Since Hold The Dark is set in Alaska and was shot in Alberta, the snow and freezing temperatures were always going to be a key component.
But, of course, that meant that director Jeremy Saulnier and leading man Jeffrey Wright actually had to go and shoot in those horrifically cold conditions. That way the increasingly disturbing story of wolf expert Russell Core going to a remote village to search for wolves that have kidnapped three children would feel authentic.
“It was certainly a rough shoot. But we welcomed harsh conditions because we wanted to archive them,” Saulnier recalled, before admitting that his approach did cause some issues.
“My whole aversion to artificially and falsehoods in filmmaking caused a little bit of conflict. Because I wouldn’t do green screens.”
“I wouldn’t take it back into the studio and do it as they do in Hollywood. I just wouldn’t do that, so I had to fight a few battles. But I had full support on doing a very grounded execution of it.”
Then there was the wolves.
“Working with wolves was a huge challenge,” admitted Saulnier. “They don’t behave like they do in the movies, in the nature documentaries. They’re skittish, they’re being followed from a far.”
“But if you want to get them involved in a narrative then they’re not going to do what you want. Nor did I want them to.”
“Because after I saw how they behaved, it would have felt too contrived if we had done the traditional slow approach of wolves in a semi-circle bearing their teeth. That sh** doesn’t happen. I found out the hard way.”
“I had to re-conceive some of those scenes in a serious way. Instead of finding the parts or footage of the wolves doing what they were told it was about mining the footage of wolves being wolves and really extracting and reediting and finding a new thing. Allowing the wolves to dictate.”
“Because the last thing we wanted was computer generated wolves, then it would obliterate the very delicate balance of the mystical nature and the elevated nature of the movie and the grounded type of realistic way that we wanted to realize.”
“We invited all the torture we got in the negative 30 degree celsius temperature and the harsh conditions. And the wolves. We are not complaining, that’s what we wanted.”
There was another unforseen issue, though. Because, as Wright later admitted, the snow in Alberta kept on melting, which would instantly ruin continuity.
“I would say the biggest the challenge was one that was not expected, because it was actually warmer than we hoped. That was the biggest challenge.”
“Coming back on set the following morning and seeing that 2 feet of snow had melted.”
“The challenge of working in the harsher elements didn’t exist because that is exactly what we wanted.”
“We wanted it to be bone chilling cold and we wanted the condensation floating out of the mouth, icicles on the face, the ruddiness of harsh winds in the face, icicles in the beard, bring all of that, bring the snow driving sideways.”
“Keep the sun out of it. Because we wanted that character to show up everyday. That character being nature at its best.”
“Hold The Dark” is now on Netflix.