Q&A with Leaf Lieber, Director of “Paint Me In The Opera House”

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Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?

While I would argue that Tim Burton’s body of work isn’t exclusively cold-cut “Horror”, the Corpse Bride is a character that has continued to teach me new lessons and remind me of why I want to be a filmmaker in the first place. Corpse Bride was released a few years prior to the passing of my mother, and I remember watching it as a child with a profound feeling of comfort and safety in my heart. Burton is compelling to me for his ability to explore lightness within darkness, to find the humor inside the macabre, and to question why the misunderstood are almost always deemed as “evil”. For a little boy coming to terms with loss, the Corpse Bride provided me a sense of healing in knowing that death isn’t as final or scary as we make it out to be, and is actually a very natural part of life that we must acknowledge. The butterfly scene always makes me cry.

You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
I continue to have bad ideas on a regular day basis. For me, it’s important to remind myself to be gentle with myself, to have patience, and of course to have some humility. Keep things light. Every idea isn’t going to be groundbreaking, but there’s no point in beating yourself up about it or letting it prevent you from continuing to be creative. If I find myself with only a small piece of the puzzle, I try my best to ask questions. What is this character hiding? What pushes their limits? Where do they feel safe? Crafting a story is kind of like being a detective…or so I imagine. I wouldn’t last long as an investigator.

Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?

I wouldn’t say I am part of any official horror community, but I would love to get involved with one. I’ve been really lucky in my experiences with developing relationships with other filmmakers, artists, and likeminded people. Many of those artists create horror content or have a darker flare to their work as well. My friendships are everything to me, and it’s only better when we can create together.

When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?

Locations excite me. Inspiration from locations early on has always helped me in crafting the world of the story. Sand dunes; an aquarium; an opera house. Starting with a place of interest and building everything else around it. Who might live here? What mischief is operated behind the scenes at this establishment? Where have these characters been and where are they going that lead them here? Keep the curiosity alive. Furniture, props, and fashion are all big holders of inspiration for me too. My father is an avid collector of pre-industrial revolution and folk art antiques. Growing up, I was fascinated by the history of different objects and clothing we would come across. Again, asking questions. Who might have owned this hand mirror? Who sent this

tattered postcard to who? When would this character might have worn this gown? Lastly, music is paramount in brainstorming the tone for a film I am trying to develop. I usually make a big playlist of film scores and listen to them on long walks around the city.

What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?

Paint me in the Opera House was shot at a real opera house and hotel. Marta Becket, a ballerina and multi-gifted artist, is the creator of the opera house. She spent seven years hand painting the audience onto the walls of her space, and would perform her ballet routines to the walls before audiences started making their way out to her theater in the desert. She passed away peacefully in her home nearly two weeks after we wrapped the weekend shoot. In a way, creating the film felt like waking up inside the film because we actually stayed at that hotel and were able to live inside the spaces. I felt unbelievably lucky and grateful to create inside of Marta’s artistic sanctuary. Unlike my film, the real opera house is tranquil and very safe. If I woke up inside my plot…I would probably want to get out of there sooner than later.

Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?

The Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston’s portrayal), Beetlejuice, and IT (Tim Curry’s portrayal). Though I love iconic characters like Hannibal Lector or Patrick Bateman, I find myself too terrified by serial killers and would rather have a horror squad of more magical figures.

Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Neither. Both. Practical ALWAYS. Post Apocalypse.

How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
I have been really fortunate in that many of the locations in my films have been locked prior to even writing the final draft of the script. This was the case with Paint me in the Opera House. I had the idea rolling around my head, but knew the story could only be told if we were 100% able to shoot at that specific location. The staff at the opera house were all so gracious to me and the crew. They don’t usually let people film there, so it was a very special experience.

I always have a heavy hand in art direction with each of my projects. I think that comes from growing up painting and drawing. With Paint me in the Opera House, using costumes and props that felt somewhat timeless felt important to the story, so I decided to give each character their own decade to establish their look. By combining costumes and props that were slightly mismatched in time, hopefully the audience felt disoriented in order to match the tone of the film.

What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?

I myself am not necessary afraid of dying, but losing someone close to me continues to be my greatest fear. All we can do is try and live presently each day and tell those around us that we love them. Fear is like fuel, and exploring this fear through a dark fantasy lens has been beneficial in my own journey just as a person.

And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
Speaking of which, have you seen the Scary Movie franchise by the Wayans Bros? Those guys are comedy geniuses. I can’t pick one… here are my top 3!

Rosemary’s Baby, Silence of the Lambs & Death Becomes Her (Not sure if this counts as horror, but damn, this movie is fabulous)