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David Gordon Green Interview

David Gordon Green Interview

What was it about a madcap fantasy romp that made you pick it as your next film? 

I think when Danny, James and I had worked on Pineapple Express, we didn't know if people were going to respond to that movie when we were making it. We were making a film that we thought was really funny, that we had a really great time making, but we didn't know how that would be perceived. That movie came out and did really well, so literally people would come up to us and say, 'what do you really want to do next?' Or, first they'd come and say, 'do this obvious thing next.' We were, like, 'we don't want to do the obvious thing, we just did that movie.' We all felt there were opportunities coming to us that were derivative. Then finally Universal asked us what we wanted to do. We said, 'if you're serious, this is what we really want to do next.' So we pitched the movie we wanted to see. Basically, the way we look at it is, we have an inner 11-year-old. The 11-year-old version of us is looking at us right now and it's judging us. A lot of people have gods and religion and people that are monitoring them. I'm monitored by the 11-year-old David that is keeping an eye on me. He was pretty proud of me. Then he said, 'you know what would make me really happy? If you made a really dirty fantasy movie, a sword and sorcery, go for broke movie, the sort of movie that, when I was 11 years old, I was not allowed to watch.' But I'd find a way to watch them late at night, movies like Hawk The Slayer, The Sword And The Sorcerer or The Barbarian Queen or Deathstalker.... There was a great series of low-budget, semi-schlocky but also highly entertaining sword and sorcery movies that had a lot of boobies, vulgarity and graphic violence. The way that we discussed it was, basically what was sub-culture is now our culture. Now Lord Of The Rings is something that everyone within a thousand miles of us has seen, if not read the books and certainly knows the world and the language. Harry Potter is a movie that every kid has grown up on. It is part of our own contemporary mythology. So this was our way to take what we liked of our youth, be kind of influenced by that, but then expand upon what was now commercially and culturally acceptable and so just make the raw, rugged, crazy version of these movies. 

Was there ever a thought to do it along the lines of a Potter or LOTR-style film where there wasn't all the swearing, for a wider audience? Or was it, 'we want to see this, people respond to it, let's go for it.'

That's what it was: 'let's go for it.' We just thought that if we infuse this movie with big action, big laughs, romance, love stories, a beautiful landscape, take advantage of the Northern Ireland countryside, have a few girls run around with their tops off in the woods and have some killer creatures, who isn't going to want to see that movie? We tried to put in everything that people love about going to the movies. Our original pitch on the movie was, 'Krull meets Barry Lyndon.' I want people who go to the art house to watch Pride & Prejudice to come see this movie. I want people who haven't been to the cinema since the drive-in theatre in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1986 to come see this movie. 

Are there any other inspirations for the film, such as The Princess Bride? 

I love Princess Bride. I saw that movie on opening day, I remember it vividly and have seen it many times since then. It's a little more of a spoof than what I wanted to do, but what it does is, it's so heartfelt, sincere, romantic and comedic all at the same time that it really infused a lot of things and gave us confidence that we could do the contemporary, dirty version of that. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is another movie that we love and we obsess over. Again, it's a little more of a spoof than this movie, but it gave us the idea that if you put comedy and period together, you can do something spectacular that people are going to be talking about 30 years after it was made. People still watch that movie all the time. College kids quote it. I think that we're dealing with enough iconic elements of wizards, creatures, adventure, heroes and princesses that movie-going audiences around the world will find something to latch on to about it. There's certainly vulgarity and maybe it's got a dick joke too many... 

What would you tell your 11-year-old self if you could go back and announce you'd made a film where Danny McBride waves a Minotaur's genitalia around? Would he be impressed?

He'd have pissed his pants laughing. I think a lot of what this movie is a response to is the taboo that I grew up in. My parents were big movie lovers and really supportive of me getting into this career, but they were also very protective of what I saw as a kid. So just like when parents don't let their kids drink alcohol and they go to college and start becoming heavy drinkers, my parents were protective of the vulgarity and obscenity of movies I would see, so the second I got out of the house, I wanted to go make crazy, dirty movies.  

Your parents are essentially responsible for this film. 

They are. I was not allowed to watch this kind of content and that's what made it so taboo. When I was a little kid, every time I'd see nudity, I'd laugh, because it wasn't something I was exposed to. Cuss words were hilarious.  

Was there anything you couldn't get through on the film's cut? Did you have to argue with the ratings board? 

No. I was really worried about that, because it was important to us to make the movie and push the envelope a little bit. I don't know if this is a perfect answer to your question, but what was beautiful about working with Universal was that they really trusted us. Not only did they say, 'go make your crazy movie.' But the first cut of this movie I delivered, when the Minotaur's chasing them through the labyrinth, his penis was swinging back and forth between his legs. Then he has the scene with Courtney and he pulls away from him and his penis is soft and it's hanging there. There is a lot of naked Minotaur. The first time I show it to the studio, the head of the studio says, 'Okay.... I think there's too many shots of the penis dangling when its chasing them around.' And I start thinking, 'Crap, he wants us to take out the Minotaur dick.' And I'm devastated for this pause. And he's, like, 'because you know why? You want that to play scary. And when he pulls away, we should CGI a big old hard on....' I told him he was right! This is a guy that was supportive of the outrageousness of the movie and he knew the impact of it. If you desensitize the audience to that moment, it's not going to work. It was the head of the studio's idea to have a giant Minotaur boner!  


