William Friedkin Talks About ‘Killer Joe’ at Landmark Theatres

Killer Joe movie poster

Oscar winning director William Friedkin made a special appearance at Landmark Theatres in West Los Angeles on August 3, 2012 to talk about his film “Killer Joe.” He appeared in front of a sold-out audience who had just finished watching it, and Friedkin ended up paraphrasing a review from the Los Angeles Times by saying, “Welcome to the abyss!”

This remark was in reference to the fact that “Killer Joe” has already earned a bit of notoriety after receiving an NC-17 rating from the MPAA for what they described as “graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality.”

At the start of this Q&A, Friedkin went over the three things a director needs to consider before they begin working on a project:

  1. Choose the material you want to do. Friedkin said this is very important as you will have to “live with it for a year.”
  2. Cast the film with the right actors. Friedkin said if anything goes wrong with the movie, it won’t matter how good the cast is because odds are the director has chosen the wrong actors for it.
  3. You need to create an atmosphere where the actors are comfortable enough to do the work. Friedkin remarked this is 75% of what a director does, and that the remaining 25% has the same person figuring out how to put their movie together.

When it came to casting “Killer Joe,” Friedkin said he went to actors Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church first as he was familiar with their work. These days, Friedkin says he continues to watch “old movies” as they continue to inspire him, and he doesn’t watch new movies much.

Friedkin also admitted he has “never seen any of Matthew McConaughey’s films” before casting him here, and he originally wanted someone “more grubby” and with “a more evil look.” However, after watching McConaughey being interviewed by Charlie Rose where he was just being himself, he realized someone like McConaughey would be more interesting as opposed to what some would call a “more obvious choice.”

McConaughey, however, read and hated the script to “Killer Joe” and that he “wanted to take a bath with a wire brush” after reading it. Regardless, McConaughey read the script again because he couldn’t get it out of his head, and he told Friedkin he found it “absurd and hilarious in a dark way.”

Friedkin also admitted he knew nothing about Juno Temple before casting her as Dottie. He was originally going to go with one of three beautiful actresses for this role, but he ended up watching an audition tape Temple put together in which she read the script along with her 10-year old brother who played the part of Joe, the cold blooded cop and contract killer played by McConaughey. Friedkin said he loved what he saw but that he was worried about her “thick British accent.” He ended up asking the cast to tell Temple when she was speaking in a way which didn’t sound like she was from Texas. From what we saw onscreen, the cast helped Temple out big time.

In talking about Gina Gershon (the mention of her name got the audience to applaud loudly), Friedkin said she was not his first choice for the role of Sharla. When it came to casting this particular role, Friedkin said he saved this question for last when interviewing prospective actresses, “Can you handle the sex and violence that is presented in this script?” It should go without saying Gershon could, and Friedkin described her as being “courageous” in playing Sharla. She is asked to portray some of the hardest things any actor is asked to do, and I don’t just mean the scene involving her and that piece of fried chicken.

“Killer Joe” marks the second film Friedkin has made from a play written by Tracy Letts whose “Bug” he turned into a film back in 2006. Friedkin said he and Letts “share the same worldview” as they both “see the absurdity of the many facets in life.” Their projects, as Friedkin sees it, deal with people “stuck in their realities and willing to do anything to get out of them,” and that neither of them is “fond of violence.”

Still, Friedkin said he did not expect the NC-17 rating the MPAA gave “Killer Joe,” but he thinks it is somewhat correct as he was not targeting young teenagers for this movie as they are more impressionable. Both he and LD Entertainment, which is distributing the film, fought the MPAA over the rating, and in trying to get it down to an R, they ended up cutting not scenes but instead frames of footage. This, however, was not enough, so Friedkin and LD Entertainment ended up appealing the decision. Friedkin joked how they “narrowly” lost the appeal (13 to nothing) and that he felt he “had to destroy the movie in order to save it.” But after all the fights he had over movies like “The Exorcist,” Friedkin declared he is “too old to get down on my knees and change the picture” for them.

