Gavin Schmitt Interviews Director Joe Lynch
Fans of the horror genre have followed Joe Lynch’s work for many years. He started off with Troma under the guidance of Lloyd Kaufman on “Terror Firmer”, where many others (including Tiffany Shepis and James Gunn) got their start.
Lynch went on to direct “Wrong Turn 2” and “Knights of Badassdom”, as well as co-starring with Adam Green (“Hatchet”) in “Holliston”. He has become a recognizable face both in front and behind the camera.
“Everly” is his latest — and possibly greatest — venture yet. He wrote and directed this action film, starring Salma Hayek in what he has referred to as “Die Hard in a room”. There are also plenty of elements from “Ichi the Killer”, John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” and other classics.
Joe was kind enough to chat with me on February 11, 2015, shortly before “Everly” hit theaters.
GS: How did working with Troma affect the way you look at making movies?
JL: I learned so much from Troma, just in a practical sense, because as you know if you’re familiar with Troma, they make movies with 59 cents and a roll of duct tape. Somehow they make it work. And it’s really all about the voice of Lloyd Kaufman and his irreverent sensibility. Through the wacky nature of how he makes these movies, he has a voice. That was so inspirational to me. Whether or not you “get” Troma movies and have that sense of humor, you still have to appreciate that it’s out there, that Troma has a very particular style and voice. If you like it, great, and if you don’t, you don’t.
But more importantly, I learned how to make a movie. When you’re a kid or a teenager you might think about going to film school or just say screw it and get right to making movies. There’s no right answer, and everyone has their own success story. But watching how Troma did so much with so little, it allowed me to take the fear out of the thought that I needed 200 people in a crew and millions of dollars. You’ll have all these problems, because they’re on every film set, but not the approach that Troma has: the gung-ho, punk attitude… You’ve seen James Gunn’s hair, right? That came directly from Troma. He learned a lot from Troma, and Eli Roth was hanging around at the time I was there. It’s the sensibility of be your own voice, champion that voice, and do it in a way that won’t break the bank.
They actually had these signs up on set that became a running joke. If you’ve seen “Terror Firmer”, you know. Troma’s rules of film making: number one, safety to humans; number two, safety to equipment; and number three, really small at the bottom, make a good movie. That just changed everything for me. When I was starting out I’d hang out a window to get a shot, and other really dumb shit. No one cares at the end of the day. If you kill yourself people will talk about it, but otherwise who cares? You have to refocus: it’s about the people, the process, and how you craft these things together to make a good story. Whether or not you make a good movie is subjective. One person’s good movie is another person’s garbage. That state of being comes directly from Troma. So, thank you, Lloyd!
GS: You’ve distanced yourself a bit from the studio version of “Knights of Badassdom”. What is in the director’s cut version Kurt Russell saw that we haven’t seen?
JL: Ten minutes of extra footage and an entirely different ending that was the proper ending for the movie. The one that’s on there now is a piece of shit. I’m sorry, but they just ripped that off from “Animal House”. It’s not a satisfying ending, I don’t care what anyone says. One of the investors didn’t like a dress a character wore in the final scene and also there was a hefty price tag attached to it. The visual effects were a bit pricy in order to make the ending work, so the easy out was just to say “cut it” and put some title cards there. So they saved themselves $50,000 on effects that I’m sure the accountants were in favor of and saying the movie wouldn’t be hurt. But it is hurt, because it’s not what we intended. There is supposed to be seven or ten minutes that are really thrilling, really exciting. Now, granted, I’m saying that because I think so and not everyone agrees with me.
But, really, it’s not things that things got cut out that bothered me, but choices that were made that did not connect with the original creator’s design. My cut, for example, has a scene where Ryan Kwanten and Steve Zahn are talking in the woods. These are two actors who can give you wildly different reads of the same lines. That’s great on the day of shooting, but when you go in the editing room you have to craft the different lines in a way that seems consistent and make a moment seem like a genuine moment. Imagine if all the bad takes — all the takes I didn’t personally like — were chosen. Sometimes they did this, and from what I heard, sometimes these choices were made purely because they were different from what was in my cut. Do you see where I’m going? A lot of the changes were not made for the benefit of the film, but were made just to get a different version. And some of them now have lines delivered in a direction we were not trying to go. Aside from the ending change, it’s the editing changes, the different acting takes. Even structural changes were made.
But who am I to say if the movie’s good or not? It’s out there and has so many fans. It would behoove me to say that they’re wrong. It wasn’t the movie I set out to make, and as I fan I probably wouldn’t like it. To be fair, there were a couple changes I do like and I do think were a great idea. I just wish we had gotten there together. Who knows? I hear rumors of there being a director’s cut, but I’ll believe it when I’m in the editing room.
GS: You have a background with music videos and have used heavy metal in your past projects. Although Everly’s musical cues are not metal, the score is very powerful. How important is music for achieving your goals on film?
JL: Oh my god, the music is another character in the film. If you miscast your music, that’s like having a bad performance that can just sour your film. Pick any movie that has an ensemble and one actor is bad. Imagine in “Reservoir Dogs” when they’re at the diner, all sitting around talking. If Eddie Bunker or Quentin Tarantino were false, that whole scene wouldn’t work. It’s the symbiosis of everyone working together to make a scene work, and music is part of that, a key component. There’s editing, there’s production, but music is driving the way you want a movie to feel.
