Erik Bernard Shares His Journey from Soldier to Shorts to The Place We Hide, His Debut Feature
Indie Film Junction | December 2, 2020
Indie Film Junction | December 2, 2020
Erik Bernard’s path to becoming a filmmaker has been an interesting one. We were fortunate to connect with him and learn what went into the making of his new film (also his debut feature), The Place We Hide, which he co-wrote with Laura McLaughlin. Among the many takeaways is the necessity of setting expectations with cast and crew, sustaining morale on set, and getting the most out of limited locations by keeping the shots interesting. The Place We Hide will be released soon on Sling TV and most major cable On Demand outlets.
IFJ: How did you get into filmmaking?
EB: I spent years working in my stepfather’s video shop when I was a teenager, so my love of cinema goes way back. However, it was during one of my tours in the U.S. Army in Iraq when we all hunkered down to watch a bootleg version of Kill Bill. It was this fantastic escape from the reality of what was going on around us that made me realize I want to be a filmmaker. I’ve also always considered myself to have a natural talent for writing, and found it to be a great escape too. I decided to write a script while I was overseas, and it was horrible. When I got back to the U.S., I was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia and decided to apply to The Savannah College of Art and Design on my lunch break. I ended up getting in being a student to Michael Nolin, who produced Mr. Holland’s Opus, and David Englebach, who wrote Over The Top. These two teachers helped me grow immensely and find my voice as a writer. I went on to win my first screenwriting competition shortly after graduating and I would win 30 writing awards over the next few years. When I decided to leave the military, I set out to direct and produce.
IFJ: What inspired the idea for The Place We Hide?
EB: We were looking to create a single-location feature film, and I ran across a great short film script that inspired me to tell a unique story and shed light on a timeless conversation of justice and revenge. The script gave me an opportunity to explore how life as a culmination of choices and events that shape the world in which we live. This film is an exploration of that world and the most important choice we all face; that of who we choose to become. To achieve this goal, we created and told the stories of two characters who’ve experienced tragedy throughout their lives, and are haunted by dark secrets. Stevie, a brilliant hypnotherapist, has overcome adversity to reinvent herself through a hard earned second chance and chooses to be a guide to her patients that are in search of salvation and redemption. The other character we focus on in the film is Jack, who is essentially a hit-man. He has found resiliency in a commitment to serve society as a violent agent of karma, judging crimes and their perpetrators that don’t deserve a second chance.
Of course, it was a serious endeavor to write and film a movie that takes place, for the most part, in an elevator. I saw this as an opportunity to challenge myself as a writer and director. This story needed fresh dialogue, tension, and a style to keep the audience engaged long enough to get to the good stuff.
IFJ: What was the development process like?
EB: It was tough. As a small production team with a limited budget, we built the elevator and set ourselves. My director of photography was critical in that regard. On top of that, I spent hours thinking about the visual experience that would match these dark and intriguing backstories that Laura and I created for the two main characters. To do this, we had to keep our camera angles fresh and create a continuous evolution of the characters so the audience was able to see them in a different light as the story progressed. Lastly, there was the music. I spent hours collaborating with the film’s composer Vincent Gillioz to give each of our main characters their own sound and the movie its own feel. We worked to immerse the audience into our world from the very beginning. We wanted the audience to know they were about to watch something unique.
IFJ: How did the movie come together?
EB: This movie was the culmination of hard work and pure ambition. My business partner Courtney LeMarco has always been supportive, and he came forward and really gave me a boost of moral support. My mother and wife were gracious with their credit cards. And I had some great teammates in Angela and Marco Laporta, who worked long hours in the development and production to make this film a success.
IFJ: Can you give us a rough breakdown of the production? How large was the crew, how long did you shoot for, and over what period of time?
EB: We had a crew of 10 to 12 members. We filmed for 26 days and filmed 12 hour days, on average. Throughout the entire filming process, we had about one or two 16 hour days, which made me feel incredibly grateful to have a fantastic crew on hand that was willing to dig deep to finish the project.
IFJ: What did you learn from directing shorts that helped you during the production of The Place We Hide?
