Quantcast ICONS Interview with Adam Green - Producer of GRACE, Writer/Director HATCHET, SPIRAL, FROZEN

Adam Green!

ArieScope Pictures’ Adam Green needs no introduction to genre fans, since his horror/humor hybrid HATCHET scored high marks in 2007. Though his monstrous subsequent output (the mindbending thriller/character study SPIRAL, the annual Halloween short films, the award- winning commercial parody SABER, his comedy series’ Winter Tales and It’s a Mall World, a screenplay for an upcoming Aquaman animated film, and his upcoming survival thriller FROZEN) has shown he’s not one to remain in one genre for long before showing his talents in another(nor does he have time to sleep, we assume).

In addition to writing and directing, he’s now made his debut producing (with co-producers Cory Neal and Will Barratt) Paul Solet’s GRACE through ArieScope, having championed Paul’s vision for years and finding a home for it with Anchor Bay Entertainment. Icons’ Adam Barnick sat for a candid, informal chat about some of the details in getting GRACE going that aren’t usually covered in a press release, as well as its reception at its debut, this year’s Sundance Film Festival. -by Adam Barnick 8/09

Had ArieScope, from the point of you starting to direct features, planned to produce others’ work from the get-go, or was this a special occurrence?

The original reason for even having ArieScope was to have a production company to make my movies; so many people sit and wait for somebody else to come and make their movie, and that just doesn’t really happen. I was never really looking at a career in the film industry that was gonna include me producing other people’s stuff mainly because I have so many of my own projects and things I want to do.. to stop everything to put all of your heart into somebody else’s thing, you just can’t do it. So it was going to have to be something that was really worth it.

Of course the first thing that happens when you have any sort of success is every other person who wants to do what you do starts sending you their stuff. I don’t understand that mentality since there’s not really much anybody can do. However I happen to be a writer/director who also has his own production company, who also happened to have just had a big hit with a company that happened to ask “what else do you guys have?” It was all just in the timing. If Paul’s script had landed in my lap a week earlier or a week later there’s a good chance it might not have happened.

Did you know when you got Paul’s script that it was going to remain as disturbing but be a lot more subtle and ‘real’ than the short was?

Within the first fifteen pages you get that the tone of it is not the same as the short. Even the short, to be honest while it was impressive that it was shot on film and that there was money put into it, I didn’t think it was the greatest short film of all time but the idea was something that I couldn’t stop thinking about. The script was exactly that idea fleshed out, played very real. And you know within the first few pages that this isn’t a genre movie in terms of fanciful characters and over the top anything, no ridiculous events that you have to try to accept.
Everything about the characters was so real that by the time Grace came back to life, it was shocking because you picture “oh my god, imagine if this happened”, not “well that’s what happens in this horror film.” The execution was so subtle but so evident on the page. And then through talking to Paul and hearing what he wanted to do, what his influences were, and how the movie was not going to be just like the short, that’s what really made me want to do it.
In reading it, was there a particularly memorable scene or one moment you couldn’t let go of, or that made you go “we have to be involved with this”?

There were moments for me that were just personal favorites. One of the big things I couldn’t stop visualizing on my own was the mosquito netting over the crib with all the flies on it; ‘cause that really drives home the thought that “this kid is not supposed to be here.” Something is so wrong here.
But the real thing that made me want to do it, is - I’m trying to outgrow it - but I still have that attitude that I had on Hatchet of... Not being anti-studio system, because I’m certainly not; I do plenty of pure projects with the studios; but that thought of reading the script and thinking “this is a wonderful movie that would be a step forward for our genre. And I know for a fact that no one will ever make this movie.” And that was sort of why I was like ‘well now I have to.’ Which is why I try not to read stuff. (laughs) I don’t want to necessarily want to be the guy who only makes movies like Spiral and Grace that are very small/arthouse movies;
Grace is to some degree an arthouse-type movie. Not to say that in terms of quality or anything like that, it’s just the subject matter. I don’t want to be the go-to guy for the movies that are a difficult sell (laughs) which is why Frozen, which we’re following up Grace with, is very broad and mainstream. But at the same time after reading Grace, I kind of struggled with it. ‘Cause I was like (Paul’s) got a really good vision for what he wants to do, he’s smart, he knows all the same people I know, he’s worked his ass off for this; Anchor Bay’s asking us if there’s anything else as a company we want to bring them... fuck, I have to do this!

You mention Frozen being broad, but Frozen taps into a lot of universal fears. And I think while Grace – I’m surprised how Grace doesn’t pull any punches, it doesn’t play it safe, but it has a universal appeal of its own.

