The Jeremy Saulnier Q&A

Jeremy Saulnier on the Green Room set.
Jeremy Saulnier on the Green Room set.

High fives to Green Room director Jeremy Saulnier not only for getting through most of the more than 400 questions you submitted, but for taking the time to really consider his answers.

Sloppy, disturbing and awkward violence is naturally what I gravitate towards.” —⁠Jeremy Saulnier

Jeremy has answered a number of questions regarding inspirational and favorite films in the six lists that accompany this article, and his answers to the rest are below (including some mild spoilers for his films). Questions that were asked by several people are uncredited.

On Green Room

I saw your film on opening night and loved it. How did you perfectly visualise the crowd and concert scenes of the film? Did you do some research by going to concerts? Do you play in a band? —Darren Fx
Jeremy Saulnier: Thanks! The concert scenes were among the very few in Green Room where we employed two cameras. To technically pull that off we had to wrangle almost 100 people and capture as rowdy a show as we could (which is very difficult on a union film in North America!). And yes, I had grown up in the punk/hardcore scene in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and had been in a band in high school. Many of my friends are still in bands and have toured the States, so I went to a few of their shows and interviewed them about being on the road and dynamics between band members.

Is there anything innately political about Green Room? —garyshannon
Yes. Lots of political undertones when I wrote it in 2013/14, but I couldn’t predict how relevant it would become in 2016. Ugh. My statement wasn’t the obvious ‘Nazis are bad’, it was more about loosely paralleling mainstream American conservative power structure in Darcy’s gang. The elite few at the top give marching orders to those beneath them, using ideology and misinformation to cause division and animosity between those who are ‘fighting the fight’ but unwittingly are serving interests other than their own. But that’s all underneath. It’s really just a tragic hyper violent punk rock shit show and an exercise in tension building.

What amazed me the most about Green Room was how authentic the members of the band felt. I bought all of them as punk kids. Did you put the actors through some form of “punk rock education” period before shooting? —B. McGee
The characters were mostly based on people I knew growing up in the punk/hardcore scene. There’s a real Sam, Tiger, and Tad. Luckily, Anton (Pat) and Alia (Sam) had experience playing in bands. But Callum (Tiger) and Joe (Reece) had zero experience. We pre-recorded the Ain’t Rights songs and let them listen to it across the Atlantic (Callum and Joe were UK based). Once on set in Portland, Oregon we had a crash-course for the band so they could play live and come off as authentic. It was trial by fire for Callum, who had to perform his first on-camera show (at the Mexican restaurant) nine hours after he arrived in the States!

Green Room very much resonated with me and many others in the punk/hardcore community who have toured. The film had such a sincere authenticity to its source material. I have seen pictures of you on set in a Sheer Terror shirt, so I must ask if the story for Green Room (even small portions) was at all inspired by experiences on the road by either yourself or others you know in the punk/hardcore scene? —Nick Holland
Absolutely. My band never toured, but lots of my friends’ bands did. I used a lot of their stories for the film, including the opening scene where the driver dozed off behind the wheel and woke up on the side of the road. I was in the scene in the ’90s, so there were Nazi skinheads at most of the shows. Lots of parallels to my personal experience, including the soundtrack—many of the songs I grew up listening to made it into the film, including two Ain’t Rights songs that were written by my high school buddies in the ’90s.

How did you achieve that effect with Yelchin’s arm? It was incredibly realistic and freaky. —Zac Barr
That was a totally practical effect. Just a good old-fashioned (and very well-placed) prosthetic with hidden blood tubes. Anton and I worked on increasing flexibility in his wrist so he could dangle his hand as if his tendons were severed—it totally sold the gag.

What was the screenwriting process for Green Room? It was one of my favorites this year! Also loved Blue Ruin. —Ernesto
Thanks. I was coming off of Blue Ruin and reading a ton of scripts. Was terrified I wouldn’t find the right material and I started to panic. Green Room was an idea I’d had for years (even before Blue Ruin) but didn’t have the resources to make. I decided to take that old idea and run, thinking I’d never get a chance to make it again (too weird, violent and esoteric to push through the system under normal circumstances!). I had momentum from Blue Ruin and so I just started cranking out a script as my festival tour was winding down. From page one of the script to wrapping production was exactly one year. I don’t have an identifiable ‘process’ yet, as I’m always writing under duress. But usually I procrastinate, talk about my idea a bunch, research and take notes, and then one day just sit down and power through a draft. Two pages some days, ten pages other days. Jogging Prospect Park helps me clear the head and problem solve narrative issues, and pulling from real-life characters helps me add the details that so excite me.

With a relatively larger budget for Green Room in comparison to Blue Ruin, how did that affect how you adapted the script to screen? Was a larger budget in mind when writing the screenplay? —BradDee
Green Room had more than ten times the budget of Blue Ruin, but we had the exact same number of shooting days (31)! This was mostly due to Green Room being part of a sustainable model of filmmaking—union rates and thus far more expensive. But people on set, including me, were actually making a living—and that was a first for me! The big difference between the two was Blue Ruin was custom built on the page to incorporate locations, cast members, props and picture cars that I had access to and intimate knowledge of, while Green Room had to be built from scratch to accommodate the fictional locations and scenarios I had dreamt up on the page. When writing it, I had no idea it would cost so much!

Big fan. How did the final dog scene in Green Room come to your mind? It seemed so out of the blue but awesomely subverts a classic trope! —Cutler
Thanks! The final dog scene in Green Room just came naturally as I wrote the film. I had done a lot of research on Pit Bulls and fighting dogs, and it became clear how misrepresented fighting breeds are as depicted in films. I played that angle up for most of the film, yet felt it important to reveal the ‘true nature’ of Pit Bulls as a nice little button at the end. It also helped to offset all the gaddamn carnage!

