Whether you're afraid of the water or not, finding yourself trapped beneath a pool cover might fall into your "worst nightmare" category, and that's exactly what two sisters face in 12 Feet Deep, the new thriller from Matt Eskandari. With the swimming pool-set film out now from MarVista Entertainment, we caught up with director and co-writer Matt Eskandari for our latest Q&A feature to discuss working with Tobin Bell (Jigsaw from the Saw movies), the challenges of filming underwater, and much more.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Matt. How and when did you and Michael Hultquist first come up with the idea for 12 Feet Deep?

Matt Eskandari: I'm still ashamed to admit it, but even as a grown man, I still cannot swim. I have extreme anxiety around large public pools. The smell of chlorine and the loud reverberated sounds inside get me on edge. It was a bit of tapping into that instinctual fear and an amalgamation of a couple different events Michael and I came across while researching the film. Suffice it to say, yes, people have gotten stuck in pools before and under a cover. Usually drunk or very unexpected tragic accidents, but it has happened.

What made Nora-Jane Noone and Alexandra Park the right fit to play sisters Bree and Jonna, respectively?

Matt Eskandari: First off, they were very comfortable in the water and the strenuous physical aspect of the film. There was also a natural chemistry between them. It was funny, they had only spent a few times together rehearsing before we got to shooting, but it was amazing watching their bond deepen as the film progressed. I honestly feel like the stressful conditions of the shoot bonded them for life. On screen, I can sense a genuine sisterly care and love emanating between them. It really shows in the film and I've had audiences message me to say they really felt that bond and the anguish they showed on screen. It was the first thing they thought of when they went swimming in a pool after seeing the film. I couldn't have asked for a bigger compliment than to create something that sticks with you.

With a lot of the movie following the sisters as they’re trapped under the fiberglass cover of an indoor pool, how did you go about filming those scenes in that claustrophobic environment?

Matt Eskandari: Filming this story was a complex artistic and logistical puzzle. Not many people realize just being in the water for the entire duration of the shoot with such a tiny micro budget is a near-impossible task as an indie filmmaker. Not to mention, I gave myself the added challenge of giving the film a unique visual look. I didn't want the entire film to be a handheld camera floating next to the actors like so many of these types of "water-based" films are. It was about creating a visual arc that slowly became more and more claustrophobic as the story progressed. We started off gliding above the waterline and as the story unfolded we dipped lower into the water and pushed in tighter to the point where the audience could barely breath. It is very intentional, but at the same time a tricky balancing act to maintain. I wanted to experiment to see how far I could go.

Were you influenced or inspired by any other water-based thrillers?

Matt Eskandari: No question about it. My favorites of that sub-genre are The Abyss and Open Water. I also went back and studied all the classic self-contained thrillers like Phone Booth, Buried, Frozen, and even Hitchcock classics like Lifeboat and Rope. At the same time, I didn't want to just follow the same things previous films in the genre had done. It would have been easy to manufacture constant "thrills," but the challenge was to keep the story about the characters and their internal journey. The film was more about redemption and facing the "monsters" we have inside us.

The girls literally could have broken out of the pool in the first 20 minutes, if they had worked together and listened to one another, but that wouldn't have been a movie. Instead, we need to see Jonna grow into the person who can conquer her monsters. She is literally named after the character in the Old Testament who is trapped in the belly of the whale. The symbolism was pretty strong, but sometimes you have to be to get a message across.

What was it like working with Tobin Bell, known to many horror fans as Jigsaw from the Saw films?

Matt Eskandari: Tobin was a real pleasure to work with both personally and professionally. What I really loved about bringing him on was it was just a brilliant casting choice for the role. I got to play against the audiences' expectations for him as an actor. Whenever you cast a character, part of your job as a director is to look at the actor's body of work. What are they known for? What characters do audiences recognize him from? What can I do to subvert those audiences' expectations of that actor in this story? All of those questions are a huge part of the creative process.

What was the most challenging or rewarding scene to shoot?

Matt Eskandari: The entire movie was challenging, so it is so hard to pick a single moment. I think the actual underwater shooting was the hardest. We had around 10-12 pages to do and so little time to shoot it. We had scuba gear, complicated stunts, body doubles, practical effects, and literally could make zero mistakes. So much of what we see on screen is first or second takes because of the limited resources for going back underwater and doing it again.

When you look back at your time on set, is there a favorite or funny moment in particular that stands out?

Matt Eskandari: Tobin Bell in a speedo doing laps in the pool. Enough said.

With 12 Feet Deep out now on VOD platforms, what projects do you have on deck that you can tease?

Matt Eskandari: I have a few scripts I'm finishing up now that I would love to see get made. I wish I could tease more, but there is no way to know what will actually come next. The indie film world is a daily grind and hustle to get projects made. Whatever it is, I know I will challenge myself again as a filmmaker and continue to grow as a storyteller.


Below, we have the official trailer for 12 Feet Deep, as well as two alternate posters for the film and several behind-the-scenes images.

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.