in this cold harsh reality which are void of any colour or warmth. It’s also a tonal thing, similar to noir films, playing with the shadows, what you can see and what you can’t see. If the film were to be in colour it would be distractingly stylised.

As director and writer of this film, where did the idea come from?

Well, I really wanted to explore a character who would normally be construed as the villain but also show you the banal ordinary side of their life to give you a different perspective of what you might think of a killer. I think no matter how violent a killer is, there’s probably a not very good reason of why they are like that. There’s an instinct in everyone and it comes out in certain people because of certain things and what’s so interesting about it is finding a character you felt sympathy for, have empathy for, but also were disgusted by and, as with real people, have the complexity of having all of those emotions in one. The fact that people are judged on this small, minuscule fraction of their life committing this crime and not to justify it but there’s a lot more life to be explored which would be the telling of why they did that.

The parents have very different ways of parenting their daughter. The mother seems to be over protective, however the father isn’t quite as shy about showing her certain things in life.

Yeah they are, there’s something odd about this family. Between the parental relationships and experience of something like this so young, it’s a bunch of environmental factors which made her who she is. There are certain things which happen in the movie that make me wonder what she’d be like if these things didn’t happen.

Where did you find the actors?

They are friends of mine who I have directed in music videos and Will Brill, who I’ve known for a really long time, he’s used to playing more comedic goofy roles and I thought that bringing this dark clown element to the film has a real juxtaposition about it. There’s something really clowny about him in a jovial and disturbing way and even at his worst, there’s something really darkly humourous about his tone. Kika, I had worked with on a music video, there’s an other worldly quality to her mannerisms, the way she held herself, the way she spoke that I thought that she’s happy and funny in real life. If you took these almost other worldly and alien qualities of her personality and have it a different context, there would be a realism to someone who still feels so odd.

For someone who has been promoting his film, and someone who is new to this, any tips for someone else who is doing something similar?

Well, I think you just have to throw yourself off the diving board and waiting for people to catch you! It’s fun and overwhelming, the most exciting thing is hearing what the audiences have to say. The thing that I love most, is over hearing what people have to say about your movie. It’s rare that you get to experience that, it’s unique and odd, you have people who want to ask you questions and have people come up to me. Just hearing the reaction. I have a better reaction to my film in Europe than I do back home in the Stares. Here there are more venues for art films and interesting genres, people want to see culty stuff. 10 years ago we didn’t know what was going to be cult but now we know from the get go.

Did you learn anything about yourself as a film maker?

Oh yeah! Film making in general you realise a lot about yourself. I wrote this script from a place of being a film fan and a fan of these sorts of stories, and you stand up on a stage where people are asking you why did you make this? It’s made me realise what I’m drawn are certain parts of humanity, that’s what I’m interested in. It makes you realise things about yourself such as I make movies about killers, I listen to podcasts about crimes and I love true crime documentaries and if I was not a film maker I would be an FBI profiler. I’d be trying to find serial killers because what this movie made me realise about myself was gaining an understanding of why people do things that the most part of me thinks is horrible. Crime, violence and murder are the craziest things a person can do to someone else and to explore why that can happen is something that’s very very interesting to me.

Check out the review for The Eyes of My Mother here.

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