It’s great. The themes in Grace are completely relatable human things. But what makes it not a broad film is that at the core of it, you’re still talking about a baby that comes back to life. As much as it isn’t It’s Alive or one of those silly things, it’s actually quite moving and disturbing.. At the end of the day. if you were in a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma and said “do you want to watch a film about three skiers trapped on a chairlift, or a dead baby that comes back to life and drinks blood?” One is a little more normal, you could say (laughs) but the types of fears both films tap into are just basic primal human emotions. When you first tell someone what Grace is, you always have to end up telling them “no, dude, it’s not a killer baby movie!”

Yeah the broad strokes of the plot could lend themselves to exploitation but what I like is that it turns that on its head and is done with class.

Yeah, a lot of class, and at the end of the day it’s a very sweet story, as morbid and dark as it may be.

Can you tell me about working with Paul to get to everyone at the companies saying yes? I’m talking footwork and steps taken from when ArieScope took it on to getting the greenlight.

The thing we told Paul, and this is something unique with our company, is we don’t option material- normally to option a script, especially if you’re a first time writer it’s like 2-3 grand. It’s nothing. If we were to do that and say ‘here’s 3000 dollars, and we’re gonna go and spend a year trying to get this set up.” It’s not worth it. So with Grace we told Paul in good faith we’re gonna find the money for this, but you’re free to go wherever else you want. If you find it, we’re not gonna interfere. And then we came back and said we had a window of opportunity with Anchor Bay. And then we sort of prepared him.. I’d now gone through it twice, so it was very easy to prepare him for “ok we’re going into meet this person, this is what this person’s like, this is what you need to say. Now you’ve got to come up with a mood reel, basically a book of artwork and paintings set to music that fit what you’re trying to do.” Etc.
We had all this ammunition. Ultimately the first time we broached the subject with (them), they said “OK, we’ll do it as long as Green directs it.” Because nobody wants a first-time director. Then we were like “No, you’ve got to meet him, trust me.” And then Paul was able to earn it himself. You put him in a room with anybody, there’s no denying that he knows exactly what he wants, and how he’s gonna do it.

Once you got up north how did your roles as producers change when you got on set?
Once all this stuff happened where another company was brought on to Anchor Bay and we went up to Canada, the only thing that really changed was ArieScope was now no longer solely in control of how money was being spent on the project. Creatively our asses were still on the line to deliver what we said we would deliver and to make a good movie and not let it get so surreal/artsy that they now had a non-commercial movie. And I think we found a good balance where Paul doesn’t feel like the movie was compromised creatively. Sure, financially, there’s got to be a ton of things where you wanted to do this and that but couldn’t afford it. But creatively, I feel like the movie is representative of the movie he wanted to make yet is still commercially viable.
Paul’s smart, he’s a filmmaker; but he also gets it. He was able to really play ball and I think we were able to shelter him from a lot of that stuff and protect him, so that when we’d start getting a note that wasn’t necessarily a bad note, but was a note for a different movie than the movie we were making, we were able to step in. And I think that’s really what it came down to since ArieScope is a group of filmmakers and not just business guys; he was very well-protected by people who were making the same movie he was making. Had we not been there I don’t really know what would have happened, but it definitely would have not been what happened. (laughs)

How’d you feel seeing Paul realize his potential after all that time from prepping to now?

If I had doubted that he could pull it off I wouldn’t have put my ass on the line for him in the first place; he always handled himself well. The stuff that people don’t know about, they hear “there’s all these behind the scenes politics.” There’s all this bullshit that comes with the industry. They have no idea that like 95% of what we do is just (dealing with) that. Everyone thinks the director just picks the shots and makes the movie- they don’t understand that the whole time you’re trying to make the movie, it’s like Donkey Kong is up at the top throwing barrels at you trying to stop you. And that is the guy who’s making money off your work (laughs) and he’s throwing flaming barrels at you that you have to dodge while you’re trying to make your movie.
I think that Paul was able to trust me when I was telling him how something was gonna go; you could always tell him the real truth about things. Like with the release. You would think that if you have a movie that’s the talk of Sundance, that wins the Jury Prize in France, that has such great reviews and SO much buzz would be getting a really big push. Instead you look at some of the movies that have been acquired at these festivals and put on 2500 screens, with 20 million dollars behind them and they don’t hold a fucking candle to Grace!

But Paul is smart enough to understand how the game works, he doesn’t take it personally. Paul was an exceptional learner (of the business side). Even faster than I was; I didn’t have anyone to help me, had to do it all myself. It’s very hard to understand why decisions are made the way they’re made. And I think Paul’s been great at that. Even though something doesn’t make sense, he’s been able to understand it.
I also think watching him promote the film, watching him speak about it; he’s doing everything right. He’s got no ego about it, just passion for it and I think that’s what the fans are responding to.

