Posted on Friday, April 15th, 2016 by David Chen
I remember watching Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin on VOD awhile back and being dazzled by Saulnier’s visual style, his use of practical special effects, and his effortless and naturalistic dialogue. The movie would end up on my top 10 films of the year. Saulnier’s Green Room is somehow even more intense. Chronicling the trials and tribulations of the final days of a punk rock band tour, Green Room has an even larger cast of characters and more ambitious thrills than anything Saulnier has ever done.
Green Room is out in limited release today and I’d highly recommend you check it out. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with Saulnier while he was in Seattle. We talked about how much of his life he poured into Blue Ruin, how he came up with the concept of Green Room, and why performance is just as important for selling special effects. Hit the jump to listen to my interview with Saulnier, and to read transcribed excerpts.
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On developing the idea for Green Room:
The premise predates Blue Ruin even. But it was beyond my means at the time to do any sort of world-building. Blue Ruin was very much designed around available resources. Picture cars I had access to, starring my best friend, shot in the house I grew up in. It was all kind of built into the script from the beginning, where I just asked, “Hey, what do we got?” And then built the script that way.
Whereas Green Room required a whole different level of access. But I always loved the idea of a punk rock band trapped in a backstage holding green room of a concert venue, during a live performance. I thought that was such a dynamic thing to do. I’d been in the punk rock hardcore scene, so I knew the world well, and wanted to really exploit that — my history in that scene — and capture and harness all the energy and wonderful aesthetic it had to offer.
On getting financing for Green Room:
I put another deadline [for myself]. This movie is something near and dear to me, but I’m getting older. I’m getting softer. This is a hard movie. This is a brutal movie. Super intense with graphic violence. Let’s make this before I get too soft. I said, “I’m making this movie in fall of 2014 or it’s never going to get made. I’m just going to scrap it.” Because I needed it to have the same energy as I wanted the finished film to have. I wanted to just not overthink this. Do not overdevelop this. Let it go in raw and see what we get.
And that’s a huge ask within the industry. I think because of the rapid timeline, that’s how this movie got produced. Because if anyone had any actual time to think about this and “develop it” properly, it would never have gotten through the system. It was a lot easier to use momentum and say “This is Jeremy’s next movie. Are you in or are you out?” That’s the way to do it. It’s not going around pitching it. It’s like, here it is. Who wants in? We found some great partners who were very enthusiastic and wanted to make an outlier of a movie. I think that’s why it’s exciting to people because it’s actually filling a void.
On writing naturalistic dialogue:
I have a rule. All my rules I often break here or there. But by and large, it is: every character who’s speaking, no matter what the scene or the context, they have to be speaking amongst themselves. If the characters know, they’ll speak a certain way. They’re never going to stop and cater to the audience and offer them exposition. The concept was, it’s full immersion into a culture. I know a lot. They know a lot. But, you don’t need the actual tour. “And here we have the bad guy skinheads! This is their culture. This is the youthful punk rock band. They’re so naive, aren’t they?”
…It’s the same with character building. I get a lot of notes, “You need to really flesh out these characters. We need more out of these characters.” And I say, fuck that! It drives me crazy in movies when you get falsely injected backstory that is there just to have a third act payoff. I don’t believe in that. And it’s not like my films are better because of that. As an audience member I feel like I am being disrespected. I don’t need that.
My philosophy is, let’s just live with the character. Let’s see through their point of view. I don’t need Pat, Anton Yelchin’s character — he doesn’t need to almost drowned once in his youth and then in the third act he needs to overcome his fear of swimming to get to the end, or level up and kill the bad guy.
[Green Room] is just a very carefully constructed, thematically and visually, clusterfuck that’s supposed to come off as effortless and chaotic and almost improvised. To do that, I try to inhabit the characters as I write, and I really do disregard any kind of notes or expectations that I shouldn’t be adhering to.
Once in awhile, I’ll break that rule. I’ll say, “You know what? This is getting too dreadful for me, and brutal. I am going to cry. I need a little goose here for the audience and myself. I want to have a little moment of triumph, or levity.” And it evolves very naturally. But I just want to make sure I have a grounded world that I adhere to and respect. And I think audiences love it when you give them that respect and they can fill in the gaps and they feel trusted and they feel smarter and they feel more apart of the movie. Even if you’re not just telling them what all these esoteric little lines of dialogue actually mean, they feel like you have an authority. This world has an authority, and they can just sit back and watch and know that they are in good hands.
On the importance of blending practical effects, CG, and actors’ performances [Ed note: The character/actor’s name has been removed for spoiler reasons]:
Now in Green Room, there’s some amazing straight up old school prosthetic effects that people think are fake, because they’re impossible to do… We did a simple prosthetic effect on [a character in the film]. He suffers a rather disgusting injury in the film. It’s often dismissed that it’s either CG or practical effects, but it’s also actors. Now [actor] was not flexible in his wrist, but to sell that gag… Coming from that background, I used to do a lot of makeup effects. My whole youth was selling gas and how to take a hit and take a fall. We had traditional simple prosthetics with blood tubing going through them. But until [actor] spent days, if not a week, trying to increase flexibility in his wrist and learn just how to dangle it in a way where you think all the tendons are gone, it didn’t work. And once it was all there together — the amazing prosthetics, the blood pumping, [actor]’s performance which is just unbearable, and his flexible wrist — it made it one of the most disgusting effects I’ve ever seen on camera.
And then there are some squibs — there are a lot of regulations. If you’re doing actual pyro, you cannot have it on certain actors on certain places. They cannot look into it. They have to have a very unnatural posture… Any explosives, you can’t look down into your chest if you get shot, because if it kicks back up into your face, you might lose your lead. So that’s where old school sometimes CG enhancement is the best, most realistic way to do things, because you gotta have your real actor…
There are some, and I’m not going to say which ones, very full-frontal, marquee visual effects that are zero practical makeup. It is just using references and sculpting things on the side, but it is completely built from scratch, because it’s about timing and showing the real actors. If you have a long shot coming up and shooting someone in the head, you have to really rely on CG at times, if you want to bullet to hit a certain place at a certain time. And I think what’s most overlooked is performance.Cool Posts From Around the Web: