Barry Levinson | Interview
The director reinvents himself with the found-footage horror film The Bay.
Barry Levinson gets a rise out of a midnight-movie crowd? With The Bay, the 70-year-old chronicler of Baltimore (Diner, Avalon) takes a successful dip into the waters of found-footage horror. When we meet in Toronto, the sunglasses-wearing filmmaker differentiates his scare flick from other entries in the genre: Telling seven interlinked stories as mutant isopods attack a coastal town, the movie—shot on 21 separate, largely consumer-grade formats (including camera phones and webcams)—takes found-footage moviemaking out ofthe house.
You’ve said the starting point for this film was learning that the Chesapeake Bay is 40 percent dead.
I was originally approached to do a documentary about it, but found that Frontline had done one, and done a great job. But I was curious why it didn’t resonate. People didn’t react and go, “Oh, my God, 40 percent dead?” Then I thought maybe we just throw facts around and it doesn’t have any real gravity. And that’s when I thought maybe I could create something as a storytelling device and bring that in.
Barry Levinson would not be on a list of directors I’d expect to make a found-footage sci-fi horror film.
That’s true. And I wouldn’t have thought to ever have done a horror film, if you want to call it a horror film.
Did you find the mixed-media filming a challenge?
It is a challenge. As it happens in life now, everybody’s got some kind of cell phone, video, still photo; everybody’s tweeting, texting, e-mailing. So if you take some kind of situation happening in a small town, there’s going to be a lot of data. Rather than saying, “Let’s take a high-end digital camera, and we’ll degrade it,” my feeling is why don’t we just take digital cameras for what, in fact, they are, and the raggedness will be part of the experience.
One character says a nuclear reactor leaked in the Chesapeake. Did that happen, or is that a concession to horror conventions?
Yes, there was a nuclear reactor leaking and it has gone into the ground and it’s working its way into the Chesapeake Bay. Almost everything people say during the course of the movie is based on factual information.
Did you consider yourself an environmentalist before you were approached about this project?
No, I don’t think about myself that way. I’m concerned about what happens if we hit the tipping point. If it’s 40 percent dead, what happens when we hit 60 percent? Severe economic issues will come from it. These are correctable things. What happened in the Gulf should never have happened. A half-million-dollar device that could have shut the whole thing down and they decided to save the money?
You have the potential for the same devastation in the Chesapeake fishing industry. You can’t get crab cakes—
You won’t be able to get the crabs! So now it starts to affect the economics of other people.
You shot in South Carolina. Why there as opposed to Maryland, which you’re associated with and where it’s set?
It was cheaper. At that point Maryland hadn’t enacted any of their tax incentives, which they’ve now stepped up.
Obviously what happens to the Chesapeake will have a very specific effect on your hometown.
Yeah, it will. God knows what the reaction will be in Baltimore—I have no idea. [Laughs]
The Bay will be available on VOD Friday 2 and opens at the Music Box Friday 9.