Brad Anderson Explains How He Put The Suspense Into His New Thriller, The Call

the call posterIt’s been a long time coming but The Call will be in UK cinemas this Friday, 20th September. It’s cellphone-era chase thriller with Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin and Michael Imperioli.

The film was originally going to be called The Hive, for its setting in a 911 call-centre and I think I prefer that title but, well, bees. People would have been confused, I suppose.

Like all of director Brad Anderson‘s previous films, The Call is a genre film. You literally couldn’t tell this story as recently as twenty five years ago, yet the film is still rooted in very, very old genre tropes, albeit freshly twisted.

I spoke to Anderson about what this means, and about how, when he’s working in the suspense or thriller genre, he generates the right feeling and tension.

Here’s some of what he told me.

Suspense is a lot about timing. It’s about building up an expectation with the audience before either fulfilling it or not fulfilling it. It’s a lot about how you time out a scene and then toy with an audience’s expectations. Audiences are very savvy, they understand the conventions of a genre, they can anticipate what’s going to happen more so than ever before. Trying to stay ahead of them and not let them get ahead of you is much of the battle.

With every scene in every movie you start with what’s on the page. You block that action out, working with the actors. Placing the camera so that he audience gleans information that the characters don’t can go a long way in creating suspense. An example of this in the movie is the scene in the parking lot with an intense conversation. We know the woman is in the trunk. Suspense can be built through that casual conversation they’re having, because the audience knows about the girl in the trunk of the car but the good samaritan character doesn’t realise it. In planning a scene like that was about the actors choosing what level of suspiciousness the good samaritan character would have.

And the use of music and sound design is another tool you have to enhance a suspenseful moment. A lot of times, dropping music out in a suspenseful scene will keep the audience on the edge of their seat. There isn’t a music cue telling them when to leap out of their seat or when to anticipate the shocking moment. Music and sound design are fun to play with because you can use them to mess with the audience’s preconceptions and what they expect.

When you’re editing the film together, a lot of plans change. You can change, expand or stretch out a suspense moment editorially. You always spend a lot of time tinkering in the editing room but especially on a movie like this. You change just a few frames here, a few frames there, and sometimes that can make the difference between a scene being very effective or just somewhat effective. That’s the fun of the process, I think.

If by ‘genre’ you mean classic stories that fit into a particular mould, to me, those are fun movies to make. I’m always drawn to genre movies as long as there’s some angle which allows you to approach it in a smart, interesting way and not make another cookie cutter film. There’s always got to be some angle or twist to give it something you can do, even cinematically, that sets it apart from the genre. There are these pre-established rules and things that audiences expect and the fun is in where you stick to this and where you go against them.

Thanks again to Brad for taking the time to talk with me. The Call is in UK cinemas this Friday; the US DVD and Blu-ray release was a couple of months ago.