In the new thriller “Fall” opening in theaters this weekend, best friends Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner) decide to conquer their fear of heights after a tragic mountain climbing incident a year earlier that grounded the two adventurers. They decide to climb 2,000 ft up to the top of the B67 TV tower — the fourth highest structure in the U.S. — while documenting the experience on social media. Once at the top they get stranded putting their survival skills to the test in the film that costars Jeffery Dean Morgan.
Watching the “Fall” trailer for the first time in a theater gave me anxiety from the start. We all have a fear of heights to some extent, and I thought I had conquered mine by pressing up against the glass of the World Trade Center in the 90s. Writer-director Scott Mann (“Heist”) reminded me I had not.
The nerve-wracking thriller which caused me to look away several times began as a short film idea for Mann and his writing partner Jonathan Frank. The two decided to expand their idea to a feature playing off everyone’s fear of heights. Moviegoers had already witnessed Tom Cruise being, well, Tom Cruise, scaling the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai for Brad Bird’s “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and we can’t forget about Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s incredible Alex Honnold documentary “Free Solo” which pushed my anxiety up to an all-time high. So where do you go next? “Fall” is the logical next step. It’s frightening, beautifully shot, and should be experienced on the biggest screen possible. I dare you not to look away.
I spoke with Scott Mann via Zoom about the film. The British-born, L.A.-based filmmaker was energetic, enthusiastic, and I felt, somewhat relieved that he, the cast and crew, came out of the experience for the most part unscathed.
Do you have a fear of heights?
I absolutely do! [laughs] I’ve gotten better with it over the years. I’m probably my best with it now given what we had to shoot for this. I think it’s a fear a lot of people have. Human fear. Jonathan, the screenwriter, and I were doing another film and working on a stadium rooftop when we thought this is a great shock. The bad guy is gravity, essentially, and the fear of falling is the concept that we decided to go for.
What kind of advice would you give a moviegoer who is afraid of heights?
Don’t climb a 2000-ft tower. [laughter ensues]. To be honest, the film is about overcoming fears so I would say to anyone, I dare you to go into the biggest theater possible to get the most immersive experience available because the reward at the end is that it may help you overcome your fear of heights. In a similar way, it’s Becky’s journey in the film so I would encourage it.
It’s rated PG-13 so the potential for a few youngsters accompanying their parents is a reality.
I should throw out a word of warning. I had a similar thought with my children when I took them to a screening, and they were very excited to see the movie. They spent half the movie hiding and petrified so I think I psychologically damaged my children, but at the end, they were buzzing about it. It’s like strapping into a theme park ride. You go through it but at the end of the ride you feel great about yourself, so I think whatever fear it takes you through, the reward on the other side is of equal size.
When “Jaws” came out the studio issued a disclaimer that read “may be too intense for younger children.” “Fall” should come with a disclaimer that reads, “may be too intense for everyone”.
[Laughs] I like it. I would be proud to have such a statement attached to the film.
When you and Jonathan were writing “Fall” you watched several films for inspiration. Was the Alex Honnold documentary “Free Solo” on the list? That movie gave me so much anxiety.
That was probably the single most inspirational piece. I remember hearing a radio clip of “Free Solo” and being terrified by just listening to it on the radio. Watching the documentary and studying it from a filmmaker’s perspective really pulls you into the personal power of it. It’s not on observation it’s a point of view and that with a variety of YouTube and Instagram influencer clips that did similar things, really put you into it in a way that cinema typically hadn’t. The only cinematic sequence that really came close was the Dubai scene in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”.
Yes, that was also nerve-wracking.
What we tried to do with “Fall” is put you in the character’s perspective while drawing inspiration from those films and shooting it for real. It was important to capture it for real.
Let’s talk about the monster in the film, the very real 2000-ft B67 TV Tower which is almost twice as tall as the Eiffel Tower. I know part of it was CGI, but how did you recreate the experience for the film? Did you build a smaller-scale version of the tower?
Yes. The same guys that built the B67 tower came in and rebuilt sections of it for the film. The key though was filming at the actual height. We did a lot of scouting and came across a location in the middle of the Mojave Desert, essentially a 2000-ft cliff in the Shadow Mountains where we built our tower so we could film the girls at the actual height of the TV tower. Because we are at the top of a mountain, the elements were similar, and we could capture some great shots from the height.
Were you prepared for the elements that you get when you’re 2000-ft up in the air?
Not at all. The elements really surprised us. How brutal they were. We had a biblical list of issues to contend with including the expected snakes and heat that come with shooting in the desert, but then we had hurricane-force winds on the first day of the shoot that blew part of the set down. Then we had storms, lightning, and termites. The storms knocked out a nest that the insects had built in a tube and so when the girls went up to film, they were greeted by this big cloud of flying ants that covered the tower and the set. We couldn’t film for hours because there was literally a cloud of these flying ants. Every element was thrown at us. It was just a battle to film. But I think those endeavors, how hard it was to film, captured something quite special.
The cinematography is quite spectacular.
It was cinematographer MacGregor who encouraged us to film it for real and be flexible enough to work around the elements to get the film in the can. We also had a great team that helped us with this engineering technical endeavor and achievement, just to be able to film in those conditions.
Were the film’s female leads Grace Caroline Curre and Ginny Gardner afraid of heights and how did you prepare them for their roles?
I tried to weed out anyone in the casting process that was genuinely super afraid of heights because they were going to be on a 100-ft tower on a mountain, so it was still very high. I had to make sure they were comfortable enough to do it and honest about their feelings when it came to the shooting environment. We had a great team in charge of the safety rigging, the same group in charge of the Dubai sequence in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and they made sure the girls were safe. So, I had to figure out their honest feelings about the height and then walk it through with them step by step.
How did it turn out?
The first tower climb we all did together. I remember we got to the very top, I was first, and Grace was second, and when she got up there, she started crying, the view and the height can be quite intimidating, but it was a relief as she was overcoming the fear of getting up there. Day by day the girls were excellent. Being up there the whole day really was a challenge. When it came down to it the shoot involved filming around the girl’s bladders. How long we could film before they needed to go to the bathroom? We shot the whole movie around their bladder schedules grabbing bits here and there.
There are quite a few horror elements in “Fall”, apart from just the anxiety and tension caused by the heights, so did you have to take steps to avoid getting an R-rating, keeping the film a PG-13?
Funny you say that, yes. The actual problem we had was the improvisation by the actors, Ginny and Grace swearing a lot, there was an awful lot of F-bombs. The language was actually pushing it to the R-rating and the way we got around that was with new technology that was able to redo the dialogue without having to go back up the mountain and reshoot the scenes.
It’s not noticeable, the performances are natural and realistic, so you pulled it off. Now if I had been up on that mountain, you would have witnessed more f-bombs than the movie “Casino” (which btw is 422).
[laughs] Yes that’s the challenge taking out the f-bombs which you naturally want to say in that situation.