How two Irish directors ended up working on 'The Haunting of Bly Manor'
The much anticipated follow-up to the hit horror 'The Haunting of Hill House', namely 'The Haunting of Bly Manor', has arrived right on time for Halloween season on Netflix.
This time round, the story follows an American nanny (Victoria Pedretti) who comes to the titular estate to care for two children (Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) after their au pair dies. A chef (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper (Amelia Eve) and housekeeper (T’Nia Miller) work at the house too. They all start witnessing strange events and wonder if ghosts are haunting the manor...
While Mike Flanagan returns as showrunner to 'The Haunting of Bly Manor', and helms the pilot, two Irish directors also joined the 'Haunting' crew to direct episodes of the series.
Ciarán Foy (renowned for 'Citadel', 'Sinister 2' and last year's 'Eli') took charge of episodes two and three. He spoke about how directing television episodes varies significantly from filmmaking.
"It was a little odd to be honest, as working in TV is still new to me," Foy says. "I'd directed a pilot before, but that's quite different to episodic, where you're essentially being handed the baton and you have to maintain the aesthetic that has been laid down."
Foy continues: "On 'The Haunting of Bly Manor', I directed episodes 2 and 3, so I came in right after Mike [Flanagan]'s pilot episode. But you're also in prep on your episodes while he's shooting. So there's not much of a chance to really watch and absorb the style that's being laid down. Most of that is talked through in tone meetings early on.
"All stylistic choices would have to be run by Mike, in order to maintain an overall and consistent style. So some things were given the thumbs up, and some things not.
"And yes, once you're done with your episodes you're not involved with any of the other ones, or with the sound or VFX or music. It was a lot of fun and the cast and crew were great, but you've no idea how the overall show turns out. So I'm equally as excited as fans to check it out on Netflix this week!"
After directing a series of shorts, Liam Gavin shot to fame with the 2016 horror 'A Dark Song'. He directed the fourth and fifth episodes of the series.
Speaking about going from his previous work to this mammoth project, he said: "I went from 'A Dark Song', which was done for about €500k, to, all of a sudden, a vastly bigger budget.
"I got dumped on the first day in a field where trucks and vans and hundreds of people are around. Imagine a circus, except treble that. I stepped off and thought 'who is in charge of this?' And it was me. That was the scariest moment of the entire thing!"
He has had a similar experience to Foy in that he also hasn't seen the series in full. He told us: "The ironic thing is, I don't know what happens. The way it was structured was that they gave me scripts up to a certain stage in the process, so you're trying to keep up with everything, and while I was doing my episodes, they'd filmed to about 7. Then I was out!
"I got given 8 and 9 [the final episode] as a kind of outline, but when you're in the maelstrom, you're really just concentrating on everything your job entails. So I want to see what happens as well!"
Foy spoke about working with Mike Flanagan on the look of the series that the showrunner was looking for.
He notes: "We all wanted the camera to have a cinematic quality to it. That's one of the main reasons Mike wanted feature directors - especially those who had made indies on a tight budget / schedule - to helm the episodes.
"The sensibility to treat the camera like another character, moving and stalking around the space, reacting to emotion, allowing for interesting blocking and staging. Not just the meat and potatoes TV shooting of 'wide establishing shot and then medium close ups' on whoever is talking.
"A lot of that basic style of shooting is down to lack of time. Most TV schedules are super tight. But it can be visually boring. So it was important on 'Bly' to know exactly how you planned to cover a scene ahead of time."
Gavin described the process as playing "three dimensional chess" and said that Mike gave them "a style sheet" which helped keep all the directors of the episodes - which also included Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling, as well as Axelle Carolyn - on the same page, literally and figuratively.
"He was very flexible as to whether we wanted to do different things, but we'd have to clear certain ideas with him," he notes.
"It's very different directing a TV show, especially a big show like this, and directing your own stuff. You are the author of what you do and you're completely in control when it's your own movies. When you're coming onto a big TV show, you're coming in as someone with a certain set of skills. You're a hired hand more than an author, if you know what I mean.
"And when I came on set, everybody, all the cast and crew, knew each other. You're arriving into a well-formed gang, and you're meant to be in charge, but you're the outsider."
While the full nine episodes of 'Haunting of Bly Manor' form a whole, each has its own narrative threads too.
As Gavin describes: "The way Mike structures the episodes is that they're their own event even though they're open ended. I enjoyed working on episode 5 the most because that really was its own thing.
"I quite enjoyed the lake scene too. That was a big arse thing to do. We shot it at about 1 a.m. in Vancouver in November. We were putting someone into the lake, which we'd heated, but all the equipment in and around the lake was covered in ice; and all the executives at Netflix had come down to see it because it was quite a big shot. The test had failed that morning, so we had to set it up and just try again and again and again. So what a night that was."
Speaking about his contribution, Ciarán spoke of how "One of my episodes spends a lot of time with Miles when he was at school, so you've lots of kid extras.
"You get 10 days to shoot and with child actors, you have reduced hours as it is. Every day was a race against the clock.
"Despite the difficulties with time, I actually really enjoyed the school set scenes. I had flashbacks to my own time at school and there was a lot of laughter and an energy about the place. It was fun to work with Benjamin [Evan Ainsworth] and talk about how Miles might be "playing" or manipulating this scene or that moment.
"It was also a joy to work with Oliver [Jackson Cohen] and Tahirah [Sharif] who play Quint and Rebecca, and it was great to talk about their characters and their dynamic, as they really appear for the first time in my episode 3. They're both very funny people to boot!"
'The Haunting of Bly Manor', like its predecessor, is about much more than being a straight up horror. It explores the theme of mourning, love, and examines the relationship between the past and present.
Ciarán Foy describes what the show is about for him: "I think it's about ghosts. And I'm not saying that to be flippant! What I mean by that is the ghosts we all carry with us. How we deal with grief or trauma or regret.
"Some of us become ghosts ourselves, unaware, even though our hearts are still beating. Others remain haunted by something or someone, whether those things or those people are dead or not.
"That's the thing I love about really great supernatural stories - "ghosts" are always representative or something else, and something real."
A testament to a strong series or film is that it's open to various interpretations and personal takes.
Liam Gavin sees the show as something else entirely. He says: "For me, I suppose it's about memory, and how that affects the now. It's also about family - how by instinct, we find family. And that doesn't necessarily mean the people we're related to. It can be the people we find.
"That's quite a profound thing because it says something about the human desire to belong. I think that runs through the series. There's a family created there."