Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (featured right to left above, respectively) first made a name for themselves in 2006 with their adrenaline-rush of an indie action flick, the low-budget Crank. Three years later, they solidified their reputation as unstoppable forces of pure insanity with its sequel, Crank: High Voltage. Today though, they bring us their first non-Crank-related directorial effort, the Gerard Butler vehicle Gamer, which also co-stars Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall.
I had a chance to chat with Neveldine/Taylor (as they’re so often credited in their films) a couple of months back at Comic-Con, which they were at to promote their latest helping of blood-splattered delirium.
You can read the full exclusive interview with Neveldine and Taylor after the jump.
Adam Quigley: Hey guys. I actually saw you about two years ago, on a set visit for Gamer. I remember thinking at the time that, given the usual demographic that studios associate with gamers, the film was probably going to be a PG-13 movie geared towards teens and younger audiences. But then I was nearly hit with one of the limbs from an exploding body, and it was obvious that you guys had no intention of straying away from your hard-R origins.
So the first thing I wanted to ask you guys is, just how the hell were you able to get away with that with the studios? And secondly, is all of that gory mayhem included in the finished film, or did you have to tone it down in the editing room?
Mark Neveldine: That shot specifically is in the film, where the body explodes. You know, if it is completely gratuitous–at times people might think that it is–then the studio wouldn’t have gone for it. But this, to us, is kind of like a warning of where video games and reality TV and UFC fighting and all of this stuff mixed in is going. People, if given the chance, would control human beings. Some people would kill them, some would fuck them to death. They would do nasty things, like what we read about on the internet with Rotten.com and sites like those. So we kind of wanted to push the limits of our movie and expose some of this, but at the same time, have it be a little mainstream; have it be a guy who’s trying to get back to his daughter and his wife. That’s the throughline that allows to go as far as we did.
So the film is a balance between social commentary and hard-R action…
…and the studio was totally fine with that?
Brian Taylor: It was all in the script. That was the story they signed on to tell. At a certain point, inevitably, there’s going to be chatter about, “Is it possible to cut this movie as a PG-13?” And it just… wasn’t. [laughs] It’s a dark world in this movie. I mean, it’s a fun world to be in, and it’s high energy, and it’s nuts, but it’s dark. For it to be cut down to a movie that kids could get into, there just wouldn’t be much movie left. It would lose its potency.
Watching you guys on set, I noticed that the craziness you evoke in your films seemed to translate directly to the way you shoot them. Even though this is a studio film, it almost looked like you guys were opting to shoot guerilla-style.
Neveldine: It’s how we started, yeah. We love it. It’s like a battlefield to us. We both have a camera in our hands, and we like to be in the explosions. And when the guns are going off, we’re putting the camera right in the gunman’s face. It’s just stuff we can really play and have fun with. And we like to move fast because, by the way, your crew and your actors appreciate it when you know what you want as a director and can move fast and keep that high energy up for, you know, less than ten hours. We’re not working people 16 to 24 hours days, which a lot of people do.
Taylor: We get easily bored, too. As you can tell from watching the Crank movies, we’re pretty A.D.D. So if we weren’t actually holding the cameras and doing all of the stunt stuff and action stuff ourselves then I don’t know what we would do on set. We’d go crazy. We have to always be moving, we have to always be shooting.
Neveldine: “If we stop, we’ll die.” [laughs]
Taylor: Hell for us is, like, sitting on a green screen stage with a monitor.
How much of a planning process do you guys have? Do you bother with storyboards or…
Neveldine: The storyboards we’ll do with like the super intense stunts, but when it comes to talking heads, no. The process though is, talking for hours on end, weeks on end. And then writing a treatment, and then talking more, writing an outline, and then writing the script. So by the time we finish the script, the two of us know exactly what we want. We actually put in where we want the camera to be in the script. Once people read our scripts, they go, “Wow, you have a lot of camera direction in your movie.” That’s because we know exactly how we see it, and we write it that way. Our writing is part of the planning process to shoot it, in a way. But yeah, we do a ten week pre-production, we talk about where the explosions are going to be, and we have a great team of special FX people and production designers who have worked with us the last couple of movies. They know our style, they know the shorthand. Like I said, we only storyboard just for the bigger action scenes, maybe. And then we don’t even use them! [laughs]
Taylor: Yeah, we did a couple of pretty involved stunt sequences with vehicles that had some CGI, some heavy pyro, very dangerous… We actually did a complete previs on a computer, which is something that they told us you’re supposed to do with these things. So we had some guys come in and we did this really elaborate previs, you know, where you kind of see the whole scene develop, and how the shots are going to be. And then we went out and shot it exactly how we wanted it, which had nothing to do with the previs at all. So the previs actually made everybody feel really comfortable, and then we ended up just doing whatever.
Taylor: I mean, we do a lot of planning and preparation and surround ourselves with people that we trust so that when we actually get to set, we can be improvisational and we can be in the moment and we can find it. Because sometimes you can plan and plan and plan, and when you get there, you see that all your plans are probably not as good as something else.
Neveldine: And they’ll just hold you back, those plans. They’ll restrict you.
Taylor: If it just presents itself in the moment, you have to be free to see that, to go it and grab it.
Neveldine: I remember one of the producers, Gary Lucchesi, saw the previs, and then we didn’t follow it at all, we shot the scene and he saw the dailies, and he’s like, “Oh my god, the dailies are amazing… I didn’t see any of this in the previs.”
Taylor: [laughs] They’re like, “Aren’t you guys glad you did the previs? Look at how great it looks!” And we’re like, “…yeah…we’re glad we did that…”
So how much of the script that you write ends up on the screen when you’re done?
Taylor: All of it.