With Blue Ruin, I watched a commentary on the first few bits with you speaking about the scene where Macon Blair’s character is driving away from the murder and the rap music is playing. As a filmmaker, do you have Kubrick-like attention to detail? Is every shot purposefully done with things in the foreground, background, and mid-ground all meaning something? —Cutler
I wouldn’t compare myself to Kubrick, but I am indeed a fiend for detail! But no, I don’t need everything to mean something. I prefer to take an intuitive approach to how I choose shots and design scenes. Sometimes I let technical or logistical limitations guide my choices too, like in the roadhouse/bathroom stall murder scene in Blue Ruin I chose to go 100% hand-held because we simply couldn’t fit any camera support gear in the tight space!

What is the best anecdote you can remember from when you were filming Green Room? —Carlos Riquelme
The pit bulls, the gore and blood, the stunts, the shoot-outs and the pyro effects all went more or less according to plan, often taking less time than we allocated to shoot intense action scenes. But we almost lost an important scene because we got bogged down shooting a fucking insert of a knife landing on the dirt. INSERTS ARE THE WORST!!!

How did you manage to convince Slayer to allow the use of their music in this film, as well as the Dead Kennedys, etc.? —Michael Miller
We were very lucky in that respect. “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off” was the only song actually written into the script, so that was cleared before we shot. Slayer, Napalm Death, Midnight, etc. were all supportive of the film and were eager to see the scene portrayed on screen with authenticity, energy, and respect. Plus, we paid them.

As an experienced cinematographer what was it like giving the job over to someone else on Green Room? —ChiefInspector
It was a huge load off my shoulders. There are other films down the line I might shoot myself, but Green Room was way too much to handle. Sean Porter was a huge asset and powered through when I faltered.

Also are a you fan of punk music or was that just a decision for the film itself? Loved the Nothing sticker on the van. —Zac Barr
The Nothing sticker was one of many that we received permission to use as props. I had not known much about the band (I’ve been out of the scene for well over a decade) but have since become familiar with them. They kindly showed up to one of the Green Room screenings in NYC and handed me a vinyl album!

How hard was it to choose the specifics for things like the record that is stolen, or the collection of stickers on the van? The sticker for the band Nothing made me gasp in the theater more than anything else—thank you for the great work! —Hot Dog
Thanks. Glad you connected with such a detail. There’s so many little details in this film, but I hope they add up for people in the scene. It’s rare one finds a movie that seems custom made JUST FOR YOU. That was the effect I was going for. I licensed a Fear song, just to incorporate Lee Ving’s signature “1, 2, 3, 4 … 1, 2, 3, 4” count off for all the peeps that would get it!

What did you think of Bobby Burns’ 70s Grindhouse edit of your Green Room trailer? —Tyler Henry
It was rad. The fact that my work is getting the ‘fan-art’ treatment is a huge honor!

Patrick Stewart in Green Room.
Patrick Stewart in Green Room.

What was it like working with Patrick Stewart? —Wes
Sir Patrick was great. Dedicated, kind, and humble. Was shocked he came aboard this film but in retrospect he was the only choice to play Darcy!

Green Room is for me one of this year’s best films and the best horror movie in ages. After watching it I felt like it somehow was a modern The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Has Tobe Hooper influenced the film or you, or is this all just my imagination? —Paperinukke
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has certainly influenced me as a filmmaker, and I certainly see some parallels, but it wasn’t a primary reference for Green Room (perhaps subconsciously?). My main reference was Straw Dogs, and that was the only film I watched and broke down before I wrote the script.

In the van in Green Room I noticed a Dragonlance book. Who is your favorite character in the Dragonlance series and which is your favorite book? —Ghostsmut
We put that there for the fellow nerds. I actually wasn’t that into the series, was more into skateboarding and playing AD&D. Macon Blair was more the Dragonlance guy. Hold on, I’ll text him…

Macon Blair: Tasselhoff Burfoot (character), Dragons of Autumn Twilight (book).

[An hour later]: But upon further reflection… Tasselhoff was my favorite main character, especially when I was young, but Lord Soth the Deathknight is probably the coolest supporting character. Much more metal. Kind of a ripoff of the ring wraiths from The Lord of the Rings but still, very badass.

Green Room is my favorite film of the year, nothing will make a better experience than watching in a theater the same day that Prince passed away and when his name was mentioned, and the audience screamed and cheered with thunderous applause, a chill ran through my body. How was it working with A24, my favorite distribution company? —Andres Guzman
Wow, thanks! The Prince reference was a bizarre, beautiful, bittersweet thing I’ll never forget. Glad the film had such an effect on you. A24 has been a wonderful distribution partner. They’re great people and they’re building an amazing brand. They take great care of their filmmakers and I’m developing my next project with them now!

I’m a huge fan of 1990 classic Home Alone and particularly Devin Ratray’s searing performance as Buzz McCallister. When he showed up in Blue Ruin a great movie became a stone-cold classic. What made you think that one of cinema’s greatest villains could play such a sympathetic and understanding character? —Chad S. Walsky
I didn’t know Devin was Buzz from Home Alone when he auditioned. He actually came in for the role of Teddy, but was too young to play that part. His performance was so damn good, however, I couldn’t let him go so I offered him the role of Ben, who is Dwight’s contemporary and a much better fit for Devin. I had full faith and trust in him because he was not only extremely talented, but also a huge fan of the script—he knew it backwards and forwards. He also chugged an entire large water bottle for his audition and that attention to detail, that use of props, his focus on the physicality of the performance was exactly in line with my filmmaking philosophy.