When asked what the tone on set was, Friedkin described it as “light” because he and the actors already knew what was in the script. Friedkin also said he only does “one or two takes these days” when making a movie as opposed to the “15 or 20” he did when he was younger and “praying for miracles.” These days, he looks for spontaneity in his actors, and he finds the first take they give him is often the “most spontaneous” of all.

Whatever you end up thinking about “Killer Joe,” it is clear Friedkin is still a masterful filmmaker who has not lost his touch. The characters may be beyond redemption, but he is quick to point out we are all sinners, and this is an inescapably true fact. After all these years, Friedkin continues to challenge his audience, and we should be thankful for this in a time where most filmmakers choose to play it safe and to their own detriment.

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‘Sorcerer’ May Very Well Be William Friedkin’s Masterpiece

Sorcerer movie poster

This is the movie that almost completely destroyed filmmaker William Friedkin. “Sorcerer” came into theaters with a high level of anticipation, which was understandable as it was made by the same man who gave us “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection.” Lines were wrapped around the block when it opened at Mann’s Chinese back in 1977, but by the second week the theater was practically empty. “Sorcerer” was considered to be a critical and commercial failure, and Friedkin’s career has never been the same since. Of course, it opened around the same time as a small independent feature which blew away the competition. You may have heard of it, “Star Wars?”

Well, they say time heals all wounds, and “Sorcerer” has been critically re-evaluated to where it has received the critical acclaim it long deserved. The film is quite an accomplishment and a fascinating study in madness and redemption, and you will never look at truck driving the same way again after watching it. Depending on who you ask, it t is a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “The Wages of Fear” (Friedkin denies it is). The Oscar-winning director put his heart and soul into “Sorcerer,” and it pins you back into your seat and thoroughly exhausts you long before it ends. Like many great movies, it is one you experience more than watch.

“Sorcerer” takes its time getting started as we watch the back stories for its four main characters and of how they ended up at where they are. We meet hitman Nilo (Francisco Rabal) who takes down a target with a simple bullet, Kassem (Amidou) as he bombs a local church with the help of his friends, investment banker Victor Manzon (Bruno Cremer) who is about to be jailed for fraud, and then there’s Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider) who is marked for execution after his gang robs a church and accidentally kills a priest.

After this protracted prologue, the action moves to an unnamed location in a Latin American country which these four people have escaped to and seek refuge in. The utter squalor these men are forced to live in is so vivid to where it feels like the flies and stench of the environment doesn’t stop at the silver screen. You know how some people look at a movie and say it really made them want to take a cold shower? One shower is not enough to get past the filth these characters are forced to live in from day to endless day. This place is hell on earth for anyone, but these men obviously prefer it to death. They managed to avoid prison, but they came to a different kind of prison they are now ever so desperate to escape.

The chance for escape comes when an oil refinery suddenly explodes into a fireball, and the firefighters are unable to put the fire out without the help of explosives. Company executives manage to find a surplus of nitroglycerin sticks which can do the job, but the only catch is these sticks have not been turned and, as a result, have become highly sensitive and to where the slightest vibration could make them explode. So when an offer comes to drive this unstable set of explosives to the burning oil field for a high reward, these four jump at the chance to do the job. The rest of the movie follows their treacherous journey in trucks to deliver the explosives and hopefully not lose their lives in the process.

One thing I really admired about “Sorcerer” is how Friedkin dared to give us characters who were not altogether sympathetic. They are criminals of one kind or another, and yet we follow them every step of the way through their treacherous trip. Friedkin saw their incredibly dangerous journey as their chance not to just escape the filthy poverty they were stuck in, but also as an opportunity to redeem themselves for whatever bad deeds they committed. But their entire journey is a lot like sailing down the river Styx as they have to travel to through hell in order to escape it.

Friedkin does a great job of sustaining the tension as these men drive the trucks over terrain which looks like it’s on the verge of collapsing, and who encounter unwanted guests that have no idea of the cargo they are carrying. But the movie’s big action centerpiece is when they are force to drive the trucks over a suspended bridge which looks more than ready to completely fall apart. Add to that some furious rainstorms, and you have yourself one hell of a sequence which leaves you wrung out by the end.

