Had Elizabeth Olsen shot the purportedly one-take horror film “Silent House” as her first movie, she says she would have been scared off making films altogether. “I made a joke to my agent, ‘If this was the first film I had ever done, I don’t know if I could have done one again,'” Olsen told The Playlist. “It was too difficult — too draining and exhausting!” Luckily for the up-and-coming actress, she already had “Peace, Love And Misunderstanding” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” under her belt, so she knew that the unusual way “Silent House” was shot — “like doing a play, but over and over and over again” — was not the norm. Now she shares with The Playlist some of the secrets behind the making of this psychological thriller.
Was the film really shot in one continuous take?
Though the goal of “Silent House” was to appear as if no cuts were made — as if the film were one continuous camera shot — there are actually about a half dozen cuts made in the entire film. “The way we first scheduled our time was 13 shots to get done in 15 days,” Olsen said. “So we’d usually do like a 10-minute, 12-minute sequence over and over again, one day at a time. And if you’re filming the 12-minute climax of a movie for 12 hours — that’s not usually how movies are made!”
Ordinarily, Olsen loves long shots, but she’s had her fill of them for the time being. “The funny thing is, I’m a huge advocate for long shots in films,” she said. “They are my favorite things to watch, which is one of the reasons I’ve always loved Woody Allen, without even realizing it growing up. But doing something that is horrifying 12 hours a day, over and over again, was so difficult!”
Your character needs a helping hand — but not in that last shot.
The goal for each day of shooting was to get one or two possible takes that could be used for that scene. In any other film, parts from different takes could have been stitched together, but not in “Silent House,” she said. “They tried to keep the integrity of these really long shots, and not make up any other stitching,” Olsen said. “So if there was a mistake, everything else you’re giving 100 percent for would be completely unusable in the editing room.”
On the last day of shooting, since the film was shot in sequence, there had to be at least one good continuous take for the last scene. “The last shot was supposed to be on this photograph,” Olsen said. “We went through the entire scene, and it felt really good, like we finally got the shot we needed under our belt for the day. And then, right when the camera was panning to the picture — because someone had to put the picture there — you got a hand moving out of frame right when you went there.”
The actress said a “unified sigh” went through the house from everyone watching the shot on a monitor. “Everyone went, ‘Aw!’ all at once,” she said. “It was just like, ‘Really?!’ That was the most heartbreaking of all the mistakes that happened.”
If you hear noises upstairs, is there really someone else in the house?
Olsen’s character’s fears at first stem from hearing noises she can’t account for. Is that someone upstairs? Or is it her father or uncle, who are also in the house? “You always have these fears as a little kid, especially when you try to convince your parents to leave you alone in the house for the first time,” she said. “You’ll be like, ‘I’m fine. I’m a big kid now. I’ll be fine.’ And then once they’re gone for five minutes, all you can think about is, ‘What was that?’ and ‘Where’s the baseball bat?'”
But while her character, Sarah, is frightened at the prospect of unannounced company, Olsen welcomed it — especially because it lightened her load. “I’m in every frame of the film, so the day when there were other actors on set, I was like, ‘This is the best day ever!'” she said. ” I like working with people and obviously the crew was awesome, so I was not completely alone in the house. But it’s hard not being in a movie with an ensemble.”
Olsen wants blood on her hands.
Some of the mysterious characters Sarah encounters are a supposed childhood friend whom she can’t remember named Sophia; a man who appears to be stalking her and her relatives; and a little girl whom she occasionally glimpses. At first it’s not clear whether some of them actually exist, or even whether Sarah is a victim or a victimizer — or both.
“I like the suspense of that,” Olsen said. “The tension, and the nail-biting. It’s funny, because Martha [in ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’] is so repressed — well, not repressed, but everything’s under the surface; where Sarah just has so much out-in-the-open, scared-for-your-life kind of pain, which was exhausting, but good.”
Next time, however, Olsen says she would like to delve a little deeper in any murdering or attacking on screen. “I would love to play a killer,” she confessed.
Olsen cried so much she made herself sick.
Most of how Sarah expresses her pain on screen is by crying, so Olsen had to get her waterworks going, and keep them going all day long — which had some unintended effects on her well-being. First, she said, “I became super sensitive in my everyday life. If someone said something that was even slightly offensive, I would start crying. I couldn’t do anything else.” That taught her a lot about what kind of temperament she needed to bring to the set, “because you can’t be too sensitive. Even if you’re on such a heightened existence when you’re filming, you have to be able to shift back down and be fine.”
The second side effect of non-stop tears? She got sick. “Snot comes before tears for me, for some reason,” Olsen laughed. “So I got a sinus infection the last week of shooting. I gave myself a sinus infection — that’s dedication!”
“Silent House” opens on March 9th. You can read our review of the film right here.