Can we get Aint Rights merch? —BrodyConing
Yes!

You’ve often mentioned that one of the big lessons you learned from project to project was the importance of getting as long of a shooting schedule as possible. What has more time on set helped you out most with? —franknada
Well, I gave myself 30 days to shoot Blue Ruin. That was a film I designed with nothing but support and a unified mission to feed the story all it needed to be told well. I used the time to shoot in many more locations than a typical indie production would allow (80), to have the luxury of shooting in waning light (dawn for dawn and dusk for dusk), and to put all the money on screen (which means low wages, unfortunately). Overall, the lighting was simple, but we were able to shoot lots of coverage when we needed (for action scenes) and to hire extra hands for night exterior work, where we used every light on our three-ton grip truck.

There wasn’t really time to conceive of or integrate new ideas into the story, though. It was all about execution of the script. So it wasn’t so much that we had all the time in the world, we just rejected the standard 18-day shooting schedule of sub-$500,000 indies. The usual model is unnecessarily difficult and breeds anything but an artistic environment. For Green Room, I had a lot more to deal with and the budget and schedule were cut last minute, so those 30 days seemed very different to me, and the shoot was far more difficult.

Green Room and Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier.
Green Room and Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier.

Even if you had unlimited time and resources, would you still like to work at a certain pace and hit a certain page count each day? —franknada
My dream is one to three pages a day of ‘visual storytelling’ and five to ten pages a day if we’re getting into dialogue. By having that balance, you can dig into action and take your time, and make up for it with simple, human conversations that get you back on a healthy pace.

What was it like working with the z-jib on Green Room? Why use the z-jib versus a regular jib or technocrane? Sean Porter made it sound really appealing in an interview but he also mentioned that it was awkward and he could see why it didn’t get much use. —franknada
DON’T USE A Z-JIB IF YOU DON’T NEED TO! We made do with that gear, and learned to love it when it saved our ass on a few days, but we only had that because we couldn’t afford a crane/libra head combo!

How did you make the decision to shoot ProPres on Green Room? I was surprised to learn that Don’t Breathe shot ProRes instead of ARRIRAW despite having a listed production budget of $10 million. At what budget level do you think you could spring for raw and a 4K DI? —franknada
ProRes is a favorite simply because the Alexa can record that internally. We wanted to avoid using a bulky external recorder. Those things suck, and we were in very tight quarters. I’ll do 4K when it can be recorded without a bunch of extra gear (happening as we speak) and when it looks better than other options. A lot of DPs are perfecting the art of degrading the image now that the resolution race is on! Also, fuck anything other than 24fps.

What was your experience of getting Green Room into as many theaters as possible and do you think it bodes well for other directors releasing edgy horror/thriller stuff wide in future? —Steven Wallace
I was grateful to release Green Room across the world with many distribution partners, but I know it could’ve done better at the box office. Tough to gauge exactly what the circumstances were, but the film tested very highly with audiences compared to other indie horror/thrillers but didn’t perform as well. But I do think it’s a good time for indie horror, it’s just a matter of how much marketing will be done on the film’s behalf. I wish I didn’t have to worry about terms of distribution, but it’s certainly part of the overall picture so it’s good to be informed. My long game is to build a library of films that have a long life, that will be discovered by film nerds for decades to come, and that will generate revenue for my partners over the long term. When you chase what’s hot or design films to fit a market model, quality and originality can suffer.

What’s your desert island band?
Black Sabbath.


On style, influences and process…

When did you know you wanted to make films? —Don
I knew the day I got my hands on a camera in 1984!

How did you begin as a director, what did you do to start and how would you recommend others to start based on your beginnings? —Dawson Roberts
I started in my backyard taking photos of dioramas I built (and often destroyed). I fell in love with the camera the first time I had access to one. I explored VHS and Super-8, makeup effects, prop building from an early age. I found a bunch of likeminded film nerds in my hometown and we spent our youth making videos for class and for our own amusement.

I applied to NYU’s undergraduate film school (Tisch School of the Arts) and was accepted. Had a blast in college and maintained an academic scholarship. Thought I’d be discovered out of film school but spent years doing P.A. work instead. Always plotting with my friends, but making a living in advertising. Saved money. Blew it on a short film. Moved from P.A. to cameraman. Then to small-scale directing gigs. Saved money. Blew it on Murder Party. Lost money. Went back to advertising, but lost traction. Went back to camera work and shooting indie features. Saved money. Waited. Bought an apartment. Had a couple of kids. Saved money. Blew it on Blue Ruin. Whew. Finally paid off.

Macon Blair in Blue Ruin.
Macon Blair in Blue Ruin.

How do you create a rapport with cast and crew on set? Do you have a ritual before getting on set? —ethanoneill
I cast actors and hire crew that are talented and enthusiastic about the story we’re telling. I’m honest with everyone and try to be encouraging, and that usually creates reciprocity and a great rapport on set. I also try to hide my self-doubt and crippling fear of failure for at least the first week of shooting. No rituals yet, I’m still working on simply relaxing a bit and letting myself enjoy the experience of production.

How do you approach storyboarding in preparation for shooting your films? You strike me as a detailed visual director who would storyboard every shot of his films for control, is this the case? —Charles Wiggins
I do indeed start out with the intent of storyboarding every frame of a film before production, but usually end up getting through about 30–40% before I’m bogged down with logistics related to casting, budgeting and scheduling. On Green Room, we realized that it would be useless to storyboard all the close-quarters interiors backstage, as the action and visual design needed to come from rehearsals and blocking with actors, not particular frames. But we storyboarded the first 15 minutes of the film more or less shot for shot. Same with Blue Ruin—I meticulously storyboarded the first 30 minutes of the film on my iPad and the rest was chicken-scratch with stick figures in a spiral notebook.