Of all the actors in the cast, the most recognizable is Scheider. As a man on the run from the mob, he gives a performance which is never less than compelling, and you can only imagine the hell Friedkin put him through to play this role. The journey these men go on is not just dangerous physically, but also psychologically. Scheider does great work here as he is constantly on the verge of losing his mind, and this is especially in the movie’s second half.

Francisco Rabal, Amidou and Bruno Cremer are equally as good as they show the exhaustion and determination their characters have to complete this mission, and they too are put through the wringer to where they never seem to be acting their roles, but instead living them. You feel every bead of sweat which drips from their faces, and it makes “Sorcerer” even more of a visceral cinematic experience.

The imagery Friedkin captures is incredible as he shows us the squalor and unhealthy environment these characters live in so well, you can’t help but feel as trapped in it as they are. Friedkin has gone on record to say this film was the toughest for him to make, and I don’t doubt that for a second.

One of the other big pluses of “Sorcerer” is the brilliant score composed and performed by Tangerine Dream. Interestingly enough, they never saw a frame of the movie’s footage while working on the music, and yet they capture the events and psychology of the characters ever so perfectly. Like many of Tangerine Dream’s movie scores from “Thief” to “Risky Business,” this one is highly original and hard to compare to others. The soundtrack is still available on compact disc if you look hard enough for it.

After all these years, “Sorcerer” can no longer be mistaken as one of Friedkin’s misfires as it is now seen as one of his greatest cinematic achievements. It has since gained a strong cult following and is truly one of the most underrated movies of the 1970’s. It is unlikely we will ever get to see a movie made the way this one was ever again, and this makes it a must see for every and any film buff out there.

* * * * out of * * * *

The Ultimate Rabbit’s Top Ten Horror Movies for Halloween

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So, without further ado, I present to you my list of my top ten movies to watch on Halloween night, and they are presented here in no particular order:

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“John Carpenter’s Halloween”

Despite the many imitators and endless sequels, not to mention the two movies directed by Rob Zombie (which was actually pretty good), there’s no beating the granddaddy of them all. Carpenter’s film is a true horror classic with a music theme I never get sick of listening to. All these years later, the original “Halloween” has lost none of its power to creep you out as it offers audiences a truly terrifying experience.

There are moments which have stayed with me long after I saw “Halloween” for the first time. That moment where Michael Meyers kills the boyfriend and then tilts his head from side to side always gets to me. Plus, the ending leaves you with the unnerving truth of how evil never dies.

 

The Thing movie poster

“John Carpenter’s The Thing”

While his original “Halloween” remains a true classic, Carpenter’s remake of “The Thing” is his masterpiece. The film bombed back in 1982, but it has since gained a huge cult following and is now considered one of the best horror films ever made. The story of a group of scientists doing research in Antarctica, one of the most isolated places on Earth, who get copied almost perfectly by an alien is far more effective today than when it first came out. “The Thing” is a great example of how to keep escalating tension throughout a movie’s entire running time, and Rob Bottin’s incredible work on the makeup and effects still looks disgustingly brilliant to this very day.

 

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“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”

I finally got to see this movie all the way through for the first time a couple of years ago when I rented it from Netflix. What I thought would be a fun and hopelessly dated 1970’s movie turned out to be more horrifying than I ever could have imagined. Even while watching it on my 32″ television, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” proved to be a brutal cinematic experience which has lost none of its power to make you shrink in your seat. With a movie like this, it’s not what you see that gets to you; it’s what you don’t see which messes with your head, and that makes this classic of the most unnerving movie going experiences you will ever endure.

 

Suspiria 4K restoration poster

“Suspiria”

It was released 40 years ago, and it remains Dario Argento’s true masterpiece of horror. There are very few directors who can make a grisly death look like a beautiful work of art. The tale of an American female dancer who comes to a ballet school which turns out to be a witches’ coven doesn’t always make sense, but then again, a lot of Argento’s movies don’t. The movie is still scary as hell and beautifully horrific in a way most horror films can only dream of being today. A friend of mine once told me that if she were ever to be murdered (heaven forbid), she wants it to look like something out of a Dario Argento movie. I see what she means.

