Halloween director David Gordon Green talks anxiety, Charleston, and John Carpenter 

Killer Movie

When it was announced that the latest entry in the Halloween franchise was being written, produced, and directed by the man responsible for such films as Pineapple Express and George Washington, this writer wondered, "What could this mean for Michael Myers?" Will David Gordon Green and his Rough House Pictures colleagues (including Danny McBride) turn Myers into a stoned cold killer bumbling his way through life — or will he visit abandoned urban decay pontificating his role in the world? While the last question was in jest, there were a slew of questions to ask the guy whose career you've followed since he first wowed audiences with his film, George Washington, in 2000. In the midst of a hectic schedule promoting his latest film, Green took some time to talk about his influences, Charleston, the growing role of Rough House Pictures in the film community, and the journey to bring John Carpenter's boogeyman back to form.

City Paper: How are you?

David Gordon Green: So I'm in L.A., traveling around, doing a lot of chatting about this movie but uh, yeah, so I have a jar of M&M's in front of me. So what could be better?

CP: There you go. How long have you been touring the film? As far as like just talking about it and touting it up. I know the first thing I saw was a few months back in Rue Morgue magazine.

DGG: So I've been on the hustle, and that was probably based on some stuff we were doing very preliminarily before we finished the film. So it's been pretty strong since Toronto (Toronto International Film Festival), which was early September.

CP: The process usually just entails taking phone calls and then going to the screenings and then doing the PR junkets. How many times do you think you've watched the film with an audience now?

DGG: I've seen the movie with an audience three times now. Yeah so not that many, you know, most of it is like me showing up and doing a Q & A. Tomorrow night is our premiere so that's exciting. Danny McBride and I took it to our alma mater in Winston Salem at the North Carolina School of the Arts and watched it with the kids there. That was super fun.

CP: So do y'all sit there (in the audience) so you can gauge and see how the reactions are to everything?

DGG: Always. I try to sit at the back and the side and watch the profiles of people's reactions. It's fun. You learn a lot about the movie and the pacing for a movie like this, when the tension really has people, or when the jump scares make them jump and scared. You know comedies and horror movies where there's actual physicality, verbal reactions. People talk to the screen. I mean, those are my favorite movie going experiences.

click to enlarge Director David Gordon Green's favorite movie going experiences are when people physically react to the move. - PHOTOS COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Photos courtesy Universal Pictures
  • Director David Gordon Green's favorite movie going experiences are when people physically react to the move.

CP: I know you toured it [Gordon's first film George Washington]. Did you kind of do that in a similar vein? I would assume on a much smaller scale back then?

DGG: No, it was like 20 times in scale because I was on the road for two years with that movie (laughs).

CP: No way?

DGG: Yeah, I had $0 in my bank account and my livelihood was going to film festivals. I went to 17 countries with that movie and for two years I was just working and writing out of hotel rooms in Israel or South Korea or you know, I was half promoting that movie, half sustaining my life for a very long time until I got the funding for my second movie (All The Real Girls) where I actually got paid to do it. Um, but George Washington was a really funny chapter of where self promotion meets a sustaining life.

CP: I remember there was an interview you did with Charlie Rose around that time and you talked about audience reactions to the film. I was wondering if that in any way played toward where you started to kind of appreciate humor that was kind of queasy, you know, uncomfortable.

DGG: Yes. I've made a number of comedies and, you know, there's an expectation of a benchmark of jokes or humor. What I love about making dramatic films or horror movies at this point, you know, George Washington or Halloween, is that people don't go with that expectation so when you give them this moment, these laughs these tension breakers and bits of humor, it's strangely in service of the actual genre that it exists. So if you land it right, people don't know, "Hey, am I supposed to be laughing right now or not?" But I think this, I think it's a great levity and distraction from the tension and suspense or the dramatic build at the moment.

click to enlarge Hey, am I supposed to be laughing right now? - PHOTOS COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Photos courtesy Universal Pictures
  • Hey, am I supposed to be laughing right now?

CP: With regards to George Washington you were working with film. Are there moments when you miss working with film?