How and when did you know that making movies was what you really wanted to do? —Lucas Santana
My mom did educational research and had access to early VHS camcorders (1984). She brought one home from work over the weekend for me to play around with and I was hooked. Took a while to officially become a filmmaker, but it’s always been my since the age of eight.


On genre…

Do you see yourself as a horror director?
I’m happy to let others classify my work into specific genres, but no, I do not see myself as a ‘horror director’.

Do you ever get the impulse to embark on a project entirely different from your previous films (like a sci-fi or a romance) or do you think that the themes and ideas you’ve explored so far in your career are inspirations you’ll continue to draw from? —Cham
I absolutely want to branch out, but genre films are too damn fun to make and offer the most exciting visual opportunities. I actually started out making comedies and hope to explore many different types of films throughout my career.

What’s a genre you always wanted to tackle? —Joshua Brown
BIG ACTION.

Would you tackle other film genres where there is no suspense aspect? —DynamiteFilms
Yes, if I can tell the story visually.

Do you plan on sticking with horror thrillers or can you imagine straying into other genres? —Agnis
I will eventually make a film my whole family can watch!

Your films take on a lot of genre elements, especially as far as thriller, crime and dark comedy go. Do you have any plans to consider other film genres as you continue to create movies? Thanks for doing this Q&A! —Logan Middleton
My pleasure! Yes, my greatest pleasure is to mix up genres and blur the lines between them. I’ll let them be marketed and categorized by the distributors, but it’s fun to ignore all that shit when I’m making a film!

Would you consider making a big-budget blockbuster with a finished script or would you rather stick to the writer-director role of smaller arthouse-exploitation movies with more freedom? —Moviebrayne
Oh hell yes. The dream is to receive awesome, completed screenplays on a silver platter and make them into movies every year. But the marketplace is tough and I will plan on self-generating scripts at various budget levels to maintain more control over the business side as well as artistic freedom.


On violence and R ratings…

The way you film violence, that reality and that frailty combined, which movie or director inspired your style of filming? —Waldo
I was obsessed with special effects makeup from a very early age. Even before that, I was into fine-scale modeling and building dioramas. It’s always about creating (or recreating) something that sells a certain authenticity. So I was into the craft of violence on film from the beginning, as that offered the most tactile approach to filmmaking and delivered the most heightened experience for viewers. Biggest influences would be Peter Jackson (for over-the-top gore), the Coen brothers (for their singular mix of realism/comedy/tragedy in their portrayal of violence) and Martin Scorsese, especially Taxi Driver, for the awkward and brutal small-scale effects that I emulate in my films.

How do you balance the level of violence in your films with your personal feelings towards violence, i.e. how do you balance the entertainment audience get from seeing violence with the impact (moral, visceral or otherwise) you want said violence to have? —Caleb McCandless
Cinematic violence is certainly something I gravitate towards and I’m not exactly sure why. It has to do with the shock and exhilaration of a heightened experience and life-or-death stakes. For me violence has to enhance the story emotionally. It has to have a charge behind it or else it’s not at all appealing to me. If violence makes the audience clap, I hope it means they’re glad somebody else has survived. If the audience is disgusted by violence, that’s okay too. As long as they’re along for the ride.

What is it about violence (in movies) that you find engaging? —deepbluefunk
Simply, the art and craft of pulling off gags.

How do you create such great tension from such simplicity? —Alex Gidley
Not exactly sure, but I focus on ‘method writing’. Really putting myself into various characters and trying to inject very human thoughts, impulses and vulnerabilities. This leads to unpredictability and instability in the conflicts I explore. Once we deviate from the standard screenplay rules, it gets a lot more fun.

What tricks have you found for building tension so effectively? —Jon Nix
A key element to building tension is knowing how to play with the concept of information deprivation, as it applies to both the characters and the audience. Knowing (or not knowing) something can be absolutely terrifying.

In Blue Ruin and Green Room, you subvert expectations a lot, which makes me wonder how you feel about clichés? It seems to be something you put great effort into avoiding. —Robtarded
I’ll always try to explore new narrative territory, but if I try too hard to subvert expectations my efforts fail. I’m big into ‘invisible structure’ wherein I bring in visual or thematic set-ups/payoffs, but refuse to do it through contrived action or dialogue. I allow myself to be impulsive when I write and to complicate things to a point of no solution—that’s usually when characters die in my scripts, when I fail as a writer to find them a way out!

The violence in your films almost always arrives with little of the contrived cinematic fanfare we’re used to. Instead it hits with a sudden blunt-force trauma that feels far more realistic and sickening. Do you feel that it is a responsibility of the filmmaker to paint violence in such an unglamorous and disturbing way, or is it solely an artistic preference? —David
A little bit of both. I try not to let real-life violence affect my storytelling as an artist, but I can’t help but be aware of what goes on beyond the page of my script. I love me a gore-fest but in my recent work, I only want violence in my films that I believe needs to be there. Sloppy, disturbing and awkward violence is naturally what I gravitate towards.

Imogen Poots in Green Room.
Imogen Poots in Green Room.

You’ve also successfully blended gruesome horror elements with a sort of understated, slightly gothic Americana-type tone. Do you intend to continue in this direction of portraying exploitation-influenced stories in more grounded and artful ways than we’re used to or do you have other cinematic ambitions? —David
Yes! For now ‘grounded and artful’ is what I’m feeling. Big action would be a dream, but there’s not a lot of opportunities out there to do it right. Sicario is a rare exception. Comedy and sci-fi aren’t off the table either, as long as I can tell those stories in a ‘grounded and artful’ way!

