Trouble does have a way of finding her…
One thing no one had seen in more than a decade was the incredible snowfall that hit Toronto just prior to the shoot.
Collet-Serra remembers, "When I first read the script, it was clearly a fall movie. There was a scene that happened at Halloween, the leaves were falling--that was the mood, and that's what we started prepping. We even filmed some exterior shots with cars driving by, the trees, all of that, to make sure we had it. And then one week before we started shooting, it just snowed. I think it was the worst winter in the last 30 years in Canada."
"When we got to Toronto, it had snowed. It was freezing cold," says Silver. "So we made it a winter movie--there's snow everywhere, you can see people's breath. I think it makes it much more claustrophobic, more confined."
"I think it was great luck," Collet-Serra declares. "That whole winter look--it's such a metaphor for isolation, and that's what we feel for Kate. She's completely isolated, fighting for her family, and that really comes across, whereas in the fall it would have been more melancholic, it wouldn't have been so harsh."
Recalling the obstacles of the sudden shift in the weather, Carmody says, "During the first weeks of our exterior shooting we were constantly slogging through two to three feet of snow; especially when it came to the sequences with the treehouse. Just getting equipment up there was grueling. We couldn't get lighting platforms up, we couldn't get cranes. The crew literally had to drag every piece of that in by hand. And we were shooting in a conservation area so we couldn't put nails in the trees; we had to band the trees and put everything on top of that. All of that at minus 20 degrees and in three feet of snow. And then of course we had to keep the snow pristine when we were shooting there, with 115 people tracking all over it. So it was definitely a challenge," he smiles.
The weather didn't deliver the only challenge on set. To capture the creepy tone required for the film, director Collet-Serra wanted a specific series of camera movements within the house, going from room to room and floor to floor. Carmody notes, "Rather than building each level of the house on a different platform, so that you're never more than several feet off the ground, they actually built a three-story house."
Of course, tension and claustrophobia were critical elements of the film as well. Most film sets are usually built on a larger scale than a normal room, so that the crew can move around inside. But the Coleman house was almost to scale, and also an open design with different angles and walls built for specific psychological purposes, or to hide some of the violence taking place. "We wanted a house that was open in order to get the sense that Esther could always be around the corner listening."
Jeff Cutter, the director of photography, lit the house with the same intention. "Jeff created pools of light so there was never a sense that you were able to see who was in the room; Esther could be there and the others not know it," says Collet-Serra. "He has a great storytelling sense and likes a very naturalistic lighting, and that was what I was looking for. I didn't want this to be a horror movie that was always backlit; it's too genre-like. I wanted it to feel real. I wanted it to feel moody. And he understood that."
The house was designed by production designer Tom Meyer who, Collet-Serra declares, "did an absolutely fantastic job. We wanted something that was modern with a mixture of warmth and cold. We found a house that was very stark--it had all this cement in it--and we brought in some warmth by using wood. We also built the greenhouse."
"The house hit what everybody needed," adds Downey. "John is an eco-architect, so the house was created in a way that appears green, that it was repurposing things. And the greenhouse plays into both the emotional and action beats in the story, so it was an amazing addition."
When it came to the interiors, most of which were built on a stage, the director had storyboarded a few of the sequences. "Tom basically built the layout of the house according to some of the shots that I wanted or I needed," says Collet-Serra.
Another important design element of the film was the costumes. Costume designer Antoinette Messam's biggest challenge was to design Esther's clothes. "Antoinette's costumes helped define the character," attests Collet-Serra. "Esther's silhouette is what makes her Esther--her ribbons, the traditional sort of Russian dresses that she had. They were a little old style, but at the same time they were not old themselves. They couldn't look so freaky that they appeared out of place, they just needed to look a bit odd, and I think she did a fantastic job."
"Things that look okay, things that look completely, excruciatingly normal, are normally things to stay away from," warns actor Peter Sarsgaard. "Even the way Esther looks--she looks like this neat, clean, perfect little girl--but of course she's rotten to the core."
