Scott Mann’s Fall, is a pulse-pounding, vertigo-inducing experience as two best friends, stranded at the top of a remote, abandoned 2000-feet high radio tower, fight for survival.
After the tragic death of her husband in a climbing accident, avid rock climber Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) has withdrawn from the world. In an effort to help Becky heal from her past trauma, best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner) suggests an exhilarating climb to the top of a remote, abandoned 2000-feet high radio tower where they will scatter her husband’s ashes. But when sections of the mast’s rickety ladder break off, the girls are stranded…
We speak to Mann about filming the movie practically at 2000 feet and whether he’s still afraid of heights…
Fall came from an idea for a short film that didn’t happen. What made you want to stick to this idea to make a full feature fim?
Funnily enough, we were shooting the Signature production of Final Score, and [Jonathan Frank] and I, the writer, were on top of West Ham Football Club Stadium. We were up there filming this stunt with Dave Bautista jumping off on a motorcycle across the stands there. We were stood on this high roof, and obviously everyone’s being super safe, but the threat of that drop was there. Then we started talking about how heights are this weird thing, because it’s kind of nothing. It’s a psychological, inert, fight-or-flight kind of thing, like a fear that we all have.
We just started talking and thinking about the fear of heights and how in movies, we’ve seen it played in segments and sections, but no one’s really dug into it fully. So that’s what set us off as a central concept for something that’d be really interesting.
The other thing is Free Solo came out and it’s so hard to watch. I remember listening to an audio clip in my car of that and feeling terrified and I didn’t even see anything! What does that tell you about the psychology? There is something much deeper that you go through to get to that stage. You really have to be kind of immersed in a point of view that you believe in.
That gave birth to a short film but then when we did it, we realised there was much more than just a short there and we could do a feature. We always wanted that theatrical experience! It’s a huge, big screen. It’s immersive sound. It’s an immersive experience. That is the best way to play that psychological kind of thrill.
Fall goes down a pretty dark route for a subject matter that could quite easily head in a more action direction. Why did you decide to go down the horror path?
There are two reasons actually. One was looking into the thrill seeker element. What drives a thrill seeker? Why would you do that? [We looked into] the idea of life and death and the balance of those two things. So that was definitely at play.
Then to be honest, on a personal level, I’d been in a situation that was dealing with a similar theme that kind of drove it into grief and healing. I felt like that was something that was healthy to dig through and dig into and explore.
Then coincidentally, because of COVID, weirdly that also kind of confirmed it for me truthfully – I felt like we’ve all gone through this last two years which has been traumatising, frankly. It’s been awful and the journey at the centre of the film is looking at living, dying and healing. Having that central message it needs to go into those dark places to really pay that off.
I think it could have been a very different film. You could have stayed away from all of that but I personally like the idea of trying to contain a rich, meaningful core wrapped around a theme park cover so that the medicine goes down!
I’ve tried to genuinely say something about something important, wrapped in this kind of madness. There’s a tone to the movie which I acknowledge, but underneath there is definitely something there that means something and so on a personal level that was one of the reasons it ended up a bit darker maybe than it could have been.
The premise of Fall is pretty simple – how did you go about making sure the tension was on high for the whole movie?
It was really fun. If you have something contained, where you have characters trapped, it’s nice to be trapped with them.
It’s a challenge to come up with and write and that’s fun as a writing experience but it’s just embracing a bunch of factors. We came across this location, the towers themselves, and we just thought: ‘Wow, what a great character to set this on.’
They’re contained on this, as they call it, pizza-sized platform. Really the film takes place within a radius of two or three feet. It’s a very, very contained movie, but obviously you have this massive scope and the threat of height.
The threat of falling plays out the whole time and it gives it a grander scope than a typical ‘trapped’ movie would allow.
We’re taking the audience up that ladder, step by step and everything counts. Once you’re up there, you don’t want to have the audience escape. This film is all about taking you there and cranking [up the tension] and taking you on this emotional ride. So you’ve really felt all the different flavours of the tension – the height, the trauma, the elation, all these things. This is why we go to the cinema, to feel. That’s what we’re trying to try to do there.
A big part of the cinematic experience is experiencing that height within the movie. You decided to go down the practical route for that rather than CGI. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Filming at 2000 feet is a big challenge. Weirdly getting people to 2000 feet is not actually as challenging. So going up the original towers is an option and it’s something we talked about. We contacted the tower people and we ended up working with the people who built the towers actually to build our sections. But really the challenge is getting a camera crew and getting people around that space at that height.
Once we decided we were going to shoot the film practically and on location, we had to find the right location that gave us that access. We drove around for a long time and we ended up finding this cliff drop-off on top of this 2000-foot Shadow Mountain, which had a little area to build on to have the crew on. It actually had a little abandoned cement outpost at the top there which we used as a dressing and makeup room [haha].