DGG: I work with film all the time. I usually go back and forth between shooting 35 or shooting digital. With this movie, Halloween, there was so much shooting in so much low light that the practicality of shooting digital really made a lot more sense. But film is a big part of my diet and the look, particularly of exterior daylight. Whenever I have a film that is going to shoot, like, you know, I did a movie in Bolivia a couple of years ago (Our Brand Is Crisis) and predominantly exterior daylight so we shot 35 but when it's nighttime and I don't want to spend six hours in lighting setups. We get a lot more latitude with the lenses in a digital format.

CP: I remember on the George Washington DVD that you had two short films, Physical Pinball and Pleasant Grove. That's almost 20 years ago or maybe even a little more now.

DGG: Older than that. George Washington was 2000. Yeah, those were probably '98? I can't remember. When did I graduate in '98? '99? That would have been my senior thesis. So yeah, it's been a while.

CP: Do you ever think about that time? Just as far as like where you were at that point in your life where your friends were?

DGG: All the time and you know, in fact last Friday when Danny and Jeff Fradley and myself, my co-writers, went to North Carolina School of the Arts, we retrace the steps and revisited those anxieties of sharing your student films with the student body. And I have to say the anxiety was no different bringing a large profile film back to the school 20 years later. You know you still have the judgment of what I consider to be my peers, alumni, and future alumni of the institution that we learned, trained, and were inspired by. Whether it's Physical Pinball, Pleasant Grove, or Halloween, you still are looking for that affirmation and that acknowledgement and the concept of confidence from a place of higher learning.

CP: Now that you've done so many movies and you went to school for it, are you able to still watch the movie the same way, or can you still not help but think about technique and setups while watching the films now that aren't your own?

DGG: Oh, I'm totally distracted. In fact, I went and saw First Man on IMAX yesterday and really loved the movie and my conversation afterwards with my friend I saw it with was, "That movie was extraordinary and it looked like such a pain in the ass to make that I'm not envious of the efforts." (laughs) I thought about that when I saw The Revenant and I was like, "Fucking great movie. Not for me to make." I was really excited about that movie in a way that I hadn't been in a long time but at the same time knowing how that movie must've been achieved, would've been real daunting for me.

click to enlarge PHOTOS COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

CP: So when y'all were doing Halloween, how did you prep for it? Did y'all sit down and watch all the movies?

DGG: We watched all the movies and revisited a lot of horror films. Typically we'd go over to Jeff Fradley's house, Danny and I. We would go over to Jeff's house, sit on the couch, we'd have a huge living room with a TV basically. We would just put on movies and write and talk and throw ideas and, very informally we started to sculpt things that we then tried to apply practically and bring actors rehearsing and it was an organic process for sure.

CP: Was there a particular Halloween film outside of John Carpenter's first film that stuck with you as far as positively or negatively?

DGG: Not really, no. I mean I enjoy all the films. They're all fun to watch for various reasons but Carpenter's is the one that sticks with me. The imagery, the music, the performances stand out to me. That was our goal with this movie. Not that there couldn't be others or that there won't be others. There certainly will [be others] with this iconic mythology. In terms of what appeals to me as a filmmaker and our particular story, it's the original.

CP: I saw footage of him on set with y'all and you're in Charleston.

DGG: Carpenter?

CP: Yeah. That had to be a little bit on the surreal side. I know Terrence Malick was one of your influences among other directors, so to be able to just have a director who had some sort of impact on you and then to have them working with you that had to be a nice experience.

DGG: That's an interesting analogy that I would liken it to when Terrence Malick was onset of Undertow in Savannah, Ga. That was years ago but that same kind of thing where one of the great spiritual influences of my career, you know, now it's two of them, and others, certainly.