Green Room is one of the most fantastically violent movies I’ve ever seen and I know many people who have had a difficult time watching it. As a creator of hyper-violent movies, I want to know if there are any movies that portray violence in a way that you find difficult to watch? —Alistair Ryder
Yes. I’ve got a problem with some films out there. No judgement, just my preference as an audience member. I hate when guns are pointed at infants or children who are not old enough to ‘consent’ to being part of on-screen violence. It just creeps me out. I’ve also grown softer with age and fatherhood, so that’s on me. Julia Bloch (my editor) and I had a hard time in the edit room during some of the gnarly scenes in Green Room too, so my work is included in the ‘too difficult to watch’ category!

I absolutely loved Green Room when I first saw it but I was surprised by the 18 certificate it got in the UK. What has been your history on film ratings on your projects and also what is your opinion on film ratings in general? —Aaron Murray
Murder Party wasn’t rated because it didn’t get a theatrical release. Blue Ruin was R and that seemed fine. Green Room also received an R and that surprised me a bit—I didn’t have to cut a frame for the U.S. release! As for other countries, I respect the cultural preferences native to their markets and don’t get too much in the way. I did some slight trims on Green Room for a European territory to get a favorable rating. I didn’t do anything I felt altered my artistic intentions but I was happy to trim a few frames of gore here or there if it meant a wider release. So I don’t think too much about ratings, but I do like cussing and smoking and action and blood and sex in my cinema.

Less a question and more of a story related to when I saw Green Room. I went to an advanced screening here in the UK a week or so before its official release, very much looking forward to it after previously watching Blue Ruin on Netflix and adoring it. What I wasn’t prepared for was my unexpectedly squeamish reaction to the moment the violence was really kicked up a notch (masterfully done by the way!), and the next thing I knew, I woke up in my seat in a cold sweat. A squeamish feeling had become a full-on passing out moment, much to my embarrassment and surprise.

Anyway, since I’m not normally the squeamish type, I thought I ought to go see the doctor about this. I explained that I was watching a film that got particularly violent and it perhaps caught me off-guard, and maybe that’s why I passed out. He wasn’t convinced, and sent me for the full gamut of cardiology tests and revoked my driving licence for a few months while waiting for all the results. But just the other day, I heard that all my results came back normal, I can drive again, and the probable diagnosis: your film!

So now that I’m apparently fit as a fiddle, I’m hoping to finally watch the film from the comfort of my living room this weekend (and make it all the way through this time). Wish me luck! —Andrew Craddock
Andrew! Sorry to hear Green Room racked up some medical bills and deprived you of your driving privileges. Dare I say I’m flattered? Regardless, I’m happy to know you’re back in top shape and hope the home viewing goes better than the theatrical. Be sure to properly hydrate and surround yourself with pillows just in case!


On trilogies…

Will you follow the current naming conventions of your last two films? Will it be your own Three Colors trilogy? —Ryan
The colors in the titles of my last two films was a coincidence. The concept and title for Green Room actually predated Blue Ruin. However, now that there’s so much talk about it I feel obligated to one day complete a Color Trilogy. Just for shits and giggles.

I think your three movies make a sort of trilogy of improvised, unfit killers. If this is true, do you consider this “theme” over, and if so, what are you up to? —cober
That is a keen observation. I’m not exclusive to inept protagonists, but I seem to always gravitate there, don’t I? I doubt it’s over. I like putting regular people way out of their depth.

Hey dude I’m colorblind can you change your movie titles? —Mezzy
Workin’ on it.

Has anyone ever gotten confused and thought you directed Red State? —Justin Malone
Not to my knowledge.


On crowd funding…

I was one of those who threw a little cash at your Kickstarter for Blue Ruin. How was that process? Was it worth it and a positive experience as far as helping to fund a film goes? —haveanicesummer
Thank you for the support! It was a totally positive experience. I might even do it again if it means the difference between creative freedom or lack thereof. We needed the Kickstarter support to fill a gap in our cash reserves (I had my American Express ready to rock but the payroll company required crew payments to be in cash). Also, having hundreds of supporters behind the film meant we had to deliver something worthwhile. I’d much rather answer to friends and fans than to studio executives!

Can you give any advice to low-budget filmmakers trying to gain funding through Kickstarter? Blue Ruin is an inspiration to all of us, but it never would have gone into production without your successful Kickstarter campaign. How did you pull it off? —Harry J. Ford
We put a lot into our campaign. We shot a camera test, provided concept art and photo references, produced a testimonial video and, most importantly, didn’t ask for anything more than we’d do ourselves. We put all of our cash in the film, and so were literally asking for a kickstart to make it a reality, not just a bunch of soft money we’d spend without risking our own equity. I will say it took forever to deliver the rewards. The film was a success, but that took up so much time and energy the Kickstarter rewards couldn’t be shipped until after our official release—which was almost a year after the premiere! Next time I’ll simplify the rewards.

Blue Ruin has been such a prime example of how Kickstarter and crowdfunding can help create a fantastic film. How was the process of creating a movie through crowd funding and do you encourage others to follow this model? —Devin Warner
Do whatever it takes to make it happen. There’s always a trade-off. We put a lot of time and energy into the Kickstarter campaign, but that took lots of attention away from me prepping the film itself!


