Los Angeles and cults. They go together like… well, Los Angeles and sunshine? Los Angeles and shattered dreams? Los Angeles and lost souls looking for a sense of community?
Cinematically speaking, cults have come to the City of Angels in Starry Eyes, The Invitation, Under the Silver Lake, Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood—and, on the festival circuit, writer/director David Marmor’s 1BR, which had its debut last week at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
Nicole Bloom stars as Sarah, an LA newcomer and aspiring artist who moves into an apartment building full of some of the friendliest, most gosh-darn neighborly people the city has to offer. “The movie was in some ways based on my early experiences when I moved to LA and didn’t know anyone,” recalls Marmor. “I lived in a complex that was pretty similar to the one in the movie.”
Luckily, 1BR’s autobiographical elements stop there; at least one hopes they do, given all the psychological torment Sarah’s new found family puts her through. Marmor took the time after 1BR’s premiere to chat about his debut feature.
There’s definitely a canon of Los Angeles cult movies. Aside from the obvious Charles Manson connection, why do you think LA and cults provide such rich cinematic material?
I think partly it’s because it’s rich real-life material. I’ve thought about this quite a bit. I don’t exactly know why LA is such a fertile breeding ground for sort of Utopian communities. I’m slightly uncomfortable with the term “cult,” although by any objective measure you can term [the community in 1BR] a cult. One thing that was important to me was humanizing these people and trying to delve into how they see themselves and what they are trying to accomplish. These are not people who think of themselves as evil or oppressive. They think that they are saving the world, improving the world.
And they don’t think they’re in a cult.
They would not call themselves in a cult, yeah. As much as we are with Sarah in this, I also kind of have a soft spot for [the neighbors] in my heart. It always feels a little bit like—They’re not a cult! They’re a community!
They are feeding a hole in her. They’re completing something that she feels like she needs. That’s always a side of these things. [Cults] couldn’t exist on oppression alone. And oftentimes they evolve to become more violent, to keep control over their world. You look at the evolution of these things, and they often start with very pure motives and very positive messages, and then it somehow sours. In terms of ‘Why LA?’, the only thing I can think of is that it’s a place that attracts slightly lost people, as Sarah is, and honestly, as I was when I first moved to LA. People who have some kind of a dream, and they go there and they’re isolated. We all want a community. We all want people to have our back.
And that’s literally part of the genesis of Hollywood—you have all these people coming from the East coast to create their own community.
Yeah, that’s an interesting point. Hollywood itself is kind of a cult writ large.
What was the casting process for 1BR like?
Everything on this movie was last minute. It was kind of a snake-bit production, and it’s a real testament to the producing team and the cast and crew that we were able to come together and make it happen under some really difficult circumstances.
The day we were supposed to start shooting, there were these massive wildfires up in Chatsworth where we were shooting the apartment complex. And so we had push the start of production. One of the cast members’ husband was taken seriously ill days before we shot, and we had to replace her.
Everything came together sort of miraculously at the last second. As a result, Nicole and the other cast didn’t even have time to meet each other before we started. We basically all just showed up on set, and it was like, ‘Well, here we are, we’re making a movie.’ It’s not how I would’ve chosen to do it. I wanted to be able to get everyone together and have them bond and feel like a family beforehand, because that was such an important element. But in a weird way, it gave it this kind of energy. I feel like everybody bonded very quickly.
That lack of time to bond fits Sarah’s character—she’s the outsider who’s initially uncertain of the people around her.
It really was the best thing for her, which is obviously the most important to the point of view. The whole movie is from her point of view. [Nicole] brought such professionalism to what was an incredibly intense and difficult situation, where the camera is close on her through the entire movie, and she’s going through these really intense things. We had a 15-day shooting schedule, which is insane for a movie of this scale. We literally would not have finished the movie if she hadn’t been able to get to these intense places really quickly.
We were talking last night about shooting the ending in the courtyard—not to give too much away—it’s a major scene with a huge amount of choreography, and we had about four hours to shoot that entire sequence, which was madness. It was two setups, two takes. And a lot of the movie was that way. We just didn’t have time to try to get there. We literally would not have finished the movie if Nicole had not been able to bring it immediately. It was a complete privilege to work with her.
With everything coming together at the last minute. was the script in a pretty solid state when you started filming, or did there have to be adjustments along the way?
The script was something that I had first written several years before, and then I sort of put it on a shelf. I wasn’t in a place to be able to direct anything. Later on my managers, who also were producers on the movie—I was working on other things, and they said ‘Do you have anything else?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’ve got this old script I wrote.’ I sent it to them and they loved it.
It’s basically two locations with a pretty small cast.
I feel like, actually, for this scale of movie, it’s a larger cast than would have been ideal. Especially since there’s a lot of extras. That was a real challenge for a movie like this, where you can’t afford to pay extras. So it was a lot of getting friends and family. But, luckily, because the script was older, I had been around for a little longer. I did a lot of rewriting in the year leading up to making the movie. I feel like it got to a fairly solid place. I had had time to think through a lot of the structure of it.
On the other hand, when we finally got the location, which I think we locked maybe two days before we were supposed to start shooting—all the exteriors, the breezeway, the courtyard, all that was in this apartment complex in Chatsworth. All the apartment interiors were a set. So we built one set and then redressed it for all the four apartments that you see in the movie. And our production design team did an amazing job. I still watch the movie sometimes and I don’t feel like we’re looking at the same room. Because of the layout of the complex where we were shooting the exterior, I did have to do some last-second rewriting. And that was a little bit tricky, to try to figure out how to adapt the script to the actual specifics of complex.
I hope this gets some sort of theatrical distribution. So many low-budget horror movies go directly to streaming, but this was a fun movie to see in a crowd.
It was so amazing to see with an audience. I would love to have it be out in theaters. Mainly, I just want it to get out in the world somehow. I want people to have a chance to see it, and see the work that Nicole and the rest of the cast did. And not to mention our cinematographer David Bolen, who did an amazing job with no resources.