Interview with Actors Camille Balsamo and Reid CollumsMarch 14, 2015
Recently, I was able to talk to actors Camille Balsamo and Reid Collums about their experiences working on the practical effects driven horror film Harbinger Down and also what it was like working with first time director SFX man Alec Gillis and veteran actor Lance Henriksen.
Can you tell me your first impressions when you walked on the set for the first time?
Camille: I was amazed at the first sight of the set, and continued to be amazed as we were filming and the full scope of the set design became clear. Our team built an entire ship indoors! The deck was breathtaking, especially once the snow effects started up.
Reid: My first set experience was a little different from some of the actors on the film. I have a background in construction and I was lucky enough to get in a month before filming began and help build the sets. So I really had a chance to see the set in all stages. But I will say that if possible I would make a point to join every visitor tour the set, because everyone was blown away by what we created.
The sets for Harbinger Down look a bit on the claustrophobic side. Did that help capture the overall feel of the film?
Camille: I hope the claustrophobic feel of the interiors comes across on screen. It certainly helped me as an actor. I spent a lot of time struggling with doors and windows and down tight halls; it would be tough to fake that relationship with the environment, and there’s nothing quite as effective as feeling trapped in a horror movie.
Reid: In more ways than one. Certainly the feel of being stuck in very tight quarters with a very big threat brings the terror of this film to a new level. Also the experience of making this film was that everyone was in it together, and we didn’t have much wiggle room. If you were uncomfortable working shoulder to shoulder with the next person than making this film would be your nightmare.
Does a smaller, lower budget movie such as this allow for more bonding between the actors?
Camille: Absolutely. We couldn’t afford trailers so we were forced together! We had a little cast lounge – well, actually there were two: one for Lance and one for the rest of the cast, but on the first day of shooting, Lance replaced the name sign on his door with one that said ‘everyone,’ and spent all of his time with the rest of us in the lounge. Most of the characters in the film work together on the ship for months out of the year, so they’re like family by the time the film starts. I’m literally family – I play Lance’s granddaughter – so having the time between takes to work scenes or goof off really helped us achieve the familiarity and comfort level necessary for the group of characters.
Reid: The actual space we were in did not allow for dressing rooms or trailers or any of the alone space that is common for actors on most sets. So literally the day we all showed up as a cast we were shown to one room with a couple of couches and a bathroom, which was to be the actor’s greenroom, and there was another room set aside for Lance’s dressing room. Lance immediately ripped his name off his dressing room door, said f$#k that, and spent all his time in the communal green room. We all became very close.
Did director Alec Gillis allow you in improvise during the movie or was it pretty much done word for word from the script?
Camille: I felt a lot of loyalty to the script, so I didn’t try too much to improvise. That said, Alec was really open to making tweaks in dialogue based on what was working for us as actors once we got into the scene. I always felt comfortable bringing up ideas, but since a lot of my dialogue is pretty dense and science-y, I thought it safest to stay away from improvising! Matt Winston and Mike Estime had the most comedic roles and Alec cast them because of their comedic abilities, so he loved letting them improv, and I believe a good amount of it ended up in the film. Also, someone should help me try to convince Lance to do a comedy because he is one of the funniest people I know.
Reid: Alec isn’t a guy who is beholden to every word he put on the page, he is beholden to the story. So there was never a point where you couldn’t go to Alec and question, or challenge, or alter what was in the script, as long as it served the story.
Do you think horror movies such as this need to get more attention from the media?
Camille: I think that audiences want horror movies like this. I think audiences of all types – the diehard fans as well as the casual viewers – are craving a return to practical effects and creatures and makeup’s that look real because they are. I’m fully confident that the work that JJ Abrams and Guillermo del Toro, and hopefully Alec Gillis, are doing to bring more attention to this dying art form isn’t in vain. I think audiences will support it when they know it’s out there. For a small movie like ours, the challenge is getting the word out.
Reid: The media has a strange relationship with horror movies. Horror movie fans are the most loyal, most devote, hardest working fans in the world. They will put in the time and effort to find the movies they love, and as a result the media doesn’t do much to bring these projects into the limelight. That’s a shame because a lot of these projects would have a broader appeal. Hopefully with Harbinger Down the media will start to show us some love after we release and the fans demand it.
Has being involved in this film changed your views on practical effects as opposed to CGI in the film business?
Camille: I’m all for a healthy balance between the two. There are things that PFX can accomplish that CGI can’t, and vice versa. There is a fair amount of digital VFX in this film – just not in the creatures, the lifeblood of the story. Those creatures are as alive as they possibly could be. But we didn’t shoot on a fishing trawler in Alaska, we shot in a warehouse in Los Angeles, so being able to digitally composite our practical miniatures.
Reid: I have always been a fan of practical effects, especially when it comes to creatures. However, when I first read this script there were a few key moments where I thought “how the hell are we going to stick to our mission statement and do this practically?” One small example was when Sadie looks through a microscope and sees the tardigrades moving below. That seemed to me like it would have to be CGI. I will never doubt Alec again. If he says he can do something, he can.
What was it like being part of a movie with Lance Henriksen?
Camille: Oh man. If a monster killed me tomorrow at least I’d die knowing I worked with one of the greatest actors of that generation. Not only is Lance a sci fi/horror legend, he’s a remarkable artist. I learned so much from watching him and working with him. He’s generous too: he showed up every day, even when he didn’t have anything to film. He’d stay late to give other actors lines offscreen. He’s been so enthusiastic about making sure he does his part to give back to the Kickstarter backers. Like I said earlier, he’s hilarious. When the venerable star of your film has an enthusiastic attitude like he did, it’s contagious.
Reid: Going in, I was intimidated. I grew up watching Lance’s movies. Not only watching them, but loving them and watching many of them over and over again. So going in the plan was to keep my mouth shut, and my eyes open. By the second day I was laughing with him, sharing stories with him, joking with him. He is so genuine, and sweet, and funny. He really is one of a kind.
What was the hardest part of working on Harbinger Down? The easiest/best part?
Camille: The toughest part was when it ended! Sounds cheesy, but the entire cast and crew really put their hearts and souls into this film because we all believe in it so much. Working with such talented and passionate people for a month was hands down my greatest experience – and the easiest/best part of the journey!
Reid: The best part was the people. Everyone who was involved in making this movie will always have a special place in my part. I truly loved working with all of them and getting to know them. As for the worst part, I hope Camille’s answer for this is better than mine so you will have something decent to print. The hardest part of working on Harbinger Down was letting it go.
What should people expect when they sit down to watch this movie?
Camille: I hope this film is satisfying for viewers who are nostalgic for the classic monster movies of the 80’s. I also hope they are pleasantly surprised by how much heart the film has.
Reid: They should expect to have fun.
What is next for the both of you?
Camille: I just directed my first music video! [Watch it here
Reid: I have a script that, if all goes as planned, I will be making this summer. I don’t want to say to much, but there is an alien involved, and some familiar names from Harbinger Down.
Harbinger Down will be released in theaters in October 2015