Ari Aster – Midsommar

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

From Joni Mitchell to Taylor Swift, it’s no surprise when a musician writes a song about a breakup to help them find closure. Filmmakers, however, rarely get the opportunity to share their experiences of a failed relationship unless they are, well, actually making a movie that includes a failed relationship.

Such is the case for writer/director Ari Aster (Hereditary) with his second feature film Midsommar, an abstract exploration of the end of a relationship he experienced five years ago. The horror film, which is much more symbolic in nature than an average “breakup movie,” follows a troubled couple (Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor) during a trip with friends to Sweden to attend a fabled mid-summer festival. The festival, which only occurs every 90 years, turns out to be operated by a pagan cult.

During an interview this past weekend, Aster and I talked about his intention in writing a breakup movie like Midsommar, his frustration with some mainstream horror and why he’d rather leave interpretation to the audience.

You’ve been open in recent weeks about how you wrote the script for Midsommar after experiencing a breakup. Was there something specific you wanted to say about the kind of pain you went through during that time?

Yeah, I went looking to do a breakup movie that felt as big as a breakup feels. From anyone else’s perspective, it’s a minor enough event. If it was a relationship with any real consequence, then a breakup can be cataclysmic and turn your life upside down and almost feel like a death. I wanted to make a big, operatic breakup movie that felt and played as consequential as the end of a relationship feels to the parties involved.

Without revealing too much information, does this person you experienced the breakup with know you’ve written a movie based on it?

I don’t know. I imagine they might have some idea. I can’t imagine they’d be happy about it. But it’s not about them or the relationship itself. It was written as I was piecing through the ruins of that relationship.

When you write something as twisted as Hereditary and Midsommar, do you find that people tend to think the person creating the stories must also be twisted? I’ve talked to horror directors in the past that think it’s difficult sometimes for people to separate the creator from the material?

Yeah, but that’s an occupational hazard. I’ve made peace with it.

Some of the imagery in both Hereditary and Midsommar stays with you long after the credits roll. Is that a goal as a horror director?

Yeah, if you make a horror movie, why not try to make an impression on people? I have my own taste. I’m not somebody who’s into jump scares. I feel like everything we see day to day is infused with dread. I enjoy building suspense and also creating a mood. I’m somebody who is more affected by images and ideas than I am by jolts.

That must be frustrating, especially since those are the kinds of horror movies mainstream audiences flock to the most.

They kind of irritate me. It’s just a matter of taste. I just don’t watch them. That kind of filmmaking is frustrating to me, but I also don’t do it or watch them. I watch all sorts of movies and I hope to make all sorts of movies. [Hereditary and Midsommar] are just my contribution to the horror genre.

Do you mind explaining to people what your movies are about or would you rather them come up with their own meanings and ideas?

I’m a pretty firm believer that what’s in the film is what you need to know. I’m happy to answer people’s questions to a point and I’m honored that people want to talk to me in the first place. I’m very fortunate to be making these films, but ultimately, I’d rather not explain anything. I’m more than happy to talk about influences and what drives certain things and give some insight into what inspired me to dive into this work, but I try not to be too insufferable in my explanations.

Looking to the future, what kinds of films would you like to make – if not horror?

I’d love to play in every genre. I love romantic comedies. I love Westerns. I love musicals. I love sci-fi. I try to come to everything from a place of character. That’s my way in. Genre filmmaking offers you a structure and a framework. From there, you can play around and find a way to add your signature.

John Carroll Lynch – Lucky

November 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

For actor John Carroll Lynch, stepping behind the camera as a director for the first time in his 25-year career was an aspirational move. He’s always been attracted to storytelling, but storytelling from a filmmaker’s perspective was something that intrigued him on another level.

“As a director, you’re no longer attached to telling stories just with the physical body that you’ve been assigned,” Lynch, 54, told me during an interview at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year. “It frees you from those bodily constraints.”

In “Lucky,” his debut film as a director, Lynch, who has starred in a number of high-profile films in his career, including “Fargo,” “Zodiac” and “Shutter Island,” takes that ambition and proves himself to be a talent to watch as he evolves in his career. “Lucky” stars the late Harry Dean Stanton in his final film role as the title character, a 90-year-old atheist taking a final spiritual journey in the small dirt town he lives. It’s a perfect farewell for Stanton, who passed away in September at the age of 91.

During my interview with Lynch in March (Stanton was scheduled to also be at the interview, but had to cancel), we talked about his time with Stanton on the set and what he learned from other directors going into his first film project.

Was making a movie something you’ve always wanted to do?

I am an ambitious man and I have to deal with that in some way. I felt for a long time that I wanted to try this. This opportunity came in a way that was unexpected. In a miraculous way, it came together in such a fast period of time. There were such an amazing amount of yeses based on Harry Dean’s participation. I will always be grateful for that.

When you’re 90 years old, do you want to be like Lucky?

Well, I’d like to be 90. There’s a famous story I heard about Dwight D. Eisenhower celebrating his 80th birthday. Somebody told him, “Maybe you’ll live to be 100.” Then somebody said, “Who would want to live to be 100?” Without missing a beat, Eisenhower said, “The man who is 99.”

Talk about Harry in this film. He is a revelation.

The story is based on his life. It’s a fictional story but it’s inspired by his life. What I love about the script is that Lucky is not thinking about his mortality for the first time. He’s thinking about it for the last time. He also finds a certain sense of community he never thought he had before. He’s been in this little town and supported by this little town, but then suddenly he realizes there are people that care. I love that about the script. Harry Dean has such a presence. He requires from everybody a level of truth and honesty when they act with him. That’s aspirational for most people.

How do you direct something like that?

It was particularly challenging in this circumstance because this was his life. He had a personal stake in it. So, he had strong opinions because he had a strong personal connection to the material. One had to say to him, “Yes, this is a story in your life but this is Lucky saying it, so let’s create the construct of Lucky.” That was a tricky conversation to have because Harry doesn’t believe in acting at all. It’s an ironic thing because he is one of the best actors around. It’s kind of like not believing in music when you can play the guitar so well.

So, acting comes naturally to him at this point of his life?

I don’t know that it comes naturally to him. I just think that he forgot that he learned it. He’s done 236 films. I imagine that any master artist at the level that he’s at and at the age that he’s at knows what he knows. It’s like breathing.

So, it’s not Lucky you aspire to be, it’s Harry Dean.

I would like to be like Harry Dean. That I would like. I’d like to be as peaceful in my heart as Harry Dean is in his heart. He’s fiery in every other way, but in his heart, he is peaceful.

Is Lucky alone or lonely in your opinion?

I think at the beginning of the script he’s alone and suddenly realizes his loneliness. I feel some of that is a construct of the character. I think he sees himself as OK with the loneliness. It’s the American ideal of rugged individualism. I live on my terms the way I want to live. Those are small terms for Lucky. He doesn’t need a lot.

In the film, we learn a little bit about Lucky’s background, but not much. Did you have more of a sense of who he was in the past or was his life meant to be a mystery?

I think the strength of the script is in the specificity of the present. Lucky lives within these stories. There are foundational stories that make up what we perceive ourselves to be. The rest is intimated. Who did he love? Who are those kids? They’re not his kids, but he keeps a picture of them. Those are the mysteries of his personality. The audience is left with a really specific feeling, but not any information. I think that’s how I kind of lived in the story. I was never curious about what the script didn’t say.

You’ve worked with some great directors over the course of your career. Did you borrow anything from them as a first-time director?

Well, first, I spoke a lot to close friends of mine who are directors. Miguel Arteta (“Beatriz at Dinner”) was incredibly supportive and helpful. He was very inspiring. He gave me great advice to read Jerry Lewis’s book on directing. As for those people that I’ve had the good fortune to work with over the course of my career, I took what I appreciate about each of them. Every director who I think is a master who I’ve worked with has these things in common: they are extraordinarily good hosts. They host a set very well. They make sure the set is run smoothly and that the boat is pointed in the right direction. The other thing is that they bring clarity and purpose to what they’re after. They know what they’re interested in. They know what things will get in the way and easily discard them. Those are the things I wanted to aspire to during this process.