 

Alien movie poster

“Alien”

Be it the original version or the director’s cut, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” is still an overwhelmingly terrifying experience to sit through. When I rented this one on videotape years ago and watched it on my parents’ 13-inch television set in their bedroom (they robbed me of using the family room), I found myself hiding my eyes at key moments. The silence really got to me, and I impatiently waited for Jerry Goldsmith’s score to come back on. Keep in mind, I actually saw James Cameron’s “Aliens” before I saw this one, and it still scared the hell out of me!

 

The Exorcist movie poster

“The Exorcist”

I tell you, these horror movies from the 1970’s still have the same power to shock you today as they did when first released. When William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” was re-released in “the version you’ve never seen,” it still had a visceral power to unsettle us regardless of the passage of time. The story of a girl who becomes possessed by an ancient demon benefits greatly from a documentary feel which has that “you are there” feel, and it almost felt like I wasn’t watching a movie, but instead a real-life event which somehow all got caught on camera.

 

Evil Dead II poster

“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn”

All the “Evil Dead” movies are great fun, but if you have to go with just one, then I recommend “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.” On a budget of $3 million dollars, maybe even less than that, director Sam Raimi gave us one of the most endlessly creative and hilarious horror movies you could ever hope to watch. After all this time, it remains as scary as is funny. Plus, you have Bruce “Groovy” Campbell in his most iconic role as Ash, the pussy whipped salesman from S-Mart who keeps getting chased by the demons he was dumb enough to awaken from their slumber. Campbell gives a fantastic performance even if he keeps telling us he’s not much of an actor. This is so far from the truth, but you do have to admire the sense of humor he has about himself, and you haven’t lived until you listen to one of his “Evil Dead” commentary tracks.

 

28 Days Later movie poster

“28 Days Later”

“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle was said to have reinvigorated the zombie genre with this propulsive horror thriller where they are anything but slow. In this film, the zombies, or the infected as they are referred to are not the real enemy, we are. The virus the infected have been stricken with represents our inability to face the darkness inside of ourselves which sooner or later rises to the surface. There is no let up on the tension in this movie, and the thrills come fast and furious.

 

Dawn of the Dead original and remake posters

“Dawn of the Dead” (the original and the remake)

This one is a tie because both versions of this movie stand strongly on their own merits. George Romero’s brilliant sequel to his classic “Night of the Living Dead” is really a satire of the consumerist society we all live in. You know, the one which encourages us to buy all sorts of things which are said to make you happy, and yet all the money and objects you purchase end up making you feel empty inside. This is what Romero is saying with this film, and he does this while providing us with a great deal of blood, gore, beheadings, eviscerations, decapitations, and whatever else he could afford when he made “Dawn of the Dead.” All of you in the Fangoria crowd will be more than satisfied with this one, but you knew that already.

Zack Snyder, who later went on to direct “300,” “Watchmen” and “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” helmed this remake which turned out to be the best of its kind since “John Carpenter’s The Thing.” This one is more of a straight forward horror action film with a surprising amount of emphasis on character development. It also features Canada’s greatest import in the lead role, Sarah Polley. The remake of “Dawn of the Dead” turned out to be a visceral thrill ride, and it allowed us to invest in the characters in ways most horror movies typically avoid.

 

Silence of the Lambs poster

“The Silence of the Lambs”

The specter of Hannibal Lecter, as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, never fails to unnerve me like he did when I first saw this movie on the big screen. Jonathan Demme’s Oscar winning classic remains one of the definitive serial killer films ever made. Hopkins’ performance is like a perverse love letter to HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” whose voice inspired his performance. We also get one of cinema’s greatest heroines with Clarice Starling, brilliantly played by Jodie Foster.

Have a happy Halloween everybody!

William Friedkin and Guests on Making ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’

To Live and Die in LA

Director William Friedkin declared “To Live and Die in L.A.” to be one of his personal favorites of his career when he dropped by the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. The film was being shown as part of American Cinematheque’s tribute to him, and it played as a double feature with “The French Connection.” But while Friedkin was scheduled to be there, he brought along two of the movie’s stars as surprise guests: William Petersen who played Secret Service Agent Richard Chance, and Darlanne Fluegel who portrayed his “girlfriend” and informant Ruth Lanier.

