What was your filmmaking background before making The House?
DESIREE: My career started in TV broadcast in Japan working as Associate Producer and Director on news and documentary shows. In 2000, I wrote and directed my first dramatic TV movie in Japan and have been writing/directing/producing dramatic TV since.
I moved from Tokyo to Vancouver and Floored By Love was my first English language drama for prime time TV in Canada that became the first drama that touched on same-sex marriage in Canada shortly after it was legalized. The House is my first full-length feature film.
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?
DESIREE: I've always been fascinated by ghost stories since I was a child, growing up in a superstitious Chinese family in Malaysia. So ghost stories have always lurked somewhere in the back of my mind.
When a feature film project I was supposed to make in 2010 didn't quite take off because of financial difficulties, I wanted to make another film in the meantime - something that would have very limited locations and can be filmed on a shoestring budget as I didn't have the real money. And then an old idea I had about a woman trapped in a house who begin to form relationships with the spirits around her came back to me.
I started to imagine who this woman is and created her character first. Then one by one, the other ghost characters started to take form and their stories intertwined with the main character like a jigsaw puzzle and that was how I revealed them in the script - piece by piece until we finally see the big picture in the end and find out who they really are.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?
DESIREE: This film was funded entirely from my own money. The plan is to recoup by selling to world territories (TV and DVD rights) through my Sales Agent. It will not have a theatrical release so we hope to recoup through world sales and DVD/VOD in North America.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
DESIREE: Canon Mark II D5. I was very impressed by how good the quality of the image is. It's also very versatile because of its size as a DSLR. This is the the smallest camera I have ever shot any film with.
What I found most challenging with this camera is the focus issues. We didn't have a focus puller, so the moving shots were very tough to hit the mark. Audio issues can be a pain as well. Despite some technical limitations from a DSLR camera when shooting moving pictures, I was pleasantly surprised by the visuals and image quality, especially holding its own on the big screen.
How did you and your DP achieve the look of the movie?
DESIREE: I wanted the whole film to have a very cold, blue tone to it for the most part because all the characters are dead - even the main character who is technically the only one still breathing -- her soul is suffering from a self-imposed internal death.
A lot of the color tone was achieved in the color timing. The tone only warms up toward the end of the film when the main character finally starts to come back to life ie she experiences a kind of "resurrection of her soul" and finds herself again. The blood on her face returns and she is alive again.
We also played with reflection and light in many of the shots to metaphorically represent this house of mirrors as a "place of reflection" for all the characters who were looking everywhere else but within themselves for answers to the dilemmas they each face. The ghosts do not come across as “spirits” as much as mortals with flesh and blood whose presence is as transient as rays of sunlight hitting the wall at a certain time of the day.
They are as tangible as one manages to “catch and perceive them” when their paths happen to cross with each other at a given time. And the shadows and light captures that kind of transient quality on screen.
You wore a lot of hats on this project -- producer, director, writer. What's the upside and the downside of working that way?
DESIREE: The upside is that you have total creative control over your work by wearing all those hats, and when everything pays off at the end of the day, the gratification and rewards that come with that is priceless. You also learn a lot more for the work you put into all those roles in one single production.
The downside would be the uphill battle to strive for balance between all those roles and constantly wrestling with the stress and fear of falling short in one of them because of the risk of spreading yourself too thin during production. The trick is finding the will and grit to rise up to that challenge every single time!
And it's not any different with every production, you start all over again from scratch each time.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
DESIREE: Throwing out scenes we didn't have time to shoot and as a result, the film turned out better off without them was probably the smartest thing I managed to do, both as Writer and Director.
The dumbest thing I did was nearly crushing the movie lights by pressing the wrong button for the garage door when we were shooting the cab scene -- the door jammed right into the lights but luckily nothing and no one was crushed because of that!
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
DESIREE: Always find creative solutions to work with the location, actors and conditions on the day and not be afraid to throw your plans out the window when you need to. The best creativity sometimes comes from "letting go" and trusting the process.