‘The Followed’ dir. Zak Klein

In a support group for women who have been followed, a young dancer describes being pursued by a strange fan; a fan who believes she is not all human. Minutes into her testimony she finds he has followed her into the very room.

Writer-Director: Zak Klein
Producer: Zoë Robinson & Jonah Klein
DOP: Anthony Gurner
Key Cast: Gina Bramhill & Adam Jackson-Smith

C8: Where did the idea for ‘The Followed’ come from?

ZK: I don’t like to admit it, but originally the idea was a comedy sketch. The idea of a stalker who to turns up to a support group for the very girl he’s stalking seemed – to my mind – darkly funny. As the project grew, I realised there were serious issues here, and I felt responsible to treat them properly. When the idea came to me to tell the story from the victim’s point of view, but including sequences from the stalker’s point of view, I imagined a visual tension and style that could work effectively and be genuinely unnerving. It seemed natural that the film should be a drama thriller, rather than a dark comedy.

C8: What is the most common question you get asked about the film?

ZK: People want to know about the ‘cat eyes’ at the end, and what it means. People have very different interpretations, and I like that. For me, it’s a symbolic touch designed to take us away from Andrea’s literal situation, hinting at the control her stalker exerts, even in absence. In Portland, one viewer compared this to a syndrome called Folie à deux, a phenomenon where symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another.

C8: How do you go about screenwriting? Do you have a specific process or does it vary with each project?

ZK: Usually I write a step outline, and make sure it’s working dramatically before writing a draft. But for ‘The Followed’ I just wrote a draft and kept developing it until it captured the tone of strange unease I was looking for. I enjoyed the process of discovery, but I don’t know if this would work for a longer piece of fiction. Usually, I get as much done as possible in the outline.

C8: How did you work with the actors on set? Was there a specific rehearsal period?

ZK: I do rehearsals in advance, but things can change on the day. I try to put the actors in the right frame of mind for the scene before shooting it, regularly offering inspiration for their character as we go.  For ‘The Followed’, an important thing to establish in advance was the blocking, so rehearsals were structured around that.

C8: How do you prepare as a director before a shoot? Do you storyboard meticulously or improvise certain shots on the day?

ZK: To prepare, I go into a pitch-black room and play ‘Rise of the Valkyries’ on full blast for several hours. Ok not really. I’m more concerned with getting the best performances than the composition of each shot. I do spend time on shot lists and storyboards, but what I really enjoy is fleshing out the characters and getting it to sound like I imagined. On set I stick to my shot list, but try to leave time for improvising new shots. In ‘The Followed’ we did loose, handheld takes of entire sequences at a time (up to 3 minutes). The dialogue didn’t change, though.

C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

ZK: Anthony (DOP) says, “It was shot in the Panasonic af101. And the reason was because it was mine. Also, It had a nicer less digital look than a DSLR, a softer tone, more 16mm like noise/grain than a 7D/5D. So for our budget was our best option.”

(Anthony won Best Director of Photography for his work on The Followed at Golden Egg Film Festival in New York).

C8: How do you work with an editor in post-production? Do you give a lot of notes or largely leave them to it?

ZK: Anthony and I edited it together, which is unusual. I am kind of particular with the pacing of the edit, constantly reworking and tweaking. It took us 4 months to edit ‘The Followed’. I’m not as controlling about the composition of shots on set. But once we have the footage it takes quite a while before I’m happy.

C8: What are the films, and who are the filmmakers, that made you want to get into directing?

ZK: Many films and directors have inspired me. For ‘The Followed’ I was inspired by Borderline Films who made ‘Afterschool’ and ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’; also by Lars Von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’. I’d be foolish not to mention ‘Vertigo’, though I wouldn’t say it was an overly considered influence.

C8: What is next for Zak Klein? Any interesting projects in the pipeline?

ZK: A feature comedy set in an orthodox Jewish community, and a series of warped and inventive sketches to go on a YouTube channel. For more on this (or to get involved?) contact zakklein@gmail.com