DIRECTOR DAVID GREEN TALKS ABOUT SPIRAL
While working as a cable commercial producer/director in Boston, Adam Green began "borrowing" the equipment after hours to make his own films. With friends as cast and crew, three lights, and his severely troubled cat...Green's first feature film (the comedy COFFEE & DONUTS) was completed for a mere $400 in the summer of 1999. The movie went on to win BEST PICTURE in the 2000 Smoky Mountain Film Festival and was ultimately bought by Walt Disney Studios/Touchstone TV to be developed as a sit-com with Green writing the pilot.
In 2005, Green wrote and directed the all-star horror film HATCHET which premiered to rave reviews at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival and went on to win awards at festivals across the globe including BEST PICTURE, BEST ACTOR, and BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS at Austin's Fantastic Fest.
HATCHET was ranked on several TOP 10 FILMS OF THE YEAR lists including MTV's and Harry Knowles' of Ain't It Cool News. It will see it's wide theatrical release in the Fall of 2007.
Most recently, Green wrote the new American Eagle Outfitters web series IT'S A MALL WORLD which will begin airing this summer on MTV. Upcoming films include his romantic comedy GOD ONLY KNOWS and the big screen adaptation of the graphic novel DEAD WEST. For more on Green, visit www.ariescope.com
Adam Green collaborated with his lead actor Joel David Moore on a film that's a welcome 180 degree turn. Dark and atmospheric yet much more deliberately paced than the rock-concert energy of HATCHET, SPIRAL premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival where it won their coveted Gold Vision Award. It subsequently played Fantasia, London FrightFest, Austin's FantasticFest, and the Hollywood Film Festival.
WORKING WITH JOEL DAVID MOORE
It was actually the third week of shooting, one of the very few moments where I could actually sit and sort of bullshit with the actors. He said we really had to do something else together and I said we definitely would. I was always so sad that I killed everybody in Hatchet because they want to do a sequel and all my friends are dead. (Laughs) He said he wrote this script with his friend Jeremy Danial Boreing and would I want to look at it? I said sure, and a few weeks later he gave me the script and I liked it and he said "what do you think about co-directing?"
I said "To be honest, I really don't want to do that. We're good friends and we're gonna hate each other by the end of this if we do that." But I couldn't stop thinking about the script. The next time it came up, we talked about how (if we did this) we would really do most of the directing before we even got to the set and we would sit and beat out every single light, every camera angle. Everything would be done beforehand so when we got to set, he could trust me behind the camera to be the sort of on-set director. I hate saying that because it's not like we didn't both share that responsibility; it's not like Joel sat back and said "Let me know how it turns out."
A huge part of (wanting to do Spiral) it was that it was within my same group of friends. The way this movie was being put together was a lot of them were bringing their own money to it, in tiny shares; very grassroots. They were going to shoot in-between Thanksgiving and Christmas which is the most dead time of year in Hollywood. I needed to get away from Hatchet, and there was no way I was going to let all of my friends go up to Portland and play and not go with them. (Laughs) Which is funny too…Spiral, for being such a depressing, dark movie, we had some hilariously fun times on that set. Especially with the same crew that did Hatchet. My DP, AD, camera crew, all the same people; we sort of got to have a 'part 2' and keep having fun.
Every festival we've done, during Q+A or interviews, everyone's like "What were some of the problems in co directing"? And honestly, there weren't any! We never had one fight. All because we planned for it, we did our homework, we went into it knowing what to do. Especially with your crew, they're weary of co-directors because they have to know who to listen to. There's nothing in the movie when I watch it where I say "I wouldn't have done it that way." We're really happy with it.
The only thing that kind of sucks about co-directing is that with a lot of the horror websites/critics, magazines…they keep only focusing on me as a director because they just know Joel as an actor. It'll be an aside usually, "Also co-directed by Joel David Moore," but this was really his baby. He came up with the idea, he co-wrote it with Jeremy- who obviously was a huge part of putting this whole thing together- and then I came in and helped them execute it. I just hope he gets the credit that he has coming to him. And at the same time, some of the other avenues don't realize I had anything to do with it. Because they know Joel because he's famous.
The best review we've read yet challenged me and said they wanted to know how much I paid to get my name put on it because "There's no way the guy who made Hatchet made this movie" and that was supposed to be an insult; but was the best compliment that I've gotten yet. My agent and managers, they all called and said "This is exactly why you did this movie and this is exactly what we wanted to get." I think the very next day was when Paul Thomas Anderson mentioned Hatchet as one of his favorite movies last year.
