Six strangers wake up in the same room and are forced to take part in an experiment where only one will survive. They have two hours to make their decision as a group in The Eyes, a new suspense thriller from director Robbie Bryan. With The Eyes now playing in select theaters, we had a chance to catch up with Bryan for our latest Q&A feature to discuss the movie's incredible journey to getting made, the "visual ballet" of the movie's most challenging scene, and much more.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Robbie. What made you want to bring this screenplay by Robert T. Roe’s to life on the big screen?
Robbie Bryan: It was back in early 2014. I had been trying to put together this feature film called Black Hat, which is a sort of Little Miss Sunshine set in the world of anime and cosplay. It was a bigger budget for an indie company, and we were struggling to get financing. At the time, it had over 200,000 Facebook fans (now over 700,000), but it was still stalled. I felt stale creatively and wanted to get behind the camera again, so I went to a friend, Daniel Wulkan, who helped produce my feature iMurders, and said, “Why don’t we find two more people, pool some money together, and try to make something?” I felt that for a small budgeted film, a psychological thriller, very self-contained, would be a wise move for selling purposes.
I usually write our in-house projects, but I really wanted something that was already developed, so I went to the writer’s site INKTIP.com and scoured the loglines and treatments. Actually, my assistant, Jessica, kind of narrowed them down. Then I read about ten or twelve screenplays including Bob’s, which originally was called Secret Killers. What drew me to it was… well, there was a lot. It hit on the notes I was looking for. One, self-contained, almost all in one room, so that was budget friendly. Two, there were appropriate roles for two of the actors who were supposed to help with the financing. But that’s for another day. Three, the challenge, as a director for me to try and make a one-room story be visually engaging, so it did not come off as a play, Four, I kept wanting to turn the page, and lastly, and mostly, an awesome ending.
Where did filming take place and what did those environments add aesthetically and atmospherically to your movie?
Robbie Bryan: A majority of the film, almost 95%, takes place in one warehouse/gallery type room in Brooklyn, NY. We were going to be shooting in NY because of the tax credit. But the issue was getting a warehouse that we controlled for almost a month. To get this in NYC would most likely prove expensive. If we went outside the city, it would be cheaper, but then we would have to house cast and crew and work with SAG (Screen Actors Guild) guidelines, which would be cost prohibitive. And, of course, the choice of aesthetics. I didn’t want it to be a big, dirty warehouse, a la Reservoir Dogs. I wanted something smaller and cleaner, as this is supposed to be a governmental-type facility.
We finally found this place in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn with this awesome catwalk that worked perfectly, and we were able to work out a reasonable deal. Since there is so little of the film that takes place outside of that room, we wanted to contrast that with the opening shots, shot in New Rochelle and Rye, NY, with a beautiful opening including fall foliage, to show that we went from a nice normal existence to a sterile, prison-like vibe.
What was the shooting schedule like for The Eyes?
Robbie Bryan: That is interesting in itself. So, in the fall of 2014, my Director of Photography Dave Knox and I shot all the drone footage and opening sequence kidnapper POV shots, and were casting and planning to shoot principal photography in January of 2015. Unfortunately, in December of 2014, I was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer, which had spread into two lymph nodes in my neck. I had to undergo intense chemo and radiation that lasted for nine weeks.
I finished treatment in late March 2015, and then had to wait three months for my PET scan to see if the cancer was gone. I was weak and down to 117 pounds, which I had not been since the 8th grade, but I vowed that if the PET was clean, we would shoot as soon as we could. It was, and in August of 2015, we started our 15-day schedule. Three five-day weeks. We shot all the flashback sequences the first two days, and then shot sequentially the whole story for 13 more days, day 1 being the first six or seven pages, day 2, pages 7-13, and so on. It was unique to most of us to shoot that way and I think it helped a lot in that the actors' relationships got to grow every day, just as the characters do in the real-time two hours that the movie portrays.
Do you have any favorite movie that influenced you while making The Eyes?
Robbie Bryan: This definitely has a Twelve Angry Men vibe, which is a great film, and also takes a little from Saw. But there is no question that Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock have influences in what you see on screen.
When you look back at your time on set, is there a particularly funny or memorable moment that stands out?
Robbie Bryan: I guess you can laugh at it now, although maybe not so much during filming, but we shot on a block where Mister Softee Ice Cream trucks would return after the day and park. The constant ringing of the classic music that emits while they drive broke up takes every day. So the sight of us having to stop finally and buy ice cream for the whole cast and crew so they would work with us and not against us was comical. Actually noise, including club raves (we shot mostly at night), and the sound of airplanes landing and taking off at nearby JFK airport, made getting clean takes a minor miracle throughout the shoot.
What was the most challenging or rewarding scene to film in The Eyes?
Robbie Bryan: Without a doubt, it was the six-minute no-cut, Steadicam shot that takes place about a third of the way into the film. Again, with the challenge of trying to make a visually interesting film in one room, the plan was to shoot the first half of the movie in interesting six seven-minute vignettes. So, we open with the drones. The next thing you see is the cast tied to a round table and we do a circular dolly around them as they begin to wake up, so we tried to put the audience in the same mind as these characters, dazed and confused at what they are encountering. But the Steadicam one-off was such a challenge, because again, it’s six minutes of literally one shot, with the camera moving in and out of the cast as they spoke—a sort of visual ballet.
So because it was one shot, for six minutes, the actors could not blow a line, because we’d have to stop and start over. There was no coverage. Same thing with camera. If our Steadicam operator Dave Kimmelman missed his mark, or our First AC Stephane Renard, (who did Moonlight after our film), did not pull focus correctly at any moment, it would ruin the take. We worked 12-hour days, and that day, we rehearsed with the actors and crew for six hours without filming anything. We broke for lunch, did one more rehearsal, and then shot it 15 times and picked the best overall take to put into the film. The actors were very nervous that day (we all were). But it worked out great and everyone did a wonderful job.
Is this a world you would consider returning to in a potential sequel?
Robbie Bryan: It’s funny you ask. But we do have it sort of set up as either a one off, or possibly sequel-based. I have the idea of how it would evolve. But at the end of the day, it’s up to the public to decide if a) they like it and b) if it warrants a second go-a-round.
With The Eyes now playing in theaters, what projects do you have on deck that you can tease, and where can our readers find you on social media?
Robbie Bryan: I always feel like a film is like a child, in that you have to rear and make sure it’s been given all the tools you can to go out into the world and succeed on its own. So I try not to take anything else on until I have done all I can for the film, and to honor the hard work of the cast and crew. But yes, now that it’s “off to college," I have a faith-based family film called Call Me Luke that Nick Turturro, (who is in The Eyes) and I are putting together, and Black Hat, which I mentioned at the top of the article, may have indeed gotten the big break it has needed. Down the road, there is a Goonies-esque feature, set in the 1930s, kids' adventure piece I hope to be able to make.
Thank you guys so very much for taking the time to talk about our film, and I hope everyone gets to see it in theaters, and if not, when it comes out to other outlets, which you will be able to find pretty easily, but unfortunately I cannot officially announce yet. Thanks again!
Note: Above photo courtesy of ©Good To Be Seen Films.