Ramin Niami makes us question our relationship with technology through his new thriller/horror film Eye Without a Face. Seriously, I purchased a webcam cover for my laptop. I’d never Amazoned something so fast in life.
Eye Without a Face is about an agoraphobic young man (Dakota Shapiro), living with a Youtuber and struggling actor (Luke Cook), hacks the webcams of young women, and suspects that one of them is a serial killer.
Check out my interview with writer/director Ramin.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Ramin: I always loved movies. I’m one of those guys who used to skip classes and go and see movies. I also loved storytelling. When I was a kid, I used to write stories and tell them to anybody who would bite. So, I see filmmaking as a kind of storytelling but it was the magic of cinema that I was always dreaming of. So, after I finished school, I went to school in Iran, I went to film school to learn. And from then on I went to film school. I’m a filmmaker. Basically, I haven’t done anything else.
Where did this story come from?
Ramin: I never know. It’s really funny because when I’m writing something, I’m not trying to force it. Originally, I heard a story about a hacker and it really was disturbing that somebody in college was hacking all the girls’ computers. I have two daughters, one of them is the cinematographer (for this film), so that was quite disturbing. I’m also a big fan of classics. Rear Window is one of my favorite movies. So, I thought what if I make a kind of modern Rear Window, in a way, about a hacker who’s watching apartments, and then he thinks there’s crime or there was a murder or something strange is going on in one of the apartments? So, in a way, it was inspired by that. I tried to make the characters colorful. One thing I liked about Hitchcock is that he also has elements of comedy in his films, even in Rear Window. I wanted to have some humor in it, because I think those breaks are very good. Life is not just drama, we have even fun at the worst times so I like that sense of humor.
You mentioned your daughter was the cinematographer on this project, is this the first time that you two have collaborated?
Ramin: Tara was, like me, a film person. She always watched movies. She loves movies, and she started as a photographer. And then she went to AFI and she became a cinematographer. I think she’s very talented, I’m not just saying that, she’s one of those people that when she was a teenager she won major awards, went to Carnegie Hall in New York and was invited to Washington DC. So she is a fabulous photographer. And you always worry about working with your daughter. But it was a full collaboration and she wasn’t just the cinematographer. I was making a film about young people and especially about six women, so she contributed a lot towards their characters and she would say what kind of music they play’d or how they’d dress and what their rooms were going to look like. I wanted that fresh eye, and it worked out, we really were happy to work together. She was also involved in choosing the music. It was a good collaboration. Also, for me, it was something important that, because of the male gaze, I didn’t want just to be a man making a film. I wanted that balance.
What was it like working with Tara?
Ramin: I’m a very collaborative person. So, I hardly ever have a problem with the crew or my cast because I give them some direction, but it’s a balancing act. What we did was, when I’m making a low budget film, we storyboard everything in advance and we talk about what kind of look we want. We watch movies together and, for example, Tara was influenced a lot by Repulsion and Andrea Arnold’s Red Road. So, we were watching those classics and those new films and we came to an agreement and then we followed it. I think it’s important to establish that you are the director. I should mention that my set is always very quiet compared to others and on my sets everybody whispers. That’s what brings down the tension, everybody listens to each other and they talk in a quiet voice. That kind of atmosphere is really good for the crew and I think it’s very good for the cast because they can concentrate.
What was it like working with Dakota and Luke to create these really big characters while having this really creepy story around them?
Ramin: It was really a process that you understand the character and that’s what I mean by it being very important that is quiet on set, so they can develop their characters. Directing him (Dakota) was really like directing somebody in a play, you know, so I needed to give him space to be quiet and bring out his emotions. Luke was different because I wanted that contrast of Luke as a very colorful character. And I wrote Eric for a British person, I always wanted him to be a foreigner, someone who had just arrived in LA. (Luke) came and I loved his accent. In fact they both (Luke and Dakota) are Australian. My wife is also Australian, she’s the producer. But I loved (Luke’s) humor, his accent, and I knew, with his comedy scenes, I’d give him a few moments to improvise. The only problem was that sometimes, I could see the whole crew wanting to laugh out loud and they were controlling themselves because we never knew what we’d get from him. So I gave him that room. And I wanted Dakota to react to those things naturally because he didn’t know what he was going to say sometimes. So with Luke, it was like, ‘this scene is about this, this is what the dialogue is, but, you know, improvise.’ Luke was much more improvised and Dakota was much closer to the script. It was an interesting combination.
After watching this film I’m not going to lie, I became very paranoid and covered my webcam with tape.
Ramin: That was my intention. In fact, when I heard about this and I started reading, my first thought was of my daughters. Great psychological horror thrillers are the ones that you take with you afterwards. I mean, after you watch Psycho, you know, every time you go to a motel and take a shower, you are always worried about the curtain. So, it’s a serious thing. It’s not difficult to hack people’s computers or their cameras And the film, played on HBO Central in Eastern Europe and all the critics, everybody that saw it said the message is: put tape over your camera. And the title of the film, Eye Without a Face, is referring to the cameras. That’s what inspired the title and the poster, because is somebody really there? If you’re not aware of that, they can watch us.
So, after doing all the research and making the film, and, of course, being a father, do you have any advice for those of us that came away very paranoid about this topic?
Ramin: You have to be careful. I mean, technology is great, there’s no doubt about it. The Internet is great, but it has brought its own sickness. People who don’t communicate and sit in their room and just watch the internet, especially, you know, pornography, it does bring violence. I hope people get out more and they socialize more. It’s interesting because when I showed it to a female producer, she said that watching the film taught her that the life of young people who just sit in their room and don’t communicate with others is very sad. There is so much technology that they forget about that human connection. So I hope people go out more and more.
Is there anything else that you would like to add about Eye Without a Face?
Ramin: There’s a number of things that I like about it. One is the set. This was shot at my house because no one else would allow us to do that to their house. I want to thank Bryce Perrin, who helped in designing the set which was very important, and the music, of course, we’re very lucky to have Charlie Clouser (Nine Inch Nails member from 1994-2001). I sent the film to him… He really liked the film and did the core. I’m really honored to have such an incredible composer to do the music. With films, people somehow forget, apart from the story, that you really have to think about the art direction and creating a particular look. That all helps the storytelling and the characters.