An Interview with Director David Lee Fisher
I have a question for you: What goes through your head when I say the words “German Expressionism?” For some of you, the answer will surely be films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Destiny, and The Last Laugh. For others, the answer might be something about the highly stylized “anti-Hollywood” films that came of Germany during and after World War One. But one director has another idea – Remix. Yes, you read that right, remix.
Early last week I had the pleasure of speaking with director David Lee Fisher about his latest project – a digital remix of the classic F.W Murnau film Nosferatu. It won’t be the director’s first time dabbling in the world of silent film and the magic of modern technology. In 2005 he completed his first “remixed” feature film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with famed creature actor, Doug Jones — and now the two are back with their next project, Nosferatu.
I would like to extend my gratitude to David Lee Fisher for taking the time to do this interview with us. David is also in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign for the film. Be sure to check what rewards and updates you can get from the project here.
CMH: You describe your films as ‘visual remixes.’ Can you explain this concept further?
DLF: My primary goal has always been to revisit these films in the closest way possible while also bringing both sound and enhancement for a modern audience. I view our work as almost companion pieces for people to discover the magic of the originals. The “remix” concept first came out of necessity, as when we made our first film we didn’t have the budget to recreate the sets. So instead we invented a process where we scanned and restored imagery from the original film, and then used it as digital backdrops to digitally layer modern day actors into. Doing this reminded me of remixing a song, where the source material is used to create something new while still retaining the melody of the original.
CMH:Your last film was a visual remix of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and you’re currently working on a remix of Nosferatu – both from the German Expressionist movement. Is there a particular reason why you feel drawn to “re-mix” this era of cinema?
DLF: I think for a couple reasons. I had a book about old movies when I was a kid, and I remember seeing images from the old German films of the era. I thought they looked like “motion paintings,” and fell in love with the aesthetic – just as someone would fall in love with a piece of art. Later I studied the use of expressionism in cinema, and thought the idea of literally painting the hopes, fears, and internal workings of both the characters and audience into the film’s world was an amazing idea.
CMH:From what I understand your professional background is in the video game industry. How did that prepare you for transitioning to the field of film?
DLF: I started my career in the “old days” of the Sega Genesis console. The games back then were very rudimentary, but they still required some kind of storyline or at least backstory to make sense interactively. After the advent of powerful graphics processing, the narrative features in games became very elaborate. I was fortunate to be a part of that transition because it gave me a good understanding of how stories are told from both their most basic building blocks to their most sophisticated elements.
CMH: How have the changes in technology effected how you approached this film compared to your previous visual remix of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which was released in 2006.
DLF: If you remember what your personal computer or cell phone was like ten years ago then you’ll have a good idea! Back when we shot Caligari you’d have to be George Lucas to even have access to an HD camera; now they fit in your pocket! Also, before we’d have to wait hours or days just to check our work, but now we can render in real-time; which not only lets the production move faster, but also gives us the creative freedom to reframe shots and modify things like lighting and shadows literally on the fly.
CMH: A project like this must take a tremendous amount of creative talent and technical skill. Who are some of the people on your team that make this vision a possibility?
DLF: We have a lot of amazing talent, most of whom also worked on Caligari. Paula Elins, who produced the last film, is also an accomplished Costume Designer who has worked on D’Jango, Rock of Ages, The Academy Awards and countless TV shows. Chris Duddy, our Cinematographer, started his career at Industrial Light & Magic, and went on to work on a lot of James Cameron’s movies such as The Abyss, True Lies, and Terminator 2. He also filmed the sinking sequence in Titanic.
CMH: Having seen two versions of Count Orlok in the past, where will Doug Jones’s portrayal fall? As sinister and villainous in the vein of Max Schreck’s Orlok in the 1922 F.W Murnau original or as the misunderstood outcast like the Klaus Kinski version in the 1979 Werner Herzog retelling?
DLF: Even though I really like Kinski’s portrayal, I’d definitely say more like Murnau’s original. One of the reasons I’ve always loved Shrek’s Orlok is that he’s more of a monster than contemporary vampire – almost alien in some ways. Instead of being calculating and strategic, he’s more of an elemental force of nature; like a tornado or earthquake. Both definitely destructive, but not necessarily evil. Orlok just is what he is, and does what he does.
Actor Doug Jones as Count Orlok
CHM: How will your version of Nosferatu differ from the previous Murnau and Herzog interpretations of the story?
DLF: Our new version will definitely be a deeper exploration of Murnau’s original themes of love, nature and sacrifice. Doug Jones has a funny story he tells. He says that in silent movies like Nosferatu, the actors will act extremely melodramatic – pulling at their hair, stomping around etc. for like three minutes, and then suddenly a title card pops up saying something like “more water please.” Doug says “I know they said something more than that!” I think that’s a good example because we’re going to really delve into the ideas that were nearly impossible to fully convey back then without sound and dialog.
CMH: Why did you decided on Kickstarter as your financial and marketing platform?
DLF: I really like the idea of being connected and collaborating directly with the fans and audience, and crowd-funding makes that possible. I believe the entire landscape of entertainment is changing rapidly, and unlike the not so distant days of the tightly closed studio system, now anyone can walk past the guard gate and be a part of making a film. It’s revolutionary actually!
I’d like to extend a Big Thank You to David for taking the time to talk with us. For fans interested in donating to the Kickstarter campaign for Nosferatu — The Feature-Film Remix, visit www.thevampirelives.com!
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub