What if you didn't stop playing make-believe when you became an adult? What if your life and sanity relied on playing by a strict set of rules established in the imaginative days of your childhood—a set of rules that have become more malicious with the passing of time? That's the trippy predicament three young women experience in Braid, a psychological mouse trap of a movie brimming with stunning aesthetics, powerful performances, and a fearless creative vision from writer/director Mitzi Peirone. With Braid out now on VOD platforms from Blue Fox Entertainment, Daily Dead had the great pleasure of catching up with Peirone in our latest Q&A feature to discuss the ambitious making of one of the most memorable movies released thus far this year.
Congratulations on Braid, Mitzi! It’s a heart-wrenching, mind-melting, visual feast of a movie. How and when did you come up with the idea for this film?
Mitzi Peirone: Thank you so much, I’m very glad you enjoyed the film. The idea for it came to me in a pretty dark time of my life in which I had found myself unemployed and without legal working papers after leaving my home in Italy to pursue acting in New York. I was 22 and I had gotten cut out of a film deal I was supposed to star in after a year and half that I was relentlessly working on. Meanwhile, my modeling agency had lost my visa, so if I had left the country I wouldn’t have been able to get back in. I didn’t want to give up on my dreams and go back home, but I also had nowhere to go and nothing to do in the States.
In this existential rock bottom moment I gave myself time to think about what was happening and why. I started reflecting upon reality and dissecting it. What separates reality from dreams? And what if the answer was nothing? Why do we care so much and agonize, dread, long for, and even love this torrent of information our senses perceive to be real? Our senses deceive us! We can see the sun rising from east to west, but the sun does not move. Color blind people see reality differently, but that does not make their perception less valid. Our memories are often unreliable. Our senses, and most importantly our thoughts, shape the reality around us constantly, according to what we want to see. Things aren’t as they seem, they are as we are.
I came to understand reality as an extension of our own thoughts, a grand and elaborate facade, fruit of a collective lucid dream we all partake in, just like kids playing make-believe. We set rules for our daily games. Our dreams and passions as children can turn into life-changing careers, we invent our own demons, and we all abide to regulations and directions of life which were imposed on us by invented institutions. In a way, everything in reality is made up: names, jobs, laws, ideologies, geographical borders, even time. We are indeed mere players on a stage, ("All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts").
We all do play many parts. Luigi Pirandello, a 20th century Italian novelist and playwright, also influenced my life tremendously with his idea of existential relativity, how we all change personalities and identities according to the situation, or whom we are sharing the stage with or what we need; in his philosophy this existential relativism turns into nihilism in a way that if we play infinite parts, then who are we really? We are “One, No One, One Hundred Thousand”.
And so if our lives are a brief dream in the shadow of someone’s mind, an elaborate illusion, then imagination is the key to it all. I started thinking about how kids inherently and instinctively play dress up, and wondered why we stop playing make-believe while transitioning into adulthood: and so I created this strange picture in my head of adults playing make-believe as a satire to the philosophical manifesto I was weaving for myself. I began visualizing this single location story about a group of people escaping their daily life to go to some kind of intensive make-believe workshop, a rehab for broken dreamers, for anyone who was feeling like an unfulfilled misfit in the regular world and needed to play a different part just for a little, so to alleviate the burden of the ordinary and be something else, someone else, surrounded by like- minded others that—like improv—would only say "yes." Always. To whatever bizarre concoction your mind could have created. But what happened if you got stuck in these games of make-believe? Just like we get stuck in certain roles and habits and beliefs in our real lives. In a symbolic way, Braid is a Chinese box, a play within the play that despite its oddity ends up teaching something about reality; how we all play parts and subscribe to ideologies and do all kinds things to obtain what we want, to validate ourselves into existence; but this is also a cautionary tale—do not become a martyr of your own dreams, your procrastinations, your anxieties, your mental fabrications because they do have power, and they can build walls around your mind that you may never get out of.
The decaying mansion in Braid becomes a character unto itself and feels like something you would find in an even more demented version of Alice in Wonderland. Where did filming take place, and how many days was your shooting schedule?
