Robert Eggers is the American filmmaker who began his career working on shorts for others as a designer, both in production and costumes. After directing his own short films, he made his feature debut with 2015’s acclaimed folklore horror The Witch, starring Anya Taylor-Joy. He now returns with The Lighthouse, a black-and-white tale of two lighthouse keepers gradually slipping towards insanity, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.
ASFF: You and your brother Max wrote The Lighthouse. How did it start?
RE: This was a movie I always wanted to make. My brother said, ‘A ghost story in a lighthouse’ and I saw the atmosphere and I thought, ‘This movie is going to work. I know this movie is going to work.’
ASFF: The film deals with a lot of mythology – mermaids, animals and so on. Can you talk about this?
RE: Because I’m interested in folklore and fairytales, they always have a lot of animals in them. Even in the 19th Century, people were around animals all the time, so it’s going to be in the folklore. And I understand that in Clacton-on-Sea there’s malicious seagulls killing pets and stealing infants out of windows!
ASFF: When did Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson get involved?
RE: Dafoe wanted to work with me after seeing The Witch, which blew my mind. I got an e-mail from his team, that Willem Dafoe wants to have lunch, and I couldn’t believe it – he’s Willem Dafoe! Rob and I were also looking for something and I had offered him a role in a more conventional film that he did not want to do, because he was only looking for unconventional challenges! So when this movie, of all the things on my slate, looked like it was going to be the one, I called them immediately and they were on board.
ASFF: How did you research the language of the period? It feels like you spent months on it…
RE: I did! There are dictionaries and thesauruses of nautical terms that are very easily accessible, and we looked at Melville and Stevenson and the usual suspects but the main goldmine was a Maine-based author, Sarah Orne Jewitt who was writing in the period that this movie takes place. And she was interviewing sea captains, farmers and fishermen and then writing her main stories in dialect phonetically. That was really helpful.
ASFF: The film feels like it’s from another era. How did you achieve that look?
RE: There are many things about it that are old cinema for sure. Using lenses from 1905 to the 1930s and using old film stock and orthochromatic filters…there’s a lot of stuff we’re doing to replicate old cinema. But at the same time, the lighting approach is modern, and there would be less masturbating and mermaid genitals if this were an early film!
The Lighthouse is in cinemas on 31 January. For more details, click here.