And just from a selfish standpoint, being there at Sundance, watching the movie premiere; watching Paul’s parents be proud of him and kind of just standing in the background knowing even though I’m not at the forefront of this project, I’m the one who helped make this happen; that’s almost as gratifying as when my film went through this stuff. It’s a little bit cooler to know that I had enough pull to make this happen for somebody else. That’s pretty awesome.

Did you have a favorite scene in the script, and is it still your favorite scene in the finished film? Tell me something about seeing how it was adapted.

My favorite scene in the script was the first time Madeline realizes all the flies are surrounding the crib- that was shot exactly as I pictured it. There was other stuff that wasn’t shot as I’d imagined and that helped it become a favorite- just when Madeline drags (certain dead character) down the hall- the choice to put the camera on the pad like that and pull it with him.

That was a solution Paul made up on the day.

Paul did say something in his shot list about a low shot on the floor, but I think (actor playing dead character) had to lay on a pad. They put the camera down on the pad and when they shifted him, the camera moved; I think just then (Director of Photography) Zoran and Paul saw that and went “wait a minute!” and just did it that way right there.

Things like that where there wasn’t a year of me picturing it before the shoot, and then seeing it happen on set; for reasons like that, it’s a favorite. It doesn’t get to happen in independent movies enough, you just don’t have time to experiment. When something like that happens, it’s pretty awesome.

Tell me about your reaction seeing it with an audience. Was Sundance the first?

I had seen it during the mix but Sundance was the first real audience.

Actually I thought initially it was playing horribly- I haven’t really admitted this yet- I thought it wasn’t working because people were laughing at the wrong spots, at parts that weren’t meant to be funny. I was clutching my stomach wondering ‘what was wrong with these people’? And it wasn’t until the last 20 minutes that I realized people were laughing because they were just fucking nervous and uncomfortable. But you’re so sensitive the first time you show a film; somebody coughs and you’re like “why the fuck did he cough there?” (laughs) It’s so hard to sit through screenings of your own stuff.

When we did Hatchet, and I know everyone’s in that room considering how much they’d pay for it, and playing mind games with each other, pretending they’re not interested even though they’re making an offer on their Blackberry, that was hell; Grace had distribution so at least we didn’t have to go through that here..but until it was over, I thought it had bombed.

I was sitting up in the front and what I was picking up on, people were getting the dark humor, but even when it’s not getting grotesque and not involving Grace, it’s uncomfortable. Even just tense dinner scenes like the opening. There were people next to me, guys really, squirming with occasional laughs.. but it’s like when people would do that at The Exorcist- sometimes the only way you can respond to a crucifixion sex scene is this laughter of disbelief.

I think that’s what it was coming down to- collectively saying to each other through laughter, “what the fuck!?” And I realized when the movie’s ending, the last ten minutes are just an awesome ride-people are screaming and just really into it- there’s suspense, there’s everything. But when the film was done, the applause was so genuine. Every movie at festivals gets good applause, but you could tell it was so sincere. And then looking around we were realizing we really didn’t know people there. Festivals often can be a very safe crowd.
Your friends come and have your back...

Yeah, and even opening night, there’s usually a good portion of people that are rooting for you there. But when the applause came, you knew at that moment that everything’s gonna be fine for this movie.

Now we’re finally at the release, it’s gone through a ton of festivals.. Any thoughts as we lead up to the release?

The theatrical release is kind of like a celebration/validation. Everyone wants their film to get a theatrical release. You look at some of the best movies ever; they started in New York and LA. The fact that we’re gonna get play in real theaters in the two biggest cities is a great sort of endorsement that this movie is worth it. So we’re grateful that we’re able to make that happen.
This is always the part where you have to let go at this point, because there’s nothing else anybody can do. Now you’re at the mercy of the public.. and unfortunately, as much as you always hope that the public will believe in you, I don’t believe in the public whatsoever. You have horror fans at these conventions saying “I’m sick of remakes and torture movies” and then Generic Studio Remake is gonna open and do 50 million dollars and those same assholes are going to be nowhere to be seen when Grace comes out. It’s unfortunate, but it’s sort of the pattern; and you kind of just wish the horror fans would start putting their money where their mouth is, and get out there and try to support original stuff. Because this is an original movie. Will they be there? That remains to be seen. They did show up for Hatchet, I gotta give them that. Hopefully they show up for this.
GRACE Red-Band Trailer:

Stills from Grace: Alan Fieldel

Adam Green/Comic Con Image courtesy of Clare Grant

Behind the Scenes images: (c) 2009 Adam Barnick/Anchor Bay Entertainment

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