LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Exclusive Interview with Adam Green, Hatchet Director
By James Whittington, Sunday 10th September 2006 Director Adam Green, on paper, seemed to have landed one of the hardest tasks to perform at this years Zone Horror Frightfest, his movie Hatchet had to follow Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. To say his movie delivered big style would be an understatement as the crowd lapped up and loved every blood stained moment of it. Here, in an exclusive interview, Adam talks about his work, past, present and future.
ZH: What inspired you to take the career path(s) you’ve choosen? Was there one movie or TV show that made you think “Yeah, that’s what I wanna do”?
AG: Oddly enough, everything seemed to come together when I was just 8 years old. That summer I saw E.T. for the first time and it just blew me away. It still does to this day. I think it’s one of the most perfect films ever made. I remember thinking when the movie was over that someday I was gonna make movies and “meet E.T.” That same summer I was at camp and I made up the story of “Victor Crowley” to scare the other kids. That tale would eventually become HATCHET over 20 years later. 8 was also the age that I was given my first Twisted Sister tape and I started learning how I could do anything I put my mind to and how not to take anyone’s s**t. I’ve always been a storyteller, even as a child…but I think those three events specifically turned me towards having the desire and courage to go after this career. I still haven’t met E.T. though.
ZH: Have you always been a fan of horror movies? Do you have a favourite one?
AG: Horror movies have always been my passion- though they certainly are not all I create. But the majority of films I pay to see in the theatre are horror films. 80% of my DVD collection is horror. I even collect the action figures and toys. Though it’s impossible to pick one favourite horror film- I can say that THE EXORCIST is the one that actually scared me the most, HALLOWEEN is the one I’ve watched the most, and SHAUN OF THE DEAD is probably the one I enjoy the most.
ZH: Tell us about Columbus Day Weekend.
AG: COLUMBUS DAY WEEKEND was a short film that my producing partner and director of photography (Will Barratt) and I made for fun back in 1998. We were working at a local cable advertising place, making extremely low budget commercials- and we borrowed the equipment to shoot CDW. It was sort of just something fun to do and to see if we could pull off convincing effects. It was really just something to show our friends. The story line was that Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees stalked the same campsite by mistake…and then turned gay for each other. 90% of the dialogue was lifted from other horror movies and it basically spoofed the absurdness of slasher films. Somehow it wound up being bootlegged all over the USA and it wound up being the thing that put me in touch with my (soon to be) agent in Hollywood. We had no idea what it would lead to…but almost 10 years later, here we are. We even re-used the whole “belt sander to the face” bit when we made HATCHET.
You can’t get CDW anywhere these days (thank god, it really sucks) but we have kept up a tradition of shooting a short film for Halloween every year. Though we used to post them on our website – the company has grown into a real full-fledged Hollywood production company now, so we need to keep the goofy/fun stuff separate. But we are working towards putting all of the short films back on-line again soon. Perhaps on a Myspace page or something less serious. But the point is, even now with Hollywood production deals and shooting “real” movies…we still shoot short films for the fun of it every year. No budget, all friends, usually shot in a night…but man, do we have fun.
ZH: Your first feature was the semi-autobiographical Coffee & Donuts, how satisfying was it to have completed a full length movie? Is it true you made it for under $400?
AG: COFFEE & DONUTS was really my arrival into Hollywood. It changed everybody’s life who worked on it. The fact that we completed a feature film- with nothing more than a borrowed video camera, 3 lights, and some friends – was pretty amazing. Finishing that movie proved that I could do this. It was also a very cathartic experience because it sort of cleansed me of this terribly depressing relationship that I had not been able to move on from. I made the movie and sort of just poked fun at what a dumbass I had become over this girl. In the end, it not only set me free to move on with my life emotionally, but it physically transplanted me to the other side of the country. Things really do work out for a reason. And yes, because we “borrowed” all of the gear and didn’t have any real actors or sets (it was all shot in donated locations with friends as cast) – we only spent $400 to finish it. Where there is a will there is a way.
ZH: It was picked up by Disney/Touchstone to be developed into a sit-com. Where does this project stand now?