Talk to me about the day on the set when the song happens. Was that in the script? (Note: In the film, Harry Dean Stanton sings a mariachi song)

It was absolutely in the script. One of the things that people may not know about Harry Dean is that he’s a musician. Harry Dean also adores mariachi music. There were times when Harry Dean was acting and I’d tell him, “We need another [take]” and he’d say, “What was wrong with that one?” He really didn’t want to do another one. But when he’s playing the harmonica, we would get through three versions of [a scene] and we’d stop and say, “That was great!” and he’d go, “Do you want another?” It was the same with the mariachi. Actually, with the harmonic it was, “Do you want another?” and with the mariachi it was, “Can I have another?” He worked all that day on that scene. It all comes from him.

Daniel Espinosa – Life

March 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the new sci-fi horror film “Life,” Swedish/Chilean director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House”) tells the story of a team of scientists who discover an evolving and dangerous life form that escapes in space and begins to wreak havoc on the crew.

During an interview with me during the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this month, Espinosa, 40, talked to me about his thoughts about the sci-fi genre, and how his fear of small spaces affected the making of the movie.

Prior to making “Life,” what was your relationship with sci-fi? Was it a genre that intrigued you? Did you think it was something you’d like to try during your career?

The idea that I would get to do sci-fi was something almost surreal. I never pictured it was something that would happen. It was more like one of those daydreams—allowing yourself to have dreams that are bigger than you could imagine. I think all directors want to be in the world of science fiction—even great, artistic directors like [Andrei] Tarkovsky. I think we’re all intrigued by this genre.

I got the opportunity to interview you in 2012 when you made “Safe House” with Denzel Washington. During that interview, you said when it comes to making American films, “you have all the money you want” and “it’s almost like a dilemma” because “how can you be creative when anything is possible?” Did you have the same experience making “Life?”

No, because my budget [for “Life”] was like $56 million or $58 million. I mean, “Gravity” looks like a more expensive movie, but not a much more expensive movie. And “Gravity” was $120 million. [“Life”] was severely under-budgeted. It costs more the other way around when it requires creativity. I decided to shoot the movie only with one camera and no second unit this time. So, there were more limitations. You have to be aware of what story you want to tell.

Something I didn’t know about you until recently was that you’re actually claustrophobic. Did you worry at all that you wouldn’t be able to make it through this film just from a physical standpoint? I mean, how did you work in such a confined space.

(Laughs) Yeah, I can’t even stand the idea of tight confinements! I just told myself that this was a good thing for the movie. I used it almost like a spider sense. When my anxiety went up, I knew the shot was great.

How do you feel when “Life” gets compared to other sci-fi films like “Alien” or “Gravity” or “The Thing?” Would you rather that it stood on its own?

I think in the tradition of science fiction, you’re always supposed to talk about each other and compare. “2001” has to echo against “Solaris.” And they have to echo against “Alien.” And “Alien” has to echo with “The Thing.” In comparison to “Alien,” “Alien” was placed in this dystopian future, which was modern back in the 1970s because of the atomic era and the fear of the atomic bomb. I think science fiction is supposed to be a keyhole into the future—a look to technology. I think that keyhole today doesn’t allow you to look into the future. It only allows you to look to tomorrow. That’s what I found fascinating with [“Life”]. It takes place tomorrow.

You explained in another interview that you spoke to director Ridley Scott after his upcoming “Alien” movie was placed on the schedule on the exact same date as the release of “Life,” which forced you to change your release date. How much of that strategic, behind-the-scenes stuff is frustrating for you as a director, or do you welcome that competition?

I don’t care, man. It’s complicated making movies. I don’t really get too many headaches over those kinds of things. I’m only concerned about getting my movie as close to what I want it to be. Making a movie is like raising a child. You see all these dreams and aspirations, and hope you have the knowledge and insight to be able to facilitate those possibilities.

What were some of the challenges of making a movie where a CGI character is the main antagonist? Did you enjoy the process for those scenes?

I thought it was kind of fun. It’s fun having the actors revert back to their roots. The root of performance is imagination and creation. To let these actors present this inner fear on screen at something they can’t see coming, but can only imagine was interesting. An imagination will always be stronger than reality.

I know you live in Sweden and you have no plans to move to Hollywood. Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on opportunities because you don’t live closer to the action?

No, I don’t. I really enjoy my quiet life in Stockholm. I get to walk with my daughter to pre-school. I get to walk home and meet an old friend on the street corner. He yells at me a little bit for being a sellout in America. And then I go home and make a coffee and read a script. Do you think I would give that up to be in the fast-paced life of Hollywood and to hang out at some bar with celebrities?

You’re half Swedish and half Chilean. What do you resonate with the most about your Latino heritage?

I think it’s our revolutionary past. It’s a side of ourselves that will never die down. When people say, “Is it hard to be in the Hollywood system?” I say, “It’s hard being a refugee, man. This is easy.” When I meet studio heads and they want to fight, we’ll give them a fight. It’s like a Mexican boxer. You know they’ll give a good fight no matter what.

There are about 150,000 Chilean immigrants living in the U.S. today. What do you say to those people who are part of the political landscape today who think we need to worry about America first and not immigrants or refugees?

I think that’s terrible. I think that’s atrocious. Most of those people who criticize Latinos, they are former refugees. Most of those people who came over on the Mayflower were bandits and crooks. They are in a horrible position to be pointing their finger. This country was based on the brilliance of refugees. It’s very un-American.

Whit Stillman – Love & Friendship

May 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

Best known for the 1990 dramedy “Metropolitan” and 1998 dramedy “The Last Days of Disco,” filmmaker Whit Stillman reemerged onto the scene five years ago with “Damsels in Distress” after staying out of the spotlight for more than a decade. In his new film “Love & Friendship,” which is adapted from Jane Austen’s novella “Lady Susan,” Stillman, 64, reunites with “Disco” actresses Kate Beckinsale and Chole Sevigny to bring a little-known Austen story to the big screen. The narrative follows Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale), a scheming widow who tasks herself in securing a husband for both her and her daughter.

During an interview with Stillman, we talked about why this Austen novel feels different from her other works and how he accidentally discovered the story when he revisited one of Austen’s books he didn’t find too appealing.

What attracted you to a story like Jane Austen’s “Lady Susan?” It isn’t very well known, so what did you see in it as a storyteller?

I wanted to do this particularly because it was really funny and it allowed me to finish something she hadn’t completed all her work on. In addition to the movie, we also have a novel coming out based on the movie story as opposed to the original story.

What did you have to do as a writer to capture Jane Austen’s style and finish what she didn’t?

The film is very respectful to Jane Austen’s original story. The funny lines are genuinely her funny lines. I added some other characters [not in the original story] because there sort of had to be. Actors who were particularly funny, their parts got really big. The novel that I wrote is a further extrapolation of that. I was respectful to what I thought was funny and tried not to have too much repetition.

Is the different type of humor in “Lady Susan” what makes it stand out from Austen’s other works?

Yeah, I think it’s the humor and also the storyline. It’s kind of daring and amoral. This was influenced by the fact that she was young and didn’t have her sort of serious writer persona yet. She was having fun with it. It’s different material.

What’s the first Jane Austen novel you read?

I was 18 and I read her first novel “Northanger Abby.” I didn’t like it. Then I started reading her really good books five years later. I read everything – “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” everything. Then I went back and read “Northanger Abby” to reevaluate it and I liked it fine. But then I found “Lady Susan” in the same edition. So, thanks to not liking “Northanger Abby” I finally discovered “Lady Susan.”

“Lady Susan” was not on my mandatory reading list in high school like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” For those people who have not read the story, should they do that before going into the film?

No, definitely not. They should see the film first and then buy the novel. I think it’s a mistake to read the book first before watching the movie. A movie is a lighter affair. It’s kind of like a soufflé. If you like [the movie] and want to go deeper and profounder and spend more time with something, then read the book.

This being your first period piece, were there any concerns going into the project in anticipation to how different the genre was from the films you’ve done in the past?