Mitzi Peirone: I always wanted the house to be treated in an anthropomorphic manner. It needed to become like you said, a character in the storyline. To me, the house represents the psychological traps we let ourselves fall into when we are subconsciously seeking emotional safety rather than an actual progress or self improvement—how easier it is to stay at home where you’re safe, to stick to the job you hate, the toxic relationship, the mainstream art, the preconceived patterns of fear and doubt you build for yourself so that you can avoid taking a chance. Risking things and facing the unknown in order to achieve fulfillment is terrifying. What if you failed? So, to my eyes the characters in Braid aren’t looking for financial security so that they can chase their dreams, but rather they are looking for an excuse to not face the fact that they might not be as extraordinary as they think they are. The game they play offers them a structure, a sense of safety that although may be flawed is at least certain. So the house had to be this grand, macabre, isolating, maddening, and claustrophobic space, reflecting the kaleidoscopic, rotting minds of the characters, wandering in the darkest corners of their own minds and getting lost in them. The house is this imaginary deadly embrace that has build literal walls around the characters’ minds—a poisonous nest.
The mansion is located in Yonkers, NY, and it’s called Alder Manor. We shot for five weeks and by the end of production we had a walkie channel (number 13) for ghost stories, since it appeared that cast and crew members were starting to hear and see things, such as babies crying in the empty pool on the second floor of the house where we shot the murder scene.
Madeline Brewer, Imogen Waterhouse, and Sarah Hay are a phenomenal trio. How did you and Matthew Glasner find each of them in the casting process, and what made them the perfect fits for these roles?
Mitzi Peirone: They were absolutely perfect and so wonderfully complementary to one another. My producer Arielle Elwes showed me a picture of Imogen and the second I saw her I knew she had the perfect Petula look, the expression of this all-or-nothing badass dreamer city girl—she put herself on tape and I hired her immediately after a two-hour-long Skype chat. Then the brilliant Matthew Glasner brought up Madeline Brewer and the second she attached I remember jumping out of my seat from sheer joy, because I knew how difficult Daphne could have been to play, and Maddie just had the perfect power and mastery to control the character.
Casting Tilda wasn’t as easy, because we needed someone to balance out the other two actresses, we needed the psychedelic trinity to be well-measured. And I always thought of Tilda as a redhead, so that also narrowed our search. When Matthew told me Sarah was interested, I was honestly a little intimidated to be meeting her, because she is this powerhouse, fearless ballet dancer turned Golden Globe nominee, I mean come on. But we clicked instantly. It was as if we had known each other in past lives, and I felt that way with all three girls. It was magical and otherworldly. And they are all so smart and kind and deep, they are such gems of humans and artists.
The visuals in Braid are simply stunning. You find so many ways to display the striking beauty, rotting core, and vast loneliness of the Peters mansion. How did you collaborate with cinematographer Todd Banhazl and production designer Annie Simeone to create this movie’s palpable aesthetic?
Mitzi Peirone: Todd’s first words to me ever, as a complete stranger were: “I’m going to shoot your movie like Caravaggio on LSD.” That pretty much did it for me. At our first meeting we dove into this monstrous, marvelous rabbit hole of freely associating philosophy quotes and paintings, sharing personal stories and views of the world, of history, psychology, of art, of what the meaning of it all was. Todd became one of my dearest friends and so did Annie and Amit Gajwani, our fabulous costume designer. I think the bonding power of sharing an artistic experience is mind-bending, to be honest. It’s you and a bunch of total strangers at first that by solely joining forces mentally on one single paper dream, you become a family with a shared vision, a collective identity. That’s insane! We all built a bible-size vision book for the whole movie, mapping out every single shot, basing it often on a painting or a sculpture or a drawing I had made for a specific scene. It was a war plan.
