Fright Night Interview – Director Craig Gillespie19.08.11 # Interview # No Comment
In the second of my Fright Night interviews I spoke to director Craig Gillespie, who’s best known for Lars and the Real Girl, Mr. Woodcock and TV’s United States of Tara. We talked camera tricks, low-budget filmmaking, and vampire impotence. The movie is out today, be sure to check out our review shortly and our alternate interview with the film’s writer, Marti Noxon.
Movie Moron: How are you doing? You seem pretty well rested, did you just come from Comic-Con?
Craig Gillespie: We did, we did hall H on Friday, which is a first for me.
MM: Was it intense? I can only imagine cause I’ve been in that audience.
CG: [laughs] You know it’s wild, you feel the energy but because all the lights are on you it just drops off to darkness so you make a comment and you just feel the murmurs and the laughter … and it was such a whirlwind I didn’t get to just step out and see [the crowds].
MM: This must have been a new experience for you, because I can’t imagine Lars and the Real Girl …
CG: Yeah, Lars was huge at Comic-Con [laughs].
MM: What has it been like changing genres?
CG: It’s funny, obviously it’s not the most logical transition from Lars and the Real Girl to Fright Night … but if you step back for a second … the reason I wanted to do it … I got a call from my agent that they were looking for somebody and I had a relationship with Dreamworks because of [The United States of] Tara. And I said “Fright Night? I don’t think so. I don’t think I want to do a vampire film right now, there’s so much out there.”
[My agent said] “Well, read it, before you make a decision.”
So I read it. I was so reluctant, but I read it and I was like “wow, this is a really good script.” Marti Noxon just nailed it and what she had, which is the thing that attracted me, was that I just love mixing genres. And it’s horror and comedy and one of my favorite horror films, which I saw six times the weekend it came out, was American Werewolf in London, which is actually much more vicious than I remembered. I showed it to my kids just recently and was like, “oh, we’re gonna turn that off.” [laughs] that nazi scene …
MM: All the dead people in the porn theater …
CG: Yes! It’s actually much more grotesque than I’d remembered. But I just loved that mix and that energy and that roller coaster ride you get from the horror to the comedy and it’s a little old style in the sense that it doesn’t really exist anymore. Even with Scream, which is very self aware about what’s going on. But with [Fright Night] it goes back to that old school style of horror where it’s just this fun roller coaster and the characters are completely invested in the scene but they’re in these humorous moments sometimes.
So that’s what attracted me to it and then … the scale of it is also fun … I’d been doing this small scale intimate films which are very much actor-based and you want the camera to be invisible and it’s all about the performance … but in horror and thrillers the camera is such a large part of the character and the storytelling and I just really wanted to get into that.
MM: I’m thinking about the intro [to Fright Night] where the vampire’s hand and how you used close ups to make the audience aware there’s something outside of the frame.
CG: Yes, there are so many choices in the storytelling with the camera work and what you’re revealing and how you reveal it.
MM: So how did the budget affect how you storyboard it? Did you have a moment where you thought “oh, I can’t afford a crane shot … oh wait, I can!”
CG: You know it’s funny, obviously I don’t do the crane shots with the small [films] because obviously it doesn’t fit the performances, but [Fright Night] is a modest budget for this kind of action thriller and for the amount of action in the script it was definitely challenging in that sense. But I sort of took that out of the equation and figured out what I wanted to do and then figured out how to make it work with what we had. And Dreamworks was really supportive of that and this one shot that I just wouldn’t give up on was that one take in the mini van. Which was just a monster to figure out. And there were a lot of weeks where it was like “do you really need to make this one shot?” Because if we can just do this it will be a lot easier. You’ve got a 90 pound camera and you’re trying to sneak it around … it just seemed like a stupid idea from the get go.
MM: How much of that was green screen and how much of that was practical?
CG: Well I love to do as much practically as I can and that one … I worked with Emmanuel Lubezki a lot on commercials and he did that shot in Children of Men and I spoke to him about it, but the way they did it was that it was all practical with the exterior. We were shooting at night with cars crashing into each other, you know, stuff you can’t really do with actors. And you can’t light 360 degrees in a desert so immediately we were like “we’re going to have to do green screen for the background.” But for the car environment … how do we get that camera in there with four actors in a mini van? So I went back to Hitchock’s Rope …
MM: That’s my favorite Hitchcock film.
CG: Yeah! And they would move all the walls in the set and they had to loop it afterwards with the amount of noise it made. So we came up with just cutting this car into pieces.
