Inspired by a harrowing piece of CCTV footage, Jasper de Bruin’s latest short Nightingale is a dark and unsettling thriller set in a nursing home. It follows an overworked nurse on a night shift who becomes tracked by an unsettling stalker. It’s a wonderfully crafted and tense short with an atmospheric electro-acoustic score (which is available to purchase here!). Twelve Cabins asked de Bruin about making his film with production company Make Way Film, the trials he faced to secure the perfect shooting location, and the methodology behind his evocative POV camerawork.
How did you come up with the concept for Nightingale?
A mutual friend introduced me to Screenwriter Simone Duwel. We bounced around the scariest places we could think of and nursing homes came out pretty high. I had a terrifying experience there as a kid with a woman with dementia and Simone used to work in one. We were both convinced it was a pretty awful place to end up. We wanted to comment on this weird system: we put our parents and grandparents there, but we know the staff are underpaid and overworked. The main inspiration though, is a piece of CCTV video I once came across on the internet. It was a brutal beating of an elderly person in a nursing home. It sort of traumatised me, I guess I had to work it out of my system.
That’s pretty intense, to say the least. On a practical level, what were the challenges of shooting in a nursing home?
Getting a location. It was the hardest thing to find a suitable location for our nursing home as we had a very limited budget. At a certain point we thought we found a good location, a former geriatrics department inside a functioning hospital. We were very far in pre-production when they refused to sign the contract, about three weeks before shooting. We speculated a lot about the reasons why it was so hard to find something. Was it the implicit message that there could be something rotten in the healthcare system, specifically within care for the elderly? The fact that it was horror? When our producer asked a seasoned location scout for help, he said “Yeah, I saw your call on social media and I thought oh, they are going to have a tough time.” Apparently there’s a real shortage of hospital locations in the Netherlands. There’s one former hospital here that everybody uses for shooting everything hospital-like, because it’s the only one that’s tailored for film. But it’s pretty expensive, of course.
It was quite a blow when our location fell through at the last moment. It was especially hard for the production team, but our Line Producer Jennifer Eikelenboom pushed through and we ended up with a phenomenal location, a former rehabilitation centre. Everybody was available for rescheduling. The location was practically empty. Once we had it, the only thing we had to worry about was not getting lost in all the endless hallways and rooms.
Loved the score. What were you looking to evoke with it and who did you work with in bringing it together?
So happy to hear that, I always put a lot of effort into the music and sound. I worked with Composer/Musician Sjoerd Leijten on the score. We go back a long way, I think he composed his first film score for my first real attempt at directing a short in 2010. I always try to get him involved in my projects. He has a very experimental mindset, a philosophical brain and a lot of ideas, but always manages to coalesce these into something that fits perfectly, he’s an extremely talented composer.
We have to talk through a lot of ideas, examples and concepts before we find the right direction for the music. We wanted to make something electro-acoustic, combining analog and digital. Melancholy and a morose sense of inevitability were two important feelings for me. The first thing we nailed was the nursery rhyme that Julia hums to her patients, because our actress had to perform that during shooting, we wanted that to be as real as possible. After that we worked on finding the right concepts for the music. I thought we had to represent the stressed-out mind of Julia, our protagonist, but that was a dead end. Luckily, our Sound Designer Richard Wilder found a great way to incorporate that idea into the film. When we found that we had to focus on the eerie side of her character and the oppressive feeling of the nursing home, I let Sjoerd do his thing. For people who like the score I can recommend visiting his Bandcamp page, he made an expanded score which is quite something.
That’s awesome. Another technical question, what made you decide to use POV shots as a way to create tension and tell your story?
I wanted to tell a story that would subvert expectations. And to make our idea work, I really needed the POV shots. There was no other way. Also, I wanted to make some sort of homage to John Carpenter, whose work I adore. It was a risky choice, because it feels like such an antiquated way to create tension nowadays. POV in the traditional sense is as good as gone in horror, it found new meaning in the found footage films. But I fell in love with the idea of using the trope against itself, so audiences would be genuinely surprised by the reveal.
With that in mind, and without giving away any major plot details, how did you develop the effects used for your antagonist’s monstrous look?
We were very lucky to work with the Mad Scientists, a group of filmmakers/SFX artists led by Richard Raaphorst. They have a madly skilled sculptor and makeup artist in their team, Stephan Vos. We wanted to make our vampire atypical. We talked about predators and scavengers, our vampire was more of an outcast, someone hiding from the world. Tired, I told Stephan, make it look very tired. He did a wonderful job.
Can we expect to see you make another horror short?
Absolutely. Before Nightingale, I was mostly making experimental shorts, but working in the horror genre feels like coming home. I’m currently developing two horror shorts. One is set on a Dutch peninsula and features local myths. It’s about the end of a relationship. I hope to shoot that next year.
The other is a fantasy/horror film, a short proof of concept for a feature that’s been on my mind for years. It’s a very wild, playful story, but very heavy; an existential tale. About a young man that feels so out of place in his life and so oppressed, that he manages to escape to a fantasy world filled with nostalgia. He’s basically fleeing from his self-consciousness, which/who is a literal character in my story. Of course that world turns out to be even worse than his real life. It sounds pretty depressing, but the tone, characters and ideas are fun, almost childlike. It’s a film I really want to see. I hope I’m not the only one.