[Fantastic Fest] Interview: Director Maria Pulera on BETWEEN WORLDS

By: Nolan McBride

Maria Pulera

Between Worlds is a new supernatural thriller about a trucker named Joe (Nicolas Cage) who falls in with Julie (Franka Potente), a single mother with the ability to send her spirit between the world of the living and the dead. Following an accident, Julie tries to pull her daughter Billie (Penelope Mitchell) from a coma using her abilities, but something (or someone else) intervenes, resulting in a very different Billie waking up and an unexpected love triangle. I don’t want to spoil the plot any further, but the movie only gets weirder from there.

The movie celebrated its world premiere at Fantastic Fest this past week and I was able to see it with a midnight crowd that was eating up every bizarre turn it took into surreal and lurid territory. It allows Nicolas Cage to push himself into strange, unexpected places and was wildly entertaining. I got the chance to talk with director Maria Pulera to hear about the movie’s origins, the influence of David Lynch, and what it was like working with Nicolas Cage.

Can you talk about the inception of Between Worlds and where the idea came from?

Maria Pulera: I grew up in rural Wisconsin and I love truck stops and trucker culture, so I wanted to make a movie [about that]. And I’m a single mom, so I wanted to make a movie about a single mother who has these unique abilities that she, for the most part, keeps to herself. And I am a huge fan of horror. I’m a huge fan of thrillers. I love genre movies. So it kind of naturally came into effect of writing this rural America story about a woman with these unique abilities. It’s a mix of a possession [story] with a thriller. We have multiple genres going on, which I love. I love mixing genres. We really went for a post-modern feel to the movie in general.

I heard that Lynch was a big influence on you. Can you talk about the effect he’s had on your work?

Maria Pulera: I’m a huge Lynch fan. I like the unique tone he brings to his work and also the unique characters. I think this is one of the biggest influences from him. Those kinds of very strange, quirky characters. We had the honor of having Angelo Badalamenti, who was Lynch’s composer going all the way back to Blue Velvet, join us and do the main theme for us and some additional music as well. His music is able to capture those very unique and mixed tones. That was also a huge influence — using [Badalamenti’s] music. We worked very hard on the sound layering. We used lots of different, very minute sounds. We would use a shaman’s beads — like when they rattle their beads — we put that in a lot of places. It’s very subtle and it may not be noticed, but we layered a lot of very interesting sounds throughout the movie in different places to kind of help keep this tone and to signal things when they weren’t necessarily supposed to be signaled in a traditional way. So we used non-traditional signaling like that. We had a lot of influences ’cause I think Lynch is also a genius when it comes to his sound design and his music. That, his characters, and his overall kind of weirdness are what I love.

Between Worlds 2

Talking more about filmmaking in general, some directors go in with a very specific vision for what they want. Others are more collaborative and let their actors and crew give more input. What’s your style of directing?

Maria Pulera: I’m very much using the script as just the base. I don’t even know how many times I actually looked at the script during shooting. I mean, my script supervisor would remind me if I missed a specific beat, but I’m very much for feeling the tones and really feeling the actors. I view filmmaking, in general, as a collaboration of awesome artists. This is why you want to work with them and why you bring them together — because they bring something to it. They add to the life of [the movie]. That’s what makes it so unique. For me, it’s absolutely a collaboration. I mean, Nicolas Cage was amazing. He brought his creativity. I love our editor, Tim Silano, who did movies before with Nicolas Cage with Paul Schrader. He also brought his creativity to it and added more dimensions. This is the beauty of filmmaking.

The presenter at Fantastic Fest described the movie as a sandbox that you allowed the actors to play in and I could definitely feel that throughout the movie, which gave it a distinct feel.

Maria Pulera: Yes. Absolutely.

In addition to being surreal, the movie also had a tongue-in-cheek quality to it. Like a sex scene where Nicolas Cage is reading from a book of memories written by Nicolas Cage. How do you work that playfulness into a story that is also serious at times?

Maria Pulera: This was definitely part of the uniqueness of the tone. Because a lot of it’s funny. In the editing process, we were very careful to try to balance that and keep the tone consistent. And it was very tricky at times and we worked through it quite a lot to maintain the consistency of it. In this surreal world, to have these bits of tongue-in-cheek, it adds a strange emotion when you’re watching it. It kind of allows you not to go so dark. It allows you to look at more in lighter aspects from time to time, which makes it very interesting and it makes the viewer question themselves quite a lot. They ask themselves, “Am I supposed to be laughing here? Is he really doing that?” And this I love. I love the fact that it really involves the viewer to dig into themselves like that.

The inherent absurdity of the premise almost requires moments of levity in order to keep viewers on board. 

Maria Pulera:  Yes, I like that. The inherent absurdity. I love it.

Between Worlds

How did Nicolas Cage become involved? Was he who you had in mind for the part originally?

Maria Pulera: Nicolas Cage was always the one that I had in mind for the role. To get him to agree to it was amazing. But he was always the one because, like you say, it’s absurd. The whole idea is absurd. It’s tricky in terms of which actor can really do such a role. And Nicolas Cage not only did the role, but I was absolutely floored with his performance. I loved it. He was amazing. He brought so a whole new soul to the movie, which was welcomed and loved.

Outside this particular film, I know that you recently launched your production-distribution house, Rise Up. Can you talk a little bit about your goals for that and what you hope to accomplish through it?

Maria Pulera: We’re looking for material from filmmakers and artists that is unique and in the old school independent spirit. Good materials, genre materials, drama materials. Anything that has that old school independent feel to it. We want to bring voices to artists who are emerging and haven’t had their voices heard yet or have a unique voice.

Do you have ideas lined up for what you’re doing next? What’s on the horizon?

Maria Pulera: For myself, we have a project called El Matador that I’m directing. It’s a Spanish neo-noir. I live half the time in Spain, so a lot of inspiration’s from that. And it’s a throwback to the movie Le Samouraï with some interesting perspective on it. At Rise Up, we’ve been getting a lot of interesting material, so we want to start producing a wide array of different things.

Between Worlds is a supernatural thriller. Your next project is a Spanish neo-noir. Is there a particular genre you’re drawn to? 

Maria Pulera: The things I’m drawn to all have some kind of thriller or mystery or darkness involved. They’re dark but with a bit of levity here and there. A lot of them are strange ideas, absurd ideas, but with an interesting post-modern take.

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