With “To Live and Die in L.A.,“ Friedkin worked with casting director Bob Weiner who had also worked on “The French Connection.” With this film, Friedkin didn’t want any stars and could only consider no-name actors as the budget was only $6 million. In a sense though, casting unknown actors was a plus for this film as the characters they play walk a thin line between good and evil, and having recognizable stars might affect how this came across.

Known these days for “C.S.I.,” it was a shock to realize that “To Live and Die in L.A.” was Petersen’s first lead role in a movie (he previously had a small role in Michael Mann’s “Thief“). Weiner discovered the actor when he was playing the lead in a Canadian production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Petersen said he hadn’t done any movies nor did he have an agent at the time. All he knew about Friedkin was the films he directed, and they met in New York to do a scene together. But Petersen didn’t ever get around to finishing when Friedkin interrupted him to say, “That’s good enough for me. You got the part!”

From there, Petersen said he didn’t know what to do. Excited as he was for the opportunity, he was already scheduled to be in another play soon and wasn’t sure how to go about negotiating with Friedkin or the studio. It didn’t even occur to him he would be making $400 a week! So, he ended up talking with John Malkovich, who knew him from Steppenwolf, to get advice on what to do. Later, Petersen went back to Friedkin saying he wouldn’t be able to play Richard Chance due to his prior theatrical commitment. To this, Friedkin told him, “No problem. We’ll wait for you.”

Now how cool was that?! Seriously, how many other directors, let alone movie studios, would wait on an actor who is not even an established name yet? Considering the sheer charisma Petersen exudes onscreen just from one look on his face, it makes perfect sense why Friedkin waited on him before he started production.

Although he was used to doing theater more than film, Petersen said he found making “To Live and Die in L.A.” a “freeing, fun experience” and thought all movies would be exactly like it. This, of course, got a good dose of laughter from the audience as we know they are not. Despite the long hours on set, Petersen was never tired at day’s end.

In researching his role, Petersen worked with Gerald Petievich, the former Secret Service Agent who wrote the book this movie is based on, and with criminals including actual counterfeiters. This led Friedkin to tell the audience how Petievich ended up getting a counterfeiter paroled from jail just so he could create the fake money they needed. Friedkin even admitted he passed so many fake bills to where he concluded the government’s money was worthless and only paper. Some kids of the special effects supervisor were not as lucky as they ended up taking some of the fake money to buy candy, and a Treasury Agent got called on them in ten minutes flat.

Fluegel was shocked about getting a part in “To Live and Die In LA,” and she created one of the film’s most unforgettable characters. She said working with Petersen was “so easy,” and they both agreed there never was a moment between them which didn’t feel real. We always hear these stories about how actors don’t like doing sex scenes and how awkward they can get, but Fluegel said they were actually easy to do. She also made it clear neither of them actually had sex onscreen even though it looked like they did. When they worked together, everything always flowed perfectly.

But one great behind the scenes story Petersen told was when they were at the airport and Chance was chasing down John Turturro’s character of Carl Cody. This had Petersen jumping on top of the moving walkway while in pursuit, but in rehearsing it, security came over and told him and Friedkin it was against safety regulations and didn’t want him to do that again. Petersen, however, was insistent as it was easier for him to jump on top, and it worked better for the scene. So, when security was out of hearing range, Friedkin told Petersen to jump on top anyway when he said action, and that after he said cut, Friedkin would yell at him not do it again, making it look like he didn’t forget what security said previously. Once again, Friedkin does movies his way regardless of the warnings others throw at him.

Like several of William Friedkin’s movies which came out after his heyday with “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist,” “To Live and Die in L.A.” was not a big hit when first released. It was only after its debut on video and DVD when it gained a cult following which has gotten bigger and bigger over time. Seeing it on the big screen was a blast, and it deserves to be ranked alongside the best movies of Friedkin’s career. Besides, this is much more preferable to watching him pick his feet in Poughkeepsie.

