David Gordon Green On 80s Remakes, Personal Movies And The Pros And Cons Of Studio Films
Indie film fans have been asking themselves for years, "What happened to David Gordon Green?" The director who started his career as the heir apparent to Terrence Malick, making emotional low-budget films like George Washington and All the Real Girls, took what seemed like a sharp left turn in 2008 with Pineapple Express, a stoner adventure comedy clearly inspired by 80s Hollywood action movies. He followed that up this year with the sword-and-sorcery adventure Your Highness, and now he's digging into the 80s well again with this weekend's The Sitter, an adventure comedy riffing directly on the likes of Adventures in Babysitting.
But while you might have to look a little harder to see the director's personal stamp when he's playing with genre, it's clear talking to Green that he loves the movies he's making now, and that by revisiting the genres and stories he loved in his childhood, he's making movies that are just as personal as something he scraped together $40,000 to shoot on his own. Green is reuniting with a lot of his frequent collaborators on The Sitter, like cinematographer Tim Orr, and as he told me the movie was kind of a nice, easy break for everyone after the taxing logistics of Your Highness. I got on the phone with him to talk about that, the rampant 80s remake culture, and whether or not he'll ever make movies again that require him to sleep under the stairs and walk a mile to set every day. You can see The Sitter in theaters this weekend.
Did you want to make this as kind of a break from all the technical challenges of Your Highness?
This movie was fun, and I don't want to say easy to diminish the ultimate product of the movie, but it was to strip away all the logistics of moviemaking, or significantly reduce the logistics, and shoot it in a real place, use real kids, not have a lot of visual effects or complicated shots. It's about following characters on a night that happens to get really weird. To me it was a breath of fresh air to put a lot of those logistics aside and the frustrations aside, not just with logistics but the marketing and releasing of movies. This is the first movie i've ever made that I could tell you what it's about in two sentences and you'd get it.
Movies for me have been escalating, bigger budgets and bigger movie stars and this and this and this. And then this is one that's just, let get my crew from my very first film together, let's shoot in New York so people can sleep in their own beds, and we can make a really fun movie. We can work with our friends, cast people we like and some people we don't know yet, but wouldn't it be cool to call Method Man and say "Hey, want to be in a movie?" Your Highness was a passion project, as hard as that is for people to believe. It was very specific, what I was trying to make with that movie. And it's complicated and full of stress when you're trying to make something specific in a world as unpredictable as moviemaking. This was a script I hadn't written and hadn't conceived, and it was handed to me and I said "Let's go have fun."
This is the third movie you've made that seems to directly hearken back to the 80s. Do you think of them as 80s homages that way?
Every movie I make is very affected by my youth. Sometimes it's the headlines that I lived through, sometimes it's relationships that I had, sometimes it's movies that had a profound affect on me. I'm self-indulgent as a filmmaker in a way I don't apologize for. Most sentimentally I'm affected by things that happened when I was a kid. To watch things like Adventures in Babysitting or Uncle Buck, those movies to me really were a signature-- I was young and excited to see things that had a little bit of a taboo to them. This is definitely an exploration of almost the John Hughes brand of comedy chaos.
Given the amount of 80s remakes out there, do you feel like this is a better way to revisit childhood in that way? Would you be willing to do a straight up remake? [Note: I asked this question completely forgetting that Green is in fact planning to remake Suspiria]
Sure. I don't think any movie is remake proof. every year you'll go see a different version of The Nutcracker. I'm a guy that goes to see The Nutcracker because I like seeing different versions of it. I can't wait to see what happens when Book of Mormon hits the road. I don't find anything that sacred. There are certain movies that I would have a hard time trying to swallow a remake of, but some very interesting movies have been made of remakes. If people are just trying to capitalize on the franchise, that becomes very frustrating. One thing I recognize as a director is they're not even remaking the story of it, they just want to steal the title so they have less marketing work to do.
You've had the experience of scraping together every penny you had for a movie, but also making a movie for a studio, figuring out what they want. Which is harder?
That's an impossible question actually. It depends on what my mood is. Am in a place where I'm willing to sleep under a staircase and walk a mile to set every day and it breaks my heart when it rains because that means we're not going to get the extra take I wanted? Am I in a place where I'm not up to the grueling potential devastation of low-budget moviemaking? But then [with studio movies] there are conversations in development, conversations with executives, exposure to test screenings and things that become less intimate. It just becomes a bigger side of the business. You may be sleeping in a nice hotel every night of the week, have a driver taking you to work every day, but there's another level of stress. Assuming everything I'm going to do is gong to be an enormous challenge, and everything will be full of substantial risks, for maybe obvious reasons or not obvious reason. Making something that Herzog would make would excitement, but so would makings something that would be subject to big commercial elements. It kind of depends what my mood is and my appetite is.
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