Hereditary: Writer-Director Ari Aster

Interview with Hereditary writer-director Ari Aster.

Ari Aster’s Hereditary is a family drama within the format of a horror movie.

Surprisingly, the writer-director hails back from a supportive family himself. His parents were artists, and never questioned his career choice, even during years that were difficult and challenging.

It’s through the horror genre that he was able and lucky to find backing for his first film. He has another horror project with Hereditary company A24.

“There were a lot of films that were on the track, and they couldn’t get the momentum that was needed,” says Aster, who completed a graduate degree from AFI in 2010. “That’s one reason I wrote a horror film, because the films I was trying to get made proved too difficult because they weren’t genre-driven in that way.”

Hereditary has already earned critical acclaim, due to Toni Collette’s astonishing performance, playing a mother plagued with problems after her own mother’s demise.

Cutting Down a Long Movie

Ari Aster: Nobody wants a three-hour movie, especially the distributor. But the most important thing was pacing and finding that rhythm. The movie tells you what it needs to be. This was the best version of the movie. But the part of you that mourns the missing scenes, tells you to announce that it was three-hours long. In the original cut, and in the script, the audience was forced to really stew. TThe breakdown of communication was chronicled in more pummeling detail.

Getting Made Hereditary 

AA: It became real, and it was very clear that it became real, when Toni Collette came on board. She was one of the first people we submitted the script to and sent it to her with a letter and she responded to the script and we met for lunch and got along really well and very happily she attached herself. It was very clear that day that this means this can actually happen. Of course, that means you have to seize that moment and run, but that proved to be the catalyst for the movie actually moving forward

Toni Collette

AA: It’s a platitude, but 90 percent of directing is casting. That’s a cliche, but it’s true. And it was all in the script. We talked in the beginning and I told her what I needed, but it’s very clear if you read the script what the movie is demanding of her as an actress. I can only applaud her for having the balls to take it on. It does require a certain lack of vanity to take it on. I knew that she was capable of it. She’s a great actress and I’ve been watching her for years, and I felt like I’d never seen her chew apart the scenery in the way this movie demands.

Work Strategy

AA: I block everything out before the day. I compose a shot list well in advance of shooting, before I even talk to the cinematographer. Then I sit down with the cinematographer and the production designer and I take them through scene by scene, shot by shot the movie in my head. That takes a few weeks, five hours a day with a dry erase board, drawing out the space, drawing out the blocking. “Here’s where the camera is.”

Sequencing Shots

AA: I sequence shots a lot as opposed to doing traditional coverage. That is what led to us knowing we had to build the house instead of finding it.  We built everything from scratch. In that way, that’s what I’m imposing on the actors.  This can be hard way to work for some actors, very constraining. I try to block it out that gives them freedom within the blocking. But beyond that, I’ve cast them because I trust them to understand the material, to know what’s necessary and if they need help I’ll step in. But in this case, I had such brilliant actors that I could pretty much leave them alone.