AG: The movie was picked up with the intention of it being turned into a sit-com. I wrote the pilot for this network called UPN which was primarily a “minority programming” network at the time. They were talking about changing their image a bit and it seemed like a great place for me to stand-out. They never wound up shooting it and have since dissolved as a network- so the project is kind of in “development purgatory” like so many others in this town. But eventually the rights will revert back to me and I can try to get it made again.
ZH: Hatchet is described as “Old School American Horror” can you enlighten to us on this side of the Atlantic what this means?
AG: There was a time in the 80’s when horror movies had villains, gore, monsters, nudity, and R ratings. Since then we’ve watched it move into PG-13 teen ‘whodunits, countless remakes, sequels, and now torture films. Don’t get me wrong, I dig a lot of that stuff, too…but I wanted to see something that had the elements I love about the old stuff. HATCHET follows the old formula and ingredients but at the same time, the script reads nothing like one of those old slashers. In making the film we did our best to keep it clever and to keep the characters enjoyable. I pretty much just made the movie that I wanted to see and didn’t take in to account what the current trend is. If you like this type of stuff, great. If not then you can always look forward to When A Stranger Calls 2 or something.
ZH: The film centres on a group of tourists who find themselves trapped in a haunted swamp plus the legend of a sinister man named Victor Crowley. Where did the story come from?
AG: When I was 8 years old, I was at summer camp. The counsellors told us to stay away from this certain cabin or else “hatchet face” would get us. Sadly, that’s all they had to their story was the name. “Hatchet face.” They just wanted us to stay away from their partying spot, I suppose. So later that night, I made up the story of Victor Crowley and how he became "hatchet face”. It scared the pants off the other kids in my cabin. So I held onto it for all this time, thinking someday I’ll do something with that story.
I went to New Orleans for my friend Ben’s bachelor party back in 2002. He was marrying another childhood friend of mine named Marybeth. While I was there I saw signs for a “haunted swamp tour” but they said they couldn’t do them anymore because of insurance reasons. Then we saw a band play and their drummer was severely deformed. Victor Crowley, a haunted swamp tour, and the two lead characters “Ben” and “Marybeth” all just sort of came together at that moment and I was off and writing.
Oddly enough, I finished the first draft of HATCHET within 3 days. I was waiting to get network notes back on my COFFEE & DONUTS pilot and couldn’t sleep. So I banged it all out. It needed a lot of work from there…but I wrote it really, really fast.
ZH: The movie boasts a superb cast of horror genre actor’s including Kane (Jason Voorhees) Hodder, Robert (Freddy Krueger) Englund, and Tony (Candyman) Todd, how the hell did you get them all in one place?
AG: Each one has a story. Producer Sarah Elbert had just worked on the FRIDAY THE 13TH box set and so she knew John Carl Buechler. Once he was on board to do our FX, he slipped the script to Kane. Thankfully, Kane really responded to it and a few weeks later we were having dinner together to discuss the role. Tony Todd really amounted to me calling and begging his agent to consider reading the script. I think his agent really responded to how passionate I was about having Tony. I didn’t want anyone else. And Robert Englund happened because he saw me out one night and wanted to know where I got this specific Marilyn Manson shirt that I was wearing. (The back said SUICIDE KING and that was the name of a film that Robert’s friend had produced.) Though we didn’t discuss HATCHET that night, I was able to find him the shirt on eBay the next day. It was kind of a miracle because it is a RARE shirt and, at that time at least, it wasn’t something that was too easy to find quickly. But I sent him the shirt, my script went to the top of the pile…and we were talking.
Over all, all of these guys just really responded to the heart of what I was trying to do here. They built the genre that I was trying to bring back around again and by participating in HATCHET, they kind of put their stamp of approval on the whole thing.
ZH: The effects hark back to classic slasher flicks of the 1980’s and are incredibly inventive and well executed (pun intended) how were these completed in such a short space of time?
AG: It all comes down to having a solid pre-production. Each make-up effect needs to be designed, built, and tested long before the night you’re going to shoot with it so that there are no (or at least FEWER) surprises. Will Barratt (the DP) and I mapped out every single action sequence for months prior to the actual production, so we knew exactly how to shoot this stuff convincingly. It was also a huge blessing to have John Buechler as a mentor and his team of UNREAL artists on set at all times.
