“Look afraid! Like some psycho-killer girl is going to jump out at you from behind that shelf at any second! ”
Sounds simple enough, right? I thought so. I was deep in the gloomy stacks of Mugar Library at around midnight with my camera lens two inches from a friend’s face and that was all I asked for.
“Give me scared, surprised, frightened, anything!”
I believe by the third or fourth take, with my weak arms shaking from exhaustion, she finally gave me “a-bit-enthused.” Progress people, progress. I had already resigned myself to the reality that to make my horror movie remotely scary I was going to have to rely heavily on the oh-so-magical power of editing. But what was I expecting? I had asked my two roommates to be my lead actresses only ten minutes before the shoot. Those troopers! They didn’t know they’d signed on to work with a perfectionist.
My go-to phrase of the night: “That was SO close, let’s just try it ONE more time.”
Despite the groans of frustration, the late hour, and the endless takes, I just had to get one moment of believable-fear. I sputtered hopelessly in frustration as I tried to articulate the type of facial expression I wanted, a facial expression so ingrained into my psyche that words couldn’t seem to encapsulate it. I tried the usual things like, “Open your eyes wider, open your mouth a little, think scary thoughts!” Nothing seemed to work. I just couldn’t seem to describe a fearful expression in any sort of coherent way and they couldn’t fake such a primal emotion. It doesn’t matter which way someone twists the contours of their face, fear is in the eyes. Deep down. It slinks past the inky darkness of the pupil, down the rabbit hole of the mind and into the core of the soul, where it strikes like a venomous snake. The eyes widen, mouth opens… and there it is. The fleeting, fearful expression I was looking for all Wednesday night.
It was silly of me really- to think that I could ask for fear from them. The facial expression is just the reaction, the mask. I can explain the expression until I turn blue, but that’s not what I’m looking for. True fear is something else entirely. Of course, I knew that it was probably hopeless when I signed up for the endeavor of shooting a three-minute horror piece; but some part of me clung to the fantasy that I could coax it out of them. What they gave me was admirable, and I thank them whole-heartedly for having the patience to deal with the likes of me. This experience has taught me to appreciate The Greats- to truly appreciate the actors who can sell fear, because to sell fear is to embrace it with open arms. I don’t know how they do it, but thank God they exist.