On Murder Party and what’s next…

How did you pull off the art show massacre scene in Murder Party? —Josh Rosenthal
We wrote and shot the first two acts of Murder Party in the winter of 2006. We went back to our day jobs and I wrote the third act, waiting until the spring to actually shoot it. The art show massacre was the big set-piece finale, so we just put out a call for extras, secured a location and got as many of our friends as possible to show up. We had a great production designer who worked her ass off and transformed the warehouse space. Then we just had a big-ass dance party and murdered a lot of people. I was terrified to shoot the gallery space massacre because it was with a bunch of non-professional actors. I believe I was so sure it would be a disaster that I went to the back alley outside of location and cried. My wife (and producer) got me back in the game and we shot a shit ton of coverage to make up for my lack of craft. But the final chainsaw death scene put a smile back on my face—that was some rad makeup effects by my buddy and cast member Paul Goldblatt.

Many of us on Letterboxd are big fans of your debut Murder Party, yet in at least some interviews you seem to avoid mentioning this earlier film. How do you feel about Murder Party and do you think you might return to the genre of “horror comedy” again at some point? —fatpie42
Murder Party was something I temporarily shunned to redefine my filmmaking ‘brand’. It was a fun, sleazy horror comedy shot on standard-definition video back in 2006 with a cast of high school buddies. But as we were positioning Blue Ruin six years later—a stark revenge film that was aiming for prestige film festivals—Macon and I decided to not mention our previous feature. We wanted to be taken seriously by actors, financiers and distributors.

We used our friend’s company, filmscience, to launch Blue Ruin and the ‘re-branding’ fooled everyone. I was now the cinematographer of Matthew Porterfield films, Macon was a great new discovery and filmscience was associated primarily with high-brow Kelly Reichardt films! Artsy! That’s a trick we used from years of working in advertising. So it worked. But now that we’ve established ourselves as filmmakers, we are allowed to talk about Murder Party again.

While I cringe at some of the technical deficiencies, I love that film dearly and find it a precious archive of a group of friends making their first feature and having a shit ton of fun doing it. Also, the ‘MacGyver in the utility closet’ gag will surely go down as one of the proudest cinematic moments in my career. I would happily revisit the horror/comedy genre down the line.

How is Hold the Dark coming along? And how faithful will your adaptation of it be? —Robert Stockstill
Hold The Dark is coming along, but it’s a tough one to get off the ground. It’s truly epic in scope and Macon’s adaptation is both faithful and cinematically streamlined. That’s about all I can say at this point.

Is Hold the Dark or Defection (North Korea spy thriller one) coming next? —Bobby Lowe
Now that I’m at a higher tier in the film industry, I have no idea what is real and what is next as all of it is subject to movie stars and financiers, and I’ve got several projects in the works. If all else fails, I’ll take Macon Blair, a small crew and head off into the deep dark wood to make a micro-budget indie.

Do you ever plan to release your early short films? —Robert Stockstill I do intend to release my short films down the line, but I’ve got to re-scan, re-mix and transfer most of them. Will be a year or three, but I’ll do it!


On filmmaking and criticism…

I edit corporate videos for a living, and all of your films give me hope that there’s something that I can aspire to other than talking heads. I learned on Avid, switched to FCP 7, and now use Premiere almost exclusively. Do you have a favorite? Which NLE(s) did you use on your films? —bagofbeef
We edited Blue Ruin on a FCP 7 system. I have not upgraded because I don’t like change. Julia, my editor is more of an Avid person, so we edited Green Room on Avid.

How many takes do you do? A few, like an Old Hollywood director? 40 like Noah Baumbach? 200+ like Kubrick? And which number take do you tend to prefer? Do your editors listen? —Lanny
Takes vary. Always at least two—I like to have a choice. Rarely more than six takes on Blue Ruin. Green Room was the most coverage I’ve ever done because of the nature of the eight-person ensemble work. But the inserts are killer. Sometimes 13 to 15 takes to get a knife or a gun to land in the right place in sharp focus! I’d need to check the camera reports, but I don’t think I’ve ever hit 20 takes.

Describe your interactions with your DP please, and advice for a writer-director getting started in the industry? —Lanny
Like great actors, finding great DPs is all about the casting process. Once you find the right collaborator, who can contribute artistically but not try too hard to put their personal stamp on your movie, who is professional and kind and has a great reputation, then the interactions are collaborative and effortless.

My advice for getting started is simply to keep going. We all find our own path, the key is to be ready to deviate (with a different crew position or a day job that is within or peripheral to the industry) but never get off the path altogether. I failed repeatedly to break in—until I finally did. But I focused as much on building a family and owning a home as I did filmmaking. The discipline is not just knowing when to go ‘all in’ and make a movie, it’s also knowing when to sit out and not make a movie.

Your settings inspire me. Blue Ruin’s quiet, poignant, but wild Shenandoah backdrop and Green Room’s northwestern anonymity. How do these places complete your storytelling? —Kylie B(uscemi)
Thanks! Setting is a huge part of the stories I tell. Environment is key to building atmosphere and mood when you’re telling a story with as few words as possible. It’s often the most relatable character in my films! I often start with a place in mind and build the story from there, as I did with Blue Ruin, which was my ‘Untitled Beach Bum Project’ before I settled on a title.

When you don’t have a bankable hook (i.e. previous reputable film, recognizable actor, etc.) how do you get someone to care about your feature film—pitch or final product? —Ryan Martin Brown
I have no idea. I never got anyone to care until I had finished films to present. People break through in all kinds of different ways, but I only broke through after building and funding my films from the ground up. Green Room is the first film I sold at a script level.

