I met Adam Green after a screening of Joe Lynch’s awesome Wrong Turn 2; we chatted a little bit about his big breakthrough movie, Hatchet, which had been one of Anchor Bay’s first efforts in the theatrical release world. He already had his next movie finished and making the festival rounds, a thriller called Spiral, which he co-directed with Joel David Moore (who was in Hatchet, and who you probably remember from Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and Grandma’s Boy). Adam went out of his way to tell me how different Spiral was from Hatchet, and he wasn’t kidding. I saw his film a week later and realized that if I didn’t know it I wouldn’t have guessed the same guy directed both films.
Moore co-wrote Spiral with the film’s producer, Jeremy Daniel Boreing, and it’s a very quiet, very deliberate character piece about Mason, a neurotic, lonely guy who works as a telemarketer by day and spends his nights painting while listening to jazz. A new girl (played by Amber Tamblyn) starts working in his building and they begin a tentative friendship that might go somewhere else… if Mason can keep his shit together and not snap. Zach Levi, the star of Chuck, plays Mason’s boss and best friend, a guy who tries to take care of his strange and fragile buddy as best as he can.
I was scheduled to do a phoner with Joel, and when I called Adam and Jeremy were both there, so we did a four way, which I think is the actual minimal number for an orgy. Jeremy had more to say than is represented here, but he seemed to be sitting furthest from the speakerphone and as such a lot of his stuff was recorded as garble – my apologies to him.
Spiral opens Friday the 8th in Hollywood and Austin; it rolls out to New York and Portland in the weeks to come.
Joel, this is the first film that you wrote?
Joel: I wrote a short film that had these characters involved, and I had Jeremy read and he said he thought it would be a great feature. We sat down to write the feature version of this; we sat down in my living room, literally, and we put some jazz on, drank some wine and figured out the beginning, middle and end of the story. We had this wonderful painter, who is a good friend of mine, Coburn Hartsell, and I have all of his paintings on my walls, and we said, ‘Why don’t we make a movie about this? This is the kind of thing this neurotic guy would like, and we can use this as a way that he can meet our ingenue.’ So we just used what we had literally in my living room and put it in the story.
Jeremy: The script for the short film had all these terrific characters; they were all there and the elements that changed along the way were the backdrop and the story that we put those characters in. His original story already had this Hitchcockian tone, and we were able to pull in elements from our lives that we thought were interesting.
There’s more freedom when you’re going from a short to a feature, but what are the challenges when you’re stretching a short out to feature length?
Joel: Well, everything. Taking a short and making it into a feature – we didn’t do that. We had taken some aspects of a short I had written, especially the strong characters I had written, and worked them into a bigger story. The short was about traveling into the mind, it was crazy, weird storytelling. We backed off of that and made more of a piece about a neurotic, out of touch guy who finds his sanity and loses it with women.
Adam: A lot of times with a feature it’s better because you can take the time to develop these characters, to introduce them. Anybody who has ever made a short can tell you that making short films are really, really hard.
Adam, was there ever a point where you were hesitant to co-direct a movie with the writer who was also starring in it? It seems almost like you’re taking the secondary seat in that relationship.
Adam: Yeah, I think my initial response was no. Not because of the creative issues, but because I didn’t understand how co-directing works. I felt it was going to be like a pissing contest and at the end we wouldn’t be friends anymore, but the way we dealt with that and sort of preempted any problems is that we spent maybe a month and a half sitting in my office beating out every character, every lighting scenario, every shot. We had a shot list that was probably 50 pages long, it was like a book.
Joel: It was its own script.
Adam: By the time we got to set, there was complete trust in what we were doing. We were on the same page and there weren’t many disagreements because we got it all out in the process of how we were going to go about making the movie. That’s why it worked so effectively; it was a terrific process of co-directing. We both said we wouldn’t do it again, but not because there was anything negative about it, it’s just weird co-directing. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I think it worked out well.
Joel: You co-direct a movie to get your feet wet. You don’t continue on co-directing and I think it’s important for me to direct a movie by myself. With co-directing you can’t always take claim for the whole process. People in the industry always want to make excuses, and criticism can come out of that, but I do think Adam and I did a really good job of equally sharing the credit for this movie. Whenever I’m in an interview I talk about Adam the whole time, and whenever he’s in an interview, he talks about Adam the whole time.
Joel, it’s interesting because people know you as an actor, but you’re directing, writing, producing… what’s the plan for you? Do you want to be a jack of all trades? Are you looking to turn into a Peter Berg? What’s next for you?