I guess the biggest thing I was concerned with is if we had enough money in our budget to make it look really good. Those parts of the budget that had to be increased were increased. The costume designer said that she had such a small budget to work with, but we had actually raised it.

I’m assuming costuming is one of the most important elements of a period piece since you want it to look authentic and not cheap, right?

Yeah, costumes are super important, particularly in this type of movie. In addition to the dresses that were made by our wardrobe department, we went into some wonderful costume houses in London. To see some of the costumes from some of your favorite productions hanging there is quite fascinating.

Talk about casting Kate Beckinsale in the lead role. What did she bring to Lady Susan?

She was very good when I worked with her on “The Last Days of Disco.” Now, she’s super sharp and professional. She’s really serious. She really prepares. When she came on set, she would fire off her scenes really, really well. We shot the movie ahead of schedule, which is very unusual.

What have you learn about yourself as a director from “Metropolitan” till now? Is there something that you see in yourself today that you didn’t back then?

I was ignorant when I started “Metropolitan.” I had a book called “How to Direct a Movie” and had only gotten up to Chapter 9. So, I’ve sort of figured things out a little bit since then. I’m getting used to stuff and getting more of a formula. I think [directing] is an evenly balanced thing where you’re learning more stuff and getting more experience, but you’re also probably picking up bad habits. What I have learned is that you have to have self-confidence. If someone comes to you with an idea that you don’t think is good, generally, you should stick to your guns. If it looks like a problem on set, it’s going to be an even bigger problem in the editing room.

How many chapters did that book have, out of curiosity?

I think it must’ve had about 18 chapters, so there you go. I’m only halfway through.

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

February 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the true-life drama “Spotlight,” director/writer Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) tells the story of the Boston Globe investigation in the early 2000s that led a team of journalists to uncover a sex abuse scandal that reached the highest levels of the Catholic Church. McCarthy, 50, was nominated for two Academy Awards this year for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. I spoke to him this week about “Spotlight” and whether he think his film has made an impact on the way the church operates.

“Spotlight” was released on DVD and Blu-ray Feb. 23.

“Spotlight” is the first film you’ve directed that deals with real-life events. Did that put added pressure on you as a director and writer to not let people down, whether it was the victims or the journalists?

When you take on a project like this, you develop relationships with people like reporters and editors, but also some of the survivors. It does add a burden of responsibility to get the story right and to make the storytelling feel authentic.

Now that awards season is almost over and you’ve been able to process the film even more, do you think “Spotlight” can be the type of film that brings closure to this story or do you think it has drummed up past pain that people are still trying to put behind them?

Well, I don’t think it’s a question of past pain. I think this is still a problem that is playing out within the Catholic Church. The Vatican screened [“Spotlight”] just last week and the discussions were still going on there. I think that’s exactly why we made the movie, so people could understand that this was not just something we were drumming up from the past. It’s something that is very much still playing out. Hopefully this film will help continue the dialogue. We’re not condemning anyone. This happened. We all know it. What can we do to make sure it never happens again? That will come through action and transparency.

Do you think that transparency has been taking place in the Catholic Church since the scandal was revealed?

I don’t think we’ve seen enough action or transparency yet. Just last week, this council that Pope Francis put together (Vatican Commission on Sex Abuse) had two survivors on that council. One of them (Peter Saunders) had been speaking up to the press a lot saying, “Hey, we have to be more transparent and let everyone know exactly what we’re doing. We have to let the Archdiocese know if there is a bad priest in their midst.” Unfortunately, they removed [Saunders] from the council, which doesn’t really send a strong message. It speaks to the way the Catholic Church worked in the past. We’re hoping Pope Francis starts putting things into action. The church is a very big and old institution, so I think it’s going to take time.

Moving forward in your career, is “Spotlight” the kind of film you think you’ll be able to completely let go of? What I mean by that is do you feel like you have a responsibility to continue talking about the topic or are you the kind of filmmaker that wants to start a new film and put past projects to the side?

A little bit of the latter. I’m not an expert on this. I probably know more than most people because I’ve spent the last three and a half years of my life immersed in it. I take that very seriously. Certainly, many of the relationships that I’ve formed throughout I’ll continue to be involved in. But ultimately I feel like I’ve done my job in making the movie and telling the story. The movie will continue to live on and I’ve got to get on to the next project. But sometime over the course of the next couple of years if I’m asked to speak or attend fundraisers or social action campaigns, I will stay involved in that way. But I do feel like I have to get on to my next project.

“Spotlight” has been given a lot of credit for not hero-worshipping the journalist characters and turning them into saviors. How important was it for you as a storyteller to make this decision and present these characters as flawed human beings?

Just like everyone else in the film, they are authentic characters. Reporters, like all of us, are flawed. They’re human. I think we were trying to capture that. In doing so, you see how difficult high-end investigative journalism is. To really get it right, it’s very tricky and takes great commitment and support. I think, ultimately, this movie champions that. It champions investigative journalism on that level and the impact it can have. But at the same time, these are people, just like you and me, who are just doing their job and doing it at a very high level.

I come from a newspaper background, so I’m a little bias when I say that the procedural elements of the film were extra fascinating to me. What surprised you about the way journalists work on a daily basis?

I think it’s the details. I think this movie celebrates the craft of journalism. Maybe it’s all in the bits and pieces and how every little piece of information can really unlock an investigation and how detail orientated it is and how tedious it can be. Ultimately, I think what I was most fascinated by was the spirit of the journalist and their commitment to finding and revealing the truth. It’s incredibly noble and honorable in my mind.

You’ve made five feature films in the last 12 years. Do you see any kind of connective tissue between them, whether it’s thematically or stylistically?

Stylistically, I think it sort of speaks for itself. I’m trying to find humanity in the films and let them feel as authentic as possible. Thematically, it varies, but in my movies I feel like I’m dealing with some sort of outsider and the impact they can have on the community. In this particular case [in “Spotlight”] it was [editor] Marty Baron coming to the Boston Globe from Miami and on Day One setting a course for this incredible investigation. So, again, another outsider and the impact he can have. Thematically, that’s what I was interested in.

David Thorpe – Do I Sound Gay?

July 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Ever since he can remember, David Thorpe, a gay man and filmmaker from Brooklyn, New York, has never been comfortable with his effeminate-sounding voice. In hopes of understanding his insecurities and possibly training himself to sound “less gay,” Thorpe made the documentary “Do I Sound Gay?” Through interviews with friends and family, speech therapists and linguists, and celebrities including David Sedaris, George Takei and Tim Gunn, Thorpe examines what it means to “sound gay” and the stigma attached to one’s voice. He spoke to me last week about his new film.

“Do I Sound Gay?” will be available on VOD July 10.

Where are you now in terms of accepting your voice? Has that changed since making the film?

It has changed a tremendous amount since beginning the project. I’m much more comfortable with my voice and what it represented, which was this internalized homophobia and leftover shame about being gay. With that said, I still have moments where I’m self-conscious and I have to bat away that reflex where I think I don’t sound masculine enough.

When do you feel the most self-conscious?

You know, it kind of sneaks up on me. It might be when a stranger talks to me. Sometimes it is around other gay men where maybe I want to appear more attractive. It’s a little bit arbitrary where it comes from. But now I’m much more able to remind myself that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

What kind of response are you getting from other gay men?

I think the reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive. I hope that’s a tribute to the film because it lays out all the reasons for my insecurities. I hope people see my desire for empowerment, but also my struggles to be empowered. People from all backgrounds, not just gay men, have actually shared their struggles about their voices and aspects of themselves they weren’t comfortable with. It’s been really gratifying to talk to people about their accents or voices that are specific to the area they’re from. When we’re in the south, we would talk about what it means to have a southern accent. When I was in the U.K., we talked about the different accents they have there and how they have stigma and status attached to them. The goal of the film was to say something universal through my own personal story. Voice is sort of a metaphor for all the aspects of ourselves we don’t necessarily find informing to our imaginary ideals.

In the film, you go through a few exercises with speech therapists to see if they can help you sound “less gay.” Did you go into this project thinking you might come out at the end sounding more like Sylvester Stallone?

