We are very excited to announce that Revelator-produced short film “The Eternal”, directed by frequent Revelator collaborator Daniel Stuyck, is now available to view on Fandor.
“The Eternal”, which premiered at Fantastic Fest, is an existential ghost story about a pizza delivery driver who receives a cryptic transmission from beyond the grave, imploring her for help. Help only she can provide. The film was made with support from Fandor’s FIXShorts Program, as well as a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Along with being a talented director, Daniel Stuyck also works as a professional colorist/title designer, and is an all-around stand-up guy. We talked to Dan about the unique look and tone of “The Eternal,” and where he finds inspiration for his work. Take a look below and then check out the film for yourself here.
Q&A with Director Daniel Stuyck:
Q: Seems like there aren’t as many “ghost stories” around anymore. Why did you want to make one… especially a Krautrock ghost story??
A: Yes, so krautrock ghost story. I am a big fan of this BBC series of adaptations of early Gothic writers, like Sheridan le Fanu and M.R. James, called Ghost Stories for Christmas. There are some really fantastic ones worth seeking out — especially Schalcken the Painter and Whistle & I’ll Come to You.
They’re not really terrifying but they have a huge sense of mood and existential dread to them, and there’s a minimalism to the writing that’s brilliant. They’re basically TV plays so every location is maximized because they don’t have the money to shoot in 20 locations in their 5 or 6 day shooting schedule. And they don’t have a budget for elaborate gore effects and pyrotechnics, either, so there are all these really inventive workarounds the filmmakers come up with. This is also true of Val Lewton & the horror films he made at RKO, which I’m a big fan of (I Walked with a Zombie and The Seventh Victim being two standouts). All that was an influence on the way I thought about The Eternal.
And ghost stories are great because give-or-take 95% of great art is about death. That and mortality, which is the same thing. And genre is nothing more than a type of shorthand, which lets you bore into the viewer’s cerebrum really quickly and effectively. You get to interesting thematic places very fast, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time setting things up, which you would have to do in a more conventional drama. Ghost transmissions are a lot more interesting than I went and found those long-lost letters in grannie’s attic about this love affair 70 years ago in the Belgian Congo, et al.
Q: And the Krautrock?
A: And krautrock, well… Bands like Can or Neu! or Cluster or Kraftwerk or Amon Düül or the producer Conny Plank — they’ve meant a lot to me, just as a music listener. And there’s obviously their sound — it’s thick, you might call is spacey, it’s very trance-y. It’s minimalist and repetitive (Can had two members who’d studied under Stockhausen, so they have their modernist music bonafides). There’s an adventurousness to the music, this feeling that everything is up for grabs and anything is possible. It opens up a lot of possibilities.
There are a lot of driving metaphors with the Germans, too. There’s the motorik, the drum beat that crops up in a whole lot of those bands that’s supposed to be based on driving on the Autobahn. Kraftwerk has a monster jam about that. And, so, it kinda made sense because there’s a lot of driving in this.
That’s a long answer. But I always think it’s interesting to take disparate parts and try to hot-wire them together. It might not always work but that’s the fun of it. There is a rare book dealer named John Jenkins (who was in this other film I made) who said it’s better to fail big than succeed modestly. I like that. He also burned down his own book store to claim the insurance money, the site is now the Adult Video Megaplexxx on I-35, so take with a grain of salt.
Q: Seems like this begs for black and white, but was there a time you considered color? Can you talk about how and E.J. approached the look?
A: No, never. It was always in B&W. There are a number of touchstone films we talked about — Radio On, Eyes without a Face, Alice in the Cities. It’s a rich, inky black and white, very textured.
We tried to beat up the image in a lot of places. There are parts filmed thru refracting filters that EJ was holding in front of the matte box while jostling the camera around. The ending scene is actually rephotographed off of a fancy monitor, then digitized and rephotographed, and then rephotographed a third time. So it looks funky, like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox, and it’s 100% appropriate for the visual tone of the movie.
It’s also really dark. I’m really caught up in that. Dark, but detailed, like when you wake up in the middle of the night, and think there might be someone breaking in. When you open your eyes, you can make out detail in the room. Not a lot, but enough to have a clear view. That was the kind of dark we were going after, a kind of liminal place.
And B&W is great in how it creates this kind of distance, or heightened reality, that is very expressive. It’s not exactly real, or not in how color is real. Color is a vacuum cleaner, it just sucks in all of the reality around the camera, the apparatus of production and everything. That’s difficult to work with. Whereas B&W keeps you a bit at arms length and creates this feeling that’s a little out of time, and that’s pretty essential for something like this where there’s a lot of fantastical stuff happening. I don’t think you could sell it in anything else but black and white.
Q: The film has a very unique tone. Very quiet and desolate, but with a dark sense of humor. Feels like some Raimi/Coen vibes in there? Anything influencing you when you were creating it?
A: Not really. Maybe it’s just me. Someone who really didn’t like the film called it a horror movie without anything scary in it. Which is an awesome description! The tone evolved gradually over time, though it was always meant to oscillate a little and have some sharp left turns. There’s a nervy energy to it. I also always said, to everyone, cast, crew, whomever, they should imagine this was set in West Berlin in 1978. And I made Grace — the actor playing Conway, the main character — listen to The Fall and Gang of Four as part of her prep. So maybe that explains it.
Q: Casting and actor performances are terrific. Performances are really grounded and sell the comedic and darker moments. Can you tell us a little bit about your approach with the actors?
A: I was lucky to have cast well. Just got great people across the board. Not to be too open about my failings but I don’t really see myself as an actor’s director. At least in I’m not good at giving the “one adjective” school of direction, that you’re told to do in film school. We went thru the script together and I think everyone realized how the tone fluctuates, and so once you’re on board with that, everything else falls into place. But I don’t do a ton of takes, I try my best to get great people and let them do their thing. I’m there for emotional support and the food.
Q: How did you get Fandor on-board?
A: Fandor, specifically Jonathan Marlow, who is a prince, has both distributed & championed the previous movies I’ve made for a good while now. And this came about as part of an experiment they tried to develop a number of shorts, something akin to original programming. And so I just smiled and nodded and hoped for the best.
Thanks again to Daniel for spending some time with us, and thanks to Fandor for sharing the film. Although we focus a lot of our attention on commercial production and brand content, Revelator is constantly looking to support the films of our directors and other filmmakers who are creating inspired and challenging work. We think that as a creative production company, we can always be finding new ways to tell stories, and can’t wait to share more exciting news about other Revelator films in the coming weeks!