That juxtaposition of old and new, contemporary and vintage, is also captured in the music, which is always a crucial component of a genre movie. The music was composed by Collet-Serra's "House of Wax" collaborator, John Ottman. "If I could do every movie with John, it would be an absolute pleasure," says Collet-Serra. "And of course Esther has her own theme. She sings and whistles the song 'Glory of Love' throughout the movie. So John brought those notes and elements into her theme, adding tension. Another main character, Kate, is a piano teacher, so John's idea was to create certain themes with her and her relationship with the family that we could then distort, so that the musical themes have an arc. John is very good at combining the emotional sensibility of a movie like this, which has a strong character, without losing the thriller aspect."
You're not going to tell on me, are you?
"I think that people would like to see this movie because it will scare them a lot," says Isabelle Fuhrman. "It'll make them think, 'Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, don't turn the corner, don't turn the corner, don't, don't, don't... Something's gonna happen!'"
"Tension and fear go hand-in-hand," says director Jaume Collet-Serra. "The horror aspect comes in with the brutal violence the family and others face in fighting this little girl, this enemy on the inside. I think that horror and psychological thriller are a good combination."
"It's a movie you want to see multiple times because there is so much you could have missed the first time," says producer Leonardo DiCaprio. "I'm proud of the film and everyone who helped bring it to the screen."
Producer Susan Downey states, "We were definitely trying to tap into a primal fear that people have about what they allow into their homes, or into their lives. And I think with the best intentions Kate and John open their home to Esther, and they get completely undermined by this girl. That's something that I think will get to people, that hopefully will create fear in viewers. But I think also that the mistakes these characters have made in their past come back to haunt them because they allow this girl to get in there and find out their darkest secrets. And everybody has a secret--Kate has secrets in her past, John has secrets in his. Even Max is being forced to keep secrets. Of course, Esther has the biggest secret of all."
Producer Joel Silver sums it up, "'Orphan' is a sophisticated movie that's also scary and thrilling and disturbing. It's not just an evil child movie, there's something much more insidious going on. It's going to keep audiences guessing, 'What is wrong with Esther?' And of course, we want them talking about it. But we hope they don't spoil the secret."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
JAUME COLLET-SERRA (Director) was born in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain in 1974. In the early 1990s, he moved from Barcelona to Los Angeles to attend film school at Columbia College. Soon after graduating, he began his career as an editor.
From there, Collet-Serra moved into directing music videos and then commercials for products such as PlayStation, Budweiser, MasterCard, Miller Lite, Pontiac, Smirnoff Ice, Renault, Verizon and 7-UP, working with such agencies as McCann-Erickson, J. Walter Thompson, BBDO, and TBWA\Chiat\Day.
Collet-Serra's stylized, surreal and often dark imagery quickly caught the eye of producer Joel Silver, who hired him to direct "House of Wax" in 2005. Then in 2007, Collet-Serra's love for soccer took him back to Spain to shoot "Goal II: Living the Dream."
DAVID LESLIE JOHNSON (Screenwriter) began his career as a production assistant on Frank Darabont's "The Shawshank Redemption," which was filmed on location in Johnson's hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, at the historic Mansfield Reformatory, where Johnson's great-grandfather had been a prison guard. Johnson spent the next five years as Darabont's assistant, using the opportunity to hone his craft as a screenwriter.
In 1999, Johnson wrote an adaptation of the classic "Doc Savage" pulp novels, and later worked with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee, adapting an original idea of Lee's into a two-hour teleplay. Johnson then wrote a four-hour miniseries sequel to John Carpenter's "The Thing," which brought him to the attention of Leonardo DiCaprio's producing shingle, Appian Way, for whom he wrote "Orphan."
Johnson developed an early interest in storytelling and began writing plays in the second grade. He later became interested in film and, at age 19, wrote his first screenplay. He attended The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Photography and Cinema.
He currently has several projects in development, most recently re-teaming with Appian Way to pen an epic horror/fantasy inspired by a classic fairy tale. Johnson's next project will be an adaptation of the Australian ghost story thriller "Lake Mungo."
ALEX MACE (Story) is a development executive at Leonardo Dicaprio's production company, Appian Way. Before he cut his hair and started to work in film, Mace was in a rock 'n' roll band. He is a UCLA graduate.