Heaven of Horror spoke exclusively with Ryan Brett Puckett about the production design of Shudder’s The Boy Behind the Door, the horror/thriller is out now.
-First off, congrats on all the great reviews and the 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Why do you think the film is resonating so well with audiences?
It has been great to see the positive response to the film. Despite the deplorable reality of our antagonist’s business, I think the story is an interesting combination of an engaging thriller horror, with the positive connection of two friends that carries you through it all in an exciting way.
-How would you describe the look of the film?
Anachronistic Noir. We’ve got a lot of different eras stacked on top of each other in the design and props, with some great contrasting light sources from our Cinematographer Julián Estrada.
-What did pre-production look like for you on The Boy Behind the Door?
Working out the trunk scenes with the boys at the beginning of the film was one of the early tasks we hit the ground running on. Trying to find the right vehicles, and particularly a trunk that we could cut up the way we wanted to allow camera access took some time. Figuring out how to change the look of the house to fit our design was also a drawn-out process as we had to accommodate the limitations of the location.
-You have said that when you were first interviewing with Justin and David (the directors), you all bounced a lot of ideas off each other about how to pull off some of the more difficult sequences dramatically. What were those difficult sequences you discussed?
The trunk scenes were a big one on all of our minds at the beginning. Both in terms of safety and practicality for the cameras, but also how we would motivate light sources, and how Bobby may eventually escape.
It was one of those things that seemed simple at first but each question would bring up more questions as we worked through it. We were really determined to do a lot of the stunts and effects practically as well, so figuring out how far we could push those scenes, and what kinds of custom props or set pieces would need to be made was an ongoing topic since the first day.
-You made custom set pieces to change the shape and size of rooms and hallways. Can you talk about which specific rooms you did this for?
Most of the changes revolved around there being a third floor or attic space for the holding rooms. The location did not actually have any of these rooms, so as Bobby finds his way up there, it was actually a combination of some hallways and closet spaces from the second floor that we added new wall sections into.
The final holding room Kevin was chained into was also one of the original 2nd-floor rooms from earlier in the film. We stripped everything out of it and built slanted exposed wood ceiling sections to make it feel a bit more attic-like. There were a lot of little things around the house that we needed to support the stunts. My favorite being the wood butcher block island in the kitchen. It was soft foam to allow for our actors to fall into it safely, and it looked so good people couldn’t tell as we were working around it.
-This was Justin Powell & David Charboniers’ debut feature. Because this was their first film, how involved were they in the production design process?
They were very involved and had a strong idea of what they wanted out of the film. We were immediately discussing references, and sending samples back and forth daily as we worked through the color palette, and patterns for fabric, wallpapers, and set decoration.
-In some of your interviews you have mentioned that the wallpaper in the house was very challenging, but crucial because the walls in the location were pastel-colored. Can you talk about this a little more?
The location was very hesitant to allow us to change anything about the space but it was really important for the look of the film to control the colors of the walls wherever we could. The wallpaper in particular was difficult because the finish on the existing walls was almost crumbling away. There are a variety of tricks we usually use to temporarily add wallpaper to locations, however even these options were too aggressive for the delicate surfaces in this house.
The application we ended up going with was safe for the walls, but we were constantly fighting wrinkles and distortions in the paper that would change daily with the temperature or weather. I’d say 90% of the time there was someone from our art crew scrambling to smooth out the wallpaper in front of the camera seconds before the actors started a scene.
-The production design in horror projects is known to be very highly stylized. Is this genre a dream for creatives such as yourself, because you can experiment more?
Horror certainly opens up a lot of fun opportunities to experiment in directions that wouldn’t work in other genres, so it’s always a nice chance to stretch some different creative muscles. I certainly have more fun in horror than I do in comedies.
-Where did you all shoot the film? Did you have any input when scouting was going on, or do you jump in once all of that is decided?
We shot almost all of this just west of Los Angeles. The house location was already a strong contender once I was brought in, but things were still in flux. After our first chance to walk around the property, I feel we were all determined to make that the setting for the film.
-You also worked on the new American Horror Story season 10 premiering on August 25th. Can you talk about your work on that show?
The timing of this new season worked out well in that I got a chance to come aboard and experience the series with my good friends, the amazing Production Designer Chloe Arbiture, and Art Director Jonathan Bell who did AHS 1984. We’ve been working on this show throughout the pandemic, and I’m really excited to see how it turns out when it airs soon!