Interview with Michael J. Bassett (My Silent Hill)
Date published: 2012.10.14
My Silent Hill: As you know, Silent Hill fans are pretty rabid.
Michael J. Bassett: (laughs) Oh, yes.
MSH: I’ve been hearing them grilling you pretty good.
MJB: Oohhh yes. (both laugh)
MSH: So as a writer, when you went to adapt such a beloved and unique video game world like Silent Hill or like Silent Hill 3 in particular, what was the most important element of that you wanted to keep intact?
MJB: Wow. I mean, the first thing is…coming from it as a fan of the games; I’m a long standing gamer, I’ve been playing games for oh, 20 years plus before games were any good, you know? One thing to make sure, the very, very least the thing you can do is preserve the essence of what the games are and why they are so good. When Silent Hill first came out it kind of changed the gaming world because of the things it was doing in terms of emersion into the world, the fear it could create, the use of sound design and music, and a narrative and creating a mythology.
These guys at Konami had really thought about this and were doing something pretty unique. You don’t want to anything which is going to sully the memory of that or the legacy of what it’s done.
Subsequent games have been of varying quality; some have been amazing and some have been less good but they’ve always been impressive. They’ve always strove to do something striking. And then being a fan of the actual first movie; which I really was. And I know a lot of gamers give it a hard time and I don’t understand it because of all the game adaptations I’ve ever seen, it is the most faithful in trying to recreate and capture the essence of the game it portrays.
Wanting to keep all that [essence] true and at the same time tell a great story worth an audience’s time. Because that’s the thing that’s sort of been missing from game adaptations. Because…you can’t make a movie JUST for the Silent Hill fans. You want them to love it and you want them to be part of it, but ultimately you’ve got to try to broaden the audience. You’ve got to…create more Silent Hill fans by making a movie by which an audience who perhaps have no knowledge of Silent Hill; they’ve never seen the movie, they’ve never played the games, they don’t know the legacy… they can go to the theatres on Friday, the 26th of October for Halloween weekend and see a great, frightening movie and come away going, “Wow that Silent Hill looks like it’s a really great world. Let’s play the games, let’s go watch the first movie.” So, you’re trying to preserve the legacy. But the key, really, is to make sure the adaptation is a good story in and of itself.
MSH: Exactly. What I’ve explained to people because all my friends know me as, you know, the big Silent Hill nerd…they always quiz me about the movie and all that. But what I tell them is “No, it’s not exactly like the game but you have to understand that Silent Hill is the main character of Silent Hill.”
MJB: (excited) Yes! That’s incredibly true. The biggest thing people are after me here, they’re like, “Do you want to make another Silent Hill movie?” And I’m saying, the thing of it is, that Silent Hill is the world. So you can start telling whole new stories in Silent Hill and still be absolutely true to the legacy of the Silent Hill games. You know, I like the graphic novels. I love the one that’s set in the Old West; I think that’s [a] really, really clever use of Silent Hill, you know the pioneer town version. Or when it was a prison colony…or the ancient Indian aspects of it, that mythology is really, really good stuff to play with. And as you said, it’s not a slavish recreation of the story of game number three. It uses it as a very, very firm foundation; lots of characters you’re familiar with will appear there. A couple of characters you think you’re familiar with, who I treat differently are going to be there…and that will definitely be a point of great debate, I’m sure.
But, I think a gamer will see the strong DNA of Silent Hill 3 and all the other games to a certain extent appear there in one form or another. Little hints at characters from…you know, you’ll see it if you’re looking for it.
MSH: Very cool and well, you know…I’ll find it. (laughs)
MJB: I’m sure you will!
MSH: There are so many great monsters to choose from throughout the Silent Hill universe, especially in Silent Hill 3. I see you had a lot of fun coming up with new ones…I’m a huge fan of Patrick Totopolous and love seeing what the guy comes up with. The big buzz around the internet right now among fans is seeing Memory of Alessa in the TV spots. We’re totally stoked to see that dark version of Heather.
MJB: (interested) Okay!
MSH: Now, was there a process in which game monsters you felt were appropriate for the film and got adapted and which ones didn’t, or was it more of just letting the creativity take you where it went?
MJB: Yeah, I mean, the bestiary of Silent Hill is one of the best around. There are so many things to choose from…only because Samuel Hadida (producer) owns the movie rights to all the Silent Hill stuff so you have this whole catalog of monsters. Of course as a fan of the thing, I know that the monsters have to be generated by the psychology of the central character going into Silent Hill. It gives you what you give it.
And obviously, there was a huge debate within the community about using Pyramid Head in the first movie because he doesn’t belong there! He comes from game number two; he represents the suffering and pain of those characters and same with the nurses. But, Christophe Gans chose to do it, I’ve inherited that and I chose to put them in this movie.
But from my own point of view, I found a rationale for it. For me, Pyramid Head represents masculinity; he’s the executioner historically in Silent Hill…and when you see the movie, you’ll understand that he really does have a purpose. He’s not just a creature who prowls around, slicing and hacking and killing. There’s a function to him within the context of the story and I think the key is, the monsters have to be a product of the story telling process. It’s not a game; you can’t just run down a corridor and [have] a monster jump out. It’s got to have a purpose. So, Heather’s progress through the story and the monsters she meets…some are incredibly fleeting looks at creatures [and] others spend more time on the screen…it’s like, where do they play into her ongoing story?