William Friedkin Discusses the Creation of ‘The French Connection’ Car Chase

The French Connection car chase

William Friedkin’s “The French Connection” was shown as part of American Cinematheque’s tribute to him, and he went into great detail about how the famous car chase came together. It is still one of the best car chases in cinema alongside “Bullitt,” and it’s the kind Hollywood doesn’t dare do anymore.

The French Connection movie poster

Actually, it turns out there was never a car chase in the original script for “The French Connection,” but Friedkin felt it needed one as this was a police procedural, and the audience would need a temporary release from it. Also, Friedkin didn’t do any storyboards to prepare for it. In fact, he has never done storyboards for any of his movies because he feels he has to see it in his mind. The shots captured on film come together from what he sees at the time, and he doesn’t even use a second unit to shoot any footage. All that you see on screen in “The French Connection” comes from life as it happened in front of Friedkin.

In coming up with the chase, he and some crew members walked down 50 blocks of New York streets to figure out how it would work best. As Friedkin kept walking, he suddenly felt the subway under his feet. Now logistically, he couldn’t do a car chase with a subway as it was underground, but it made him wonder if there were any elevated trains left in New York. The production team ended up finding one in Brooklyn, so Friedkin went to the Transit Authority to get their cooperation in pulling this chase off.

The first thing to figure out was how fast the trains could go. Friedkin said if they went over 100 mph, they couldn’t do the chase as it would be impossible for Popeye Doyle to follow the train by car. The train supervisor he talked to said the trains go at 50 mph, so what seemed impractical suddenly became possible. Not only did Friedkin want to have a car chase the train, he also wanted to crash the train for the chase’s climax. But the train supervisor said it would be too difficult because they had never had an elevated train crash or even heisted. Having heard all this did not deter Friedkin, and he planned to steal the scene if the transit authority’s cooperation was not going to be granted.

As Friedkin and his crew headed for the exit, the train supervisor suddenly said, “Wait a second. I told you it would be difficult. I never said it would be impossible!” He told Friedkin that if he were to help him with this, then he would need $40,000 and a one-way ticket to Jamaica. His reasoning was if the movie was to be done Friedkin’s way, he would be fired, and retiring to Jamaica was always in the back of his mind. Sure enough, the supervisor was fired, and he moved to Jamaica like he said he would, so it’s safe to say he lucked out.

In filming the chase, the shots were picked up just as they happened in real life. There’s no way they would ever be able to film a chase like this today without prior approval from the city, but Friedkin and his crew were young and reckless, and they unleashed mayhem New York never saw coming. There were not supposed to be any accidents while filming it, but there ended up being many of them which forced the crew to fix the car after each take. I’m pretty sure they ended up using more than one as a result. Friedkin ended up saying they did a number of things he would never even think about doing today, and that they were very fortunate no one got hurt.

Taking all this information into account, this car chase feels even more thrilling than when I first saw it. The way it was filmed was completely insane, and the fact they pulled it off at all was a miracle. When Gene Hackman finally brings the 1971 Pontiac LeMans he is driving to a complete stop, the sold-out audience at the Aero Theatre applauded loudly which shows how powerful the sequence remains today. “The French Connection,” like many of Friedkin’s movies, has deservedly stood the test of time.

‘Full Tilt Boogie,’ the ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ Documentary, Screens at New Beverly Cinema

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After a double feature of William Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in L.A.” and “Rampage,” which is not currently available on DVD, the audience members at New Beverly Cinema were in for a special midnight treat as the theater held a screening for the 20-year-old documentary “Full Tilt Boogie.” Directed by Sarah Kelly, it chronicles the making of Robert Rodriguez’s action horror cult classic “From Dusk till Dawn” which starred George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino as outlaw brothers who, along with a vacationing family, end up at a rowdy Mexican bar which turns out to be infested with vampires. The documentary introduces us to those people who worked behind the scenes on the movie, of why they want to be a part of show business, the fun they have when the cameras are not rolling, and of the complicated relationship between movie studios and unions.

