Brutal Conditions and Tensions Plagued Making of ‘The Lighthouse’

Robert Eggers' acclaimed 2019 horror put cast and crew through the wringer

The Lighthouse

When The Lighthouse hit theaters in 2019, it instantly established itself as a modern horror masterpiece. The black-and-white psychological thriller from director Robert Eggers crafted an oppressive, surreal atmosphere as it descended into the spiraling madness of two lighthouse keepers trapped together during a relentless storm.

However, the making of The Lighthouse was almost as grueling an experience as the film itself portrays. From brutal weather conditions to creative tensions between the principal actors and director, the shoot was a true test of endurance.

To capture the intended aesthetic of an early 20th century horror film, Eggers employed extremely antiquated camera equipment and lenses dating back to 1912 and the 1930s. This created numerous technical challenges, with crew members like focus puller Eddy McInnis forced to “jam together three fucking eras of camera equipment.”

Lighting also proved immensely difficult, with so many light sources required for darker scenes that some crew members ended up with sunburns. The choice to primarily use natural lighting hearkened back to issues on Eggers’ debut The Witch.

Then there were the brutal on-location conditions at the custom-built, 70-foot tall lighthouse constructed in remote Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. Eggers described it as “extremely miserable” with “relentless” winds so loud that actors Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson sometimes couldn’t hear each other just feet away. Crew members fell ill from the frigid climate but persevered.

Tensions also flared between the central creative trio. Pattinson, who preferred spontaneity over rehearsals, clashed with Eggers’ more methodical approach during early preparation, to the point where Pattinson allegedly wanted to punch the director after being sprayed with a water hose on set.

Dafoe, who endured being buried alive and lying in ice water for scenes, at one point threatened to walk off the difficult production altogether due to the hostilities.

Despite the arduous shoot, the dedication paid off with two captivating lead performances and Eggers’ unique atmospheric descent into seaman’s folklore and psychological horror. The struggles were deemed worthwhile in service of bringing this “weird fiction masterpiece” to life.

While viewers can appreciate the harrowing final product, the making of The Lighthouse truly put the cast and crew through their own personal psychological horror show of harsh elements and creative strife. Their perseverance has been cemented into an instant cult classic.

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