With Apartment 1BR being released on DVD in Australia this week, I sat down to chat with one of the film’s producers, Alok Mishra.
Alok has spent the better part of 18 years working in film market research, where he’s tested both movies and trailers. He’s been employed by companies such as Nielsen NRG, OTX Research, IPSOS, and The Motion Picture Group. Alok has also worked very closely with many legendary filmmakers to help them improve their films, including Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, Tim Burton, and Darren Aronofsky, to name a few.
Firstly, can you tell us what it was like to release a film during a pandemic? It must have been quite an experience.
Well, for us, we were ready to release the movie — we had trailers and stuff ready to go — just before COVID hit. After that, we lost our theatrical release — we were supposed to open in about fifteen to twenty cities. We lost our premiere, and everything moved to doing a VOD. During this time, studios were being very cautious about releasing things, always pulling out and changing their minds, but a little film like ours didn’t disappear — we even hit the top five on iTunes in our first month in the US and Canada. We did so well on VOD that Netflix, who initially passed on us, came back and decided to take us for a certain amount of time in the US and Canada, and, of course, we said ‘yes.’
But this year seems like it’s been the year of the indies, especially horror because people have kind of decided to not release things, so there have been all these movies like The Wretched (2019), 1BR, and the movie Becky (2020) that have kind of been getting attention. It’s been an interesting year because people have been watching a lot of independents that normally wouldn’t get as much notice, so in that way, it’s been good.
When I saw the film last year, it was titled 1BR. Since then, I’ve noticed it’s changed to Apartment 1BR in Australia and in the UK, and it has a few different titles around the world. Can you tell us why you’ve done this?
Sure, the film’s title has been changed to Apartment 1BR in Australia — and the UK — because you guys don’t get the term 1BR, which is a real estate abbreviation in the States, which means ‘one bedroom.’ In Japan, it’s named Mad House; in Germany, it’s called The Apartment: Welcome to the Nightmare, so there’s been a few different titles. Basically, once we discovered that no one outside of the States knew what 1BR meant, we gave the foreign guys some freedom to call it whatever they wanted to call it, but we’ve tried to keep the title the same in English-speaking countries.
Nicole Brydon Bloom is perfectly cast as Sarah. Tell us what you were looking for when you were casting the character and how she got the part.
There’s a vulnerability to Sarah that Nicole has in spades — it’s in the eyes. Nicole can cry in eight different ways — and I’m not joking. She could cry on cue and do it differently every single time — she’s such a well-trained actor. She was perfect; she’s the movie’s linchpin.
The truth of it is, Nicole Brydon Bloom sent us an audition tape — as most people do — but we also got another audition tape from a big TV actor, and of course, we decided to go with the bigger, more well-known actor to get more exposure. Our director [David Marmor] was not convinced, but we talked him into it — literally.
So, it’s the Monday before the Thursday we were supposed to start shooting, and we get a call from this telly star’s agent telling us that ‘she’s out’— there’s no reason for it, she’s just ‘out.’
Thankfully, Nicole was everyone’s first choice anyway had it not been for this other actor. So, we went back to Nicole and asked her if she still wanted the part, and she accepted. She was great. She flew in a day later and rehearsed with David — they only had about three hours — and we went from there. We had to move our starting date, but everything worked out.
Tell us about the shoot. I know a lot of interesting things happened while you were filming the movie.
Well, our initial shoot was fifteen days. We shot in the Christmas of 2017 — obviously, we gave everyone a few days off during the Christmas period. But while we were shooting, the Mulholland fire of 2017 happened. It was near The Getty museum, and the whole of the freeway and everything around it was on fire — it actually looked like you were driving into Mordor [from The Lord of the Rings] kinda shit.
It just so happened that our office was on the other side of the freeway when this was going on, and the fire jumped the freeway and came up to our office. So, we were told [by the authorities] that we couldn’t go to the office — they were like, ‘We don’t know if you still have an office anymore.’ It’s funny; we were using Google Earth to see if it had survived and we ended up temporarily moving our office space to my house because we couldn’t go to the one we had. At the end of the day, they were able to save the land. There was a graveyard close by, like a veteran’s graveyard, so they weren’t going to let that burn down, and thankfully the office survived, too.
The other thing that happened within that fifteen days was on day seven or eight, I get this text in the middle of the night saying, ‘Hey, something bad has happened, but I think it’s going to be okay.’ So, I called the person at 3:00am and asked, ‘What happened?’ Well, we had three production trucks lined up outside the office that didn’t burn down, and in the middle of the night (at around 2:30 in the morning), this white escalade with no plates pulls up, and three guys get out and start breaking into one of our trucks. Then two guys get back into their car and drive away, but one guy stays and starts driving our truck away — this pretty much happens in eight minutes flat.
