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Q&A: Director Jeremy Berg on “THE DEVICE”

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As many of those familiar with the process knows, independent filmmaking is much like pulling off a magic trick in broad daylight. Without the resources and time suited to your liking, you often turn to your own resourcefulness and imagination to wow the audience.  And the more ambitious your trick may be, the more you’re going to have to fight to create something truly unique. And for director Jeremy Berg, helmer of the alien abduction flick THE DEVICE, there’s few tricks as ambitious as pulling off a convincing extraterrestrial thriller on shoestrings. In a recent chat with FANGORIA, Berg spoke about pulling off THE DEVICE, building backstory and what lies next for the versatile filmmaker…

FANGORIA: How did THE DEVICE come together?

JEREMY BERG: We actually got the opportunity to make another film from our producer on THE INVOKING. They asked us if there was anything they’d like us to do, since they liked what we did on that film, and we came to them with the idea for THE DEVICE that, at the time, was really just a small kernel. I think the way I pitched it to them was, “Some people find something in the woods that may or may not be of Earthly origins and we watch how that object changes their relationships over the course of the film.” Just from that, they knew we were doing an alien abduction film and it just went from there.

FANGORIA: Considering how many alien horror films have been coming out as of lately, was there anything differently that you specifically wanted to do with THE DEVICE?

BERG: Yeah, I really like alien abduction films and I love those stories; I find them fascinating because, as a lot of people say, they could be true. But the problem I have with alien abduction films are that I think a lot of them are very boring, to be honest, and have a lot of dead spots. There are very few alien abduction films that are solid from start to finish.

I think the reason I feel that way is because in a lot of these films, there are characters who are just waiting to be abducted sometimes. You explore the fear of abduction with them but then it gets repetitive because this alien presence can pretty much do whatever they want with them. So what I wanted to do was find ways to make the characters pro-active, make sure the conflict is interesting from beginning to end and that THE DEVICE as an object would be the way to keep these characters changing and make their own choices.

FANGORIA: What was it like to put together an independent production that, given the nature of the content, would require an element of special effects worth?

BERG: It was fun because you have to really put your mind to getting around the financial constraints. So it was cool to work with my collaborators and design the alien itself as well as THE DEVICE, but with limited time and money, obviously. But it worked for us because the alien ended up looking great, and I never intended to show it fully anyways because the film is more about atmosphere and tone. That’s why it’s backlit all the time, or hiding away in the shadows: to create an aura of mystery as opposed to showing the monster in the full light. As soon as you do [show the monster], the mystery is gone and the film is just not as scary.

Working with limited resources is challenging, but it’s also really interesting because it makes you think outside of the box. So that tasks you with being creative, and from there, you might come up with an idea that you otherwise might not have thought.

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FANGORIA: Considering how few locations there are in the film, was that a consideration coming into the film or was there a version of this film that could have been in any other environment?

BERG: That’s a good question. Basically, we had the same deal as THE INVOKING had, which mainly took place in one location and that was due to budget and time constraints. We shot THE INVOKING in seven days, and coming into THE DEVICE, our budget was bigger but not much bigger. We also had more time, but not much more time: we shot it in 12 days as opposed to 7. So we had that conversation very early on in the beginning about how many locations we really wanted, because every time we had a location change, that’s time out of our schedule to set up for a new location that could have been used for shooting.

My approach to that was, even though we’d be constricted by time, I didn’t want the movie to look too small or confine ourselves to a box. I mean, the movie is still a self-contained film and there aren’t many locations. But honestly, we spoke about bringing everything to one location, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to tell the best story possible while making it feasible to make THE DEVICE with the time and budget we had.

FANGORIA: What were your inspirations for the character relationships in THE DEVICE? Did you pull from real experiences or was there anything specifically that you wanted to pay homage to?

BERG: One of the movies I always go back to in terms of character inspiration is ROSEMARY’S BABY, because the characters lend so much to the atmosphere in the film. Just in the way that the people surrounding Rosemary are very normal, but you view these people very mysteriously. So you end up questioning everything that’s going on, and if the people are who they say they are. So that was something I definitely wanted to recreate in what the main character, Abby, goes through.

Beyond the relationships of the characters outside of Abby, that all comes from THE DEVICE and how it interacts with these people. How does THE DEVICE change their relationships? As simple as an idea that it is, that dynamic gave us a lot of freedom to play with who these characters are, especially the two sisters tied by the tragedy in their past. I thought that was very interesting and allowed us some room to be creative with the character relationships.

FANGORIA: Before going into the script, did you do much world-building in terms of the backstory of THE DEVICE and its creators?

BERG: What’s interesting is that we had to come up with an entire backstory for Rebecca, Abby’s sister, and she does tell her story in the film. But there’s definitely a bigger story than what happens in the film, and Rebecca makes certain inferences that maybe there’s more to the family than what’s been seen or told. As for THE DEVICE itself, that was something we had to define, and in the first draft of our script, there was more to what it could do, like making it more active and mobile. But on second thought, we thought that’d take away from some of the more paranoid aspects of the film, and that would make the extraterrestrial threats significantly more real. We had to minimize the role of THE DEVICE in the film over time, but we also had to be sure of what exactly it did do, and that was a very interesting journey that we took while writing the script.

FANGORIA: Was there anything else you guys had initially planned that was scrapped, either in the script or in post-production?

BERG: Yeah. I know the original ending was really conclusive and neatly wrapped up. Even the editing of the film itself and how the film was originally scripted was different. It’s interesting to watch the film now and see that the structure of the original script, and the order in which things happen, has really changed. But I think that was to help clarify a few things in the film and give THE DEVICE a more powerful ending.

FANGORIA: Since you went from a straight-up horror project to something along the borders of sci-fi horror, are you planning on sticking to the genre for your next project or doing something even more different?

BERG: Yeah, the film I’m directing next year will be a horror film but it will definitely have a spaghetti western influence to it. I know I’ll be taking a lesson from those films in terms of how to increase the tension and suspense. I’m a huge fan of Segio Leone and the Man with No Name Trilogy. And the horror film I’ll be making is sort of like an adventure that takes place along the American-Mexican border. So they had vast, open spaces and what Sergio did with his films was show human drama on a grand scale while also showing these gorgeous landscapes in a beautiful way. So that’s something I’ve always remembered just as a filmgoer and I’d like to bring that into my next project.

FANGORIA: Do you have any other projects in the wings at the moment?

BERG: Yeah, I actually just got done working on a film from the co-writer of THE DEVICE and our coproducer from The October People, John Portanova. He directed a throwback monster movie called VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH, and that will be going to film festivals next year. I’m also working on a psychosexual thriller from Elias (GUT), so between that and the other two, we’ll have three projects coming out very soon.

THE DEVICE is currently available on DVD and Digital HD from Image Entertainment.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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