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Earlier you mentioned the creature effects designer and one thing I love about this film is the way it prefers practical effects over CGI. Can you talk a bit about that choice?
Yeah, to some extent this was my first time so I was just naïve and dumb, but I said, “The rule is, if we can make it, we’re going to. That’s the rule” And to some extent that was the rule because our budget was so low we didn’t have a choice, but that was what I wanted. You want those constraints because you just can’t beat a tactile monster. That’s what you want, you want something you can touch. But part of that is my own naivety; I didn’t know how hard that would make it. But, weirdly, my naivety helped us because if I were a more seasoned pro I think the crew would have been able to say to me, “Don’t you realize that’s going to make our day four times longer?” and I would have been like, “Yes.” But this way I could just play dumb. Say, “I don’t know. Make the suit!” [laughs]. I don’t just do it because that’s what I want. And I’m really happy about that because you just watch it and you can’t beat a monster that’s just right there in front of you. There’s something about it, which isn’t a sly towards visual effects, I think visual effects are wonderful…
And they’ve really come far. But…
For a movie like this, in particular, where – and I feel this way about horror in general – you want to feel the rough edges. If a movie becomes too slick it becomes less scary. In a weird way the best movies you can feel the handmade quality to it and that was very important to me with this one.
Did you have a big hand in the design process?
It was the most fun part. That was part of why I wanted to make this movie so much because it is like this license to make your own toy box with some of the most talented people in the world. Someday I will publish a book on the amount of emails that go into, say, the way a merman’s teeth look [laughs]. The amount of work we did, it’s a credit to my team because the hardest thing to combat when you’re a director is a lack of enthusiasm. You want people that get what you’re doing and are enthusiastic and luckily my team was so good. You could just feel the energy of these creature designers. We’re finally getting to make that movie that we always wanted to make. A movie where we have the freedom to put anything on screen.
Everything [laughs]. Not anything, everything.
[Laughs] Right, everything. And the most fun parts of the job for me were when we didn’t have any monsters in the frame and then you’re looking at the frame and saying, “We don’t have any monsters.” And they’re like, “We’ve used up all our suits. How do we create something else?” And it’s like that scene in Apollo 13 when they just dump all the stuff that they have on board and say, “Here’s an air compressor, how do we make this work?” We would do that. This is the best: one day, a guy said, “We need more intestines, how do we make intestines?” And one of my creature guys just stood up and he goes, “Give me some bubble wrap, some duct tape, and”…what was the third thing? Oh, it was crazy. It was plastic. And he whipped up some intestines. It was like magic. Just to see people making these things, it felt like you’re 12 again and making movies with your friends in the backyard. That was sort of the vibe that it had. It was really inspiring.
When those elevator doors open…did you have a list of all the creatures that you wanted to pour out or was that something that just came with the effects team?
No, we had a list [laughs]. That shot, I spent a year working on before we even got to that level. There’s some incredibly complicated shots in there. But that was what was fun. And so you start with the basics: what do we need to tell the story? And then once that you’ve done that: what have I always wanted to see and how do I work that into this movie? That was not just that shot but the entire movie. On every level, how can we amplify and escalate as well.
Did you have a favorite design?
Yeah. It’s hard, they’re like my children. I love all of them. The truth is that there’s not one, anyone I didn’t like I would have nixed. I love all of them. I learned, though, just in terms of being terrifying, the simpler the better. When we were just seeing whose the scariest, it’s impossible to beat a guy with a bag on his head. That’s just hard to beat.
And the guys with the white baby masks.
You realize while Michael Myers has lasted for so long. There’s just something about a guy with a mask on that works and is just scary. And there’s a guy with just plastic on his head and he’s suffocating and it’s terrifying. He would show up on set and I would be like, “I can’t even look at you. That’s just too off-putting.”
I don’t know much about directing the creature effects actors versus the non-creature actors. Is there a different approach?
It’s hard because you realize what those poor people go through and I’m the one doing it to them. Which is hard.
Well, play dumb, right?
Kind of. It’s true. Because if you knew you wouldn’t make them do it because it’s really hard. You realize that there’s a reason you use the same guys because performing as a creature is as much of an art as being a movie star. Not anyone can do it. It takes a special skill because it’s really punishing to be in make-up that heavy, especially because we have some heavy latex designs, it’s so punishing and hot and miserable. You feel for it, like you’re watching the old Star Wars things where they’re blow drying Greedo. Now I understand why this happens, because these people are just going through it and yet I still need my shot [laughs]. So I had a lot more empathy for those people.
Did you have to move the schedule around in order to accommodate them?
Oh yeah. Cabin, it’s a credit to our ADs, but the schedule was crazy. Like, for instance, we couldn’t afford to… the way that a lot of movies work these days on the screens in the control room they would just put those in after the fact with computers. But we couldn’t afford that. We had to do everything live. So we had to shoot all of the A side first, edit it all, and then have it running back on the B side because we just couldn’t afford it another way, which required a tremendous amount of scheduling. I still don’t know how we pulled it off, to be honest.
We’re your dealing with the normal actors, how many takes do you typically prefer to do? Or with the budget were you not even really able to stretch it?
The truth is that every actor is different, every scene is different. Some scenes you want to give a lot of takes to let everyone get comfortable and some scenes they get it right on the first try or because of explosions or whatever you only have one shot at it, so let’s get it right. That’s one of the things I had to learn as a director is that there are no rules. Every situation is different, you have to sort of know your people and know what they need. It’s not about what I think is the right way to do it. It’s more about how do I take these different elements. And so certain scenes we probably did 50 takes on, certain scenes it’s the first take. It’s just different. It’s alchemy. Every scene is alchemy.
This is a silly question, but I do feel I have to ask: is the thermos bong real? Props department?
[laughs] Props department made it. And it works!
Yeah! I keep saying, “Can we get products out here? Let’s make this thing!”
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