Basketball with Edgar Allan Poe was inspired by some horror classics, both in film and TV. Some shots, music, sounds, and ideas are direct homages, while others are more loosely inspired.
Here's a run-down on a few of them:
My director of photography Brett Herrick perceives Myuu's "Cold Shivers," the track that plays over Edgar Allan Poe's entrance in the short, as well as over the closing credits, as an homage to John Carpenter's original score for Halloween (1978). Personally, I think of it as being more akin to another film whose feel I wanted to emulate, but I'll get to that soon.
When I prepared the storyboards for Basketball with Edgar Allan Poe I thought about Poe in his initial moments being like The Shape; the original name for Michael Myers in John Carpenter's script for Halloween.
Poe, like The Shape, would appear seemingly from nowhere, surprising the main character, and then he would stand in place ominously, staring at the main character. He would initially be boxy and slow moving; the scare being that he would get the audience eventually, as opposed to coming after the main character right away.
While Poe eventually does move into action, this sense of inevitability would re-enter the film as Poe shoots his jump shots and repeats, "I am immortal."
We did a number of takes for this shot where Poe first appears. There was one in which actor Travis Rhett Wilson's facial features were much better defined. However, like The Shape, what I liked about this shot was that the sharp contrast and light on Wilson's face simplified his appearance into a caricature of Edgar Allan Poe; almost as if he were wearing an expressionless, Michael Myers-type mask.
Also, when I think of slashers like Michael Myers and Jason I think of close ups of their hands. These hands, whether holding a weapon or not, convey a sense of menace. My director of photography's circle shot around Poe captured each of Wilson's hands; implying that sense of menace waiting to be unleashed.
The close ups on menacing hands, the sudden appearance of a villain, and the dramatic music are also intentional homages to Hitchcock's Psycho; the first horror slasher film.
To me, Myuu's "Cold Shivers" sounds more like Bernard Herrmann's score for the shower scene in Psycho (is the title a pun?). I wanted that jarring feel for Poe's arrival, both for the surprise, and for the humorous effect it might create.
Something Hitchcockian I also wanted to bring to Basketball with Edgar Allan Poe were wide-eyed reaction shots. A stand-out one of these from Psycho is the shot that follows Milton Arbogast down the stairs after he's attacked by Mother.
I added a tribute to this shot from Psycho into a sequence that was a tribute to another filmmaker (again, more on that soon), as Poe transforms into the Raven and attacks me, sending me to the ground.
An initial idea here was to use squibs of blood to simulate the pecking of Poe's attack. That was scrapped due to the fear that even black and white blood might've been enough for teachers not to show the short film to their students (but then I decided to smoke in some of those closing scenes, so that became a moot point).
At USC I took a class on Hitchcock taught by Drew Casper. Pieces of Hitchcock's film style have stayed with me ever since.
Hour of the Wolf
The most extensive film homage in Basketball with Edgar Allan Poe is to Ingmar Bergman's Hour of the Wolf, a 1968 Swedish surrealist–psychological horror–drama film starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann.
Hour of the Wolf was an inspiration to not only the storyboarding process of the film but to the process of writing the poem itself. A character in the film, and the way Bergman chose to portray him, the Birdman, helped give me the idea that, in death, Poe could have transformed into one of his greatest creations: the Raven.
Bergman edits in flapping sounds and cawing whenever the Birdman is near, some of them more subtle before the climax of the film, when the Birdman attacks von Sydow's character in a grotto.
There are no special effects in Bergman's sequence; the transformation from man to bird and the attack created only by cuts:
1. The Birdman walks towards the camera
2. von Sydow watches him, apprehensive
3. Footage of a black bird pecking
4. The Birdman stands right in front of camera
5. Black bird pecks
6. Birdman attacks camera (so fast I can't get a good still of it)
7. Black bird pecks (so fast I can't get a good still of it)
8. von Sydow recoils in pain (so fast I can't get a good still of it)
9. Birdman smiles
In Basketball with Edgar Allan Poe, I emphasized the idea of being knocked down to the ground by Poe's Raven attack - - this made for the Psycho stairs shot tribute.
One of the most exciting challenges to re-creating this sequence was giving a crow figurine I had purchased from Target the motion that could emulate the actual bird footage Bergman used for Hour of the Wolf. I think this turned out surprisingly well.
This sequence also became the ideal place to sneak in a shot we had created through the use of ladders: with Poe's transformation into the Raven giving him the ability to fly up into the air and dunk.
The Evil Dead
My DP Brett is a huge fan of The Evil Dead franchise. Dutch camera angles are a hallmark of all of Sam Raimi's movies and are heavily present in the 1981 low-budget horror classic.
I think that as we began to shoot, his inclination to shoot in Dutch angles came naturally.
While I never originally intended to use Dutch angles in Basketball with Edgar Allan Poe, favoring a more 50s and 60s inspired approach to horror, the angles appeared in more and more of Brett's action shots, bringing energy and fun to the scenes.
I chose some of these angles over the more static ones I had storyboarded and I think the film ended up much better for it.
The Twilight Zone
There would've been one significant special effects shot in Basketball with Edgar Allan Poe.
It would've been based around the line, "the backboard transforms into a swinging pendulum" (of course, a tribute to Poe's story The Pit and the Pendulum).
With a budget, this would've been done with cranes and an actual suspended upside down swinging basketball hoop, or with CGI, or with miniatures.
I thought there was a way to create the effect inside the camera, and maybe in post with my simple editing software.
I initially thought the key may have been as easy as to start with the camera right side up filming the hoop and then turning it upside down and swaying the camera back and forth.
Turns out, digital cameras always record the same image, whether the camera is right side up, sideways, or upside down. So, that didn't work.
So, my DP recorded the image the only way he could: right side up, and filmed the hoop while moving the camera.
Once in the editing software I discovered that if I turned the contrast all the way up on this shot, the background turned to almost pitch black. This helped to create the illusion that it was the basketball hoop and the not the camera moving.
At this point, I was reminded of the opening credits of season four and five of the Twilight Zone. There is a moment in which the superimposition of a pendulum hovers below a floating pocket watch.
While barely noticeable in this still from The Twilight Zone credits, I guess it was an image (or combination of images) that was burned into my brain.
The black and white swirling psychedelia found in multiple Twilight Zone credits sequences and episodes encouraged me to add in the swirling effect to make the backboard swaying a little more fluid.
While I can't think of any direct shot influences, the biggest inspiration in tone for Basketball with Edgar Allan Poe is Tim Burton's 1982 short film Vincent. In this tale Vincent Malloy imagines himself to be all kinds of horror characters: from a mad scientist, to Edgar Allan Poe.
The film is ultimately a comedy, with playful character designs, and is punctuated by laughs throughout, but its tone is dark and its commitment to the aesthetics of horror is absolute.
The premise of Basketball with Edgar Allan Poe immediately lends itself to comedy, and in the hands of another director, the entire film might have been very light and comical.
I wanted to commit myself to some of my horror and sports influences and create something with an edge and intensity to it; something that maybe even Edgar Allan Poe might have enjoyed watching.
Thanks for reading!