[Interview] Robert Eggers on ‘The Lighthouse’: “We Wanted to Be Challenged”
Robert Eggers shocked audiences with his feature film debut, The Witch, and quickly became a name to watch for in the sphere of genre cinema. Anticipation has been building for the release of his newest film, The Lighthouse, a feverish descent into madness driven by two heavy-hitting performances by stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Eggers about The Lighthouse, its knockout performances, and the unique challenges of crafting a film with such meticulous attention to detail.
Click here to read my full review of The Lighthouse from its premiere at TIFF
Kelly McNeely: First off, what was the genesis of the film? Where did this concept sort of come from? How was that born?
Robert Eggers: My brother was working on a screenplay that he said was about a ghost story in a lighthouse, and I thought that was a great concept and was hoping that he wouldn’t get very far with it so that I could ask his permission to steal it. And that’s what happened because when he said ghost story in a lighthouse, I pictured this black and white, crusty, dusty, musty, rusty atmosphere, very much like Misery from the first dinner scene. And I wanted to find a story that went with that atmosphere.
So back in 2011 or 2013, or something like that, when I started working on The Lighthouse, The Witch came together and in the wake of that I called up my brother and said, look, let’s write this lighthouse script together, I’m developing some other larger things, and I think it would be wise to have something smaller in my back pocket. So we took my 10 pages of screenplay and lots and lots of notes and images and turned it into this movie together a couple of years ago.
Kelly McNeely: You’ve got this really impressive commitment to period and aesthetic and atmospheric details, between the natural lighting, the building of the set, the orthochromatic look, and the 1.19:1 ratio. Can you talk a little bit about the process for compiling and building all those elements into the film?
Robert Eggers: Yeah, I mean, everything is sort of in tandem, I’m always researching while I’m writing, and collecting images while I’m writing, and images can inspire themes and whatever, because this film has such a long history in my filmmaking life. I’ve been talking with Jarin Blaschke the DP about this for a year, and we’ve had all kinds of different ideas. And it all kind of comes down to, finally, like what can we get our hands on? And, you know, we would have wanted it shot it on orthochromatic film stock which you can purchase for still photography, but there is no one who can make that into 35mm motion picture film for us, nor could we have afforded it if we wanted to. So we settled on bwXX, the black and white negative that hasn’t changed since the 1950s.
The blacks bottom out suddenly in a very satisfying way, it has extreme micro contrast, and you know what else? Like, it exists! [laughs] And then Jarin worked with Schneider to create a custom filter to give us an orthochromatic look, and then Panavision opens up their closet of mysterious lenses to Jarin who can go in like a giddy school boy and find all kinds of rarities. We have I think two or three shots with a zoom lens that we don’t even know what it is, where it’s from, when it was made. So they thought, “Jarin should take a look at this” [laughs].
Kelly McNeely: With The Witch, I know the dialogue was pulled from historical documents. What was the process for writing the dialogue for The Lighthouse?
Robert Eggers: Yeah, the The Witch has a lot of sentences that are intact from the period sources. My conceit at the time, was that to honor these Puritans who were so extreme in their beliefs and their worldview that I needed to actually, like, use the actual words they supposedly said. In this movie, my brother and I didn’t have a lot of sentences that were intact — there are some, but not a lot. But we’re just drawing from our period sources to find a way to write our own dialogue.
The most helpful source was Sarah Orne Jewett, from the good old state of Maine. She was writing in our period and she was interviewing working people on the coast of Maine, and writing her main stories in dialect. And then my wife found us a thesis that was about dialect work in Sarah Orne Jewett that provided the rules for different dialects and so then we could really be be specific with our own work. But Dafoe has a couple of intact sentences that come directly from retired sea captains in Jewett’s work, which supposedly came directly from real retired sea captains.
Kelly McNeely: What about the accents? Because there are very specific accents that they use in The Lighthouse.
Robert Eggers: So Rob’s accent is like, you know, an old timey New England accent. Like it’s based on a down east accent, but I think if you are an actual New Englander, you know, you get the flavor of someone who hasn’t just been one place in New England his whole life. I bought my family car when I was visiting my parents recently in New Hampshire and the car salesman grew up in Boston and moved to Maine, and then New Hampshire, and sounded pretty close to Rob, they’re a little bit similar. Dafoe’s accent is something that is theoretical with the Rhotic R– the hard R, the pirate Arr — having that in coastal Maine, we know that that was in New Brunswick a little further north, and in Nova Scotia a little further north than that.
Kelly McNeely: Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe really endure; they go above and beyond with their physicality and emotionality. Was there ever a point you had to pull things back?
