The Boy Behind the Door made its world premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest, with critics calling the film “a suspenseful thriller that fearlessly pushes boundaries” and “a gripping twist on the home-invasion thriller”. The official synopsis reads: Two adolescent boys are kidnapped and brought to a strange house in the middle of nowhere. Fighting against all odds they try to escape to freedom.
Intensifying the subject matter is the film’s setting; a claustrophobic, maze-ridden house that the kidnapper inhabits. The directors, David Charbonier and Justin Powell, envisioned a very specific look for the house, so to achieve this they enlisted production designer Ryan Brett Puckett. Puckett did everything from temporarily wallpapering most of the rooms, to distressing windows and practical lighting to give it a more neglected feel. To learn more about all this, we spoke exclusively to Puckett about his work on The Boy Behind the Door. He also discusses his work on other projects such as The Walking Dead: World Beyond and Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge. Read the full interview below.
What attracted you to your new film The Boy Behind the Door?
The script always comes first. I’m a big fan of dark thrillers, and was interested to work with something that pushes boundaries in the subject matter while still feeling grounded in possibility. The friendship between Bobby and Kevin pulling you through everything was especially compelling. Then I met with the Directors and Producers at Whitewater Films, and it was obvious there was also a really talented and driven group of people involved with this great script.
The Boy Behind the Door was helmed by first time directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell. They also wrote the film. Because they wrote the script, did they have a very clear picture of the way they wanted the film to look?
The early design conversations about a film are always such a wide-open opportunity to explore perspectives and concepts to tell the story, then distill it down to build the world. We started discussing various ideas the first day I met with them, and we were on the same page with the aesthetic quickly. There were a lot of restrictions at the filming location, so the biggest challenge was figuring out how to execute the look we wanted.
Was there a room or location in The Boy Behind the Door that didn’t look very complex, design wise, but actually was?
Not necessarily a single room, but because most of the action was limited to the house, we spent a lot of time designing how different rooms needed to interact with each other. A few rooms and passageways that were critical to the action of the story did not exist at the house location. We spent some time working through the schedule, and shooting angles to establish a fictional floor plan that would allow us to change certain rooms, stairways, etc to appear as if we were in different portions of the house. The final effect helped the house seem larger and maze like. There were some wild days where our whole art department would be tearing apart a finished room, adding new construction, and re-dressing it all while shooting was happening right down the hall.
The kidnapper’s house in the film is magnified, because most of the film takes place there. Because so much emphasis was put on the house, did you feel any extra pressure to really get it right?
Always! There is obviously the need to make a set look great for the audience following the story, but there is also a lot that happens outside of the camera’s frame. Setting the tone for our actors and crew is an important part of the process to help everyone understand the story’s world and its emotion during production. If it feels as real as possible on set, that carries through to the final film.
Can you tell readers something about the production design of The Boy Behind the Door that they might not know just from watching the film?
It was so sunny and warm for most of the shoot, despite the dark cold feel of the house interiors. Our Cinematographer, Gaffer, and Key Grip had to put a ton of work into controlling the light for this to all work. The Art crew were constantly treating the windows and various surfaces with a combination of techniques to keep up the feeling of a damp cold house over the course of the entire shoot. You would forget about it when inside for too long, then run outside for a moment and get blinded by the California sun.
You have worked on The Walking Dead: World Beyond. What surprised you most about working on that huge franchise?
Probably the day I turned around to look out my office and saw thirty decomposing prop bodies spilling out the back of a trailer! It’s obviously a very serious series, with a lot of challenges in trying to create such a large stylized world, but everyone involved keeps it a really fun and amazing experience behind camera. The Production Designer Tom Hallbauer and Art Director Jasmine Garnet nurture a really creative and collaborative art department that was a privilege to experience. I was even more fortunate that they trusted me to work with a massive plane crash scene for the first episode. In a time when a lot of sets become CGI to manage costs or schedule, it was exciting that everyone committed to creating this for real. Weeks of design time with the director, and even more weeks with the most rock star Special Effects and Construction team resulted in us ripping apart an entire 737 plane and taking over the streets of a local town. It was a treat to be a part of that commitment to reality and only a little bit terrifying to see how thin the walls of an airplane actually are.
You are the Art Director for Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge. What is your favorite part of working on that show?
I’ve done a lot of work over the years with the Lucasfilm crew behind this show. Every time I get a call from them, it’s always for something fun. Designing the interior of a Star Wars spacecraft was a dream that came with a lot of pressure and learning along the way. Seeing peoples excited faces when they walked into the final set was just icing on the cake. The show is so positive, and getting a chance to be a part of something that inspires kids in the same way I was inspired by the SW films of my childhood felt really wonderful.
You were nominated for a Daytime Emmy for “Outstanding Daytime Promotional Announcement – Topical” – The Star Wars Show. Can you talk about this nomination and explain to people what exactly it was for?
This ties back to the last question a bit. The Star Wars Show team always come up with some wild ideas and then manage to get the green light to actually produce them. We recreated the trench run scene on the Death Star from the end of Episode IV – A New Hope, but replaced all of the characters with adorable animals. The scenes were shot almost exactly how the originals had been composited, with partial cockpit sets and a greenscreen in the background. But we had to make different scaled cockpits and props to accommodate the wide range of animals involved. Every day in Production Design and Art Department can be a surreal experience compared to most jobs, and this one was a prime example of giddy playfulness. I just started laughing the morning I woke up and saw we were on the Emmy nomination list for something so hilarious.
Why do you think your work on that show stood out to voters?
Hopefully everyone appreciated the skilled and meticulous work the propmakers put into making scaled versions of the famous spacecraft we all know and love. I would also like to believe everyone can get behind cute animals staging a resistance against an evil empire.
Many thanks to Ryan Brett Puckett for taking the time for this interview.