(Laughs) Yeah, I genuinely was unhappy with my voice in the same way someone is unhappy with their body. I thought I could sound more masculine. I had been uncomfortable with my voice for so long. I just wanted to deal with the issue once and for all. If that meant I was going to be happier sounding like a more typical man, I just wanted to get it over with. I’ve been out of the closet for 20 years, so I figured it was worth a try.

When you’re deciding on whether or not to date someone, is their voice a make-or-break deal for you?

(Laughs) Voice really isn’t a big deal to me at all. I’ve had boyfriends who have sounded more effeminate than me. I’ve had boyfriends who sound more masculine. The boyfriend who dumped me when the film begins was one of the more effeminate guys I had dated.

How do you feel about how the word “gay” has changed over the years? It’s not politically correct say something like, “That’s so gay” if it’s being used as a negative statement. Do you think society has become oversensitive about this specific word or do we need that unwritten rule?

Yeah, using the word “gay” is no longer 100 percent acceptable. I just watched the movie “Ted,” which I enjoyed, but there is a lot of that humor in it. It’s partly tongue-in-cheek and partly not. From what I hear from young people, it’s not cool to use “gay” that way in some places and in other places it’s the norm. One thing I like about the title of the movie is that maybe now when someone says the word “gay” it might have a different meaning. The movie is going to help change the idea of what it means to sound gay and to use that as a slur.

What about a more derogatory term like “faggot?” I’ve heard gay men use this word between each other. Is it a word that offends you as a gay man?

I think we should appropriate the word faggot. I’m comfortable with gay people calling each other faggot and queer. I think “queer” used to be a very hurtful insult, but now it has value. I know that was a struggle when I was growing up in the 80s. “Queer” is what gay boys were called in the schoolyard. I think we should do the same thing with the word faggot. I use faggot in the movie many times because I think it’s important to take that word back.

Since sounding “less gay” was so important to you at the beginning of this film, did you ever think that maybe you could just fake it? I mean, instead of trying to change something inherent about you, why not go the same route as Nathan Lane did in “The Birdcage” or Titus Burgess does in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and just act straight?

(Laughs) Well, apparently not because I didn’t pull it off! (Laughs) I do think that’s a real question for people in the media and in theater. They need to appear straight in order to get work. I love Rachel Maddow and she sounds very masculine, but I don’t think you’d ever have a very effeminate male newscaster.

Patrick Brice – The Overnight & Creep

March 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the first two feature films of his career, director/writer Patrick Brice finds a way to create comedy out of uncomfortable circumstances. In “Creep,” a freelance videographer (played by Brice himself) answers a vague ad on Craigslist about helping a guy shoot a video. The job becomes a lot more sinister than anticipated. In “The Overnight,” a husband and wife (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) and their young son accept an invitation to dinner and a family “playdate” at the home of a well-to-do couple and their kid. The evening, however, doesn’t play out like anyone imagined.

During an interview with me at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, Brice, who earned his BFA in Film from the California Institute of the Arts, talked about what he looks for when he writes comedy and what his goals are as a new filmmaker. “The Overnight” is currently playing in theaters. “Creep” can be found on VOD platforms.

How do you approach comedy as a writer? Your two most recent films “The Overnight” and “Creep” have comedic elements, of course, but there’s a dark sense of humor to both of them.

For me it’s just a chance to indulge in my own taste. I’ve always found a lot of humor in darker situations that, when put in a movie, would incorporate a lot of narrative tension. It’s not a stretch for me coming up with this stuff in both of these movies. It’s a chance to play in different sandboxes, whether it’s a found footage horror movie or a flat-out comedy. Both of these movies have that kind of same comedic sensibility. Making “Creep” was a lot of fun because that was an improvised film from a 10-page outline. We made it in a short amount of time. It was just [actor] Mark [Duplass], me and a movie camera. Having that experience of discovering a film during the process of making it was helpful going into “The Overnight.” It was just a matter of listening to and following my own instincts.

You wrote both “The Overnight” and “Creep.” When you’re writing a screenplay, how do you like to work? Do you have to lock yourself away from everyone and everything to get it done?

I think it’s hard because there are so many more distractions nowadays. Committing to a project that takes more time is difficult. It’s taking a leap of faith going into writing a script. The scriptwriting process, unless you’re Superman, is going to take a few months. It’s going to be something you devote a lot of time to. You have to be your own critic while you do it. For me, it’s hard to get rid of all the distractions and get to that point where you can write something. I usually start with an outline then do a sort of brain dump and structure the script from that point. There are certain beats you have to hit. I want to make sure I’m hitting them in the outline phase before going into writing the script. It’s harder to work around the script once it is fully formed.

As someone who is new to the industry, what is going on in your head when you start getting calls that actors like Adam Scott and Jason Schwartman want to be in your movie?

I did not think I was going to be able to get performers of that level. It was all a nice surprise. It’s nice that all of them read the script and responded to it. Each person we offered the part to said yes. It was hugely validating as a writer to have these guys respond in the way they did. It’s not normal. What helped is having Mark Duplass as a producer and his track record with these kind of movies and the way he makes them and puts them out in the world. It can be enticing for an actor, for sure. Once we met with each other, it was a really fluid process. Because we shot the movie so quickly, we had no rehearsals. The creation of the tone and any discussions about character stuff all took place in maybe one or two individual meetings with the actors. It was cool because it almost made it feel like we were creating a play. The film has that feeling to it.

You’re talking about the tone of “The Overnight” coming from a natural place. Did that include some of the more uncomfortable sexual scenes that happen? How did you confront those scenes?

For us, everyone was super professional. It was such a small crew and production that we were all on the same page from day one. It was never really uncomfortable. I think all that discomfort kind of existed in the movie through the characters and the performances. I think the last scene of the movie – not to give anything away – is kind of an intense scene. I think everyone was sort of nervous about that and leading up to it. But once it got to the point where we had to shoot the scene, it was just a natural thing. We were able to craft a moment like that to feel as real as it could. It wasn’t like we were forcing anything. Anything we felt was forced was tossed away.

What about the uncomfortable nature of “Creep?” Would you feel disappointed if someone came out of that film and thought of it as a straight horror movie instead of one that had comedic elements sprinkled throughout?

I guess people are going to react to both of my films in different ways. I think there is a lot of different factors involved like where people watch the films. “The Overnight” is quite fun to watch in a theater. “Creep” is something that is going to be discovered at home at this point. It is definitely a creepier and more uncomfortable experience watching it at home. One thing I’ve realized making these movies is that a lot of filmgoers are just masochists. They love that feeling of getting toyed with a little bit. I think both of these movies kind of do it in a way that’s really inclusive. If you give into the conceit of either of these movies, there’s a strong likelihood you’re going to have a good time. If you approach either of these movies saying, “Impress me” or “I’m not buying it from the get-go,” they’re not going to win you over. With that said, for the people who like this kind of thing, I think they both are a lot of fun. My goal is to make something that is entertaining and fun to watch. That’s my No. 1 goal as a filmmaker: to make something that is engaging and feels new for people. If that involves creating the potential to make people feel uncomfortable, then I’m willing to take that risk. At the end of the day, if you want to make something that feels new, you have to put yourself out there.

When is the last time you laughed at something in the theater that maybe others didn’t think was necessarily written with comedic intentions?

It’s funny because I was just thinking about this the other day. I don’t do that too often, but I remember going to see the movie “Jackie Brown.” I was probably 13 or 14 at the time and I went with my dad and his girlfriend and my grandfather. The moment when Robert De Niro, out-of-the-blue, shoots Bridget Fonda in the parking lot, my grandfather, who is not an outgoing guy or anything, just burst out laughing. That moment is seared in my memory. Maybe it’s something that influenced what I would be doing later on. It was a horrible thing happening in the movie, but maybe it could be funny, too. It’s this unexpected element. I love that moment in the movie.

When it comes to comedy, do you think people are too sensitive nowadays? Do you think all issues and themes should be fair game to joke about or is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed?