What the crooks didn’t know was that there was a parking PA sitting in the middle truck — they just stole the first truck. This parking PA was a bit of an adrenalin junkie. I remember him watching Fast and the Furious and stuff — but thank God for him — and this PA gets into his car and starts to follow the stolen truck. While following them, he calls the police, and they tell him, ‘Sir, you need to stand down, stand down.’ But he’s like, ‘I will not stand down! I will not stand down until you’re behind this truck and in hot pursuit.’
After a pretty long chase, this police helicopter turns its lights on the truck, and three cop cars rush in; and this crook tries to run our truck off the road and tries to get away, but he gets caught. Apparently, he was very handsome, they called him the handsome felon, and he was part of a ‘production truck stealing ring.’ They had never been caught before, but he was new to the ring and kinda messed up. So, they arrest him and stuff, but we don’t tell anyone about this — not David, the director, we don’t tell any of the actors. We don’t want them to concentrate on this; we need them to focus on the movie because it’s a fifteen-day shoot. We eventually told David about it at the first wrap party. There’s even some reaction footage of the actors on the US Blu-ray who found out about it during a Q&A we did at Fantasia; it’s priceless.
I heard you did quite a few re-shoots. Can you tell me about these?
Yeah, we did the re-shoots around September 2018. Surprisingly, we had some major things to re-shoot. Honestly, if we didn’t do the extra shooting, this would be a completely different movie, trust me. Essentially, we weren’t satisfied with the ending, so we shot two different endings. We also needed to get more exterior shots to get a better feel for the apartment, we needed more emotion for certain moments, and we wanted to use/ show more practical effects.
So, we did the re-shoots at around the time of the Emmys. It was kinda hard to get everyone back together because they’re all working on other projects. Naomi Grossman — who plays Janice — was actually nominated for an Emmy that year, and even she came back to do our tiny movie for no money, so that was great. But she’s said in other interviews that she believed in the project and that it had a good script. She believed that we had something special, and so did all the other actors, that’s why they’ve helped us so much.
So, this is what happens in independent filmmaking. We went through all this trouble to organize this re-shoot with a prosthetic hand, which was originally shot in an interior set. After our initial fifteen days of shooting, our set was pretty much destroyed — people just threw everything out. But it just so happened that the floor of that set was very similar to the floor of the office in my house. So, I decided to shoot the scene there. We built a fake wall in my office, fixed all the lighting to make it look the same as our original location, and we shot the re-shoots there. I sent my wife and new child away, and we had about sixty people running around the house for the re-shoots.
Back to the hand, we had everything set up for this practical FX shot, but the blood wouldn’t work. So, the effects guys take the hand to one of my bathrooms to test it out, and the whole thing explodes. There’s literally blood all over the bathroom and the shower curtains. They eventually tried to get it going again, but it didn’t work, so we ended up using some small visual effects for the scene. Anyway, when my wife comes home, the blood is still up there in the bathroom because I didn’t have time to clean it, and she’s like, ‘Why didn’t you clean this up?’ [laughs].
Knowing your background in test screening, did you do any test screenings for Apartment 1BR?
Well, after the re-shoots, we did a few non-official test screenings for the film. We did five twenty-person friends-of-friends screenings that were also focus groups. What we learned from them was that nobody wanted to see more of the dead cat coming out of the oven; 75% of the audience did not want to see more cat, but 25% of people did, and all of those 25% were hardcore horror fans. But we don’t have a hardcore horror movie. We have a film that skirts a couple of genres — I would say we have a psychological thriller with elements of horror in it. We actually cross a few different genres, and that’s what I think has made Apartment 1BR so successful. Fun Fact: it turns out that the medium age of our film is 39, which is kinda unheard of for a horror film, the medium age for most horror films is 17 to 39.
What’s next for you as a producer?
Look, we — me and my producing partner Shane Vorster — are working with David again soon, but next, we’re doing something with Marcel Sarmiento, who did Dead Girl (2008), but it’s more of a sci-fi horror movie, and that’s all that I’ll say about it — that should hopefully shoot in March next year, and then we’ll shoot David’s next project in May/ June. Then after that, and I think the people have demanded it, we are hopefully going to do the sequel to Apartment 1BR. Enough people have asked for it.
Interview by Mr. Movie