I didn't see that until like a week later. A fan actually sent me a link with that and I thought it was a joke. Then all of a sudden the UK distributor sent me the magazine, people started calling. I sent him a thank-you letter; I'm assuming he wouldn't have any time to respond until after awards season is done, obviously that guy's pretty busy right now. (Laughs)
NOT BEING PIGEONHOLED
That was a main focus in doing it, was to stop Hatchet from defining me. One of the things I'm proud of was it's not like I did Hatchet, then it was successful and THEN I chose to do this; I did this before Hatchet was even done. For all I knew nobody would have ever seen Hatchet, but I believed in it enough that it was going to be successful; and then I had to think ahead and say "Well, if it is, I don't to be known forever as the guy doing the 80's throwback splatter movies with frathouse humor".. And when I say that stuff, it's not like I'm saying it as "Hatchet's only that"… So I'm kind of all over the place, it's not like I'm doing it just to do it…the next film I'm making was one that I actually wrote three years before Hatchet. The good thing about Hatchet is it's given me the opportunity to make all these other things come to fruition. Once you have something that's successful, people are a lot more eager to give you a chance to show what you can do.
BEING THE DIRECTOR AND NOT THE WRITER
I can tell you that on set it was nice to have the writing pressure off of me. Especially since Joel is right there, who co-wrote it, and Jeremy the co-writer and producer is standing right there. If something wasn't working for the actors or for the moment, it was great to have them right there to jump on it. We weren't stopped with all eyes on me to figure it out. With my first film, the AD would break the news to me every night of how much time we had left, and "you're not gonna be able to shoot all this, so rewrite it, right now." and I'd have to rewrite it on the spot. So on Spiral it was good to have them there, but at the same time it was tough, because I'd be like "I want them to say 'this" and the co-writer would be over my shoulder, who has the ability to stop you because he's also a producer- saying 'no that's not how I want it." It was tough on the ego, from going from being in charge, to being in charge with limits. If there was any arguing on set, it was usually between myself and Jeremy.
One of my favorite scenes in Spiral is the moment where (spoiler moment between Joel David Moore and Amber Tamblyn). Jeremy the writer was so consumed with making sure Mason remained likeable, he did not want Joel to interact like that with Amber..he wanted him to sort of take her by the hand and walk her down there…And I said "There's no way it's going to work like that." He'd start yelling "This isn't Hatchet, this isn't Hatchet!" (Laughs) Then the camera guys would get involved...during lunch we started arguing again, had everyone involved..
What ended up happening as a compromise, as Mason's doing this thing, he's crying and saying 'I'm sorry.." And that made it just 100 times better than it ever could have been, and we both got our way. Every time we watch that scene go by, when we're in the theater together, we both look at each other and smile. There's no hard feelings about the fight we had, and that's the good thing about this group. Nobody takes it personally. If you don't like something, say it, and have it out. And then things will be better because you did it.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
With Hatchet you have a guy in a latex rubber suit, and on set it's "phony and hokey" and you've got to keep doing it over and over again. So you come up with these tricks to keep people on their toes and keep them in the moment. With Spiral there's really only three characters and one of them is also the co-writer and co-director so we really didn't need to do anything to get people there, it would more just be kind of quiet discussions between whoever was in the scene. And then we let it go.
I know one of the things that we really watched was with Zachary Levi(playing Berkeley, Mason's boss and only friend); it's so hard for him to not be funny, because everything he does is funny. He IS Tom Hanks, mark my words he's gonna be the next Tom Hanks, I think that guy has more talent in his thumb than anybody else in the world has. Berkeley has a few funny lines but we didn't want it to become pompous, or where every time he's in a scene it's gonna now be funny. But Zach did an exceptional job of keeping it very real, and his lines are funny but it's the type of realistic "just a smile" lines the audience gets as opposed to big laughs. He was really the perfect counterbalance to what Joel was doing.
ON THE CHARACTERS
One of the things that made me love the script of Spiral is the characters. The problem with so much cinema, they do everything the way you expect it to be, and that's not how real life is. Some of the most insecure people I know are the most outgoing. And especially some girls I've known, you could make them cry just by looking at them the wrong way, and they're lonely and don't have much going on- but they try to be the life of the party, they're the ones who step up on the bar and dance; that's the Amber character. She doesn't have anybody. She's not good at her job. She sort of combats that by being fun and whimsical. Whereas Mason, who's in the same situation, faces that by being withdrawn. So they are kind of the same person, they just handle it in totally different ways.
I looked at Berkeley and Mason-and a lot of people post-college can sort of relate to this- sometimes you look at people you've been friends with all your life, and you realize that the only reason you're friends with them is because you've been friends with them. (laughs) There were some scenes that got cut out that touched on it a little bit more, about growing up with the two of them. They sort of started out the same person, something awful happened in Mason's life and he became what he is. Berkeley needs him to feel good about himself. As much as he's the big talker, he still hangs out with Mason; it's not like he's got many other friends. You're on shaky ground the whole time in this film, but the logic works out when viewed a second time.
I also like that Mason's got that Norman Bates thing going for him, where you feel bad for him and you want to see him work it out; even though he's also technically the bad guy.
