Unsane press conference with Steven Soderbergh, Joshua Leonard and Jonathan Bernstein
Unsane tells the story of Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a strong, independent woman who speaks her mind. After a traumatic experience with a stalker, she moves town only to be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward where she has to face her worst fear. At the film’s press conference director Steven Soderbergh, Joshua Leonard, who plays Sawyer’s stalker, and writer Jonathan Bernstein spoke about shooting the film on an iPhone and the future of digital cinematography.
Was it a great risk, trying to shoot a feature-length film on an iPhone?
Steven Soderbergh: We tried to keep the thing a secret for as long as we could. There was some discussion early on as to whether or not we wanted to define ourselves as the “iPhone movie”. Ultimately, I decided that I’m not defensive about it all, I’m proud of how the movie looks. If people go to see it out of curiosity that’s still the price of a ticket. So we’re trying to make it clear that this is a psychological thriller that doesn’t turn into a violent extravaganza, it’s a character-driven piece.
The story works around a stalker relationship, what got you interested in this gender dynamic?
SS: I’m certainly interested in these sorts of dynamics. Not just gender dynamics specifically but those of power. What happens to people when they get trapped in a system that is designed to strip them of their identity?
In Unsane, the protagonist is held in a mental institution against her will as a means for the facility to gain profit. Is this based on reality?
Jonathan Bernstein: Health itself is a business in America. These centres are run for profit so they need patients much like jails. Mental facilities need patients and they will go to great legal loopholes to get patients. They use your insurance as justification and then when it runs out you’re cured all of a sudden. That was the genesis of the idea.
Do you think you will continue to work on phones and digital cameras?
SS: We’re at an interesting transition point in terms of cinematography with what’s happening with these digital cameras. It requires an inversion of the techniques you would use on film cameras. The amount of control you have after the film is finished shooting is really gratifying. I really enjoyed the process of finding the combinations of textures we added to amplify each scene
What was it like acting in this environment?
Joshua Leonard: I mean, there’s nothing more fun for an actor than just being in the thick of the creative process, when you’re on set then have to wait for the technical filmmaking machine to catch up with the creative impulse. We never had to wait. We were always working on set. It enabled us to stay in the world of the film and our characters with fewer restrictions than you generally have on a film set. You normally take three hours while they set up the shot and drink your coffee and wait for the next scene.
I think anything that shortens the distance between creative impulse and execution is really fun for an artist. This was a great experiment in that process
SS: We’re so familiar with the aesthetic of phone imagery that there’s an intimacy between the audience and the characters on screen without even knowing it. The gap between the idea and the execution of the idea, this means you get to try out more ideas. I wish I had this equipment when I was 15.
JL: As an actor, we’re so used to getting phones shoved in our faces on a daily basis, so I think it really minimised any self-consciousness of the process of making a film because of the familiarity of the device.
Unsane is released nationwide on 23rd March 2018. Read our review here.
Read more reviews and interviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival 2018.