Introducing this screening of “Full Tilt Boogie” was Kelly, and she was joined by her producer and friend Rana Joy Glickman. The emcee who welcomed them remarked about how cool it was this documentary was playing at the New Beverly and that it was sharing a marquee with Friedkin’s “Cruising.” To this, the emcee said about Kelly, “Whoa! She scored good!”

Kelly welcomed all the “insomniacs” who came out to see her documentary and explained how it became a reality.

“The reason this movie came about was that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin were about to start shooting ‘From Dusk till Dawn,’ and it was an $18-million-dollar independent movie and the unions were pissed,” Kelly said. “They were like, ‘What do you mean? No, you have to go union.’ And so, there was a big threat of a strike, and Quentin thought it would be cool to document it.”

“I had worked for him on a little movie called ‘Pulp Fiction’ and a couple of other movies he was involved with,” Kelly continued, “and he knew that I was studying to be a director so he gave me a shot. At the time, I was taking a break from production and I was working part-time in a law firm and I was like, ‘So is this for real? Should I quit my job?’ And he said, ‘Uh, quit your job yesterday.’ So, I did. We wrangled our little, tiny, hardcore crew and we started shooting, by the way, on 16mm film. Nobody shoots documentaries on 16mm film anymore, but we did. The union threat kind of turned into a cold war and I asked Quentin if we could keep shooting and just do a love letter to the crew. I pitched it as kind of like ‘Hearts of Darkness’ (Eleanor Coppola’s documentary on ‘Apocalypse Now’), but not that dark. Quentin said, ‘Yeah, that’s really fucking cool!’”

As for Glickman, she claimed to have hundreds of stories to tell about the documentary and “From Dusk till Dawn,” but she chose to tell only this one.

“When we finished ‘Full Tilt Boogie’ we were just so pleased that we finished and we got to make the posters for the film, not the one that Harvey Weinstein had selected,” Glickman said. “Our favorite poster is Sarah’s design, and it was Ken (Bondy), the craft service guy on ‘From Dusk till Dawn,’ standing there with a tray of lattes and it said, ‘From the maker of coffee on Pulp Fiction, we bring you Full Tilt Boogie.’”

Kelly responded, “That’s a great poster, right?”

“Full Tilt Boogie” may not be the masterpiece “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” is, but it’s still a very entertaining documentary which takes you behind the scenes of a movie’s production in a way few others do. We get to see the challenges crew members constantly face on a movie set, and we also get to take in the fun they have outside of it as well. For these people, this is a job done out of love and far more preferable than working a 9 to 5 job which has them sitting at a desk all day. Kelly certainly did create a love letter to these crew members, and we revel in the festivities they have from one day to the next.

Thanks to Sarah Kelly and Rana Joy Glickman for taking the time to come out, and at such a late hour, to talk about “Full Tilt Boogie” at New Beverly Cinema.

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Tracy Letts Looks Back on ‘Bug’ at New Beverly Cinema

Tracy Letts photo

New Beverly Cinema concluded their month long tribute to Oscar winning filmmaker William Friedkin with a double feature of “Bug” and “Killer Joe,” movies which allowed him to escape the pressures of big budget filmmaking by going the indie route. Both were based on plays written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts who also adapted them to the big screen, and he was the guest of honor at the New Beverly for this final night of Friedkin. Following “Bug,” he participated in a Q&A with Brian J. Quinn, host of the Grindhouse Film Festival. Quinn’s first question was how Letts first came up with “Bug,” and Letts took us back in time to when the play was first conceived and of how Michael Shannon was involved.

Bug movie poster

“Where it came from is what I’m puzzling about myself right now,” Letts said. “I had written ‘Killer Joe’ in 91, it got produced in 93, and that production wound up going to the UK. The Gate Theatre in Notting Hill (where it was put up) asked us for another show. The group for ‘Killer Joe’ were interested in working again, so I wrote quickly and I wrote the role of Peter for Mike (Shannon). Mike had played Chris in my production of ‘Killer Joe’ and was such a great actor. We took it to the Gate Theatre and the play wasn’t worked out. It took a long time and a lot of productions for me to work out some of the problems with it, but Mike played Peter not only in the London production but in the subsequent production in Chicago where I continued to work on it. And then the play went to the Barrow Street Theatre in New York in 2005, and Mike had been with the play for a number of years at that point.”