THE VISUAL SENSE
We wanted the camera to be another character, but the character it's playing is Joel's own head. We did try to do that, showing the isolation, showing the confusion, and there's some scenes where the camera's moving and yet nothing else is. There's a bench scene where Amber and Mason are talking and the camera's swaying left to right- for me, what I was going for in designing that shot, it's almost like with a baby being rocked- they're content for the moment so the camera's just gliding gently back and forth.
And then there's other moments where the camera's shaking all over the place because he's scared, obviously with the 18 day shoot we had- to come up with some of these 360 shots on a practical location, not a stage, was really really hard to do.
MAKING A MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE ON A SMALL BUDGET
Not only is Will Barratt so good at what he does, he's one of the happiest, nicest guys. I've been working with Will for a decade now. Will is a producer/director, and really on my team. He understands story and he can sacrifice (to make the day).
My goal is to come up with a situation where Will can do what he can really do. Even Spiral, he got more time than he did on Hatchet, but still…18 days to do all of that with really no Second Unit!
THE SOUND DESIGN
The sound design was done by a guy named Matt Waters. We went through and talked emotionally about what each scene was. And the first time we went back to his studio and heard what he was thinking; it was so close to what we used. He really got it and really liked the movie. It always helps when you have a crew that likes the movie, so it's not just a job. What was interesting was after Spiral was done, we went back and had Matt Waters redo Hatchet. (With) layers he added into it after the Tribeca premiere. The sound design of Spiral is so much of it. That's why when people are like "Spiral's a drama, can't I just wait for DVD and watch it at home?" In some ways, it's almost better to watch it alone, not a film best watched with a full audience like Hatchet. But to have that experience of having your seat rumble like that in a theater…it's awesome.
THE JAZZ SCORE
Todd Caldwell was the main writer for that (with Michael Fish Herring). He's a childhood friend of Jeremy, the screenwriter; he liked the script. But the cool thing about this movie, you're right, if it had been a 30 million dollar movie they never would have done this. Everything was done analog. It was literally recorded live playing along to the film. Not digitally recording each separate piece and editing it. None of that.
The whole ensemble, we'd give them scene by scene, they would do their thing and send it to us. But if we wanted to say "let's bring the piano down in that scene", you couldn't! It was very old school, and it adds so much to the feel of it. We were excited to do it that way. If you're a music person, you can tell off the bat when the movie starts that what you're listening to is old school. I hope they put out the score for this. If you could see what it's like to watch this film without the music in it, it's not even half the movie.
Hatchet was a very "rock and roll" movie; when I say that I mean rock and roll is very typical, where it's verse-bridge-chorus, verse-bridge-chorus, solo, chorus, chorus, done. It's always like that, and Hatchet stuck to a formula - the attitude of it, everything was just very rock and roll. Spiral is very jazz; it's unpredictable, it's deliberately paced, and it's not like it sticks to one pace…at times it's very slow and all of a sudden a bunch of stuff happens really quick, and then you're out again.
I feel like with Spiral, the one thing that I feel good about is I feel that I proved without a doubt that I'm a director. And proved a little bit more what I'm capable of. So I'm really happy with that. With Hatchet it was a personal battle in every way. It was the first film, that's a big deal; but it brought so many people together. I don't think we'll see another thing like Hatchet happen again in the next I don't know how many years…when I say that I mean the collective heart. That came together like that, strangers that didn't know each other, and they're now such good friends. The fact that all the horror websites got unified and behind something, for the first time.
But the big thing was it was my childhood dream, I finally wrote it, and everyone in Hollywood liked it but refused to make it because it wasn't a remake, sequel or based on a Japanese film…and to take that anger and keep fighting and fighting and then have the fans be the ones to rally behind it and support it…I don't know if I'll ever see anything happen like that again. I wish it could happen for more people. Just the timing of it. And then the fact that Hollywood had to take notice of it and share their screens with it- and we're doing better on DVD now than some of their studio movies are.
We just did that Halloween short (The Tiffany Problem, available online) which is based on a much bigger project that I have. Joel and I were on a plane together and started coming up with this..I think we're gonna write something together that he'll probably star in and I'll direct, and then my next film coming up is God Only Knows, my romantic comedy.
Is there any particular thing you would like audiences to take away from Spiral? Or words for people checking it out?
I guess just to try to take the time and appreciate how "beautifully ugly" of a movie it is. And especially if you see it in theaters, or if you're gonna see it on a nice big screen at home, just really watch that cinematography, it's really stunning. With Hatchet it was "Go remember what it was like when you fell in love with these movies." With a movie like this it's not necessarily "fun", you're not gonna walk out all amped and cheering or clapping. But I do hope this is one of those movies that you're left thinking about for the rest of the evening…and going over it in your mind again.
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