I feel like everything is up for grabs, for sure. But I also feel like it depends on where you’re coming from and how you’re handling the material. If I feel like I’m in the hands of someone who is being thoughtful about what they’re putting out there, even if it’s something grossly offensive, there is a strong likelihood I’m going to respond to it. If it’s something that is gross or negative or a joke at someone else’s expense, I’m not going to appreciate it as much. I feel like all the humor in “The Overnight” exists to push boundaries. It’s there to serve the story and characters at the end of the day. It’s obviously there so I can be goofy and have all this ridiculous stuff in the movie, but at the same time, if you’re not with the characters on this journey and if you’re not buying it, it’s just not going to work for you. I try to be thoughtful and cautious when it comes to that kind of stuff, even though this is a movie I could see potentially being way too awkward for certain people. For anybody that is willing to give in a little bit, I feel they will have a good experience watching it. It’s fun to watch people cackling and cringing.

Where is Peachfuzz (the werewolf mask in the movie “Creep”) today? Do you keep it in your closet at home?

Yeah, I have it in my closet! It’s going to probably come out next month. We’re going to do a special screening for the movie and will bring the mask. But, yeah, it lives in my closet.

Have there been any requests to mass produce the mask? I know with a horror movie like “The Babadook,” people were requesting the studio to produce that handmade pop-up book and they obliged. Maybe Peachfuzz will get the same reaction.

If there is a demand for it, we could probably make that happen. I love the mask. It’s goofy but is also really scary under the right context. I love that duality.

Mike Cahill – I, Origins

August 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the indie sci-fi drama “I, Origins,” a follow up to his amazing 2011 indie sci-fi drama “Another Earth,” director/writer Mike Cahill, 35, explores the idea of discrediting the existence of God through scientific experimentation and also examines the possibility that reincarnation can occur in the afterlife. Actors Michael Pitt and Brit Marling play Ian and Karen, microbiologists whose research of the human eye leads them to the groundbreaking findings.

During an interview with Cahill, we talked about why religious beliefs (or lack thereof) didn’t factor into his screenplay, whether science and spirituality can co-exist in this day and age, and if Cahill is someone who believes in the existence of a soul mate.

In the film, Ian and Karen are looking for evidence of something that will ultimately prove God does not exist. Can you talk about how your own personal religious beliefs, if at all, played a part in developing a script that tackles these complex themes?

My personal beliefs are not at stake, so they’re entirely different from what’s going on in the film. But I did want to tell a story about scientists and their relationship with the metaphysical and the divine or the idea of spirits. I think we get bogged down in words and language and semantics. I felt really compelled in trying to tell a story where the words of any religion or spiritual movements are not used. The words we use in the film are scientific. The approach that Karen and Ian use is scientific. They are looking for numerical proof and for the science to make sense when it comes to these very peculiar events that are taking place.

When you say you didn’t want the story to be bogged down by semantics, do you mean you didn’t want to use terms like atheism or agnosticism and specifically define who these characters are in that aspect?

Exactly! There is a lot of baggage in those words. There is a lot of baggage in any word associated in favor of any particular religion or belief system. For example, a lot of people say this movie is about reincarnation, but the term reincarnation is never spoken in the film even once. That was done on purpose. There is one moment where Karen asks, “What if the eyes are really the window to the soul?” She alludes to that cliché, poetic statement that has been around for centuries. Ian quickly jumps on her for saying the word “soul.” Even the characters are moving against preexisting terminology that has a lot of connotation and looking at pure testable things like memory and phobia. The rest of it is left up to the audience to input their selves into the narrative and give it meaning.

I really do hope people are able to come into a film like this with an open mind, especially if they’re automatically turned off by themes that conflict with their personal beliefs.

Given the opportunity, I think anyone who decides to sit down and watch this film will learn very quickly that it is not one that takes sides. The film is very respectful to all beliefs. If you go to the DVD stores, [“I, Origins”] is not going to be listed under religious-themed films. It’s a sci-fi movie that exists in the realm of speculative fiction. This is a narrative that hopefully inspires you to look closer into someone’s eyes and think, “What if this were possible?”

On that note, do you think science and spirituality can co-exist? I mean, people love it when they can watch Bill Nye debate Ken Ham because they are on such opposite ends of the spectrum and can root for one of them based on what they believe themselves.

I think it is so unquestionable that they can co-exist! That is articulated in one particular scene in the movie where Sofi goes into the laboratory and talks about the worm. Worms are the key to understanding that spirituality and science can co-exist. She uses Ian’s experiments to shed light on this very particular thing, which is that there are worms that have two senses and he modifies them to have three. That is something that is taking place in laboratories right now. It is reality. Until that moment, the worm only knew things through smell and touch. It had no access to the world of light. They didn’t have the capability or the sensorial ability to even know about it. Yet light influences things that they smell and touch. That is very similar to how the world beyond our five senses works. We really should have six or seven or eight. There are realms that we can’t touch. We are feeling the ashes of that through coincidences and through familiarity when we meet a person for the first time. Things happen to us in domains that we don’t have sensorial access to that have their own metaphysics. It is beyond our tangible, touchable, testable scientific or experimental method to understand. Once you wrap your head around that concept, everyone is like, “Oh, man, now that’s peaceful!”

The film asks interesting questions about how people are romantically connected on a deeper level.  Are you someone who believes in the idea of a soul mate? Or do you think it would be virtually impossible to find that person, assuming he or she exists, among the billions of people living on this earth?

Do I believe in soul mates? I would say yes. I think my wife is that to me. I don’t mean it in a Valentine’s Day card sort of way. When I met my wife, I felt like I had known her for 3,000 years. It was literally instant. From the moment we met to this day, I haven’t spent a single day away from her. We have this weird, very amazing connection that I can’t explain. I want to understand those deeply connected feelings you have with another person that feels beyond, “Oh, we have the same interests. You like that music? I like that music, too.” It’s not that. It’s something more. [“I, Origins”] attempts to explain or at least gives some narrative to that. “Soul mate” is such a loaded term, but familiarity and peacefulness with a person is not common with everyone you meet. That should be acknowledged.

I read in another interview that you are thinking about writing a sequel to this film. You don’t strike me at all as a sequel-making kind of director, especially since this film and “Another Earth” allow audiences to decide for themselves what happens next. I love when films cut to black and everything is still open ended.

Yeah, so do I.

So, why make a sequel? Are you going to answer some of those questions left open ended in “I, Origins” for us?

It would be a totally different story that takes place 20 years in the future. As an audience member, you own the ending of this film. Your interpretation is the ownership of it. I would explore something else that is deeply human and deeply personal. The idea in a nutshell is exploring our subconscious triggers – the things that are embedded inside our subconscious that we don’t necessarily have access to. I’d use this sci-fi concept as a metaphor for that and how we block out our traumatic past. It’s a totally rich, wonderful universe to explore.

Vlad Yudin – Generation Iron

November 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the sports documentary “Generation Iron,” filmmaker Vlad Yudin takes a page from the 1977 doc “Pumping Iron” and follows the new generation of bodybuilders vying for the title of Mr. Olympia, including Kai Greene and current 3-time champion Phil Heath. During our interview, Yudin talked about why he wanted to include the delicate subject of steroids in the film and where he thinks the sport of bodybuilding is going in the near future.

What inspired you to make a film about bodybuilding and did these men inspire you as you worked on the project?

Well, I wanted to make a film that showed [the bodybuilders’] dedication and level of commitment. Obviously, I’m not a bodybuilder, but I was still inspired by them. To choose to chase something and do it every day is undeniably amazing, of course. I think some people might think what [these bodybuilders] are doing is completely taboo, but you can find a lot of positive in it as well.

Was making the documentary a tough sell for any of the guys? How did you pitch it to them?

I think at the beginning they were sort of unsure. I told them if we were going to make a film about [bodybuilding and Mr. Olympia] we were going to have to be honest about everything. We had to make sure we talked about the good and the bad. They had to give me full access for the footage I needed to get for the film. I was an outsider, so at the beginning they only considered it. But I told them about my vision for the film and how I wanted to make an objective film. I think once they understood that they wanted to do it. Of course, when you show up to their house with cameras and a big crew it’s always a little uncomfortable. But after spending a couple of days with each of them it became an easy process.