Joel: Soft porn is what I want to get into next. [laughs] We have a production company, and we’re involved in lots of different things. We’ve done pitches for internet TV shows. Having Zach [Levi from Chuck] and I both in the company and having two great partners – Jeremy who co-wrote Spiral is our partner as well; he ran a talent agency for a couple of years and our other partner we took away from Carsey-Werner, so he has a ton of experience. It’s a good meeting of talents for Zach and I, and Zach has tons of experience in television and I have experience in theatrical, so I think we’ve found a nice unique group of people to move into all aspects. Personally, yes, I do want to write and direct features and I want to continue acting – it’s my bread and butter, and it’s something I’d like to do my whole life. I think being a jack of all trades, of course I want to do that. What will happen, I don’t know, but I’ll continue to work on all aspects of this industry and see what happens in the future.
Jeremy: I think part of Joel and Zach’s thought process when starting the company was that when you rely on other people to supply you with work, you’re really cutting down on your opportunities to be successful. By banding together their interests and skillsets they can hopefully empower their careers in ways that other actors don’t take advantage of.
Joel: A lot of it was a meeting of the minds, because there are aspects of producing and aspects of directing – Jeremy has strengths in producing, Cory [Neal, the other partner] has strengths in producing, Adam has strengths in directing, I have strengths in directing and we could learn from each other. I’m a perfect actor, though, so I couldn’t learn from anybody. It was surprising how easily – although I’m sure the producers behind the scenes would say it was really hard – but at least for Adam and I we got what we needed for this movie, and that’s crazy for this small of a budget and this quick of a schedule. We shot the whole thing in 18 days and on a couple of Sundays we went out to grab some footage we needed. It was very hard work, but I don’t think there was ever a time we didn’t have what we needed. We made some decisions early on to do certain things certain ways to save money, or to put money in another part of the production, but we never got somewhere and said ‘We don’t have X’. And that’s because we had such a talented crew out of Portland, Oregon – we can’t wait to bring something back to them. The reason this movie looks so great and has so much style is because of the artists that were the crew; everybody from our gaffers to the set designers to the wardrobe, everybody that worked on it was wonderful. It was a treat. We didn’t know what we were getting into when we got to Portland – we had somebody crew up for us, and we didn’t have time to meet these people. When we got there, even Adam, who had already done this and knew the process, was surprised to walk into this talented crew. Portland has one A crew – they’ll work on the 40 million project in Portland but they’ll also work on the million dollar project that comes to Portland. We shot between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we shot it in a dead season.
Adam, when I talked to you before seeing Spiral you had been very insistent on letting me know this was nothing like Hatchet, that this was a very different movie. Is that your philosophy when you approach films – do you want to be able to jump around to different kinds of movies, or are you looking to define what an Adam Green movie is?
Adam: I wish I had an answer to that question because I get it so much, but I just want to do what I’m excited about. This in particular was a great opportunity for me because I would never write something like this; I love these types of movies, but typically I go more towards the comedy stuff and the horror stuff, because that’s what I’m a fan of. Coming up I have a romantic comedy that 1492 is producing, but the problem now is that with the writer’s strike everything is up in the air because I don’t know when things will start up. In the meantime there’s the internet stuff I did this past year with American Eagle, the Mallworld stuff, that claymation thing. I’m all over the place, I guess. But I was really happy about this because we did this before Hatchet was even done, so this movie effectively stopped Hatchet from defining me, and that was very important to me. I don’t want to be the next horror splatter guy – I’m happy that people say that, but that’s not me.
Jeremy: Although at the first screening of the film at the Santa Barbra Film Festival, Adam still hadn’t realized it’s not a comedy. That caused a lot of frustration for us.
Joel: It helps not define Adam as just a horror icon, and in a way it helps define me because I personally wanted to go out and make a movie that wasn’t a comedy. There was a lot of discussion that went, you have Zach, you have me, we should do a comedy. In ways it could have been on a bigger level, the movie could have been on a higher stand, but we did this and I’m happy we did this. It helped define me as not just the comedy guy, but it helped personally define me in my goals and what I want to do.
Jeremy: Zach was attracted to playing Berkeley first to pay off his poker debt to Joel and I, but also because it was a chance to play a role he hadn’t played before, and Joel and I in writing the movie were consciously trying to create an opportunity for Joel that he hadn’t had as an actor. Adam saw the opportunity to direct something different from what he had done before. Amber [Tamblyn] as well, this was Amber’s first time playing an adult and not a teenager. This was a chance for her to expand her horizons a little bit. Everyone wanted to experience something they hadn’t before.
Without spoiling anything, there’s one big reveal that you guys never make. How early in the process did you decide to not make that reveal?
Jeremy: When we were writing the film, Joel and I knew that we were never going to say what that was. The funny thing is that during the last week of shooting people on set started asking us what it was; you’re in a familial relationship by then and you’re with people around whom you let your guard down a little bit. What we started noticing is that when each of us gave people an answer, we didn’t give the same answer. Pretty soon we realized that all three of us had a different interpretation of that particular thing. Everybody on set thought they were in the know because one of us had told them, and there were all these arguments about it. The bottom line is that we all thought differently, and I like that about the movie.
