In our exclusive interview with David Marmor, writer and director of 1BR (known in the UK as Apartment 1BR), we discuss what it was like directing his first feature film and the inspiration behind the story.
Warning: Spoilers ahoy!
HCF: How did you come up for the idea of 1BR?
David: The seed of the idea was when I moved to Los Angeles in my early 20s and lived in a building a lot like the one in the movie and felt really isolated, lost in this huge, anonymous city. I found myself longing for some sense of community, while at the same time seeing the same neighbors on the breezeways every day, waving, saying hello, but never actually knowing anything about any of them. I found the experience surreal. Around the same time I became fascinated by the history of cults, especially ones that had started in L.A. (which is a lot of them!). Eventually those two threads came together in my mind and felt like a movie.
Did you research any specific cults for the film?
Oh yeah, lots! But in the end, there was one I kept coming back to, a group called Synanon that started in L.A. in the late 1950s as one of the only places people could go to get help for drug addiction. They started with these very noble ideals, trying to help people nobody else would help, but then it slowly got twisted into something awful. I found that fascinating, and a perfect model for the community in the movie.
What are your favourite movies based on cults?
When it comes to cults, I tend to gravitate most toward documentaries. Two of my favorites are The Source Family and the completely bonkers Wild, Wild Country (if you’ll forgive a limited series rather than a movie).
As far as fiction films, I love the original The Wicker Man a lot. It’d be an interesting double-bill with Midsommar, which is also really good. Of course, Rosemary’s Baby is a classic. More recently, I’ve enjoyed The Invitation, The Endless, and Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Where the victim is systematically broke down, brainwashed and indoctrinated, how did you decide on the method of torture used in the film?
I didn’t have to use much imagination there, unfortunately. Most of what’s in the movie comes straight from real life. The physical methods are primarily techniques the U.S. government has used since the Iraq War, as well as British government tactics during the Troubles. For the psychological techniques, I drew heavily from my cult research. Many of them seem to have evolved very similar ways of isolating their members and keeping them dependent.
Where was the film shot and how long was the shoot?
We shot primarily in the San Fernando Valley north of L.A. The apartment courtyard and breezeway scenes were in a real apartment (with real residents who were very patient with us). All the apartment interiors were a single set we built. Our amazing production design team, led by Ricardo Jattan, did an incredible job making that space look like four distinct apartments, often changing it overnight so we could keep shooting in the morning.
The initial shoot was fifteen days, which felt very fast! But our apartment location didn’t work for the ending I’d written, so about nine months later, with the movie mostly edited, we got to go back for a couple more days to get the ending we’d all wanted, as well as picking up some other shots. Those extra few days made a huge difference.
In the film, we see a community of people of all ages, gender and race. Was it important to show that cults aren’t necessarily a group of people with similar traits and that anyone can be brainwashed?
My goal really was to try to create a community that felt like those I’ve experienced in L.A. It’s a very diverse place, and apartments in particular bring together disparate people. In my research I also found that these groups often are outwardly diverse, with the common thread in who they attract being a kind of yearning for something, be it family or a mission or direction. I tried to give the community an underlying philosophy that I really believed in, that I felt like I might myself be seduced by.
How did you find directing your first feature length film, and similarly, writing a script for it?
1BR was actually one of the first feature scripts I wrote, years ago, and I remember it being really difficult. I had a strong feeling that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Then years later (with many more feature scripts under my belt) I dug it out and sent it to my managers, who got excited about it and decided to produce. I went back and rewrote it then, and was surprised to find how much I’d changed as a writer in those years. I tore the script apart and rebuilt it as a much less traditional horror movie, and felt at least a little more in control of the process (though I still very often feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing).
Directing was incredibly intense. I’d done a lot of short films and episodes of web series and such, but never anything like a feature, and I don’t think there’s any way to prepare for that other than to do it. It was probably the most exhausting and frustrating project I’ve ever worked on, and we had a series of disasters that almost derailed the production before we even got to shoot. But it was also an incredible education, and just so exciting to get to turn this project that had been in my head for so many years into a reality. It was frequently miserable in the moment, but now that it’s done I can’t wait to go do it again.
Is the finished film what you’d always planned from the beginning or did you deviate or drastically change direction at any point?
In many ways, the movie is very close to how I’d always pictured it. Sometimes eerily close–the apartment complex we ended up with looks and feels very similar to the one I was living in when I first wrote the script, and on which it’s based. But of course things always shift and get reshaped in production and editing. I’ve found production to be a process of losing things you think you can’t lose and having to make the movie work without them. You lose actors and locations, you have to rewrite scenes or cut them to make the schedule work. Once we got into post, our editor, Rich Fox, did a fantastic job helping me shape the material and find the heart of the movie. My main focus was to make sure the spine of the story always stayed intact, and so in the end, the movie feels very close to how I originally envisioned it, even though many of the surface details changed along the way.
What’s your all-time favourite horror movie?
This is a really tough question! I love so many, many horror movies so much. I think as a pure cinematic experience I can go back to endlessly, it’s hard to top The Shining. But for pure, queasy, everything-will-not-be-OK horror, nothing has ever upset me quite as much as the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
What’s next for David Marmor?
I’m making another movie with the same producers, Alok Mishra, Shane Vorster, and Sam Sandweiss. It’s a science-fiction story that I’ve been working on a long time and has been a dream project of mine. It’s on a much bigger scale and I never thought I’d get to direct it, so I’m just thrilled to be making it.
We were hoping to shoot this year, but now I’m just hoping they’re still making movies when the pandemic is finally over. The upside is that I’ve been using my time stuck at home to do a rewrite. I’ve never met a script that couldn’t use one more draft!
Thank you very much for your time, David
Apartment 1BR is now available in the UK on streaming channels such as Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Sky Store