We built sections of the tower on that cliff edge so that could film and actually have Virginia [Gardner, who plays Hunter] and Grace [Caroline Currey, who plays Becky] at height. Over 2000 feet up there. So the wind, the light, the clouds being below us all those things that we captured we were able to capture by putting them in the real situation.
That had a bunch of other knock-on effects. It was terrifying. And then they started getting involved in the stunt work. It just gave all these glorious opportunities to film it. We were filming for IMAX, so we filmed it on big cameras and we were able to really capture our characters in the situation, at 2000 feet, doing this stuff. For me that’s the big thing that made a huge difference. You feel that it’s real.
My take on film horror is that anytime a studio tries to do a horror film, or the reason why higher budget films typically fail horror in my view, is it’s too glossy, it’s too grounded. It disconnects us as an audience. One of the reasons The Blair Witch works is you can hear the clicks of the camcorder. All this stuff that you would call an imperfection, is actually a horror perfection. It’s embracing the nuance and mess you get from filming up at a height because the cameras can get knocked by the wind, and the sound isn’t perfect. They all have an effect on the viewer. I think there’s an energy that you can capture when you’re on location that you can’t fake. So I think that all fed into to that and the psychological trauma for Virginia and Grace.
Did you actually have to learn how to climb to shoot the movie at that height?
To a degree. We had an incredible stunt team led by Ingrid Kleinig and she was amazing. She had an incredible stunt team and she actually got the riggers who did the Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol sequence at the Dubai tower. So they rigged up Ginny and Grace so that they were safe. We had hidden wires that would go up and it was engineered into the top of the tower to give them the freedom to move but they knew if they fell they weren’t gonna die right.
Although, I will say, it’s still terrifying!
When we first went up there’d been a lot of tension. There was anxiety about going up there the first time. When I interviewed Ginny and Grace and a bunch of other actors it was always a case of ‘you have to be up for going for this. You can’t just pretend you’re okay with heights. We’re filming high, so just be aware’ and they embraced it. They were great and we rehearsed it in my yard actually on a little wooden thing that we built just to do the rehearsals.
But we finally got the tower had been constructed, I remember we all had to go up it and I went up first and then Grace behind me and Ginny behind her. It was terrifying, I’ll be honest. I only held it together out of almost like a parental responsibility of not showing my true feelings in front of those two.
It was really sweet because Grace, when she stepped up there she started crying. It wasn’t like crying ‘what am I doing?’ it was actually a release of the tension built up to the moment.
What were the challenges involved at shooting the movie at such a height?
It was the hardest shoot I’ve ever done for sure.
We stayed in Victorville which is in the middle of the desert and then was a 40 minute drive along dusty, rural roads really near Death Valley [to get to set]. I remember Death Valley broke the record on heat one of the days we were out there. So it was horrible and everyone’s obviously got their masks on because we were filming during COVID. Even though it it was beautiful. It was hard. It was like Bear Grylls every day
It was hot. It was hard. There were endless wasps. We had multiple hurricane-like winds, one of which blew down the set. We had rainfall. We had a swarm of flying ants at one time which stopped us from filming, which is almost unbelievable.
After this big storm, all these flying ants hid in the tube of the structure and then when we went up the next day, they just all came to life. It was a swarm. I swear to you it was terrifying! And we literally couldn’t film. Even stunts couldn’t go up there. Everyone’s getting bitten and it was just horrific.
And because you’re in the middle of the desert, because you’re so far away from everybody,you have no backup. It’s just your little team of filmmakers and we’re all just doing our best to kind of get through the day.
So it was physically and mentally tough but Ginny and Grace went further than anyone and the fact that they went through all that, and we caught it on camera, I think is what was great and what I’m proud of at the end of the day,
Are you better with heights now after filming at a height for Fall?
Certainly not! I definitely still fear heights for sure. I think I’m a little bit more comfortable than I was but the thing I take from it is I’m probably more cautious in terms of safety. When you work with the world’s best stunt safety folks, it highlights how important it is to get those bits right.
What do you want for audiences to take away from the film?
I think the closing message of the movie is that life is short, and you should live life. I’m not recommending anyone climbs a 2000 foot tower, but I do think we all need reminding of how short life can be and just to live every day to the fullest. I think that we’ve had our hardships in the last few years as a human race and we should definitely make the most out of it. But also don’t do anything stupid, it definitely doesn’t turn out well!
Fall closes FrightFest at Cineworld Leicester Square on Monday 29th August at 21:00 and 21:30. Signature Entertainment presents Fall exclusively in Cinemas from 2 September.