Certainly a lot of fun set visits along the way, but in terms of voices that were very influential in the formative years of my upbringing, automatically Malick and Carpenter were two of the biggest. So yeah, it's quite a thrill for me and the crew and people too to realize that we're not just, you know, in the honor and shadows of our idols. We're now meeting our idols as collaborators. It's a surreal moment, you know? John is there to counsel on the script and certainly is the creator of our score. It was exciting for everybody and for those that didn't know how meaningful it actually was, once they went home and did a little homework, they realized what had happened and I had a number of people come up to me afterwards and say, "I didn't know what was happening, but now I have a great appreciation for it."

click to enlarge Director David Gordon Green and Danny McBride (respectively) turned Charleston into Haddonfield, Ill. for the latest Halloween - PHOTOS COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Photos courtesy Universal Pictures
  • Director David Gordon Green and Danny McBride (respectively) turned Charleston into Haddonfield, Ill. for the latest Halloween

CP: How long have you lived in Charleston now?

DGG: About a year and a half.

CP: What drew you to it? I'm a local so I can't appreciate it anymore. I've been here for way too long.

DGG: I like knowing my neighbors and I like being able to get around quickly and efficiently to the places I like and the accessibility of a midsize city. I was just drawn to it. It was when we were doing the HBO series Vice Principals. We were in production on that and I was going through kind of the frustration of where I was living at the time and it just seemed to check all the boxes. So, uh, you know, it was maybe a year later that I got serious about it and decided to move there.

CP: You were able to turn Charleston into Haddonfield relatively easily. Were there any particular locations that you thought about automatically when you thought of filming here, when the film became concrete?

DGG: Not really. Strangely the issue was that you couldn't find curbs and sidewalks. So, you know, they shot the original Halloween in South Pasadena and a lot of the neighborhoods that have sidewalks don't have curbs in Charleston. That was our goal was always to try to find a neighborhood that had curbed streets on the side of the street. And then a setback sidewalk. There's so much within that original film that to me is established with people walking around. It's Laurie and Annie walking to school or Laurie and Tommy walking home from school or Laurie and Tommy walking to school. That's how we established that environment. And so I was really looking for those types of locales. The simplicity of that was more challenging than you would think.

CP: What do you do whenever you're not filming or not in the process of promotion. What do you do? Do you hibernate or do you go out?

DGG: I work all the time. I just finished a TV series about Emily Dickinson shot in New York City and I'm prepping another pilot and I'm bringing a Google commercial to Charleston in a couple of weeks. So, you know, there's a lot I'm trying to do to keep the community active, keep the crew both active and expanding. If we can work with the state and the city and rebates that make it an appealing place to film. I know people want to stay in Charleston and work and live so I'm just a big advocate for the community and trying to bring a sustainable industry there that, that is both low impact, but financially beneficial to everyone. Tourism and beyond. And capture a beautiful city and the infinite directions of its appeal.

click to enlarge PHOTOS COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

CP: As with Rough House you've produced just as much as you've directed. Shotgun Stories, Compliance, just these, movies that you've had your name on that I didn't even know you had your name on until I started doing a little digging. Um, Donald Cried, you know, that was...

DGG: I love that movie. You've seen it?

CP: I love that movie. I was so wonderfully uncomfortable. I have a couple friends it reminded me of actually, uh, for better or worse.

DGG: Usually it's filmmakers that either I'm trying to support their first films, like in the case of Jeff Nichols or Craig Zobel, a filmmaker I had known and want to work with and they're looking for opportunity and I'm trying to open doors or it's a movie like Donald Cried where it's just a unique voice out there that says, "Hey, I know some people, let me be as helpful formally or informally and Rough House is there."

You know, sometimes it's a movie like Daveyon or Hunter Gatherer that were directed by two of my former assistants. And so, you know, I, I just feel like giving back to people that have been really supportive of me and help me get where I am and if they've been there and proven themselves, uh, than hell, what greater honor than to help them get their career going and get their voices as directors, new voices as directors out there?

It's a community — if you looked at the crew of Halloween and George Washington, I'll bet there's 20 to 30 people overlapping, just in terms of people that participated in films, bookending 20 years of career thus far. And if you don't have that kind of comradery and collaboration, I don't know how you keep yourself in check. It's a chaotic industry. The business can be so hot and cold that if you're going to make it a sustainable living environment to work within the uncertainty of the circus, you just need to surround yourself by people that are giving and inviting and supportive and encouraging and daring and, somehow at the end of the day, stable.


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