Interview with Leigh Janiak
A honeymoon is in many ways a transformation, the melding of two lives. For some it can mean the loss of individuality to gain to deeper sense of connection to another, for others it simply means a time of hope and promise. The honeymoon phase is a time of deep passion and optimism, our eyes are wide and the world is full of possibilities. Director/Writer Leigh Janiak with her film Honeymoon has taken this time of unlimited potential and driven a spike through its still beating heart.
The film follows Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) as they honeymoon at a remote cabin next to a picturesque lake. Soon into the couples stay Paul discovers Bea in the woods, wandering and alone with no recollection of how she got there. After that night Bea starts to display peculiar behavior and it becomes increasingly clear that something terrible happened to her that night.
Paul Treadaway (Control) and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) give fantastic performances as our young couple. This is first film for director/writer Leigh Janiak and she already shows immense talent. Much like Jeremy Sauliner (Blue Ruin) and James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) she is part of a new generation of young film makers who are making deeply personal genre films that are breathing new life into independent cinema.
Leigh Janiaks life long passion for film started with The Goonies a film she has seen "a thousand times." At an early age she was making backyard films using her parents VHS camcorder. She attended NYU where she focused on creative writing and comparative religion. After working on numerous short films and experimenting with Super 16 and old-school Moviola editing, she ultimately abandoned her PhD and moved to Los Angeles to pursue film full time. In Los Angeles, Leigh worked at Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way, and at Misher Films in both development and production. Leigh and her writing partner, Phil Graziadei, met as undergraduates at NYU. They’ve been friends for over a decade and writing partners since 2005. They’ve written numerous feature films together.
Leigh Janiak was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to sit down with me for a few minutes.
How are you holding up today?
I've got my coffee so I'm doing ok
What's it like to do all these interviews back to back? It has to feel like speed dating?
(laughs) It's good. I like it. Its crazy. But sometimes it hard to keep track of what I'm saying. I'll be answering a question and halfway through I'll lose track because...
We keep asking you the same questions
Yeah and you sort of forget where you are in the answer
I'll apologize in advance for not having an original take on the question and answer thing.
You'll do fine
How long did the screenplay take to write?
I think we started working on it... We saw Monsters which I think was the end of 2010 or the beginning of 2011 and that's kind of what like jarred us into... why aren't we just making a movie here? It was like, how many years are we just going to write scripts and to what end will that bring us? When I knew that I didn't want to be very old when someone let me be behind the camera. I think that we started writing Honeymoon mid 2011 and we ended up sending it to our producer by the end of 2011.
Yeah and his wife/producing partner came on board and it took about a year to secure financing. They raised it all through private equity. Which was very lucky for us. And then we shot the film in the spring of 2013. So it was pretty quick for indie in the grand scheme of things.
So then how much control did you have over the final cut of the film?
A Lot. I think that was the great thing about having private equity, you didn't have these foreign film financing entities or big corporations... I had the support of the producers. I shot a teaser where I laid out my vision for the film and I was able to execute that vision the whole way through and I feel really lucky for that.
There is a clear Invasion of the Body Snatchers influence in your film and while that film was focused on a small town your film is centered around a couple. Were you using the Body Snatchers story as a way to say something about marriage in same way they were making a film about the cold war?
The Body Snatchers trope... its a film that seems to be made every ten years. We were doing a very intimate Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie. If you look at those movies over time, they're dealing with some sort of social issue. In our case, it was dealing with personal identity. Being in a relationship and knowing who you are. Look at Twitter, this giant hive mind which is awesome and terrifying. I think that's where the renewed interest in body horror is coming from. It's becoming this: What does is mean to be human. But no I wasn't trying to say anything about marriage. People keep asking me about that (laughs) I'm not married but don't hate the idea of it or anything.
Kind of going back to where it started. You have mentioned Spielberg or specifically The Goonies being a direct inspiration for you getting into film making. I couldn't imagine the audacity of a child looking at The Goonies and saying "yeah I could do that."
And I know that Monsters was the one that kicked your ass in gear. Was there a film that made you think "yeah I could do that?"
The time I really wanted to be a film maker... and I know this is silly and cliche but I think I was most motivated or inspired by... I was 13 when Pulp Fiction came out and it was so different. I went to the theater by myself in suburbia and it was amazing, it was telling all these different stories, so yeah Tarantino and Danny Boyle and all of those mid-90's film makers... I think that was the beginning of the modern heyday of indie film and that certainly made me feel like I can do this or I should try to do this
Sorry to jump all over the place
The score for your film was done by Heather Mcintosh
She also did the score for Compliance a soundtrack that I personally loved. Did you seek her out? Or had you seen Compliance before working with her?
I saw Compliance while we were still financing and I just thought that her score was awesome it gave the film... well you can't judge what a film would have been like without its score but with that score it was certainly elevated and tonally just made it so uncomfortable and perfect. Heather is just amazingly talented, so yeah I sought her out and was really really pleased and excited when she came on board. We talked about Johnny Greenwood and kind of making it that unease or creeping under the skin of the audience so it wasn't like hitting them over the head with it.
And her work certainly fits in with your small intimate storytelling especially with Compliance being such a small intimate film.
Yeah she was awesome
Although now that I've said that out loud I'm not sure "intimate" is the right word to describe Compliance
(Laughs) Yeah it was very intimate. Quite romantic. When were dropping in temp score it took awhile to find those things that ended up working and Heather just nailed it right away. She found that right balance, it was ominous without being too on the nose.
So, what are you working on next?
My writing partner and I just finished with a pilot and its a limited series, 10 episodes and while we are trying to get that setup somewhere we are working on new feature ideas.
Do you think you will stick with genre pictures?
I consider myself more of a scifi person more than a horror person so generally all the material I gravitate towards has a science fiction element and I think the horror will come. It's funny as I'm saying this the pilot we are working is more of a thriller and for sure has more horror elements than science fiction. So who knows?
Thank you so much for doing this, it was really nice to meet you.
You too, have a great day