I caught up with director Tim Hunter to chat film, film-making, the moodiness, atmosphere, and harsh reality of film noir, and a lot more about his newest release Looking Glass starring Nicolas Cage, out now in select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD.

Tim has quite the directing street credit, with episodes of Bosch, The Blacklist, Gotham, Hannibal, American Horror Story, and Twin Peaks (among many, many others) to his credit. Looking Glass is his fifth feature film.

Looking Glass is a moody, neo-noir murder mystery soaked with the usual sex, human frailty, paranoia and blood that marks great noir. Its lighting, direction, and acting are sleek and will pleasantly surprise fans of the genre and the neon-hypnosis of the noir aesthetic.

The film stars Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney, and Marc Blucas. It was written by Jerry Rapp and Matthew Wilder. Catch it now in select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD, and enjoy the chat below with director Tim Hunter.   

Hello Tim and welcome to The 405! I wanted to start – if I may – with a question I ask directors to get an idea of their overall individual aesthetic. Favorite films and directors? Which do you consider most influential on your development as an artist?

Oh gosh, I'm such a film geek and I'm old so there's a lot of them. What I responded to in this material, is that it's in the neo-noir genre – it's somewhat of a murder mystery, so you're never too far from Hitchcock on a film like that. With the voyeuristic elements, of course one thinks of Rear Window and a number of other pictures, Psycho and a number of pictures.

I'm also very happily influenced by directors like Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Jacques Tourneur, noir directors. I was also influenced, at least the cameraman, production designer, and I, looked at a lot of modern still photography to draw on for the look of this film.

We looked at the photographs from a guy named Todd Hido especially who takes these large, exterior, landscape pictures of the sides of roads, motels, and industrial walls and washes them in oranges and color washes and I don't even think he lights them – he just finds a way to somehow do it in camera.

In terms of the interiors and the staging, we looked at William Eggleston's pictures, Nan Goldin’s pictures, the first point of view – the sex-scene in the film where Nic looks through the window and sees the two women on a bed, initially the first thing he sees is that they're sitting on the bed embracing one another, trying to comfort each other, rather than engaging in a lot of soft-core sex – that was based on a Nan Goldin image, looking through one of her books of photographs.

You're never too far away from the Hitchcock of it all because you're in somebody's point of view – you have to adhere to a large extent, to that point of view, and be very careful where you break that, going into other people's realities or a more objective reality.

The neon hypnosis of neo-noir. Still from LOOKING GLASS.

Absolutely. The color palette I thought had a very neo-realist look to it. Edward Hopper was an artist it very much reminded me of…

Yeah…

…and also movies like Nightcrawler.

Nightcrawler the Jake Gyllenhaal picture?

Yeah.

That was a good picture.

I really liked it too.

Yeah, that was a good picture. He was remarkable in that picture with his big bug eyes.

He was. We kinda touched on it with the process above, but that was a question I had.

Yeah, I worked with the cameraman Patrick Cady before on a number of projects in both film and television. Patrick, like the rest of us, his bread and butter work tends to be in television. In television, they keep a pretty firm eye on making sure that the look of it doesn't go beyond a fairly normal depiction of reality.

So he and I were both happy to cut loose on this one a little bit – get more extreme colors in there, those oranges in there, those neon greens, we pushed the colors – we spent a lot of time in the post-production color-correction to make sure that we got the most out of it that we possibly could.

Absolutely.

You know in this kind of genre, in the neo-noir genre, you're dealing with a kind of heightened reality – you're always walking a line. You can't break the reality of it: it has to stay real, you wanna push the look of it as far as you can.

A fantastic example of the aesthetic being discussed: dark, ambient, moody: noir indeed. Still from LOOKING GLASS.

Most certainly – so much of what both classic and neo-noir is that visual style too. I'm also curious, what drew you to the project?

Well, what drew me to the project was A- that it was a feature with Nicolas Cage attached to it, he is one of my favorite actors; B- it was a neo-noir and a murder mystery, one of my favorite genres; C- In that, the characters – I thought – had some psychological complexity to them that would give me an emotional underpinning that might make the story work for an audience.

It's a neo-noir about a conflicted man, a conflicted couple – he wants to stay in their marriage even though maybe he's transgressed. She was drinking too much and taking pills, and their daughter fell off a balcony and died.

So, they're already in a kind of precarious place, always a good kind of place to start a picture with.

Yeah.

They want to start a new life and make the best of it and they're in this motel. The last thing in the world they need is to find that the place has a hidden tunnel to a one-way mirror to a room in which all kinds of dark, sex and murder stuff is taking place.

But that's what the sex and murder mystery and voyeurism story plays to. It plays to the unresolved psychological needs inside the character. I mean, I thought there's a black comic aspect, a darkly comic aspect to it also as in a lot of my favorite films noir and b pictures.

The surface details are resolved in the end – the murder mystery and whether they survive it, and stuff like that – but the underlying psychological problems are still there – the couple has to move forward with their issues still there.

So, I thought that was honest – both to the character and the film noir genre – and gave the film a level of complexity that would perhaps help me snag an audience and be true to the genre at the same time, without it having to be a kind of pat happy ending.

Another staple of film noir: the Venetian blinds, often employed for their stark shadows as GOBOs or "Go Before Optics" to get that quintessential look. Still from LOOKING GLASS.

Another thing I thought really added to the film was the score – keeping the tension quite high throughout. I noticed Mark Adler, who worked on it, also had Lynch's Blue Velvet as a credit. I was wondering there if you guys were trying to sort of channel Angelo Badalamenti’s moody, atmospheric style for Looking Glass?

I think that we referenced Badalamenti, we referenced Bernard Herrmann – since you asked, the guy we really referenced in the score – because it needed a real score I think, this kind of picture – we referenced a lot the scores for Pedro Almodóvar by the Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias, especially for his film Julieta – which is a absolutely marvelous score – I used a lot of that on the temporary track when I was editing the film. So, that was kind of up there for Mark and I to reference when he got into writing the actual score.

And, of course, what would noir be without odd "Dutch" angles? Still from LOOKING GLASS.