When you have people like Charles Dance, actors used to costume dramas, was it easy to coax them into going along with Danny and James being crazy? 

Ultimately, everybody had a really great time. But I would say that they were very confused at first. To be totally honest, we were dealing with very sophisticated, very intellectual, highly trained actors, some of my favourites. Charles Dance, Damien Lewis, Toby Jones... these guys are incredible. We cast them because they should be in the serious version of this movie. If I were putting the comedy version of the all-star hilarious American cast together, then it would become a spoof if those roles were cast comedically. But I do think their experience as actors was very different than the environment we had sculpted, which was very improvised, very vulgar and off the cuff. We'll shoot two cameras at the same time as opposed to traditional coverage so I can whisper something in Danny's ear. It all changed when I made them watch Pineapple Express and then they got that they could trust me. I may go for some far out, crazy stuff, but at the end of the day, it's going to have a comedic agenda and it's going to have their character in mind and I'll make them all look good. It took a minute. There were a couple of days where I was worried about the fact that I'm not a textbook director, that I don't have two months of rehearsal. I love to feel it in the moment and let it loose and let it alive.  

How much of Danny and Ben (Best)'s original script exists in the film? 

Any of the action sequences and when there are big set pieces, those are very constructed and similar to the script, because you don't have a lot of time and everybody needs, from stuntmen to special effects, to know what you're doing. So when you derail it too much, it gets a little confusing. But then any time it is two people talking, it's all just riffing. So there's massive re-engineering of that. It all is the same idea of a scene, but then what they're saying specifically could be loose and wild. I don't know the percentage, I'd have to hold it up to the script. I don't bring a script myself to set. I know what a scene needs to achieve.  

When you watch the movie afterwards, can you watch it comfortably or are you wishing you'd done things differently or spotting mistakes? 

I'm thrilled with it. This is how bad I am - I got up this morning and listened to the soundtrack. Steve Jablonsky did an amazing job. I called him up - I didn't know him - because for some reason when we were shooting the movie, I got the Transformers theme in my head and his work is incredible. I emailed him and said, 'Just so you know, I'm about to wrap it up here in Ireland and I'm going to come and bang on your door because you have to score this movie.' It blows my mind watching and listening to the movie what we were able to get away with. What we were able to find in terms of support from a studio system to allow us, so graciously, to make our vision for this movie. Then my big hope is that an audience loves what I love about it. It's important to us that this movie comes from us and exists because of us. We really want to make a sequel, really badly! 

I notice you laid in the clues to that at the end... 

We've got big ideas. The truth is, when you're making a comedy like this, they gave us a comedy budget but this movie cost less than any Adam Sandler movie of the last 10 years. It doesn't look it. I come from low-budget, independent filmmaking where you have to ask a lot of favours and have to make friendships and relationships. I don't know anything about the world of visual effects or creature design and I don't know Guillermo del Toro, but I know people that know him and I said, 'I need to sit down with Guillermo and I need to educate myself as to how to do this film.' So I went to his house and he was kind enough to talk me through his process and then introduced me to Spectral Motion, these creature designers. So all of a sudden I'm in the cool kids' club and they're given freedom to have nudity and gratuitous character design.  

That must have been heaven for them... 

Exactly. So it's being able to get everybody invested, not just for financial reasons, but also to be creatively liberated, so a lot of this movie was me calling in favours and saying, 'Let's try to roll up our sleeves and do something really distinctive.' Framestore out of London, that did all the visual effects, they were the same way. They were laughing at what we were asking to do. 'You have this amount of money and you want to do WHAT?' So it became a collaborative thing of sitting across from Mike McGee and their wonderful staff there and figuring it out. The original creature in Marteetee's realm was a worm that came up from the earth with these huge fangs and a butt that could eat people, but the texture that it was would have been very expensive. So we asked what worked for our budget and we started designing this other creature and they told us we could save money by building one head and multiplying it. So they helped us come up with the idea of the interactive beast with his hand. So it becomes fun and exciting and itís all because of having to re-imagine what it would be because of some financial constraints. It's fun to have those conversations.   

When it came to shooting the effects sequences, was that something you enjoyed or found a chore?   

I enjoyed it because I'd never done it before. I bet if I made a couple more movies like that it would start to be boring. I always want to keep things fresh. But the good thing was there wasn't much green screen work, everything was as practical as possible, which is just important to my process. I can't imagine doing it the George Lucas way. That seems boring. Every day's a math problem! And the actors were pleased they didn't have to talk to tennis balls.


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