How did you initially want to handle the topic of steroids? I mean, you touch on it a bit in the film, but don’t really get too deep into it.

Yeah, we talk about it in the film and we raise that point. I think this is the first time ever where professional athletes talk about it in an open way. But this isn’t a film about steroids or supplements. But we do have to talk about different components. Steroids are just one component. The subject is brought up all the time when people discuss bodybuilding, so we had to address it.

Now, you do bring up the issue, but none of the bodybuilders in the film admit to taking steroids. Is that a question you asked them straight out or was that not a line you wanted to cross with them?

It’s a very delicate subject whether they take [steroids] or not. It’s a grey area. It’s a subject that has various implications. So, while we talk about [steroids], we don’t talk about it specifically like, “Show me how you do [steroids].” We talk about it in the context of the sport overall. Some talked about it more than others.

But as a director, wouldn’t you want to push them to answer the question honestly? I mean, to get footage of one of them actually injecting themselves with a substance could have really been an eye-opening experience.

Well, in the context of the film I didn’t think [showing someone using steroids] was a critical point. I actually would not have wanted to show that. To me, I think we showed just enough to portray that point.

Just from an exercise standpoint – forget the supplements and whatever these bodybuilders may or may not use – do you consider, as an outsider, what these men do to their bodies natural?

I look at [bodybuilding] as a professional sport. It’s something they have to do. They want to win. From a history standpoint from where bodybuilding started to where it is now, the body looks different than what it did back in the day. But that’s what this sport demands. The audience for this specific sport that goes to these [bodybuilding] shows and follow these men in magazines, that’s what they’re looking for. It’s not something everybody can do or should do. It’s specific to the [bodybuilding] profession. Of course, the biggest debate in the sport right now is, “What should Mr. Olympia look like?” Some people say he should look leaner with a classic body type like it was back in the day like with [3-time Mr. Olympia winner] Frank Zane. Others want to see size. They want to see something on stage they’ve never seen before. They want to see that bulk, that mass. I think it’s a big debate in bodybuilding right now.

Yeah, I mean, we definitely have seen that change over the years. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime as Mr. Olympia was never as big as [current Mr. Olympia] Phil Heath. So, where do we go from here? Can these guys actually get bigger? Do they want to get bigger? Is it even possible to get bigger?

Well, in my conversations with doctors, I’ve been told there are limitations to growth, but we haven’t found those limitations yet. So, I guess that implies muscles can get even bigger. But again, for Mr. Olympia, I don’t think mass is the only key thing. You need definition. You need to have a full package. I think you can get bigger. That’s part of the debate: What type of body type should be rewarded? Right now, it’s definitely all about definition and mass. For Phil, he has both the size and definition. That’s where the current state of the sport is, but in the future it’s hard to predict what is going to happen. I think it may be to get bigger. I think the audience will want to see that.

It sounds like the fans are asking for a lot.

Yeah, but these fans really follow these guys. They learn about them and read about them and interact with them. Fans also like the [bodybuilders’] personalities and what routines they bring on stage and how they pose. That means a lot to the fans as well.

Yeah, judging these guys must be tough. I mean, from the perspective of someone who doesn’t follow the sport, all the bodybuilders looked pretty ripped in the same places. I don’t see how you can really say one is better than the other. It just seems very subjective.

You know, judging is an interesting process. Again, it’s about size and definition and when they line [the bodybuilders] up it’s all about comparison. So, when you line up the best [bodybuilders] in the world, you can see the slightest difference between them. They might look the same, but you can see when one guy is better than the other guy.

Now that you’ve been a part of this bodybuilding culture for a while, do you think you could judge?

(Laughs) Man, I would not want that job at all. But after experiencing Mr. Olympia, I understand it a lot better. I can definitely differentiate between the guys and see who has more mass and more cuts.

Where do you see Phil’s career going after he’s done with bodybuilding? He’s won three Mr. Olympia titles in a row. Does he follow the same career path as Arnold and go to Hollywood?

There are many different things [bodybuilders] can do after they retire. You see examples like Arnold and Lou Ferrigno who went into entertainment. You see guys like Ronnie Coleman and Rich Gaspari who have their own supplement lines. Some go into business. Then, of course, there are those sad stories where guys retire because of injuries and have nothing to fall back on. In the film, we wanted to showcase what happened to some of the bodybuilders at different stages of their careers. That’s what we see in a story like Victor Martinez. He ends up going to jail and trying to come back into the business. It really is unpredictable because one injury can really change your whole career.

I know you’re working on a film adaptation of your graphic novel “Head Smash,” which follows a superhero in a pre-apocalyptic city. Would Phil be someone you would think about casting in the lead role?

Oh, wow, I never even thought about that before. That’s a very interesting question. I’ve never imagined him in that role before. I definitely see Phil doing entertainment. He has a natural confidence. He can probably do TV shows and be an action star. He’s a true champion.

How intense is the rivalry between Phil and [fellow bodybuilder] Kai Greene? What sense did you get about their relationship? Was it really heated? Is there a mutual respect there?

It’s a real rivalry. They definitely come from different backgrounds and have a different approach to the sport. They are the two best [bodybuilders] in the world. At press conferences and backstage, there is no camaraderie between them. Of course, when they bring up each others’ names it’s not very positive. They have different philosophies. I think it is fun for the audience to see that. I think people always want to see strong competition. It was great for the film and great for the sport in general.

Don Mancini – Curse of Chucky (DVD)

October 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

Bringing Chucky, the possessed killer doll from the “Child’s Play” franchise, back to its dark roots was something “Child’s Play” creator Don Mancini wanted to do for quite a while. Since the last film hit theaters in 2004 (“Seed of Chucky,” which has a more comedic tone like its predecessor “Bride of Chucky”), Mancini heard fans commenting about how they wanted to see Chucky find the sinister side he exhibited in the first three films. In “Curse of Chucky,” the sixth and newest installment of the franchise, Mancini, who wrote all five previous films but only directed “Seed,” returns to the helm to give new life to the demented, knife-wielding Good Guys doll. This is the first movie in the series that did not get a theatrical release.

“Curse of Chucky” is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.

It’s been 25 years since the original “Child’s Play” hit theaters. What do you think still makes Chucky such a relevant character in the horror genre today?

I think human beings have a sort of primal recoil from dolls. Dolls are distortions of the human form. There’s something about them that seems off. Beyond that, I think Chucky is a memorable character because he inherently goes after authority figures and hypocrites and often uproots the status quo. I think that’s really attractive to the horror genre audience, which is generally young. I think fans really enjoy seeing this diminutive figure on screen that can kick some ass. And, of course, at the end they like to see [Chucky] get what’s coming to him. I think [actor] Brad Dourif has a lot to do with it, too. He’s made such an indelible impression on the role. The fans appreciate that [Chucky is still voiced by] Brad and that he hasn’t been replaced. I can’t imagine anyone else doing it.

My sister collected porcelain dolls growing up and I always thought they were creepy. Did you have an experience that triggered this story to come to life in your mind back in the 80s?

Well, I grew up with four sisters. They all had dolls and I would always use their dolls to scare them. I would sneak into my sisters’ bedrooms and take a flashlight and hide it underneath the dolls so there would be a beam of light coming from below. We even do that in “Curse of Chucky” in one scene. There is just something creepy about that. Without realizing it, I was taking my first steps into creating Chucky. But the story really came to me when I was going to UCLA in the 80s and the Cabbage Patch Kids were in full swing. I wanted to write a dark satire about how advertising and marketing affected children. My father worked in advertising. I was always fascinated about it. It was interesting to see how the Cabbage Patch Doll phase was affecting all of America. I thought it would be a fun thing to write a story where the product turns around and bites you in the ass.

I had a My Buddy doll growing up. Kids really don’t play with those kinds of toys anymore, do they?

Well, now they have that line of dolls called American Girl. But those Cabbage Patch dolls and My Buddy dolls – those 2-foot dolls that are as big as the child – don’t seem to be around as much anymore.

