In his psychological indie thriller Beneath, director Ben Ketai takes us deep into a collapsed coal mine where a trapped group of miners, led by iconic genre actor Jeff Fahey, struggle with both their sanity and their ability to survive their horrific state intact.
With Beneath currently available on VOD platforms and hitting theaters on July 25th, Daily Dead recently chatted with both Ketai and Fahey about their experiences collaborating on the award-winning project and here’s what the duo had to say about Beneath during our interview earlier this week.
Thanks for chatting with me today- the movie was really intense and I very much enjoyed the performances as well. What was about this story that attracted the both of you to it before you came on board Beneath?
Ben Ketai: Thanks so much! I came onto the project pretty late in the process actually. The writers Patrick (Doody) and Chris (Valenziano) had done a ton of research into this world and I thought what they had written in the script was very compelling.
Jeff Fahey: I think for me, I’ve done a lot of genre movies, but I always prefer the stories that have that psychological element to them more than anything else. I’m a big fan of films where it’s more about the character changes and I really enjoyed how Beneath twisted all of these elements together.
A few of my mom’s brothers and my grandfather were coal miners years ago and I do think Beneath definitely has a great sense authenticity to it. How did you guys pull off such an ambitious shoot without having huge resources (like the studios do) to fall back on?
Ben Ketai: Thank you for saying that because one of the biggest reasons Beneath works so well is because of our amazing production designer Michael Barton. That was our biggest challenge on this film because we couldn’t afford to fly everyone to the East Coast and try and shoot inside an actual mine. Everything you see is on a sound stage right in Los Angeles and it was Michael’s work, as well as our great DP Tim Burton- not that one though (laughs)- who really were the ones who made Beneath come together and feel like these characters really were trapped deep inside a mine somewhere with no chance of escape.
The amount of detail though that went into the sets though was really incredible- Mike did all this research on types of soil and rock textures too which he used when he was texturizing and then painting everything on set. There is just so much detail in this movie that I don’t think a lot of people realize how much thought Mike put into it. We also had a coal miner from Pennsylvania come out and meet with everyone before we started shooting because it was important to me that everyone’s reactions to what was happening to them felt truly how someone actually trapped in a mine might respond to that situation.
Something else that I really enjoyed about Beneath were the performances- Jeff, you and Kelly (Noonan) were really lovely together. Did you guys get a lot of time in pre-production to get to know each other and build that rapport?
Jeff Fahey: We didn’t get a ton of time, actually. I think what you saw was the result of a group of people who genuinely all liked each other and really enjoyed working together. Everyone really got into their roles and because of how we were shooting, when you spend long hours every day in that kind of an environment with a group of people where we are all just covered in dirt and sweat and really tired, you tend to bond together through that experience.
And Kelly was wonderful to work with. I think the very first scene we shot together was the kitchen scene and that was just such a nice way to start things off I think. Certainly, much gentler than when we get trapped in the mines (laughs). But I liked the conflict between their characters because it was still rooted in love which I think made their relationship all the more special.
Ben Ketai: Pre-production for Beneath was pretty quick overall so I don’t think any of us had a ton of time for anything. But one thing that was important to me was to meet with everyone and just go over these characters and relationships because they had to work onscreen or Beneath never would have worked as a movie. It was also important to me that everyone had some kind of agency over their characters too; I didn’t want to just tell them how to act, I wanted them to think about what they’d do if they were in the same situation as their character and I think that allowed the whole cast to bring some of their own personalities into the mix which was great.