Interview with The Boy Behind the Door Production Designer Ryan Brett Puckett

Interview with The Boy Behind the Door Production Designer Ryan Brett Puckett

Horrorific content by jessicagomez on December 01st, 2020 | Horror News |

The dark and unbelievably tense indie The Boy Behind the Door relied heavily on its set production and cinematography to tell a story of two kidnapped boys. I chatted with production designer Ryan Brett Puckett to get some backstory on how the set so effectively transformed this film.

Jessica Gomez (JG): I watched The Boy Behind the Door last week and it was super dark, but it was really, really good. So I just wanted to ask you some questions about the set design. The bulk of the film takes place inside a large colonial. Did you film inside that home or were those just for exterior shots? 

Ryan Brett Puckett (RBP): We filmed entirely on location. So it's a real house, very weird. I mean, it kind of is what it is. It's a nice 1890s house literally in the middle of an oil pump location. 

JG: That’s so bizarre. How did you guys end up finding that location? 

RBP: I believe the location scout pulled options for the movie - I think a couple weeks before I got brought in. I didn't get a chance to participate necessarily in the initial hunt for it. It's being used quite a bit for a lot of different films. I believe when we were there we were kind of in between maybe an HBO series or something, that had been shooting off and on. Now that I’m  aware of it being a location, every movie I'll watch I'm like trying to see if I recognize that. It’s been around for a couple of decades but you don't really see inside of it, very often. It's just kind of like an empty house that happened to be on the property. So yeah, we basically had to figure out how to make both the exteriors and interiors work for everything for The Boy Behind the Door.

JG: So how did that process work when you're kind of working to bring to life Justin and David's film as writers and directors - what was their vision for the production of the set?

RBP: They had a really strong idea of how they wanted the house to feel right out of the gate because we knew we were trying to convey the sort of dramatic tension of everything - we all just kind of gravitated towards keeping it a very dark look. Kind of obscure things such as our characters are running around in it, it’ll just sort of create that emotional feel of the darkness and sort of not knowing what's happening in the house or where things are. From there, I initially started asking like what's the history of the house, you know, how did our kidnapper end up here, what’s the story? Why is she kidnapping kids, what were all these motivations? And so we started talking back and forth, kind of trying to create sort of the history of what happened before the movie that led to that point. So then we could start figuring out what the textures were like, you know, why would certain walls be certain colors? And what can we do to the house to try to get it to feel like the cohesive environment that the kidnapper would be in? So they didn't really have very specific ideas of like “oh we wanted to exactly look like this” or “we want these specific colors.” It was just kind of talking about the emotions of the scenes and the overall feel they're trying to convey. Our Art Director spent a couple of days digging around, pulling up wallpaper samples and color palettes and piecing things together.

We had a lot of photos of the house from scouts before I had a chance to go out there. I was taking daytime shots of the house and photoshopping them into like night scenes and changing all the wall colors and putting wallpaper over them to see what it would look like. So we started building up these textures to try to make it feel that it is sort of older than it is, or original. Right now when you walk in you'll think you're walking around in an Easter party. It's just like these wild pastel yellows and pinks and blues everywhere. We had to cover up all of that and figure out like how do we make this feel like - a weird, old...not really a mansion, but just like an older house that you know has been neglected over the years because the people there, they don't care about it being a house, it’s just a place they do business, right? They don't care if some of the rooms have stuff piled up. They’re only concerned about “the kids go in this room”, and going down to the kitchen to cook snacks while waiting for whatever shady dudes are coming by. The design kind of evolved out of trying to give the house a little bit of character to set up that scenario and just sort of keep the mood kind of dark, a little confusing. Kids are going through the maze, and you’re kind of on the same journey, like, where does that door go, and what’s on the other side?

JG: Yeah, there wasn't a lot of dialogue in this movie so it really relied a lot on the setting and how it’s shot - you guys really nailed it telling a story about the backstory that we don't get on these captors. So were you changing pieces or anything about the rooms throughout filming? Did you have anything that was a more challenging set? 

RBP: The whole house was a big challenge. All of the wallpaper and anywhere we painted, it all had to be materials that we could wash off super quick and easy or that we could peel off. The paint existing on the walls was practically falling off the walls on its own. You could walk up to a lot of the walls, especially the main hallway that a lot of scenes take place in - every little bit of that, patches of paint were falling off and we had to put wallpaper over it, so it was just this nightmare trying to get things to stay up enough so it would look okay for camera but would come off enough where they weren't gonna charge us thousands of dollars to refinish their walls.

I wish I had done a map of what the house actually looked like versus what it fictionally looks like in the movie. A bunch of the rooms that are in the movie don't exist in the house, and some of the rooms that you see throughout the movie are the same room shot twice from different angles with completely different pieces built into it.

JG: Oh wow, that's cool.

