Genre icon Joe Dante’s The Hole was a long time coming. Shot in 2009, it is only today that the film is getting a wide release. The coming-of-age horror tale follows the story of a boy and his brother who discover a mysterious, bottomless hole in their basement. Together with the pretty girl next door, the trio spend their remaining days of summer exploring the hole, and the horrors it holds. I got the chance to chat with Dante for a few minutes about The Hole and am proud to say I made it the whole interview without geeking out on Gremlins.
How did you get involved in The Hole?
The Hole came to me as a script submission for my consideration. Even though it is a horror film, which I tend to be very skeptical about because I get very few good horror scripts, I thought this one was very well-written, and I thought the characters were believable, particularly the kid characters, which were difficult to write. Even though the situation wasn’t brand new - I had seen similar situations in other films - it didn’t go where I thought it was going to go. When I found out what was in the hole, it turned out to be not what I expected. That clinched it for me. This was something off-beat that I’d like to do.
When you get a script like that, do pictures immediately come to mind of how you want to shoot it?
You read scripts you are thinking of directing differently from everything else. If you are going to direct a script, [when you read it] you are thinking about a hundred different things about every page. In this one, there were a number of moments that I thought gelled very well. Even though it is a small film, I thought it would make a good scary movie. I suggested we do it in 3D because it seemed that, since it was such a small film, if we did it in a technique where we could draw people into the set - not throw stuff at them, but make them feel like they are in the basement with the kids - that it would help make the film work better.
Was this your first 3D film?
No, I actually did a film called “R.L. Stine’s Haunted Lighthouse” for Busch Gardens. It was a ride film, in “4D,” meaning that it is in 3D but they also throw water on you and make you feel like ants are crawling up your pants and stuff like that. Right up my alley. But that was 70mm 3D, so it was two gigantic cameras attached to one another. The current system is all digital and has pretty much obliterated all the problems that existed with 3D before, in terms of framing and registering and luminance... all the things that gave people headaches about 3D in the first place. That is all gone by the wayside. This is the best quality 3D we’ve ever had.
So when filming this new 3D, were you preparing for challenges that never occurred? Were there new challenges you weren’t expecting?
Well it was certainly easier than the last technique I used. Everything is done digitally and the cameras are much smaller so you can get into corners. The only thing that is a little off-putting is that, for 3D, you have to over-light the set to compensate for the fact that you are going to lose light to the filter and the glasses. So when you walk on the set, it looks like a variety show. In the end, it all chanced out and it looks perfect. For the 2D version, you just [color] time it differently and make everything darker because obviously, you are not looking through anything.
You finished the movie almost four years ago, correct?
We finished shooting in early 2009.
What happened in that time? Why did it take so long to be released?
We were originally supposed to shoot in the summer of 2008. You may remember that was when the big economic meltdown happened. So they ended up not having the money and we shot in the winter. When we finally finished it, we had taken stock of all the 3D-capable theaters out there and, believe it or not, there weren’t that many. We looked at what the competition would be. Avatar wasn’t coming out for a while, and there were very few other 3D movies coming out, so we figured we had the field to ourselves. We didn’t reckon on the fact that they had figured out how to turn 2D movies into 3D movies. So all these big blockbuster movies like Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans were now playing in our theaters, even though they hadn’t been shot in 3D. Now there was no room for us, and we didn’t have any movie stars or a big spectacle. So we got crowded out for the rest of that year, basically. Then there were attempts to find a distributor... it just snowballed into reasons why the picture was never coming out. It was frustrating. Finally, much like our competition Cabin in the Woods, which was shot around the same time and also didn’t come out for several years, we are finally getting our shot.
You are very well-known for blending horror and monster themes with coming-of-age stories. What is the draw?
I have no idea. When you say I am known for blending these things... I guess I am. It’s not my intention. It’s not like I go out and say, “What coming-of-age story can I tell with monsters?” I guess somehow you look back on your career and you see a pattern.
There has to be something about the two elements that works well for you.
Well, I’ve always been drawn to science fiction, fantasy, and horror films, since I was a kid. That was part of being a kid for me. Also, I have an affinity for kids. I don’t have any of my own, but I like kids and I like kid actors - I like working with them. So I’m not scared away as some filmmaker are. If you cast a movie right - and 90% is casting it - and you get the right kids, it is a breeze. It’s not difficult to work with kids; it’s actually very rewarding. They don’t come with preconceived notions, they don’t come with years of honed acting technique; they just come as themselves, and they channel themselves into their character.
Did you have any trouble with the younger kid, with him getting scared?
No, Nathan is sort of a 40-year-old in a 12-year-old body. He is so, totally professional, and he is a really gifted child. His ability to do natural line-readings and to think on the spot, it was just a pleasure to watch him every day.
What are you working on next?
Well, I’m working on a lot of things at once, which you have to do in this business because you never know which one of them is going to happen next. But the one that looks likely to go next is a French film called Paris, I’ll Kill You. It is an eight-director horror anthology film. That is supposed to be shot in February. I am doing one of those segments.
Joe Dante's THE HOLE is in theaters on September 28th and on DVD, iTunes, and other VOD platforms on October 2nd.