Macon Blair is a fantastic and exciting actor whom I have discovered through your films. Do you write with his “voice” in mind for the character and how it will affect the story? Do you collaborate at all with him when developing scripts? —Slappy McGee
Macon is a champion. He is certainly my muse. Green Room (conceived of a decade ago) was supposed to be for him to star in, but he got too old for that shit by the time we got it made. Macon is the first person to read my scripts. His notes are amazing. He’s also wrapping up his first feature that he wrote and directed. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

I’m someone who has written a fairly negative review of your film and was even featured in the Letterboxd newsletter for giving Blue Ruin a half star. How seriously do you believe a director should take criticism and how should they respond to it? —Paul Attard
That’s a tough one. I remember negative reviews far more than positive ones. A director should not take reviews too seriously and must ultimately acknowledge that their work is in the public sphere, subject to and vulnerable to all that lay eyes on it. But as a person, negative reviews certainly have a negative effect.

It’s just about training yourself as an artist not to engage (which I’ve done in the past and always regret). I never have beefs with negative reactions to my work (I’ve got plenty of issues with my own films), but I do get ticked off, and must resist responding, when a reviewer makes incorrect assumptions, assigns false intentions, or somehow tries to ‘diagnose’ what didn’t work behind the scenes. That gets frustrating because people break the barrier of criticism (where anything goes) and start invading the real world of deal making, production, scheduling, casting, etc., which reviewers often know little or nothing about.

But I’m lucky, my films have generally been warmly received. I can be a harsh critic myself, but I don’t publicly criticize films because I’m not comfortable with that. I loathe the anonymity of the Twittersphere and the feedback loop of negativity it generates (moreso with politics).

Also, it’s all a matter of taste, so it’s hard to argue back and forth productively. You, for instance, can despise my films. And the sensitive artist inside me will be deeply saddened. I can in turn lessen my pain by searching your reviews and dismissing your opinion because you liked Dirty Grandpa more than Green Room, which proves you’re a tool. Or maybe you’re totally not a tool and I’m the tool and Dirty Grandpa is objectively better? It’s pointless, of course, and it’s why I don’t publicly denounce films (except Killer Nerd, which was the first movie I saw shot on standard definition video and I hate it forever for that).

Ultimately, it’s best if I stop checking Rotten Tomatoes and looking at snarky comments in IMDB message boards, but it’s hard to resist. I should simply take comfort in knowing that the films you’ve assigned low ratings to and reviewed with harsh words somehow brought me to Cannes, Toronto and Sundance twice! And that’s not to brag. It’s simply to say “to each their own” and “what the fuck am I doing defending myself to a stranger that is merely expressing their opinion?!”. While your review of Green Room incorrectly diagnoses my personal intentions, which is annoying, I can’t argue when you declare the film “a pointless waste of my time”. It certainly was for you. And at least we can both agree on one thing: Hard Target is rad.

What would you consider the biggest problem with the modern film industry? —Johnny Kashmir
I’m learning new problems daily. I will get back with a diagnosis shortly. In the meantime, there’s lots wrong with the industry, but plenty that is new and exciting to take advantage or. It’s more a matter of matchmaking the project with the financing model. There are great low-budget, non-union models, there are great domestic indie models, foreign pre-sales modes, etc. When projects are assigned the wrong model, it can be a disaster. I’m learning that lesson now, but will strive to be like Steven Soderbergh, who has navigated the micro-indie world, the star-studded studio world, and the auteur-driven TV world like no other.


On actors and everything else…

I discovered your films through Netflix and Blu-ray because of a lack of theater distribution in my area. Do you prefer for your films to be viewed in a theater or do you think the effect is the same regardless of the way you watch it? —Josh Davenport
I always prefer my films to be viewed on the big screen. Got no problem with a widescreen TV and dope surround sound system either, but I cringe knowing how many people watch films on laptops or cell phones. But, as long as they pay for it, I’m grateful for the support no matter the viewing conditions, because it means they’re helping me make the next one!

If you could work with any actor/actress living or dead, who would you want to work with? —Coalton Ross
Gene Hackman. He’s retired, but he’s my fave.

Marry one, fuck one, kill one: Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg. —rrhodgson
Haven’t you seen my films? Nobody gets married. Very little fucking. EVERYBODY DIES.

The Cramps or The Misfits? —Jake O’Brien
The Misfits, for sure.

Would you like to hang out sometime? —Serrano
I’m not sure how I feel about that question, Serrano. I’m going to abstain.

Will you marry me? —Underground Opera Singer
I am already happily married with three children. But thanks for asking!

D.C. in the ’80s is probably my favorite hardcore scene and some of my favorite music of all time came out of there. What’s the wildest show you ever played/went to and who was your favorite band to see back then? —James
I saw lots of shows and they’ve blurred together. Wildest show was when I was assaulted in the pit from out of nowhere. Dude flailed his arms at me, closed fists, I went to the ground and he kicked me. So I got up.

Afterward, I learned he was actually a fan of my band, but didn’t recognize me. No hard feelings. I missed the ’80s hardcore scene in D.C. because I was just skateboarding around the Virginia suburbs but caught some great shows in the mid/late ’90s. Cro-Mags, Gut Instinct (reunion), but I was most honored to see the Bad Brains play with their original line-up (reunion show).

What’s the worst conversation you’ve ever had with someone about your movies? —Jake Kwiatkowski
It was with the financiers of Green Room, regarding script notes we didn’t agree on. Also, when people think they’re being ‘refreshingly honest’ and come up to you and share at length why they didn’t like your film. That’s awkward as hell.

Just wondering, have you tried those Swedish fish Oreos yet? They’re friggin’ gnarly, dude. —SidneyLumetSuxx
Hey! I have not. I’m more into pastries and Chubby Hubby, not so much the sweet gelatinous candy.