RBP: The actual house is only two stories tall, and we play it as if it’s three stories plus a basement. The basement that he comes into breaking through the window, it's sort of like a shed kind of under the kitchen, but it's not a real basement. The final room that they end up in which they calculated to be a third floor - he goes up the last flight of stairs with the red light. But he ends up actually going back into the room that would have been the kidnappers, so the room the kidnapper was in, we ended up completely tearing apart after we finished the scene, and then we built a ceiling and wall pieces to look like it was up in the attic of the house. So slanted ceiling, slotted wood and it's bare - no insulation, no walls or paint in it. 

Some of it was already in the script - this happens, he needs to move into this room to discover this thing and then from there, he’s able to get the key to get this other door open to go upstairs - and the actual house, when we’re walking around, like, this doesn't exist, there's no obvious way to make this work. I think we spent a good week or two between me, the directors and the cinematographer trying to figure out, like, we really want it to go this way, but there's nothing there - how can we shoot it for the first part of the scene and then flip the camera to make it feel in the edit that he was able to move into another room, and there's another hallway there? So a lot of it was trying to figure that out in advance, pre-visualizing it in our minds, like okay, if we shoot it this way, it will look like there's more rooms here or that it's a different room. Through the design we had to keep track of that, which side we could see and which sides we couldn't. For different hallways, we would build higher walls and block off a portion of it, and change the way the doors look. A lot of stuff like that. We started with as many rooms as we could and while they’d shoot out of a certain room, we’d be up in a room ripping everything out, picking out all the set decorations, pulling down wallpaper, building new walls up, and painting - and then you set decoration to start shooting a day or two after that.

JG: Were you sweating it that they would have to reshoot something?

RBP: A little bit, yeah. There was so much planning in the beginning, that once we got in the flow of it, we knew like, all right, we got what we need in this. They didn't really do any real reshoots for it. There was some stuff we shot after because we just wanted to get more detail shots. I mean as dumb as it is, it's a really small thing and they don't show it a lot in the movie, but the air vent that the two kids talk through - I think Kevin's trying to pull it off to see if he can escape out of the room - we built a fake inside section of the wall with fake vents, so that we can give these cool shots of the camera moving through it that we otherwise we wouldn't have been able to do shooting at a real house. 

There wasn't really a big plan to do it initially and then as we were shooting, I built the piece. As we got to the end of the shoot, everybody was kind of like, those are actually really cool shots, I wonder if we can do more of those? So I think like a week later we ended up at the production offices building up a small section of wallpaper and wall and then bringing the original piece that I built. They have a chance to really start talking a little bit more in that scene, bring a little more of that dialogue between the two boys than originally planned.

I can’t watch the movie and help but know what it looks like in my head. I don't know for a viewer if they get the same experience. Does it feel like a maze? Can they tell some of the rooms are the exact same rooms twice?

JG: I mean for me, I never thought that any of the rooms looked the same and I also thought, like, how big is this house? Because I feel like it was like a maze. 

RBP: Most houses are made to be intuitive, like you understand, “if I go up these stairs, I’ll get to these bedrooms.” The layout we did, we just tried to really make it feel like a maze, and a little bit confusing, and some of the rooms don’t always make sense. Hopefully it helps with the drama unfolding.

JG: How would you say that working on a horror film is different from your other projects for your sets that you have to build?

RBP: It’s really not much different. At the end of the day the design always comes down to trying to convey an emotion through a visual means. As Art Departments and Production Designers, we don't have the ability to use words, so the story of what we're doing has to come across just by what you see in the background, and usually people don't pay that much attention to that part. But it has to slide in there and give you a mood without you really thinking about it. If I’m doing a comedy or a sci-fi, at the end of the day, it's what's the mood in the script, and what can we do to design to work with it? I don’t really change my process much. I enjoy doing horror a lot more because I think horror and thrillers and things, they’ve just got that opportunity to make the world so much weirder and wilder and crazier than you could get away with just doing a rom-com.

JG: I feel like I hear that a lot from creative people. They think it's just a lot easier - you have a little bit more artistic freedom with horror movies because there's not as strict of a set of standards that you have to follow. 

RBP: Yeah, totally. That’s what makes it fun. Doing horrors, I'm not a big fan of cleaning up blood (laughs.) The first couple of horror projects I did when I first started doing this were more typical slashery type things, and after you've done a couple of them cleaning blood off the walls for another starts to get a little old.

But having that open canvas though, being able to bend reality and push a little bit farther than anything else - that part makes horror just in general a really fun genre to play around in. 

JG: So what tell me about what you've got coming up in the next few months here. 

RBP: Oh, man...I actually can’t talk about it.

JG: Oh no!

RBP: Normally it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I'm helping some friends out on a well-known series. Because of covid, everything kind of shut down. We just started back up, prepping, getting ready to shoot, but it's all very hush-hush still. Word isn't out about what it is yet. 

JG: You have me intrigued now. Last question - what is your favorite scary movie? 

RBP: I think the one that I always go back to, that will get me every time no matter how many times I've seen it - I’m a big fan of the original Alien

JG: Great choice.

RBP: I love sci-fi, I love dark thrillers - it’s just a combination of things, it’s a slow-burn psychological’s perfect.

The Boy Behind the Door is making its way through festivals, and will likely receive a wide release in 2021.

*This interview has been condensed for clarity and brevity.

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