“Bill Friedkin saw the play in New York and he called me out of the blue,” Letts continued. “I had never met him or spoken to him and I thought it was a prank actually, but he had seen the show. He actually said, ‘I don’t actually think this is a movie. I just wanted to tell you that I am a fan of your writing and I think it’s great.’ And he called the next day and said, ‘Maybe it is a movie. Why don’t you come out here to LA and talk to me’ So I flew to Los Angeles and I met Bill at his home for the first time. He said, ‘I think it is a film. The more I think about it, it seems very cinematic to me.’ I said I would love to work with Bill Friedkin but it’s a claustrophobic piece. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to open it up and have these disturbed people out in the world. And he said, ‘First, do no harm. I love the play and I have a way to make the play cinematic, so let’s work on the screenplay.’ And we did.”

Bug Michael Shannon and his teeth

Now while Shannon is well known these days for his work in movies like “99 Homes” and “Man of Steel,” he still had yet to make his big cinematic breakthrough. That would come a few years later in Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road” which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but there was no forgetting who he was after watching “Bug.” Of course, getting the actor cast in the movie was a challenge, but Letts explained how Friedkin championed for him.

“Billy fought really hard for him,” Letts said. “The people who were financing the film had no interest in using Mike, but Billy just insisted. He had seen Mike do the play live, he knew how powerful Mike was in the role, and he knew the role was written for Mike. And Billy actually had a lot of experience casting a lot of unknowns in movies: William L. Petersen in ‘To Live and Die in LA’ was his first big break, Linda Blair and Jason Miller in ‘The Exorcist.” I’m really glad he did (fight for Mike) because among the many pleasures of the film is the fact that Mike’s extraordinary stage performance was preserved on film. The freak out scene where he’s flopping and having a seizure on the bed, he used to do that on stage eight times a week.”

“Bug” was not a big hit when it arrived in movie theaters back in 2007. Part of this was due to competition from summer blockbusters, but it was also the result of what Letts called a terrible marketing campaign. While “Bug” looks like a horror movie, it is at its heart a psychological thriller and a character study. Still, studio executives in their infinite wisdom were convinced they knew what they were doing.

“Lionsgate decided that they were going to do a big opening and they were gonna just try and lure the kids into it like it was ‘Saw’ or ‘Hostel,’” Letts said. “They opened us up on 1,600 screens and they opened it in the summer opposite ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’ on Memorial Day weekend. Billy had begged them not to do this. We said please don’t open this movie on 1,600 screens. We said this was a terrible mistake; we should open it small and let it build its audience. But they just insisted and ran these terrible trailers on TV with the announcer going, ‘They live in your blood. They feed on your brain.’ So the horror movie kids came in and they hated it, and the people who would have enjoyed the movie didn’t come because they thought it wasn’t their cup of tea. So it just died a terrible death unfortunately.”

Letts also talked about Friedkin and of how he makes a movie. Because this was a low budget feature, its shooting schedule was very short and Friedkin was in no position to be like Stanley Kubrick or David Fincher and do 70 takes of the same scene. Letts also took the time to demystify Friedkin’s reputation.

“Billy shoots quick,” Letts said of Friedkin. “He starts work early in the morning at four o’clock, he’s done and goes home. He brags about the fact that he only shoots one take. That’s not quite true. He will shoot something else if light falls into the shot. Mike used to ask him for another take and Billy said, ‘What, you got stock in Eastman Kodak?’”

Bug Ashley Judd

“Bug” proved to be an emotionally raw cinematic experience and is almost as unnerving as Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.” Both Shannon and Ashley Judd give some of their best performances ever, and Friedkin succeeds in stretching this play beyond its claustrophobic staging to give us something which slams us back into our seats and never lets us go for a second. It was a real treat for the New Beverly audience to have Tracy Letts come down and talk with us. In his heart he still feels like a Chicago theatre guy more than anything else, but along with Friedkin he made a pair of movies which fearlessly went against what was mainstream, and we need movies to go against the grain every once in a while.

Bug movie poster 2

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

 

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