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Figgis Cold Creek River

Cold Creek Manor" was born when screenwriter and executive producer Richard Jefferies was writing "Tron 2.0" for Walt Disney Pictures. Over dinner with the studio's top creative executives one night, Jefferies mentioned an idea that he had been toying with for several years. It was a thriller about a family that moves from the city to the country, where they buy a great old fixer-upper house. But their dream turns into a nightmare when the home's former owner shows up and a mystery unravels. The executives bought the pitch the next day and asked Jefferies to write the movie immediately. Anchoring Jefferies' script was the disconcerting idea of not knowing who used to live in your home before you did, or what happened there.

Meanwhile, director Mike Figgis had recently decided to return to mainstream filmmaking when the script came to his attention. After completing the drama "One Night Stand" for New Line, which boasted such big names as Wesley Snipes and Robert Downey Jr., Figgis chose to "challenge the language of filmmaking" by concentrating on using digital technology to create experimental and innovative projects. Digital cameras allowed him the freedom to use a lighter equipment load and the flexibility to create "chamber pieces with lesser known actors and smaller crews."

Armed with the wisdom and experience he acquired through this new approach to filmmaking, Figgis decided it was time to undertake another studio project. "I have always been a fan of genre pictures," he explains. Earlier in his career, Figgis had directed the thriller "Internal Affairs," starring Richard Gere and Andy Garcia, and he was ready to explore dark-edged territory once again.

"Cold Creek Manor"-the story of a family of cityfolk who move into a creepy mansion in upstate New York and embark on a spine-tingling search for clues to the estate's lurid past-fired Figgis' imagination. "Obviously when you engage with a script, you want to bring your own ideas and collaborate with the writer. But there was enough in that first reading to interest me, and make me enthusiastic about the film's potential. There were three or four areas that I thought were really frightening."

Figgis rang his agent to indicate his interest, and soon he was flying from his base in London to meet with Nina Jacobson, President of the Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group, and other studio executives to discuss the project. The discussion was a positive one. "They liked what I was suggesting about the film, and right then and there, they asked if I would like to do it. It was a simple process," explains Figgis.

Figgis wanted to stay true to the psychological thriller genre, but give it a new twist. "I wanted us to be faithful to the genre, but with the understanding that there are fresh elements that we could bring to it. The genre is strong enough by itself that you can bring your own personal touch to it."


Explaining his choice to cast Dennis Quaid as Cooper Tilson, Figgis says, "I had always been a big fan of Dennis Quaid, and have always wanted to work with him. I have also felt that he is an actor that has deserved more recognition than he has received. I have a huge amount of respect for him."

Quaid returns the compliment by confessing that he was inclined to do the project even before reading the script due to Figgis' involvement. His instincts about the project seemed justified once he finally read the script. "I thought that it would be a fascinating thing to do. I've always been a big fan of the movie 'Cape Fear.' This movie has many of the same elements. It's a twisted Gothic tale about a family."

Sharon Stone was cast as Leah Tilson. "I have known her for a while and we had never managed to work together," says Figgis. "The more films she does, the more interesting she becomes as an actor. We have always said that we would like to do something together."

"I've always wanted to work with Mike Figgis," says Stone. "We've known each other for a long time, and I think he makes such intriguing movies.

"I looked at the script and I thought, I wonder what he will do with this," she continues. "And then I started talking to him on the phone, and I thought, now I can see where this is going to go. And I think it's going to be interesting."

Stone has nothing but praise for her co-star's performance. "The Dale character, who is played by Stephen, takes off with the movie," says Stone. "He is very powerful in the role."

Kristen Stewart and Ryan Wilson play the Tilsons' children, Kristen and Jesse. "Kristen hates Dale," explains Stewart. "I'm always giving him these really dirty looks," says Stewart.

"I loved the fact that the kids were the empowered people in this movie. They were the smart ones," says Sharon Stone. "The kids kept saying, 'this is what's happening, and you've got to listen to us.' Listen to your kids when they tell you something is wrong-I love that message in this movie."

Figgis put just as much care and thought into casting the secondary roles in the film. "I like actors, and I like working with strong actors. It was very important for me to come up with a strong ensemble," he says.

Equally vital to the production was the character of the "house with a past" itself. According to Figgis, the basis of the thriller genre rests on the idea of a group of innocents caught in a corrupt environment. "You are constantly playing a na� innocence against a brooding darkness-like a building for instance. So one of the main characters in the movie was the house. Not only did I have to find the right actors, I also had to find the right house. I didn't want to shoot in a studio; I wanted to find a real house."

Scouting for the right house took place in Virginia, Montreal and Toronto, before the ideal site was discovered in a small town an hour southwest of Toronto. On seeing the property, production designer Leslie Dilley had what he describes as a "eureka moment. The more I walked around the place, I had the feeling that Richard must have lived in the house while he wrote the script. It was uncanny. It had everything that we had been looking for."

Well, not quite everything. The single-family property was actually in the process of being renovated by its owners; several rooms on the ground floor had already been restored. "I told them that I would have to undo everything they had done and make it somewhat dilapidated." Fortunately, the owners agreed to the plan and the deal was made.

For the actors, Figgis was the consummate director. "It's a very cool kind of movie," says Sharon Stone, "and Mike is always a little ahead of the times. He's an interesting filmmaker."

Quaid, who laughingly calls Figgis the "independent-'just give me a 16 millimeter camera and a light bulb and I'll make a film for you and win an Academy Award®'," believes that Figgis "keeps the tension taut with his choice of camera shots, and what he chooses to look at."

As well as serving as director and producer, Figgis also composed the original score for the film. Audiences have come to associate his films with a distinctive look and feel, and as a musician, Figgis knows the kind of atmosphere that can be created by music. "It's a sense that you develop about mood and atmosphere. Sometimes I watch a scene and I know what it's going to sound like. I don't know the tune, but I know that it's going to be pretty scary so I'm going to use four bass flutes, a drum and maybe a solo violin with a mute on, to scare the bejesus out of people. There are certain kinds of tricks that as a musician you know are going to be scary."

Figgis also credits cinematographer Declan Quinn with helping him to achieve the vision that drives his work. "By choosing to work for the third time with Declan, whose work I admire, I knew that my elements were beginning to fall into place. I have a language with Declan from experience and from working on the script."

The house, the actors, the cinematography, the music-all of these things work together in subtle ways to create the atmosphere that Figgis seeks to attain.

"It's seductive. It's a true psychological thriller," says Sharon Stone of the film. "I always think that if you can go through two boxes of popcorn while watching a movie instead of just one, you've really had a great time. I think this is a two boxer.".


Bruno Chatelin

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