Neveldine: Yeah, we really want to do as much as we can. What Brian’s talking about with previs, it’s not like that’s based just on the script. It’s more about what the approach is, and what the mechanics are of that scene. But in terms of the writing on the page and that scene you saw–you know, “body explodes”–we want to make sure that we shoot it.
Taylor: We like fast movies, too. There’s this trend of doing these 2 hour movies, these 2 hour and a 50 minute movies, and it’s just crazy to us. We don’t have the attention span for that. We like making short movies. We want to write like a 99 page script, and shoot every bit of it, and then get out of there; have a movie that’s just potent and tight and… consumable.
That’s really refreshing to hear, especially after a movie like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen where a good third of the 2 and a half hour running time is people walking around a desert.
Neveldine: Yeah, it’s disappointing. On DVDs we don’t end up with a lot of deleted scenes because everything we shoot, we use.
What kind of dynamic do you guys have working together? I’m curious how you’re able to shoot films the way you do and yet still know exactly what you want as a unified vision.
Neveldine: We’ll talk about, like, if we’re shooting a scene, and Brian says, “Hey, I’m going to move in on this close-up, why don’t you go and get a wider shot?” It’s kind of free-form, you know? We’ve done this so long, since 2001, from independent films to commercials to TV stuff, and then in the movies… our style has blended. We kind of know where our strengths and weaknesses are, and we just go out there and…
Taylor: It’s kind of like shooting porn.
Neveldine: Yeah, it is.
Taylor: Like, when you have it, you know you’ve got it, and you can move on.
Neveldine: When you get to the money shot, you know you got it.
[Laughing] Are you guys gamers yourselves? Is that what spawned this movie?
Neveldine: As a kid, I was a huge gamer. I was never off of the Pac-Man or the original Nintendo. I didn’t follow that through… I got involved with GTA for a little bit.
Taylor: I feel like I probably would be one if I had the time. I just don’t really have the time, those games can take your life over, which is one of the things that the movie’s about. You can get started in it, and next thing you know, it’s midnight, you’ve been sitting on the couch all day, eating chips in your underwear playing a game.
Neveldine: I was addicted to Brick Breaker on my Blackberry for at least two months.
Taylor: [Laughs] It’s like crack. I almost have to keep my distance from them, because we just have too much stuff to do.
Neveldine: Every time we research stuff, whether it’s a movie like we were writing Pathology, we would get so involved in the research, we went to the morgue like fifty times. And same thing with this, you know, we looked at Second Life, and I would lose weeks on it. It was so much fun, I see what the addiction is. We did enough research, and just… enjoying the games.
Why did you guys end up not directing Pathology?
Taylor: We never intended to. At that point, we already had Gamer in the pipeline, and we kind of knew what our year was going to be like. And Pathology was kind of a dark little movie that we loved the script, and we knew that we wanted to have it made, but we wanted to just like hand-pick a director that we trusted, and have him see it through for us.
Neveldine: We like seeing our scripts done by other directors, it’s fun.
Speaking of which, I hope I’m not treading bad waters here, but Jonah Hex…
Neveldine: Not bad waters at all.
Oh, OK. Well I was actually really excited when I found out you guys were on board, and then you wrote the script and were all set to direct, and then the studio decided to change course and bring in the guy who directed Horton Hears a Who! to take on your script, which just seems like such a bizarre…
Neveldine: It’s just tonally it wound up being very different. We gave them a very hard-R version of the script, which everybody loved. I mean, the studio loved it, the actors loved it. But at the end of the day, they wanted to go with a, you know, I think a PG-13 movie, which probably is the right way to get a younger audience involved, and that’s just not something that we would do.
Taylor: All I know about Jonah Hex is that Megan Fox is hot.
Neveldine: Oh my god. [Laughs] It’s going to be a cool movie.
How much of what you guys were originally planning for that movie do you think will actually end up in the film?
Neveldine: Well… Enough.
Taylor: It’s our script, with a lot of the naughty bits taken out. But hopefully it will retain the energy of our draft.
Neveldine: And it does have Megan Fox in it.
Taylor: And she’s hot.
[Laughs] Yes she is. …So how about influences? Who are some of the directors that have inspired you as filmmakers? Or films? Obviously with Crank, you expressed a clear appreciation for grindhouse/exploitation cinema.
Neveldine: Drive-in movie theaters, drinking beer…
Taylor: I think as a director these days, it’s like you’re just influenced by life. There are just so many things that hit you at all times. I’m influenced by an episode of Three’s Company that I saw when I was two years old, you know what I mean? There’s a million little things that influence you every day, and it’s just distilling all that into something that makes sense on screen.
Neveldine: Nickelodeon when they dropped the green goop on your head.
Taylor: I mean that’s what Crank 2 is: Nickelodeon green goop moment for America.
Speaking of which, that’s something I’ve really been wanting confirmation on ever since seeing Crank 2. I had a blast watching that in theaters, and half of my audience seemed to absolutely enjoy the hell out of it, and the other half seemed utterly lost and a few even walked out. I guess it was just way too much for them. And then you end the film by having Jason Statham flip off the camera. Was that your way of basically saying “fuck you” to the audience?
Taylor: Well, I mean, look… You’re making a movie that you think is great and you think that people will love, so that can’t be a “fuck you” to the audience. I mean, that movie was like a love letter to our most insane audience, to the people who really get Crank and really get what we’re doing and love this sort of grindhouse exploitation insanity, this is a gift to you! It’s not a “fuck you”, this is the movie you deserve. That was our feeling: this is the movie that true Crank fans deserve. It’s completely uncompromising, and completely crazy. If it’s a “fuck you” to anybody, it’s to the people who don’t get it.
You can follow Adam Quigley on Twitter at twitter.com/alwayswatching