Interview: ‘Green Room’ Director Jeremy Saulnier on Patrick Stewart, Inept Heroes, and “Full-Frontal Gore”
Posted on Wednesday, April 13th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
If there’s a 2016 film more intense than Green Room, I’m not sure how I’m going to survive. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier‘s thriller has a crazy hook – members of a punk band witness a murder and take refuge inside a concert venue’s green room as a gang of deadly neo-Nazis lay siege – and the execution lives up the promise of that premise. Green Room is vicious and unrelenting and masterfully crafted by a filmmaker who has grown with each of his films. Between Murder Party, Blue Ruin and now this, Saulnier has proven himself to be one of the most exciting young filmmakers working today. Green Room is a serious frontrunner for any Best of the Year list.
So of course I jumped at the chance to speak with Saulnier about his film. Our conversation begins with his experience in the punk rock scene, touches on how to create effective cinematic violence, and yes, we do talk about casting the great Patrick Stewart as a calculating skinhead leader.
I saw Green Room at Fantastic Fest and I loved it.
Oh, wow. Cool. That was a great crowd.
I want to start at the beginning because a punks versus Nazis siege movie is such a wild concept. What aspect of that came first? Did it arrive fully formed?
Actually, I wanted to make a green room movie. Environment is very key to how I develop stories. Having been in a punk band and falling in love with the aesthetic and the energy and the music, I’ve been at lots of concert venues. I thought it would be really cool to capture that energy. What better place in a venue to set a siege thriller than the green room? It was my obsession. It’s a lost relic now, but I did a short film in 2007 as one of those 48-hour film festivals that took place in a green room. I shot it in my basement, but it was this thing I was exploring. That was sort of a dark, gonzo comedy about a heavy metal band playing a record backwards and summoning a demon. Really kind of fun and hammy with a heavy metal atmosphere. So I was always playing with that idea. When I finally got the chance to do it the right way, I leapt at it. I knew it was my next movie.
The skinheads were certainly a part of the punk movement, especially in the 1990s when I was a part of it. I was in the hardcore scene in Virginia and when we sort of crossed the bridge into Washington D.C., we had shows that were much bigger with a much more eclectic crowd. You had all kinds of different subgenres of punk rockers and hardcore kids and amongst them was the Nazi skinheads. That was definitely bizarre that people would be out in bright sunlight during a matinee show, proudly wearing swastikas. That element of danger stuck with me. I knew they were part of the world of punk and hardcore, yet very different as far as ideology and structure. They wore uniforms and were easily identifiable. They were like soldiers. They had relations with outside gangs and criminals activities. There were also SHARP, Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, a set of skinheads with a whole different set of ethics and belief systems who fought hard for all of the right causes. But it just so happened that the Nazi skinhead element is what piqued my interest, as they’re our natural adversaries in this sort of world.
I was going to ask you about the research you did for this movie, but it sounds like many of the details were drawn from things you actually witnessed.
What was exciting about Green Room is that the idea never really advanced in my mind. I thought I should do a siege thriller in a green room. I didn’t really have time to flesh out the story. The world and the environment of the narrative was with me for twenty years. That was part of me and something that I always wanted to bring on screen. But the actual plot, how the actual film unfolds structurally, was completely uncharted for me. So when I sat down to write, I had this deep well of knowledge regarding the world of punk and hardcore. I had personal experience from being in bands and my friends being in bands and touring and falling asleep in vans. I played that Mexican restaurant show showcased in the first ten minutes of the movie. But at the same time, I had no idea where the plot was going to go. So I had this brand new energy that I injected into this old premise. That’s where I had the most fun, finally realizing what was bubbling inside of me for decades, yet having no clue where I’d take it and inhabiting the world of the characters on both side of the door. I would act both sides and always try to adhere to logic and very human choices and not play into too many genre tropes and standard, forced, contrived plot elements.