Is it a similar experience when you’re directing? Is it usually the smaller things you’re not worrying about that are the bigger challenges?

Definitely. The bigger things everyone’s obsessed with getting them right and then you have all these meetings and pre-production about the big pieces, the set pieces, and so it’s sometimes these connective tissue scenes that you need in order for that. In order to earn those big scenes, it’s those little things leading up to the big scenes that sometimes get ignored, then it’s when you’re on set you’re like, “Oh no, wait, this is a way more important thing because that payoff that you’ve been worried about can’t happen unless you do those little moments leading up to it.” So I think that I’ve gotten better with that. I’m good at learning through trial and error [Laughs].

That’s a good thing.

Yeah, I don’t think there’s any other way, honestly. I would say this to young filmmakers, you just kinda have to screw up, you have to fuck up a lot and then next time around you learn. You won’t forget when you fuck up, you know [Laughs].
As a filmmaker, I say this to my DP that not every moment can be a big moment, if it’s your only big moment then there is no big moment. You have to remember these small little moments of connective tissue in order to make the whole body of the film.

Sun Don’t Shine is a very unsettling movie, so I’d love to see what a Stephen King adaptation from you would look like. Does he have any books that you would maybe want to adapt? 

I get asked now and at first, I said in interviews, “I’ve always done my original stuff,” but now I’ve said it and I can’t stop thinking about it, which is doing Stand by Me but having it be all girls. There’s the anxiety, because all my stuff is always very anxious filmmaking, but the anxiety of growing up a teenage girl. I love that age, the age between which is what the original movie and the book is the age between being a child and becoming a man or being a child becoming a woman. Because it’s so confusing and it’s so scary and I think about middle school and it makes me nauseous, you know.

I really enjoyed your episodes of Atlanta. That show has such a great atmosphere and tone. What was it like working with that style?

Those guys, I’m such a fan of, I love their brains. Hiro Murai and Donald Glover are the ones that write and run the show, and Stephen Glover too. Donald’s brother writes, and he’s such a dear, he’s so wonderful. They’re just such weirdos, that’s why I appreciate them so much. They don’t really give a fuck what people expect from them, they just wanna make something interesting and Donald in every atmosphere, not only on that show but also in his music, in his performances. I don’t know if you’ve ever got to see his concert.

I saw him perform last year, and it was incredible. 

Oh my god. I’d like to shoutout to Christian [Sprenger], the DP, because that’s a big part of how that show looks the way it does. Christian and I were sitting in the front row, and Hiro was there too, and we were sitting in the front row and the post-supervisor, Kaitlin [Waldron], and the editors were there as well. We were all sitting in the front row, and you know, we work with Donald, we’re on set, I directed Donald, he’s so grounded, he’s a superstar but he’s so grounded and he’s such a goofball and always thinking about how he can make the scene deeper and is really grounded.

So we’re sitting there in the audience waiting for Childish Gambino. I’m sorry, I can’t call him Donald when he’s on stage ’cause it’s just something else. We all were looking at each other and we all just started crying because… Kaitlin, the post-supervisor, put it best, she goes, “That was like learning that your friend knows how to fly.” It was so mind-blowing, that we were witnessing something incredible here; it was like if your friend was Prince.

It was that moving, and I guess, I was just crying ’cause it was so unbelievable to see your friend who you love and you care about so much and that you’ve collaborated with just reach their full potential and use everything in their body. I mean, his dancing for two and a half hours and singing, and the stage direction and the lights, it was incredible, but it really did feel like, she’s correct, it really felt as if we’d discovered that Donald knew how to fly. It was mind-blowing.

He’s singular, but watching him reminded me of David Byrne or James Brown, just witnessing that level of artistry and showmanship. 

Oh my god, yeah. And then to be there and know him and then be sitting in this giant stadium of people screaming, it was just so surreal, like I felt it was a weird acid trip.

Another experience I wanted to ask about was Alien: Covenant. Danny McBride recently told me what a learning experience working for Ridley Scott was for him. Did you have a similarly meaningful experience?

Yes. I mean, it’s Ridley Scott. Because I direct and I am very scrappy, I was inspired because he runs his crew so efficiently. That’s the thing, I had never been on a set that big, so the thing I kept thinking in my head was, I don’t know what a hundred and fifty million dollars or half of it would make for; it might as well be a billion dollars because it just seems like monopoly money to me [Laughs]. I didn’t think I would know how to do that because it just seemed so excessive to me coming from independent film, but then walking on to the set and seeing how efficient he ran his crew and each department was constantly working. He’s famous for we get on set at 9, we’re done by 5 at the latest.

You’re on this giant set, but he’s also like, there’s no reason for this to take longer than this amount of time, and he does it. It’s not like we’re missing pages, we’re hitting our days. He sets up five cameras all around, like that scene Carmen [Ejogo] and I did, they had a 360-spaceship, and this is what 150 million dollars does, by the way. In 360 spaceship, I’m running and doing it like a play, we’re not doing it shot for shot for shot. We did every single day where I run back and forth from the cockpit back to the Medbay, and there are cameras in the cockpit, and so they’re all rolling at the same time.

I’m just running and falling and doing all these stunts and we’d do the entire thing and it worked. I was amazed. To be honest, I’d be like, “I don’t know, Ridley,” like me questioning the director [Laughs]. He would make fun of me and say, “What? You want to fucking direct this or something?” I was like, I don’t know, you’re Ridley Scott, I’ll do whatever you want. But then it turned out so amazing and it blew my mind, and not only that, but those spaceships are on hydraulics. I could go on and on, but it was so fun and also it opened me up to… It was so inspiring to see somebody who’s done so many iconic films but who’s still kind of punk rock, a little reckless in a cool way with that money.


Pet Sematary is now in theaters.

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