Robert Eggers: Absolutely not. You know, it’s an extreme story and these are two incredibly dedicated, passionate, hardworking actors who are after challenging material, and want to be pushed to their limit and I didn’t need to pull things back. I also didn’t really need to push things, because they wanted to give their very best to this movie. There’s been a lot of discussion in the press in the past about Robert Pattinson wanting to punch me in the face for a certain scene. But if it’s raining outside and the rain isn’t reading in a close up, you’re going to have to pull out the fire hose for the rain to read. And that’s not easy. But you know if Rob wished to cause me physical harm, I didn’t know that at the time because he was professional as hell and wanted to make sure that that moment was as good as it could possibly be.
Kelly McNeely: What myths did you pull from to form the story?
Robert Eggers: The bones of the story are based on what’s allegedly a true story. It’s often referred to as Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy, and it took place in Wales in around 1800. And it was two lighthouse keepers, both named Thomas, one older one younger, they get marooned on their island at their lighthouse station because there’s a storm. The older one dies, and the younger one goes mad. There’s a folk tale-like ending that I won’t divulge, but you can easily look up. And that was the sort of genesis of this — or rather that was the seeds that were planted for the story to grow from.
When Max — my brother who wrote this with me — and I were continuing to flesh out the story, we kind of said to ourselves, what classical myths or myth have we sort of accidentally come up with? With The Witch I was sort of looking at Hansel and Gretel, among other things, after I had written what I had written to sort of re-infuse Hansel and Gretel-isms. So we asked ourselves what classical myths have we sort of conjured up here to try to re-infuse themes, motifs, and imagery. We chose classical motifs because of allusions to classical mythology that Dafoe makes it in sea spells that were inspired by Melville. So there’s a mishmash of different things from Proteus to Prometheus that some classicists might be upset that we’ve combined, but, I think it’s okay.
Kelly McNeely: I love the use of natural lighting in both The Witch and The Lighthouse. What inspired you to film that way?
Robert Eggers: Jarin Blaschke — the DP — and I like a naturalistic approach. The lighting in The Lighthouse is more stylized than The Witch; The Witch literally does use natural light and flame for all but one or two shots, except for the night exteriors which obviously need to be lit.
The Lighthouse, on the other hand, uses black and white negative that hadn’t changed since the 1950s so it requires a lot more light to be an exposure. However, we did not light it like an old movie; even though the lighting is quite dramatic and it has exaggerated chiaroscuro, unlike old movies, we use the practical lighting sources that are in the location to light the scenes. That said, it’s not actually a flame in that kerosene lamp because you would never get exposure from a flame. So we have a 600 watt halogen bulb on a flicker dimmer that is creating that flame-like look. And I like it, especially with the black and white because it flickers, you know, like old cinema. The image has breath, if I can be so precious.
Kelly McNeely: I understand you built the entire set, which is incredible. What were the challenges of filming on location?
Robert Eggers: Yes, we built every building that you see in the film, including the 70 foot lighthouse tower. We couldn’t find a lighthouse that worked for us, we couldn’t find one with good road access that was practical to shoot on. But having to build one meant that we had a lot more control. So overall, shooting on location with building a lot of sets gave us a ton of control. That said, in order to tell the story properly, we chose a very punishing inhospitable location where we knew we would get terrible weather. And so that did pose a lot of problems — it’s impossible to move fast as a human being under gale force winds with torrential rain, and you know in temperatures just above freezing and you can’t move quickly; the camera is going to break down. So there’s a lot of challenges, but no one’s complaining. This is what we signed up for. We wanted to be challenged.
The Lighthouse was released to limited theaters in the US on October 18, with a wide release to follow on October 25.
Fangs, Nic! This Final ‘Renfield’ Trailer is Beyond
We aren’t sure what to make of the upcoming movie Renfield, but after watching this final trailer, we are definitely interested. Although it’s coming across as a straight-up comedy, the movie isn’t light on blood according to the latest, and final, trailer.
When you watch it, the zingers and (CGI) blood fly, but there also seems to be some inspiration and romance at the heart of the story. Not between Dracula and his titular assistant (that would be interesting), but between Renfield and a cop named Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina).
Horror movies with a comedic edge are becoming very popular this year. First, we had the hilarious and often brutal Cocaine Bear and soon we are getting the saliently self-aware African American film The Blackening which pokes fun at POC horror tropes: their tagline is “We can’t all die first.” Then there was Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, but was that a comedy, or just “funny.”
It still remains to be seen if Renfield is Mel Brooks funny or Edgar Wright funny.
Either way, Renfied looks like it’s going to be a good time with Nic Cage being his usual campy self. It’s currently making the festival rounds now but will be released theatrically on April 14.