EB: Directing shorts, I learned about the areas in filmmaking that I cannot overlook or overcome without professional-level talent in my crew. It’s that age-old saying, “The professional will cost you a lot, but the amateur will cost you even more.” You can never hire an amateur for sound work. The audience won’t watch images no matter how beautiful they are if the sound experience is lacking. Your camera operators and director of photography are probably the only people more important than the sound itself. If your camera operators can’t operate the cameras, you end up with shaky and poorly framed images that distract from your actors’ amazing performances. As a director, I believe you learn to hone your process from experience. Directing short films, I learned how to manage relationships on set and communicate effectively with my actors and crew. Directing shorts also forces you to learn the whole filmmaking process. I spent hours in the editing room, reviewing footage, and seeing what worked and what didn’t work. Understanding the editing process helped me save time and focus my crew and actors’ energy during production.
IFJ: What is something you wish you knew going into production?
EB: This is a tough question. Hindsight is 20-20, and it’s easy to get caught up while looking back and thinking about the things that are out of your control. Going into every production, there are unknowns in terms of the amount of energy some team members are willing to put into the project. As we started filming, I noticed that the cast and crew had divided focus. While expectations were communicated, I would have had a conversation just requesting everyone to give the next 26 days, 100% with a complete emphasis on what we have to accomplish each day.
IFJ: The Place We Hide is both your first feature and the first film that you directed and also wrote. Having directed other people’s scripts and now your own, do you have a preference?
EB: That depends. I prefer directing my own scripts because I’m familiar with my screenplays’ flow, cadence, and character development. That said, If someone else’s script can excite me, then I really enjoy collaborating with that writer to add my perspective to their story. It’s a beautiful thing when two creative minds can come together in the filmmaking process.
IFJ: You co-wrote the movie with Laura McLaughlin. What was the writing process like?
EB: It was great! Laura was a true professional. As I’ve mentioned a number of times throughout this interview, we collaborate well together and were on the same page creatively with what we wanted this feature to become. We were open to each other’s ideas and were able to work swiftly to turn around drafts. While I was impressed by her passion for storytelling, I was also impressed by her drive to succeed.
IFJ: You have also worked as a Post-Production Supervisor. Did that experience inform how you approached producing and directing the film?
EB: Absolutely. Post-production trains you to be hyper-vigilant about the editing process since you’re the one making the final cuts before the film makes to audiences. While sitting in the director’s chair, this experience gives me the foresight to know how I need to film shots to cut back on editing time in post. I also made sure there was a solid plan for the BTS photos for marketing.
IFJ: Evolving production logistics, unforeseen circumstances, and other developments during production often require script changes. Did you make any changes to the script for The Place We Hide during production?
EB: We did about 6 table reads, so we had a pretty good idea of what would work and what wouldn’t. The significant changes we made revolved around the limitations we experienced with location availability. We had to think on our toes and adapt to sequence work during filming when our desired location was not available.
IFJ: What was the biggest challenge you faced in post-production, and how did you overcome it?
EB: Our post-production was pretty smooth, despite having to work remotely from one another due to the pandemic. Typically, we screen the film in a studio and cut it together as a team to ensure a streamlined editing process. Since we were doing all of our post-production work virtually, we had to rely heavily on home offices to edit, screen cuts of the film, and provide feedback to the sound teams and colorist. It was challenging at points because we had to be clear in our communication with one another. We also had to make sure to calibrate our televisions and monitors to see the same color spectrum. We were lucky to get through the whole process without any serious issues.
IFJ: What’s next for you?
EB: We are gearing up to film another feature titled Free Dead or Alive, which is about an El Salvadorian woman who flees abuse. After making her escape, she meets a hard-hearted coyote and joins him on a dangerous journey through the treacherous Mexican migration route. It’s an adventure love story that we’ll start shooting next year in a border town in Texas. We’ve been lucky to attract talented and experienced actors from the Latin community that want to join us as we tell this amazing story.
IFJ: Where can people find you online to stay up to date on all your projects?
EB: You can check out our website at www.tlgmotionpictures.com to keep up to date on all our projects.
Director Erik Bernard
Runtime 82 min
“The Place We Hide" begins with the murder of a patient to Dr. Stevie Fleming (Nikki M. Weiland), an ambitious and confident hypnotherapist. Set to publish her first book on hypnotherapy, Dr. Fleming has also finally gathered the courage to stand up to her exploitive ex-husband who has been leeching off her success. Her life takes an unexpected dark turn after she gets trapped in an elevator with a stranger, Jack (David Yusel Madison), who she soon discovers to be a righteous hitman contracted to deliver his special brand of justice.More