Interview with “The Basement” Producer Mark Heidelberger

Due for release later this year, The Basement tells of a seemingly innocent man who is abducted by a notorious L.A. serial killer, who forces his victims to switch roles with him so that he can enact his own capture, torture and murder.

Ahead of its release, we speak to producer Mark Heidelberger (Ninja Assassin, Comfort) about the film, as well as his illustrious career.

-PH: Why The Basement?

-Mark: Writer-director Nathan Ives and I have a long history of collaborating. We had already done three features together, plus a few commercials, and he was my client for eight years back when I was managing. So, when he came to me with the script for The Basement, which he co-wrote with another one of our occasional collaborators, Brian Conley, naturally I jumped at the chance to work together again. When I read the script, I felt like it had a stronger focus on character than most horror films, and because it eschewed a lot of the stereotypical genre conventions, it had the potential to cross over to an audience beyond just horror fans. I did provide Nathan and Brian with a number of notes to help get the material to a production-ready place, including ideas for a twist and ways to expand the story outside of the main basement locale, but even before that, I saw the potential the story had for success.

-PH: Is this one based on a true story or inspired by anything you or the filmmakers might have heard about?

-Mark: Nope. It’s not based on any real-life events. I know that true stories are a hot ticket in Hollywood nowadays, but this was an original idea that just sprang from the writers’ minds. In a way, that proved to be more effective for us because it allowed us as much creative license as possible to take the story in whatever direction we wanted. We weren’t hindered by “what really happened.”

-PH: Why Mischa Barton? What made her the right choice for the lead?

-Mark: We had a sales agent on board who we had all worked with on our previous film, A New York Christmas, and they gave us a list of names they felt brought value in this genre and budget range. Well, Mischa was right at the top of the list. I knew her work over the years and felt like she was the right age and look, plus she had the chops to pull off the role. Our casting director made an offer through her agent, but we didn’t hear anything for about a week. Well, it turns out that I had a friend who was good friends with her, so I called him and asked him to get her to do the picture. I made that call to my friend on a Saturday, and by Monday, Mischa’s agent was calling us to say she was accepting the role. She did a wonderful job for us, so it was the right call for sure.

-PH: Are you a fan of genre/horror films?

-Mark: I love films of any genre so long as they have a good story. As both a producer and a viewer, I try not to be constrained by genre. Good material transcends genre. All a genre really is, is a set of conventions or norms that allow an audience to clearly identify what type of picture it is and, therefore, decide whether they want to see it. But a good story is a good story is a good story, regardless of the genre, and that’s really what I look for. There are some phenomenal horror films that have come out in the last five to ten years that have really hooked me for one reason or another. Maybe they broke some new ground or surprised me in some way. A few in particular that come to mind – It Follows, Cabin in the Woods, Let the Right One In, Get Out, the first couple Paranormal Activity films. Let’s say I’m a fan of horror films that are well done.

-PH: Were you a big horror fan as a kid?

-Mark: You know, growing up I was more into action and comedy. My youth was all about Ghostbusters, Goonies, Beverly Hills Cop, Back to the Future, The Karate Kid, Police Academy. However, I did have a special fondness for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, not only because the first one scared the crap out of me when I was like seven, but also because of how creative they were. I thought it had a great concept – die in your dreams and you die for real. There were so many things you could do with dreams. That really sparked my imagination. However, I got more into horror as I got older because my best friend in high school was a horror freak. Remember Chainsaw and Dave from Summer School? He was like them. Obsessed. He had all of this cool memorabilia – a Halloween poster autographed by Moustapha Akkad, a Hellraiser box, a Chucky doll, the Evil Dead series all in their original VHS boxes. So, he made me watch everything with him. We went to horror conventions. We created our own blood effects at home using household items and played pranks on his mother. It was quite an education.

-PH: If this one played as part of a double feature at a Drive-In, what would you consider the perfect support feature?

-Mark: I think it would play perfectly with M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, as there are a lot of similarities in terms of concept and character and locale, yet they are still very different movies with very different stories. The Basement has a few gorier moments than Split, but the tension builds much the same way in both. As a second choice, I think Misery would also play well with it. Both films have this overwhelming sense of desperation and angst. They put you in the protagonist’s shoes and make you feel really uncomfortable from beginning to end.

-PH: Some of those locations you shot at looked pretty cool too. Where did you largely shoot?

-Mark: We built the basement set on a stage in Burbank and shot there for like 12 days. That was the bulk of the schedule. We also shot a few additional days at other locations around LA – a mansion in Malibu, a smaller house and liquor store in Lakewood, and a second stage in North Hollywood for pick-ups. The shoot was fairly contained. But a lot of the credit for the cool-looking locations goes to our production designer, Julian Brown. He did a lot with a little and really stretched that dollar.

-PH: You’ve produced many, many features – what keeps you going?

-Mark: I love producing mainly for two reasons. First, the producer is the one who gets to make all of the key decisions. He’s the one who decides that a story or script deserves to be made in the first place. He’s the one who decides on the director and star casting. He gets to say yes or no to major financial questions that arise. So, it’s a great job for anyone who likes being in charge. Producing is also a great job for people who have both left- and right-brain skill sets because you’re constantly tasked with both business and creative decisions and must balance the needs of one against the other. Secondly, the producer is the only position that’s on a film from beginning to end. He is the creative gatekeeper. From finding and developing the script to casting and prep to production and post to marketing and distribution, the producer truly is the driving force of a picture, and a hands-on one like me loves being able to watch his finished product and see his fingerprints on every stage of the process.

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