Adam: What’s funny is that when you read the script you give your impressions to the writer and your notes and any ideas you might have, and it never even dawned on me – oh, we need to reveal that or not. Even reading the script, by the time I got to the last page I realized it didn’t matter. That thing you’re talking about is its own character, and I think that’s one of the cool things about the movie; you don’t walk out of the movie thinking, ‘I need to know what happened with that.’ You have your own idea.
Jeremy: We wanted to make more of a Hitchcockian film where people have to bring their own experiences and interpretations to the process. We didn’t want to hold their hand the entire movie. Joel and I, when writing, took care not to treat the audience like they were dumb. We wanted it to be a more classic film, and these days our attention spans are much shorter. We didn’t want to play into that; we’re not overly critical of films that do, but we wanted to make something that was a little more thought provoking.
Joel: It was important for this to feel different. We were making a small movie and we knew that it might not have a huge theatrical release, that it wouldn’t go out to 3000 theaters, so we wanted to make it feel different from other DVD releases. We’re lucky to get a theatrical release – it’s a crazy thing for this kind of a small movie to get a theatrical release, and I think it says something about the movie. We didn’t know what kind of movie we were making; even when we finished editing and locked the picture we didn’t know how people would receive it. We knew it was a shot in the dark, and we didn’t know if people would enjoy the still nature of this kind of movie, the small character-driven aspects of the film.
Adam: That was one of our worries. So much of the festivals that we’ve done have been horror festivals. This is nothing like Hatchet, and it’s so deliberately paced – it’s a psychodrama. I was concerned for a while as to whether horror fans would watch this and after 15 minutes be like, ‘Are you kidding me? There’s no boobs, there’s no gore, what the hell!’ But surprisingly enough on the festival circuit especially the people who most loved Hatchet also loved this. You have to have faith in your audience – you want them to have faith in you, but this movie gave me so much faith in my audience because they were able to switch gears and go with me and not go against me. For some people, a move like this – you make a name for yourself in certain niche and then you try to redefine yourself and everybody forgets about you. But this movie has done great so far, and while there are fans of Hatchet who can’t get into this, more often than not the response has been good.
Joel: I would like to say that you do see my boobs in the movie. It’s PG-13 so I did it in a tasteful way.
Joel, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about Avatar. You’re promoting a tiny little movie but at the same time you’re in what might be the most expensive movie ever made. What are the differences? You’re on that set, which I assume is all blue or green screen, so how different is that? How fulfilling – or not fulfilling – is that experience?
Joel: Well, working with James Cameron is the most fulfilling experience I have ever had on set.
Adam: Outside of Hatchet.
Joel: You’re with this epic filmmaker. James Cameron is more than a filmmaker, he’s such a brilliant guy and he works in so many aspects of this industry, and he’s done so much in his life outside of the industry. You take all of that and put it behind the camera and it all comes to life. This is a fun question because there isn’t a whole lot of difference between doing a tiny little film like Spiral and doing Avatar – as an actor. If you’re working with a director that’s passionate about his art, then all you’re doing is carrying the flow of the movie. Of course the creation and process of making those two movies is very different, but when you look at the cast around you – in Spiral with Amber and Zach and Adam directing, and on Avatar with Sam [Worthington] and Sigourney [Weaver] and Michelle [Rodriguez] and all the fabulous people that make up the cast of Avatar – you’re able to be in a creative process and let it flow. It’s really neat.
One of the cool things about Avatar is how he’s pushing the boundaries with the CG and with the 3D. Do you guys have a chance to look at that? Does he show you what his vision of the 3D process would be and how it would look, or are you flying blind and going on faith?
Joel: Well, he doesn’t let anybody go blind. I can’t really talk about the aspects of how it works, but what I can say is that he is a very generous director and he gives us what we need for every scene; the information we need for the scene and the way that everything works. He doesn’t let actors go anywhere blind.
Adam, I was looking at your IMDB and I saw you have Cheerleader Camp on there. Were you a very generous director on that project?
Adam: [laughs] Yeah, I was very generous. That was fun – I just wrapped that up a few weeks ago. It was a pilot for MTV, and it’s nice to see MTV try to get back to some scripted stuff. Unfortunately with the strike there are no other scripts written for that series, and the way that MTV works, with their executive musical chairs, we’ll have to see who’s in charge when the strike ends. I was brought into that by Scout Productions – those are the guys who did Session 9 and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It’s got a ton of hot young girls at a cheerleading camp getting brutally murdered. I got to put a girl through a wood chipper in the first three minutes. I don’t know how they’re ever going to get that on TV! It’s pretty violent.
I didn’t realize it was a horror thing.
Adam: What they’re going for is Mean Girls meets Scream. It’s really geared for for 14 year old girls – the MTV audience.