We had certain aesthetic missions to accomplish, such as representing the girls in beautified visual triptychs (the empty grave, the candy tea party, the bathtub) We wanted to show the girls as religious iconography subjects, often surrounded by halos that were created through lighting or production design; we wanted to portray their visions of themselves in the house in a decadent Renaissance look. We named it “Offensively Baroque,” obtained through really wide anamorphic lenses, whilst portraying the outside world through spherical lenses, giving it a dirtier, more mundane look. The PCP scene was shot by creating an infrared lomochrome look for the deeper, more cathartic and eye-watering hallucinatory visuals, while using black and white for moments of stark, shocking truth, stripped of all its decorative, self-glorifying hues. As the movie progresses, the camera loses its mind with the characters’ mental decay, becoming an unreliable narrator, equally flabbergasted and seduced by the schizophrenic poetry of the film’s psyche, getting completely lost and hypnotized by its ever-changing moods and motives.
Were you influenced or inspired by any other films, TV shows, or books while making Braid?
Mitzi Peirone: Books, mostly: No Exit by Sartre and The Doors of Perception by Huxley. Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, bits of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and As You Like It. But also tons of Italian opera and Greek mythology. The Dreamers by Bertolucci, Requiem for a Dream, Donnie Darko, and A Clockwork Orange were some of my greatest film influences.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Mitzi Peirone: There’s two that come to mind. The first one was Day 1, 3rd scene: when we had all three girls together for the first time in the kitchen doing the physical exam scene: it was the very first day and nobody knew what to expect to be frank—the storyline was so blatantly out of the ordinary, I was a first-time feature film director, etc.—but as we watched them play, I started noticing a giddy and twisted look on the crew’s face. It felt fun, enthralling, and liberating to be making something so uncompromisingly weird and unique. Several crew members told me they had rediscovered
their pleasure in making movies by being on the Braid set, and that was honestly one of the greatest things I could have ever been told.
The second one was when we sunk the police car in the black water pond. We did it right when the sun was setting, and we did it in one single take, without rehearsals, unfortunately, because we landed the location at the absolute last minute, so we weren’t even completely sure the car
would have gone down all the way; and we had put the other camera inside the car in a glass box to speed up the process, since we could not afford to do re-shoots or even another take because we were losing daylight fast, and we also couldn’t afford another day on that location or the stunt car itself. It was a do-or-die moment, and it was the most sublime vision: it felt like the car was being swallowed by some dark liquid inferno below us. It was so glorious and perfectly timed that the whole crew bursted into an applause and roared after we called "cut."
What do you hope viewers take away from Braid?
Mitzi Peirone: From a thematic and sensorial standpoint, what I hope they walk away with is a warped perception of reality and how easily it can blend with fantasy, how much of our dreams leak into our waking life, and what it feels like to not be able to separate the two. For the deeper viewer, I think the message I’m conveying is to not let your mind games trap you, by not letting you live the life you wish for: anxiety, fears, paranoia, self-doubt, procrastination, any form of psychological entrapment is what the house and the game represent, it’s all made up in our heads. We get used to it, but it takes a toll on us every day, robs us of our energy, and most importantly of our precious time, and by the time we’re done playing, it may be too late.
Braid ends on a shocking twist. Did you always know how this film was going to end, or did you come to that conclusion while writing it and exploring the damaged lives of these characters?
Mitzi Peirone: I had the beginning and the ending planned out from the start. I was thinking about the Hero’s Journey, how it’s shaped like a perfect circle, but human lives aren’t as easily resolved: our demons don’t expire at sunrise after a long nightmare-fueled night. We wake up still fighting our psychosis, our addictions, our issues, some days falling, others climbing, yet inevitably spiraling over and over. I thought about how much we become our own habits and how illusive our sense of time is, and I wanted to give the story a cautionary tale twist in the end, a memento mori warning as the final message.
With Braid now on VOD platforms from Blue Fox Entertainment, do you have any other projects coming up that you’re excited about? Where can readers go online to keep up to date on your work?
Mitzi Peirone: I’m working on my second feature now. It’s a sci-fi thriller set about 150 years in the future where technology has been concentrated into a single chip installed in the back of people’s heads through which they can control anything from directions to their own chemical imbalance. When a routine update backfires everyone’s chips, wiping out most of humanity, five strangers miraculously survive and try to stay alive in the post-apocalyptic world, until they begin to realize that they were not saved at all or by chance… starring Bella Thorne. Readers can stay up to date with my Facebook and Instagram page @mitzipeirone.