In all my films, I’ve been graced with the honor to work with Bear McCreary. He was one of my favorite composers before we worked together on “Wrong Turn 2”, and has become even more so my favorite composer of all time because of everything he’s done since — “The Walking Dead”, “SHIELD”. We knew going into this that music was going to be such a huge component. One of the main bad guys is named Taiko, which is derivative of the taiko drum. That’s an instrument that Bear used a lot of in “Battlestar Galactica”. So I thought maybe if I name a character after one of his favorite instruments, he’d be interested in doing the movie. Shockingly, thankfully, he agreed. We discussed music well before the film was even shot.
With “Everly”, and still now, I loved dubstep. I don’t know what it is. Maybe because I’m an editor and there’s there’s this feeling of being able to add music in such a way that the audience will go crazy. That propulsive beat, that forward momentum of dubstep and drum’n’bass. I never wanted the music to stop. Other than one poignant moment where Everly and her mom are trying to catch up on things, the movie doesn’t quit. From the outset, we knew what we wanted to go into it, and it was just cultivated more as we went. The music is also key to let the audience know that although the plot is a total roller coaster, this is one film and not a bunch of different scenes thrown together.
GS: Can you explain about the “Everly” script being on a blacklist?
JL: The blacklist has become an institution on to itself. In Hollywood, all the assistants to all the executives in town… they all talk, and they discuss scripts they’ve read. So every year, at the end of the year, this one guy gets everyone together and asks, “What are the best scripts you read this year that you wish got made?” And they’d rattle a bunch off. This guy wrote down the names of scripts, tallied them up, and would make a Top Ten. That was the start of the blacklist. Then the media got involved and even the industry got involved. People in the industry would look at the list, see who was endorsing these scripts, and then buy them up. So getting a film on that list is a good thing, a really good thing.
Yale Hannon and I had finished the script, so what I did was make a fake trailer for it for those who were reading it. I wanted them to know what the films were that I was referencing, from “Blood Simple” to “Leon the Professional” to “Ichi the Killer” and “Kill Bill”. When they’re reading it, they see what sort of film it’s going to be. A lot of people would be like, “We love this script, it’s fucking crazy, but we can’t make it.” They said no one would ever give us money to make this movie. The second that it was on the blacklist? It got sold. So many movies started out as blacklist movies, like “Saving Mr. Banks”. It starts out there, the media catches on, and then someone in the industry buys it and is labeled a “badass” because they’ve got the balls to make something everyone said they couldn’t do. So when we made this movie, it already had the blacklist air of “ooh, what could it be?” Too hot for Hollywood? It’s got horror, action, thriller, melodrama… thrown into a pot, mixed together. Being on the blacklist was a vote of confidence.
GS: This is by far the most intense role that Salma Hayek has ever played. Did you have to terrorize her or did she bring her own intensity?
JL: She came to us like that. That’s the crazy part. When we out to actresses about the film, at one point Kate Hudson was attached. A lot of time the studio or the agents put their feelers out there and filter out who will or won’t be right. Somehow we got Kate Hudson, though she ended up leaving to do “Glee”, which I totally understand. The fact she liked it and put her name on it got other actresses talking, saying it must be good. At the time, we were all “oh crap, we lost our actress, what are we gonna do?” Suddenly, we got a call from Salma Hayek’s people, and they said she wanted to meet us, she really liked the script. Believe me, that was not what we expected at all. At one point I was even making lists of people we were hoping we could get by some miracle. More often than not, it never happens. Salma was not on my list, simply because of the way the script was written at the time.
But after we met, after she laid out her plans for bringing humanity, heart and a realness to the character… we were ready to heighten the situation, go absolutely gonzo with characters like the Sadist and the Masochist, but by grounding her, making her a real person, it became the Spielberg theme: take an ordinary person and put them in extraordinary situations. Salma’s goal was to make Everly as real as possible, with real struggles, a real plight, and not just trying to survive or get the money. She’s driven to survive for her kid. Whether you wanna call it “Die Hard in a room” — which is my fault for branding it — it’s not just that. It’s about redemption and a mother reconnecting with her daughter, as well as a crazy, intense action movie. I can’t go to Comic Con and tell people it’s a tender love story about a mother and daughter. They’d kick me out of Hall H! So I say it’s a crazy, balls out action movie… with heart. Without Salma, we’d never achieve that.
GS: One last question: Is the dog in the film named after your own dog?
JL: Yes, and I’ll give you the quick anecdote. Banzai was a Boston terrier we got when my wife and I first moved out to LA. That was our little baby, our little girl. It was always in the script that the dog’s name was Banzai. That was sort of an “Easter egg” that Yale put in for us. A few days before we shot, Banzai had to be put down. I was in Serbia at the time, so I had to say goodbye to the dog I loved over Skype. It was awful. So of all the things in this movie that are hard to watch, the hardest for me to watch is the mention of Banzai because of what happened. But I think she’d be really proud that she was in this movie, vicariously. Especially the part where she gets exploded by a grenade, I’m sure she’d really enjoy that.
GS: Joe, this has been great. Thanks so much!
JL: Thanks, Gavin! We’ll talk again soon.