What is your favorite horror film? What is your favorite metal album? What are your thoughts on (cishet) male privilege? I’m serious about the male privilege question, though! —alien brain
Favorite horror: The Thing (1982).

Man, can’t name just one album without further contemplation, but it’d be from Sabbath (Ozzy years) or Slayer (prior to Divine Intervention).

Male/white privilege is a real thing. Talking about it can bring about division and backlash, but my brief thoughts are the following: white men admitting they have an unfair advantage does not negate all the energy and sacrifice they put into building a career or creating opportunities. Breaking through professional or economic barriers is always difficult, so some white men think they’re being unfairly attacked by the very concept of ‘privilege’ because they’re struggling to pay the mortgage or keep themselves or their families afloat.

But acknowledging that women or people of color have an even harder time is important. And it doesn’t take anything away from white males. It doesn’t negate their hard work, or make them love their Mommy or Daddy any less. Or belittle the entrepreneurial spirit of their great grandparents that emigrated from Europe and built something from nothing.

I’m a white male and I’m not going to stop pursuing filmmaking or earning an income for my family because I have benefitted from an unfair advantage. But I sure as shit will acknowledge not only my privilege, but the clear disadvantage women and people of color have in my industry (and the world at large, of course). There’s no ‘case’ to be made. Institutional racism and sexism are demonstrable things. It can be proven with wage gaps, statistics on incarceration and a general understanding of recent history.

I could go on, but I’ll just say that yes, it’s a thing, and the first step is to acknowledge it. As a father of three daughters and the husband of a person of color, I plan on doing my part to help level the playing field going forward. Wait, I thought this was a Q&A for horror nerds!

Predictions for the American League in this year’s playoffs? —Steve K
No sports for me. Was into UFC until the PPVs exceeded the $40 range.

Do you remember being given a short script by a nervous young fellow at the Green Room premier at Regal Union Square? That was me. Did you read it? (I fully expected you not to have, I’m just curious.) —Alex Berg
Alex! So sorry. I had your script in my office for a while but I lost track of where it went. I’m currently scrambling, trying to put my next project together and reading scripts that will decide my near-term fate and financial future. I apologize for dropping the ball. Please forgive me.

What does one have to do to be an intern on your next film? —Lucas Neufeld (therewillbefilm)
To be determined. It often depends on where we shoot (local hires only) and usually comes through the production office.

Assuming Picard will be ranked first, rank the rest of the Star Trek captains. —Aaron C
I don’t watch Star Trek enough to answer with any authority. Sorry.

Were you aware of Letterboxd before they contacted you? What are your thoughts on our humble website? —Brett the Wiese
Yes, I saw Letterboxd popping up all over Twitter. I’m a fan of the site, and the staff are very kind and true fans of film!

Is your surname pronounced Saul-knee-ay or Saul-kneer? I have quite a big thing about names. —Don
Sohn-yeah. It’s French.

What are some of your literary influences? —Kishan
I don’t read as much as I’d like. Big fan of James Ellroy and George Pelecanos.

Top four favorite albums, go! —Jackho
Black Sabbath ‘Paranoid’, AC/DC ‘Back in Black’, Talking Heads ‘Stop Making Sense’, and some other shit I can’t think of. Need to get back into music, I’ve got my head up my ass with film and I’m losing my rock and roll powers.

What is your spirit animal and why? —Cinemaddict
Triceratops. I can’t ask myself why, it just is.

How would you like to be remembered? —Darren Carver-Balsiger
I’m currently undergoing a midlife crisis so I can’t answer that without breaking into tears.


And finally, Anton…

What was the first thing you noticed about Anton Yelchin? —Anna Imhof
His delightfully raspy voice.

Any thoughts on Anton Yelchin the person, the actor? —nichy6
Like a lot of people, I was devastated by the loss of Anton Yelchin. I was a fan of his work and was delighted to call him a friend after our collaboration on Green Room. As far as thoughts, I tried to sum them up here.

Could you share a favorite moment you had while working with Anton Yelchin? —Brad Beatson
That’s a tough one. Now that he’s passed I cherish every single moment we were together. The shoot was tough, but we formed a strong bond. I loved watching him work. He was so charming and the physicality and charisma Anton brought carried his character through the film—I certainly didn’t give him much in the way of monologues and traditional ‘character arcs’. When I was in L.A. with him after the shoot, he drove me around town and bought me tacos. That’s a favorite.

Could you share a moment on set with Anton Yelchin? I think he was such an incredible actor, and his raw talent is so blisteringly, fiercely on display in Green Room in a way it had rarely been captured before then. Thank you for that. —Mike
Thank you for that. Okay, here’s a moment I can recall. I was putting the actors through hell on set, especially Anton. We were deep into shooting the intense interior action scenes in the green room set. There were fire extinguishers going off, walls exploding, dust in the air, and blood spraying. Anton was having a tough time with all the atmosphere and dust floating in the air and was coughing fiercely.

I offered to shut down production for a bit, or get rid of all the dust, but we were now shooting in continuity and Anton knew that the shots wouldn’t match if stopped mid-way through. So he took a minute and powered through the rest of the night. I felt terrible about it, but was astonished by his dedication to the craft, to the film, and to the cast and crew he didn’t want to let down. He was a beast, and he will be missed.

Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin and Callum Turner in Green Room.
Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin and Callum Turner in Green Room.

Our supreme thanks to Jeremy for his generosity and good humor. 

Further Reading

  • Don’t miss Jeremy’s lists of favorite and inspirational films, and those he can’t help but watch when channel surfing

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