Life's a beach

Isaac Gabaeff on the secrets behind creature feature The Sand.

by Jennie Kermode

Isaac Gabaeff
Isaac Gabaeff

Do you know the name Isaac Gabaeff? You ought to. He’s worked on an array of great films from Be Kind Rewind to A Most Violent Year and The Place Beyond The Pines, but he’s always been one of those guys in the background whose work is at its best when you notice it only subconsciously. Now he’s stepped up to take the help with tentacle-tastic creature feature The Sand, one of the first six films released on the new Frightfest Presents label. We asked him how it all began.

“Well, you know, I got my degree in animation and then I worked on a movie called James And The Giant Peach,” he explains. “At the end of college I made a documentary called Peoplewatching on the street corner where I lived in San Francisco. It was more voyeurism than a standard documentary format. Then through the twists and turns of life I landed a job in a film company as a creative consultant. I landed in the art department so I’ve been on a long journey through working in production, but always with an eye on directing a movie. This isn’t actually the first movie I directed. That’s called The Art Of Storytelling and it was actually shot before The Sand.

“What happened was we were actually meant to make a completely different movie – it was a drama about four people in a sailing boat going between islands in Hawaii – but there was a sudden problem that caused the film to collapse. So we had discussions about what to do. Everyone still wanted to move forward and make a movie so I started looking at scripts and right away The Sand emerged as a clear winner from that process.”

Is The Sand the kind of film he enjoys a a viewer?

“Absolutely. I’m a fan of all film of all sorts but I grew up in the Eighties watching horror movies from the Seventies and Eighties and that was really my entree into what those movies are about. I wanted to start with something I was able to understand, something that I felt very familiar with, so that it would come naturally.”

One of the things I really liked about the film, I venture, is that its characters are a good deal smarter than most of their Eighties counterparts. Isaac agrees.

“I feel like every generation always thinks the next generation is somehow stupider. It felt just a little more of a contemporary route to take movie on. At least these characters are active and they figure out what’s happening on the beach. Even viewers can relate to them and say yeah, that makes sense.

This is also useful when it comes to structuring the film, he notes. When working in a single location it wouldn’t do to have everybody just hanging around so there need o be plot devices that will keep them active and help sustain the pace that makes the film exciting to watch. It helps to have good actors, of course.

The Sand poster
The Sand poster

“Some of the cast members came as recommendations. The first person we cast was Hector David Jr. He was in Percy Jackson and he was a Power Ranger, and he’s very acrobatic which we thought could add something wasn’t originally part of the script. When we auditioned everyone else we were thinking about their potential cast against the people who had already been cast so they would work all together.”

They also seem like people we could genuinely imagine being at a party together (the night before everything goes horribly wrong). Isaac says he enjoyed getting creative with that part of the film.

“Honestly, that party scene was the one place we were able to let go a bit. For most of the film we followed first what was in the script and then improvised a bit. I like to be able to change things around and try different things and the party scene gave us the chance to try out different directions and try different things. The editors did a great job of piecing it together in way that felt real.”

The story is very tightly written, I note, with a lot of it focusing on character, which must have made it attractive for a low budget production with only 12 days in which to shoot.

“The writers crafted the story in a way to make it possible not to have to show the monster in its entirety at first,” says Isaac. “We see little pieces early on. But without those splatterfest moments I don’t think the film would have been successful.”

“I come from a production standpoint and I’ve had to manage smaller budgets as a production designer and as a prop person so I’m comfortable in that situation. Obviously there are a lot of pressures to try to make something good but I find there’s always a creative solution to everything. That’s just me being the way I am, I guess. If we can’t do something one way I can always figure out something else, and I thrive off having that kind of pressure.”

The best part of the whole process, he says, was finally being able to se the finished film, because despite the quick shoot it took a long time in post-production. And then it was picked up by Frightfest... .

“I was ecstatic,” he says. “Very, very happy. Frightfest gave us incredible visibility which obviously is an important component of having the movie come out and giving us a platform for people to see it. That’s the nightmarish element – if you work really hard on a film and then find no-one’s going to see it.”

So what’s next? Isaac is casting for his new film was a director, Gullible Bitch.

“We’re looking for the female lead right now. The male lead is an incredibly talented actor called Kyle Gallner. The movie is like a love story, it’s noirish and it’s set in Los Angeles. So it’s very different from The Sand.”

You can visit the official site for The Sand here.

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