MM: Oh really?!
CG: Yeah, and it’s wild because the actors are all sitting in chairs that are attached to doors and so forth, and the camera comes in, Anton in the front seat gets pulled out of the way and the camera goes where he is, and as it goes away he gets pulled back in and … all of that was on a green screen stage with 20 some odd takes and I picked the take that I liked the best and that’s all memorized in the motion control [cameras]. So you send that out and you have to get the timing down with the truck on the road at the same time they are reacting …
MM: So the other stuff was shot practically.
CG: Yeah, the skidding car is practical and all done to the timing of the performances.
MM: Wow, that sounds as intricate as all of one of your previous movies.
CG: [laughs] Everyone was like “Really? You really need to make that one shot?”
MM: It’s a memorable scene for that reason, though.
CG: And I really didn’t want to make it gratuitous in the sense of “let’s just do our cool one shot.” I wanted everything to be … to really put the audience into the minivan with them, and by not cutting it really makes you feel like you’re there, so there’s really a story motivation. I’ve seen these movies that do a great one shot, but you can literally take the whole scene out of the movie and it would make no difference.
MM: How involved were you with the script?
CG: Marti did such an amazing job with the script, it was incredibly well fleshed out from the moment I stepped on board. We actually just worked a little bit on the ending in terms of the whole confrontation and how it all played out. But we got up and moving pretty quickly, I think it was 14 weeks from when I signed on to when we started shooting.
MM: How much did she describe the vampires in the script?
CG: K.N.B. and Howard Berger did all the artwork and KNB had done amazing movies over the years, all the Predator stuff … their list is endless. But also there was definite homage to the original and the vampires in there are like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Amy’s face is so iconic and we definitely wanted to pay homage to that. So that was the starting point and there would be five stages to Colin’s make-up … it started out being just five stages and then we’d be like “stage two … no, how about one and a half?” Stage one would be the eyes and the teeth then stage two would be eyes, teeth, and nails and veins …
MM: It was a great way to mark where the character was [emotionally] and how angry he was.
CG: Exactly. The description I gave to Howard in terms of C.G. was that it was almost involuntary for him, it’s like an adrenaline thing that happens as a predator. He’ll flare up suddenly just as a natural defense mechanism and it will take him longer to calm down, like a blow fish having to bring its spines back in.
MM: I love the part where Colin Farrell has to psych himself up to bite the girl.
CG: That was all Colin.
MM: It was a great choice.
CG: Early on we talked about … just because he’s caught her and he’s got her in that holding cell it’s a little bit mundane for him as a vampire … there’s no hunting. So he’s got to psych himself up to be interested and it’s really sort of a predator mentality.
MM: Before I go can you talk a little but about the process of picking your cast?
CG: I came on first and … cast is my biggest battle in the sense that I have a strong opinion. I think it was Howard Hawkes that said 90% of directing is the casting. Three days after I signed on I got the call that Anton [Yelchin] was interested and we met and I loved him, thought he would be perfect for the role. Toni [Collette] I’d worked with before and we just talked and she said “I’m in.” And then Colin was like a wish list and then I actually got the call that he wanted to meet. I didn’t want to get my hopes up … so we went and met and I really wanted to share my vision of it, and either he was in on that or not. I didn’t know if he wanted to do a mix of the genres of not, but I was like “that’s the movie we’re making, what do you think?” And he was in. Then there was David Tennant …
MM: Yeah, tell me about that.
CG: Alison Jones, who was our casting director, she does all of Judd Apatow’s movies, The Office, Bridesmaids, a lot of great comedy. From the get go she said “this is the guy.”
MM: And were you familiar with his stuff?
CG: I was not, I hadn’t seen him in Dr. Who and she showed me a bunch of tape on him and I said “he’s great, let’s get him” And, Imogen was more of a search because we had the opportunity to audition. She auditioned with Anton and they had great chemistry and I’d seen her in 28 Weeks Later and found her really memorable.
MM: On a movie with this big of stars do you have the actors read together?
CG: Christopher Mintz-Plasse, to his credit, came in and read.
MM: He was great, he was actually scary.
CG: Yeah, he was scary but also the part that was great for me was he was really emotional. I knew he’d be funny but I wanted to make sure we’d be rooting for him and he did that one scene in he pool and after the first take he did the crew actually stopped and applauded him.
CG: Tough for Colin, though.
MM: As he was sitting in the pool in full make-up …
CG: [laughs] Exactly.
Fright Night is out in the US today, and in the UK on September 2nd.