As long as I can make that work and make sense to me, then they belong there. See, there are monster sequences I shot that we didn’t use because they didn’t do anything to the storytelling process. It’s just, “Oh, there’s a monster.” Fan service is not enough reason for it. It’s got to be because it’s part of the story telling process; whether it’s Pyramid Head appearing at an appropriate time, whether it’s a creature born out of the asylum in the suffering of patients who’ve [had] lobotomies and [have] been operated on…there’s a great creature who appears there. Whether it’s The Butcher who appears for a moment in a sequence to do with fast food…it’s like, everything’s gonna have a purpose. It’s not just thrown in there.
And there’s a new monster who we call the Missionary because she evolved from… originally I was just going to use the Missionary from the game…she kept the name and completely changed her purpose and became a very feminine monster to go against Red Pyramid’s masculinity. So, we were always looking for reflections and ideas and I’ve got the Leonard monster. But I’ve got a Leonard person; Malcolm McDowell who plays Leonard…he’s more than a voice on the telephone now, he’s the real guy. So, it’s all about choices that hopefully work for the story rather than just randomly saying, “That’s a cool monster, let’s make it.”
MSH: Was there anything you really wanted to put in the movie or expand on, but didn’t get to?
MJB: There’s always a wish list of things you’d like to do. I love the stuff with mirrors and stepping through mirrors; I like the Alice in Wonderland aspect of Silent Hill. I think that’s always been really clever. There’s not a lot of that in this one. The transformation sequences into the darkness back and forth; that’s always a very cool moment. I would have loved to have done more of that but we don’t do that so much. It happens a couple times, but every time the world changes it’s always a really interesting visual to play with. No, I mean I think we did everything that this movie needed to have done. Would I have loved to have more TIME to do it? Oh, absolutely! We meet Claudia at the end with The Order and all that part of the story is told, we have a great confrontation [and] Pyramid [Head] plays into a great sequence at the end…
I think we have everything that the fans are going to want in various degrees of intensity. There are a couple of strikingly gruesome images but the movie is not a gory movie. It’s much more about imagery and atmosphere than it is about blood being spilled. Well, there is a little bit of blood spilled. (laughs) I got to do everything I wanted to, I’m really pleased.
MSH: Oh, well, I can’t wait to see it! Do you think that being a gamer gave you an advantage coming into this? A lot of us have noticed even little touches, like Heather comes out of the correct room number in Jack’s Inn. Stuff like that. Total Silent Hill nerds like me go, “Oh my gosh that’s so cool!” Do you think that [being a gamer] gave you an advantage of knowing what a gamer would want to see?
MJB: I don’t know if it’s an advantage, I mean what I really brought to this is that I’m a fan. Not just of Silent Hill, but of lots of things…. [It has] nothing to do with me being a film maker; I’ll go see a movie because I love the comic or I love the game or I love the book. What has this filmmaker made of the thing that I love? Sometimes you go out saying, “Oh my god, what were they thinking?” and sometimes you go, “Wow they thought exactly what I thought!”
The little touches and things…like we have a wonderful ruby red shoe in the background in the motel room which will mean something to people. We have a character who appears and done something…we have Douglas Cartland who is dressed EXACTLY like he is in the game. There’s no harm in doing that. It’s like, all that it requires is a little bit of effort to say to the production designer that this should be room number so-n-so and Leonard’s cell number should be this. And the Seal of Metatron should be designed in this way and the Halo of the Sun should be used here and have this representation and Valtiel looks like this. That’s part of us trying…to show the Silent Hill fans that we did care, you know? This wasn’t made by the faceless Hollywood guys. This is not a Hollywood movie, this is actually an independent picture made by people who love the games and want there to be more Silent Hill movies. We don’t want anything to damage the franchise because we love what it is.
MSH: Exactly. Well, I’m so glad I had this opportunity to ask you a few questions. I know you’ve been grilled thoroughly.
MJB: It’s nice to talk to a real fan who knows the world. I hope you enjoy the movie when you get a chance to see it.
MSH: Well, I can’t wait to see it. There is one thing I’ve noticed that I have to commend you on, and that’s this. The first movie had a lot of buzz but I think that you’ve reined it in a little closer to what the game is. And even though it’s a different story…well, it’s the same story, let’s put it that way but it’s told in a new and interesting way…
MJB: That’s the plan!
MSH: Time will tell, the premiere’s just around the corner.
MJB: All the nice talk might finish quickly when you see the movie, ha, but I think it’s a good movie. It’s an enjoyable experience. And I absolutely guarantee that there are going to be lots and lots of people saying, “I think that choice was a bad choice or this sucked or I hate what he did there.” But I also hope that enough people go, “Yeah, it wasn’t the Silent Hill that I would’ve made, but it was a really enjoyable movie and it IS Silent Hill.” That’s what you want to get. I want to make more Silent Hill fans and not lose the ones that are already there.