I’m sure since you have an interest in marketing and advertising, you’ve seen how children’s toys and iconic characters have changed over the years. I mean, have you seen the new rendition of Strawberry Shortcake recently? They sexualize everything now. They’ve even turned My Little Pony into a character that walks on two legs.

Oh my God, really!? That sounds like fodder for a horror movie right there.

Oh, yeah! Horses that can walk on two legs! Very scary!


There are a few things in “Curse of Chucky” that tie into the original film and some of the past sequels.  Would you like a younger generation who has never seen a Chucky movie to pick this new movie up and then seek out the rest of the franchise? Or do you think this movie can stand on its own?

Well, I hope it serves as a gateway drug for the rest of the franchise. The way the film was designed was to accommodate newcomers and longtime fans.  Hopefully newcomers will like the movie and become curious about Chucky’s origins and what has come before. Obviously it’s easier now that all six films are in their own box set.

Of all the major horror movie franchises from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to “Friday the 13th,” none of them besides “Hellraiser” have ever had a sequel go straight to video until “Curse of Chucky.” What was behind the decision not to take this movie to theaters?

Just money, really. It wasn’t my decision, of course. It was the studio’s [decision]. But this movie was conceived as a straight-to-video movie from the beginning. But it didn’t really affect my job other than having less money and less time to do it. Beyond that, I just wanted to make the best movie we could. I always thought there was a way of turning a liability into an advantage. That’s why I wanted to set the movie in one crazy house on one set. That was obviously in line with our budget, but it was also in line with creating a successful, creepy movie. Having everything take place in a single house creates a real pressure cooker. All the action takes place in a single night during a thunderstorm. I knew there were great possibilities for suspense. Even though it’s straight to video and it’s smaller, that pointed us in a useful direction to make Chucky scary again.

Do you feel “Curse of Chucky” could be a turning point for the franchise? I mean, do you think if the movie is well received by audiences, more sequels could come in the future? And vice versa, if it’s not well received, could this franchise pretty much be over?

Well, I would like to do more. As always, the final verdict will be rendered by the audience. But I certainly have an idea for the next one. Part of our intention with “Curse of Chucky” was to hopefully initiate a new cycle of scary Chucky movies. After the cycle of comedic Chucky movies with “Bride” and “Seed,” my hope is to initiate a new cycle that is purely frightening.

We’ve seen Critters go into space in “Critters 4” and Jason do the same in “Jason X.” What are the chances we can see Chucky in orbit somewhere down the line?

(Laughs) Well, if you’re going to do that you’re obviously going to go back into the comedy aspect. It’s such an absurd idea. I’ll even admit, I’ve thought of that idea before. I think the set up would be that an elementary school science class gives a space shuttle crew something to take on the space shuttle and they end up given them a Chucky doll. They would go into space with it and the mayhem would start. I think it would be a fun movie, but I think we would have to hold off on it until we go back into another comedic cycle.

Why did you think this was the right time to go back to the horror aspects of the film and leave out the comedy?

Mainly because that’s what the fans had been asking for for several years after “Seed of Chucky.” I go online and visit various horror movie websites and even Chucky-specific websites because I’m always interested in hearing what the fans are saying. For a while there has been a real consensus that they wanted Chucky to be a legitimate threat again. Also, as a filmmaker I selfishly wanted to make a darker film because as a director I had only made a Chucky movie that was a comedy. I was really eager to make a different kind of movie and direct a proper horror film and flex some different creative muscles.

Yeah, you’ve only directed two of the six Chucky movies, but it seems like you’re having a lot of fun doing it. If this franchise keeps going, do you want to be the man behind the camera?

Oh yeah. I love it. I wanted to direct for many years before I got the opportunity to do it. It’s one of the nice things about having created this [franchise]. I’ve sort of made a little sandbox for myself to play in. I’m proud that we’ve made a lot of very different kinds of movies within the franchise. I had really hoped to direct “Bride of Chucky,” but the studio felt I wasn’t quite ready to do it, so they let me direct the second unit. But [director] Ronny Yu did a terrific job. I would say that along with “Curse of Chucky” and the original movie, “Bride of Chucky” is my favorite. Having directed the second unit of “Bride,” that’s where I earned my stripes. They gave me the keys.

Isn’t it a consensus from most horror movie fans that the original “Child’s Play” is still the best one?

For the most part, but not exclusively. Probably over 50 percent would say that. Then there’s a healthy portion that really love “Bride.” Also, one thing I’ve only become aware of recently is that there is a huge contingent of fans who believe “Child’s Play 2” is the best. last month ran a whole piece about why they felt “Child’s Play 2” is better than [the original] “Child’s Play.” I think each of the films has its fans, some more than others. With “Curse,” it seems like people are finding it to be one of the better ones. “Curse” has definitely gotten the best reviews from all the movies in the franchise. That’s really gratifying.

Rick Rowley – Dirty Wars

July 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

If it were up to filmmaker Rick Rowley, the U.S. government would conduct all business in an open field with bullhorns. It’s especially vital, Rowley says, when it comes to letting the American public know about the covert missions carried out under the veil of the U.S. military. In his new documentary Dirty Wars, Rowley and famed journalist Jeremy Scahill investigate the secret military action the U.S. has undergone in places like Yemen and Afghanistan and how this affects the country on a global scale.

Where do you see the fine line between telling a story like this as an objective documentary filmmaker and journalist and allowing your own emotions to seep into the finished product?

Ever journalist is also a human being and has their perspective and emotions. Our role as filmmakers was to make this issue visible and make the people on the other side of this media and military apparatus feel like human beings that American audiences could relate to. That was at the core of our journey as filmmakers. I wanted to go to the other side of the story that we’re never allowed to see. That was more important to me than to adjudicate the policies. We’re not politicians. We don’t have a 12-point plan on foreign policy. We’re journalists who believe that for too long – for more than a decade – all of the most important details of the longest war in U.S. history have been kept secret from the American people who have a right to know what’s going on. We need to have a public discussion about what this war is doing to the world around us and to us as a nation. Hiding our own personal emotions about families who we develop relationships with and we had seen gone through night raids and missile strikes is impossible because it was a gut-wrenching, deeply emotional journey for us. We wanted that emotion in there. We didn’t try to distance ourselves from it. We wanted to get closer to the people and not pull away from them.

How much of what the government does behind closed doors do you feel is important for the average American citizen to know? We’re right in the middle of this Edward Snowden debate. How transparent should government be in the 21st century?

The global war on terror is the most important story of our generation. This war has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world and thousands of American servicemen. It has cost untold billions of dollars. Most of this is unfolding in the shadows. At home, the fundamental nature of the republic has been changed by the way this war has been fought – from the executive wing assuming the right to execute foreigners and American citizens without trial or any formal charges to the revelations about the NSA (National Security Agency) and spying on Americans without any concept of probable cause. It’s a complete violation of what my understanding is of the fourth Amendment. All of these decisions about how we are going to fight this war have been made in secret. Snowden was a very brave man. It’s essential that he came forward and revealed the full scope of what has been done in [America’s] name at home and around the world.

So, do you support 100 percent transparency even when internal leaks could put the U.S. at risk in some way?

Look at what Snowden did. He had the identities of every CIA operative and he didn’t leak those. He chose to careful calibrate what he was leaking. He didn’t do any damage to U.S. strategy or security around the world. He wanted to show to the American people what was being done to them without leaking any information that could be useful to people who could harm the U.S. We need to know that the U.S. is responsible for missile strikes in Yemen that killed dozens and dozens of civilians or the fact that the military was running all these secret night raids in Afghanistan. No, I wouldn’t have leaked the details of the [Osama] Bin Laden raid the moment before it happened, but I don’t think that’s what the issue is. There’s no doubt in the Yemanis’ minds where the missiles are coming from that are hitting their villages. The only people that don’t know these kinds of things are happening are Americans. There are dozens of wars being fought around the world off of any big battlefield. The American people have the right to know about those wars.