Renfield is directed by Chris McKay (The Tomorrow War, and Lego Batman Movie) and stars Nicolas Cage, Nichoals Hoult with co-stars Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
In this modern monster tale of Dracula’s loyal servant, Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men) stars at Renfield, the tortured aid to history’s most narcissistic boss, Dracula (Oscar ® winner Nicolas Cage). Renfield is forced to procure his master’s prey and do his every bidding, no matter how debased. But now, after centuries of servitude, Renfiedl is ready to see if there’s a life outside the shadow of the Prince of Darkness. If only he can figure out how to end his codependency.
America’s Most Haunted House Isn’t in Amityville
There is a haunted house in Bridgeport, Connecticut that doesn’t get the attention the one in Amityville does, but in 1974 it caused a media stir that captivated the country, and nobody ever talks about it, not even genre movie folks.
By the end of this story, you–like the many witnesses in 1974–will wonder what’s real and what isn’t.
What did happened inside this tiny house in the middle of the block on Lindley Street?
Before we get to that, let’s talk about the recent upswing in ghost story cinema and celebrity paranormal investigations, starting with James Wan’s Conjuring universe (a fourth film is currently in the works).
The Conjuring franchise has given us some great scares over the last decade. These “based-on-a-true-story” earmarks on haunted America, and across the pond, have re-invigorated the poltergeist pop culture phenomena that was so popular in the 70s.
Based on the real-life case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring cinematic universe started with the Perron family in Rhode Island.
Although Mr. Warren died in 2006, Lorraine served as a consultant to The Conjuring. She maintained before her death in 2019 that she didn’t allow the filmmakers to take too much creative license. She asserted everything you see on screen is actually how it happened.
The sequel, Conjuring 2 moved to Britain and documented the famous Enfield haunting. That case involved two young sisters who were tormented by a ghost that threw things, spoke by way of possession and was just an overall supernatural baddie. Cops, priests and social workers went on record to confirm the reports. Lorraine also helped with that case.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the Lutz family was battling their own demons on a now-famous lot in Amityville. Again, the Warrens were on hand to assist.
966 Lindley Street
But there is another chilling tale that the Warrens were involved in that nobody talks about. It took place in Bridgeport at 966 Lindley Street in 1974 and it caused such a media circus the neighborhood would go on lock-down.
Reporters, witnesses, and other professionals would go on record saying they saw furniture move without provocation, hovering refrigerators, and physical attacks.
In the book “The World’s Most Haunted House,” writer Bill Hall takes a deep-dive into this case. What’s staggering is not only the bizarre happenings that took place, but they were so well documented by so many trusted sources.
Respected Witnesses Document Their Experiences
Firefighters and law enforcement agents have gone on record to say they witnessed everything from chairs moving on their own, crucifixes being ejected from their wall anchors, and knives being thrown by an invisible force. The activity seemed to center around a little girl.
Gerard and Laura Goodin lived in the small bungalow when they adopted their young daughter Marcia in 1968. It wasn’t long before strange things began to happen in the house–little things that people usually ignore. Still, the activity was strong enough to captivate the family.
People said when Marcia was around the events would intensify but even when she was gone things could get crazy.
The Goodin’s were subject to a loud rhythmic pounding in their walls, the source could never be located. Items would disappear from where they were left, only to be found in another spot in the house. Doors would slam. Police investigated the incidents but even they were perplexed after finding nothing.
The Media Frenzy
In 1974 the property was a hotbed of activity not only from the poltergeist but media attention. The Warrens were called in as was the American Society for Psychical Research and the Psychical Research Foundation.
Police were on hand 24 hours a day and interviewed the family. At that time there were reports of TVs being pushed from their stands, window blinds snapping up and down and shelves falling off the walls.
The public frenzy had started too. Onlookers would crowd the street in front of the haunted house to see if they could witness something for themselves. One citizen even tried to burn the house down. The entire street had to eventually be cordoned off.
At this time the entity reportedly showed itself. According to Hall’s book, it “resembled a large, cohesive assemblage of smoky yellowish-white ‘gauzy’ mist.”
The Cat Talks
Not only were there physical manipulations there were also audio phenomena. People reported hearing Sam the family cat say weird things like “Jingle Bells,” and “Bye Bye.” Outside plastic garden swans reportedly made frightening noises too.