With HATCHET we were racing along with a mere 7 hours of available darkness to shoot in each night. (That’s literally just over HALF the amount of time the average film gets to shoot each day!!!) So many people kept telling me that our schedule was suicidal and that we’d never finish it. I mean, we had burning buildings, burning people, live animals, boats, underwater shots, rain towers, blood geysers, stunts, children…everything you DON’T want to deal with on set because it takes so much time. But my crew was so wonderful and everyone believed in it so much that we pulled it off. Not only did we do 100 times more than anyone could have done with what we had…but we had a total party doing it and it’s obvious when you watch the movie just how much fun everyone was having.
ZH: Did you have to cut any of the gore sequences, if so would these turn up on DVD?
AG: Not yet but so far we’ve only played festivals so I’ve avoided the ratings board. Now that we have a theatrical distributor…they’ll be the ones to take it to the MPAA and argue about it. If we have to cut stuff (very likely) it will certainly live on the DVD.
ZH: Talking of DVD are you a big fan of the format?
AG: It’s where every film really lives. Nothing beats seeing a movie in a theatre with an audience, but realistically even the biggest theatrical releases are in and out of the complexes within 2-3 weeks. A lot of films intentionally skip theatrical because that way they make profit faster. I’m thrilled to death that our distributor has chosen to put HATCHET in theatres before it goes to DVD. I love that they see the value of a theatrical release for a genre film like this.
I think DVD is a very good format; however it all depends on the quality of your TV and your stereo system. I personally don’t understand this new craze for having “mini DVD players” and pocket movies on your iPod. Who the hell wants to watch a movie like that?
ZH: Hatchet got an enthusiastic reception at the Zone Horror FrightFest this year, were you pleased with this reaction and what did the crowd say to you after the movie?
AG: The audience at Fright Fest was amazing. These are people that truly love the genre. There were no “tourists” like you get at some of the other festivals. The fact that they had the patience to sit in the same theatre all day and night watching film after film was just mind blowing to me. It all kind of comes down to the organisers (Alan, Ian, and Paul) and their exceptional taste for knowing how to put on a festival. They had something for everyone and each movie was so very different from the next.
I was very pleased with the crowd reaction. Especially after PAN’S LABYRINTH which is just a brilliant, beautiful film. I was terrified to have to be the film that followed such an epic masterpiece. But HATCHET plays so differently than PAN’S that they actually worked well together. The audience was able to switch gears very quickly. It was fun to watch how some of the jokes were so “American” that they didn’t get laughs. For instance when Jenna exclaims that she didn’t go to NYU she went to Hofstra…the crowd was silent. But American audiences have cheered that line because they know the schools and their differences. Also, the death sequences in America get thunderous cheers, laughs, and applause. But in London I was looking around and people were actually scared. After the film the most popular comment I heard was: “That was f****d up, mate.”
ZH: Do you enjoy meeting horror fans?
AG: I f*****g LOVE it. I know that some directors go to these things and all they do is a Q & A and maybe a 20 minute meet and greet. I love getting right into the crowd and talking to everyone. It’s the whole reason I go to these things. I’ve seen the movie a million times and I know how it ends. I just want to meet the audience and shake as many hands as I can.
I love the conventions and I am always extremely approachable to everyone. With fan mail I try my best to respond to every letter I get. When I was getting started I used to write to bands and directors that I looked up to and I never got anything back unless it was an order form of some sort. I try so very hard not to be “that guy” and I make the effort to write something personal back to everyone. I admit, it’s getting nearly impossible to respond to every single letter quickly, but man do I try. The way I see it, I’m a lucky son of a bitch that anyone even gives a s**t about my work or who I am. It’s the LEAST I can do to respond to the great letters and gifts people send me. For all I know, it could be the last chance I ever get to do it, you know? This is an unpredictable and shady business. People care today…but you never know about tomorrow. I’m enjoying every bit of this while it lasts.
Some words of advice though to any horror fan who’s going to write to a director or actor that they admire…first of all, understand in advance that we can’t read your scripts, watch your tapes, or read your treatments unless it comes through an agent or entertainment lawyer. It sucks, but for legal reasons that’s how it goes. If it’s not true fan mail or if you’re just trying to network find another way. Second of all, try not to abuse it. If you do get a response back don’t get so excited that you start writing every single day to the point that you make it uncomfortable. And lastly, we all LOVE getting pictures. When you can actually see a photo of who it is that’s writing you the letter or sending you something it just personalises it that much more. So it’s a good way to elicit a response! I think that’s why Myspace works so well.