U.S. deaths overseas and death of terrorists seem to always be reported. People want those stats. But when it comes to reporting on the thousands of innocent people killed in these covert missions, it always feels like they’re viewed as collateral damage. Is that something that was important for you to explain in this film?

Absolutely! We know everything that happened about one night raid that happened – the raid that killed Bin Laden. We were drowned in details about that raid. We know how many Seals were part of that mission, what units they came from, what helicopters they used. We know they were carrying H&K carbines. We know the dog that was with them was a Belgian Malinois named Cairo. But what the American people don’t know or don’t realize is that on the same night there were probably on average 10-20 other night raids happening in Afghanistan. We’re told the story the administration wants us to hear. We’re getting a tiny sliver of what this war is about.

What did you think about President Obama’s speech when he mentioned Anwar al-Awlaki teenage son (Abdulrahman al-Awlaki) was killed and said he was “surprised and upset” that it happened. He referenced it, but it doesn’t seem like anyone wants to take accountability.

It was very interesting. That speech was truly remarkable. We’re a decade in to the War on Terror and this is the first time the Commander in Chief has gone before the American people and addressed some of the core issues the war raises – drone strikes and the like. I really think there is this change in American public opinion where for the first time since Sept. 11 we’re looking with clear sober eyes what this war is doing to us as a country. This is the first time he publically addressed the nation on Abdulrahman death even though he didn’t use his name. He used the words “he was not specifically targeted in the strike.” What does that even mean? He didn’t say, “Not targeted.” It’s kind of an Orwellian term that make me think that maybe he was killed in a signature strike, one of these strikes that is authorized by the CIA where they don’t even know the identities or names of the people they are killing.

What do you see happening with drone strikes in the future and in the drone industry in general? I mean, there are private companies who are producing these things now. It’s a new business.

Drones have become a metaphor for this war. It’s a metaphor for killing at a distance without consequences. Drones are just the technology. There are a lot of different weapons platforms that do these same kinds of missions. Even if there weren’t any drones, there would still be these strategic, moral, political problems. Cruise missiles do the same thing as drones. We shouldn’t be blinded by the technology. It’s a policy issue, not a technology issue. The technology is here to stay. Everyone is going to develop drones. It’s a very seductive thing for any executive branch in the world. Drones are definitely part of the military matrix from here on out.

Marc Forster – World War Z

June 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In his 2001 independent drama “Monster’s Ball,” director Marc Forster didn’t have a scene that had more than a few actors. It was a small, intimate film with a modest budget of $4 million. Forster, for the most part, was stress free. Twelve years later, Forster is at the helm of one of the biggest potential blockbusters of the summer, the zombie thriller “World War Z.” With an estimated $200-million price tag and scenes involving 1,000 extras, Forster is having a few nightmares (and they’re not about the living dead).

“You want to know what gave me the most nightmares during filming?” Forster, 43, told the Current during a phone interview. “It was waking up and thinking about having to shoot another scene with 1,000 extras and having multiple cameras on the ground and choppers in the air.”

During our interview, Forster, whose other films include “The Kite Runner” and “Stranger Than Fiction,” talked about the pros of making a big studio-financed movie like “World War Z,” adapting an un-adaptable novel, and the post-production problems on his film that have been reported in the trades over the last year.

You’ve gone from making intimate films like “Monster’s Ball” and “Stranger Than Fiction” to more blockbuster-type films like “Quantum of Solace” and “World War Z.” How does your process as a director change when the project you’re working on is bigger in scope?

You’re under more pressure because there’s more money involved and the pressure to succeed intensifies. The pros are that there is a big machine behind you that markets your movie. With the little movies, you don’t have that kind of power behind you. You’re left with having a word-of-mouth type of existence.

Can you tell me what the initial conversations about this film were like with the studio? Did they tell you that you had free reign or did they tell you how to incorporate or not incorporate the original book into the film?

No, basically it was just me and Plan B [Entertainment] developing the screenplay. They did say the movie had to be PG-13. So, early on, I designed the movie to be an intense ride instead of a gory one. I wanted to make the intensity extremely real. I felt Max Brooks’ book was written like that. I felt the movie had to feel the same.

Speaking of Max, what was your take on what he went on record saying about the film? Can you empathize with him since he is the original writer?

When I met Max he was very enthusiastic about me directing [“World War Z”]. Any writer who writes a best-selling book and sells it to a studio must have an awareness that things will change, especially for a book that has like 54 storylines. That particular book can’t be adapted the way it was written. I’m sure he was aware that he would have to be open to interpretation.

Was adapting a book like “World War Z” similar in any way to adapting a book like “The Kite Runner?”

No, it was different because “The Kite Runner” was a more linear story. I was very faithful to “The Kite Runner.” But in “World War Z,” I wanted to capture the essence of the book. If I had been faithful to it, it would’ve been more of a documentary. It would’ve been a different kind of movie.

As the director of the film, do you worry about what fans of the book are going to think of the changes you made or would you hope they understand the film and the book are two separate things?

I think it’s important to understand the film is a companion piece to the book. They both exist in their own right. For fans of the book, they have their own movie in their minds already. But I’d hope they could enjoy the film on a whole new level.

Over the last year we’ve heard a lot about the problems your film was experiencing during post-production. Every film has its problems. Do you think news about your film was exaggerated?

Honestly, once people heard we were reshooting the ending they thought the film was in trouble. The reason we redid the ending is because there was a massive battle at the end. Like in a lot of blockbuster films, you try to have the third-act set piece be bigger and louder than the rest of the movie. The rest of the movie was already big, so it was very hard to make the third act even bigger. Once we did the battle scene, we never tested it. So, instead, we decided to redo it with a more intimate ending. For me, that was very important because it’s what I had done in a lot of my other movies. I felt it was much more interesting to create this haunted house kind of idea with only Brad in the space instead of having another huge battle where you could risk audiences having battle fatigue.

During those little hiccups in production, was there something specific that frustrated you about the filmmaking business?

Apart from the ending, the production itself went really smooth. I shot the movie in the allotted days I had. I didn’t let things get out of control. As a filmmaker, there are always things that frustrate you. Sometimes you have to compromise. For example, here I had to shoot for weeks after weeks with 1,000 extras. I got to a point where I just wanted to shoot a scene with two people having coffee. You always get to that point. But while I’m making a movie, I am always so passionate. I have this vision and I need to complete that vision. Once you finish it, you’re so exhausted. You hope everyone else will share your enthusiasm for it. Sometimes that is the case and sometimes it’s not. I hope it is the case with “World War Z.”

You’ve worked with some amazing actors over the years – Heath Ledger, Halle Berry, Johnny Depp, just to name a few. Can you break down the type of actor Brad Pitt is?

He’s a very instinctual actor. His instincts are extraordinarily acute. He was a producer and actor in this and he did both very well. As an actor, he was very professional and had very clear dialogue and communication with me. When we wrapped, he became a producer and wore a very different hat. He really differentiated those two roles very well. He’s open to direction. He listens. He has his own ideas as well like every big movie star. You’re always trying to figure out different nuances, but it was a really great collaboration.

Do you think most fans of the zombie genre are interested in movies that make you think on a more complex level about things like politics and social issues or do you think most just want to see cool kill shots?

I’m sure there are both kinds of fans out there. That camp is very divided. I think you have a lot of different splinter groups. You wouldn’t be able to satisfy all the hardcore fans. Ultimately, it was all about making a film I felt satisfied my vision. For me, it never was just a zombie movie. It was way beyond that genre.

If there was a zombie attack in real life, are you the kind of person that would follow the “Zombie Survival Guide” page by page or would you try to survive you own way?

(Laughs) I definitely like Max [Brook’s] “Survival Guide.” I think that would definitely help me survive because I’d be lost without that book.

Can you talk a little about the zombie pyramids you created in the film? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that in a zombie movie before. Was it important for you to find different things to do with a zombie story?

Yeah, I really wanted to create my own zombies. That imagery came from my childhood. We had this anthill behind our house. I was fascinated with the ants and how they crawled on top of each other. I felt that image was so powerful. It’s like, “This is the end! We can’t escape them!” I thought the swarms would be the perfect metaphor to use.

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