The website Damned Connecticut also wrote about this story. In their comments section one person, Nelson P., claims to have worked in City Hall in 1974 in the records room of the Bridgepoint Police Department. They had this to say:
“…we gained a copy of a written report by an officer who was present when the paranormal s*it hit the fan on Lindley St. The most chilling account was when in his writing ‘and the cat said to the officer “How’s your brother Bill doing?, and the officer looked down and replied “My brother’s dead.” The cat then scowled “I know” swearing repeatedly at the officer then ran off. Other visual events in the report include a levitating refrigerator and an armchair that flipped over and could not be lifted back into place by the officers. One officer who witnessed it all took an immediate leave of absence having been that shaken by the experience. I today firmly believe these events took place in the home.”
Levitating Frigidaires and creepy cats aside, the whole thing came to an abrupt halt when a police officer allegedly saw Marcia try to tip over a television set with her foot when she thought no one was looking.
After questioning, Marcia eventually admitted to doing everything in the house on her own and the case was closed; deemed a hoax. Or was it?
Although her parents disputed the claim, Marcia was quick to admit her part in the “haunting.” But questions remained about how she could be in two places at once.
How respected witnesses saw things happen when Marcia wasn’t even in the house and why things continued to happen even after her confession.
The case was eventually forgotten and regarded as fraud.
Bill Hall’s book “The World’s Most Haunted House,” is the quintessential story about the Lindley haunting. His book includes unprecedented interviews from firefighters and other reputable witnesses who were there. They speak about their experiences and what they saw.
It’s been reported that Marcia, the girl behind the haunting, died in 2015 at the age of 51.
The house still stands in the same spot it did over 40 years ago and looks the same as it did back then. You can visit it personally. You can also type it into Google Maps.
But instead of bothering the current residents keep a safe distance away if you decide to go.
Whatever you believe, this haunted house case was definitely one for the history books if only for the attention it got from the public and the details professional eyewitnesses documented as it happened.
This story has been updated. It was originally posted in March 2020.
Paranormal Games: Red Door, Yellow Door
Let’s play a game: Red Door, Yellow Door
Also Known As Doors Of The Mind
Spooky games that border on the paranormal are a mainstay at slumber parties around the world. From light as a feather, stiff as a board… Doors of the Mind
to the classic Ouija board, we’ve all played at least one, but there are others out there, perhaps less well known, and one of the spookiest is Red Door, Yellow Door. Doors of the Mind
What is Red Door Yellow Door?
Sometimes this paranormal game is called Doors of the Mind or Black Door, White Door, and well, any other combination of colors, you can think of.
Red Door, Yellow Door takes two to play. However, it’s perfect for a late-night audience of scared teens, so it’s no surprise that it’s made a resurgence in recent years.
The Game Rules
The rules are simple, but the outcome could be dire, or so the urban legends claim.
One player is the guide, and the other is the subject.
- The guide sits on the floor, cross-legged with a pillow in their lap.
- The subject will then lie on the ground with their head in the guide’s lap and their hands raised in the air.
- The guide should, at this point, begin to massage the subject’s temples in a circular motion chanting, “Red Door, Yellow Door, any other color door” over and over again, joined by any witnesses to the game. Doors of the Mind
- As the subject slips into the trance, they will find themselves in a room in their mind and at that point, they should lower their arms to the floor signaling the guide and any witnesses to stop chanting.
The game has officially begun.
At this point, the person acting as the guide will begin to ask questions to the subject in order to get them to describe the room.
Any witnesses should be silent so that there is no sound except for the voice of the guide and the voice of the subject answering the guide’s question.
The instructor might ask what colors the doors to the room are, how they feel about the doors, and instruct them to go through varying doors into other rooms.
The subject is encouraged to answer all questions honestly until the guide decides to end the game, but there are some warnings and signs of danger to keep in mind.
Dangers To Keep In Mind Doors of the Mind
According to Scary for Kids:
- If you encounter people in the room, it may be best not to interact with them. They may be evil and try to trick you.
- If you find yourself in a room full of clocks, leave immediately. Clocks can trap you.
- You can go wherever you want, but it is safer to go up than down.
- Light things and light colors tend to be better than dark things and dark colors.
- If you should find yourself trapped in a room, you must try to wake up. If you don’t, you might be trapped forever.
- If you die in the game, you will supposedly die in real life.
- If you encounter a man in a suit who makes you uncomfortable, end the game immediately.
- If the guide is having a hard time waking the subject from the trance, they should shake them roughly to bring them into wakefulness.
Sounds creepy, right?!
The whole point of the Red Door, Yellow Door, seemingly, is to explore the inner workings of your own mind and to also understand that there are also dark sides to everyone.
Some of the things you might encounter inside the game may be those very things about yourself that you don’t wish to face.
Have you ever played Red Door, Yellow Door or any variation of this spooky game? Let us know in the comments!
This article has been updated. it was originally posted in February 2020.