ZH: Do you prefer writing to directing or the other way around?
AG: I treat them both very differently, but I enjoy them both equally. With writing, you’re the only one involved. It’s just me, the computer screen, and my CD collection. I can get lost in it for days and days on end…or not be able to come up with anything and wind up surfing the net for porn instead. (For days and days on end.) But with directing, it is a hugely collaborative effort. You have to deal with so many elements, the worst of which is the politics breathing down your neck from above. You have a deadline, a schedule to keep, fires to put out, actors to deal with, and a lot of people relying on you to steer the ship to success. It’s the most unglamorous job in Hollywood. But when you first get into the sound mix and you watch your film come together in front of you…man, NOTHING can beat that. And every time you get to show people the finished movie it’s like this huge rush of adrenaline. So writing may be easier to control and handle (at times)…but watching a film that you directed with an audience is just unreal.
Of course, I still love it because I haven’t made a movie that sucked yet. Yet.
ZH: Your next movie, Spiral, is billed as a dramatic thriller. Did you deliberately decide to do something different so that you wouldn’t get typecast as a horror director?
AG: It was a very deliberate decision to take on a script that was not only a totally different genre but one that I did not write. Funny, I didn’t go looking for it though. Joel Moore literally put it in my hands and said “check this out…we’re shooting it in a few months and I want you to co-direct it with me.” Joel is a dear friend and my crew from HATCHET was mostly available…so it was a no brainer to say “yes, I’ll do it.” Fans of HATCHET may not like SPIRAL. It’s very dark, serious, and slow. It’s set in a world of dysfunctional relationships, art, and jazz. But I’m embracing the fact that it’s a different sort of audience. I wanted to show some other sides of myself artistically and this was a little art-house, passion project that I really believed in. I’ll be back for more horror stuff, don’t fear. But in the meantime I have other things I’m into and a wider range of a career to build for myself. I want to try new things and take chances so that I don’t wind up becoming a parody of myself who’s only got one trick. Some of these ventures may not work out as well as others, but I’d rather skin my knee a few times and get some bad grades here or there then just keep doing what I’m safe with, you know?
ZH: You wrote the script for Cabin Fever 2, is this project still on going?
AG: I have no idea. The best people to ask would be Lionsgate or Eli. Last I heard it was tied up in some sort of internal struggle but word on the street is that it’s getting made now. I’m staying out of it.
ZH: Is it true you do stand up as well?
AG: I haven’t performed since I started production on HATCHET, but I used to do stand-up comedy, yes. It was sort of a dare to myself as it was the one thing that scared me the most about performing. When I was a kid I was in the school plays. I’ve fronted bands for most of my life. I’ve been in commercials and acted in movies. But the idea of standing in front of an audience with nothing but a microphone and my wit used to scare the crap out of me. So one day I decided I’d do it to see if I could. And once I got that first laugh…I was sold.
Stand-up is a lifestyle though and you need to constantly work and work on the same material in order to get it right. I never did that. I’d tell a joke a couple of times and then get sick of it and start changing up my act to amuse myself. But you learn a TON about word choice, delivery, timing, pacing, and material for writing and directing. I’d love to get back into it again and I was toying with the idea of doing another show here in Hollywood around Christmas this year…but it looks like I’ll be shooting my next film by then.
ZH: So what’s next, will there be a Hatchet 2? Will you return to the horror genre?
AG: SPIRAL will be ready to start screening this winter. In the meantime I am casting my romantic comedy GOD ONLY KNOWS and I am attached to helm the big screen adaptation of the graphic novel DEAD WEST. I am also developing several new films including a comedy with Terra Firmer Pictures (the AMERICAN PIE series) and a horror project with Furst Films (THE WOODS, THE MATADOR). I hear I just sold another TV pilot, too but I haven’t seen any paperwork yet so I don’t believe it. All of that and some other scripts I am considering attaching to and a few that my own company is developing internally…man, I’m busy. Send coffee.
And HATCHET 2? Well, the fans will be the deciding factor on that. It’s ready to go…on the same shot we left off on…
ZH: Adam Green, thank you very much.
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