Gavin Schmitt Interviews Philip Gelatt
Philip Gelatt is first and foremost a writer. He has penned comic books, and was the brains behind “Europa Report” (2013). In a close second, Gelatt is a film director. Working from scripts he developed, he has two feature films under his belt: “The Bleeding House” (2011) and “They Remain” (2018).
On a personal note, Gelatt’s career appeals to me not just because he works in genre cinema, but because he has roots in Wisconsin the same as me. Wisconsin is not New York or Los Angeles, but it is a special place for developing creative content.
I had the privilege of seeing his latest film “They Remain” last fall, and it is a strange tale of a Manson-like cult, modern science, and timeless evil. Even better, I had the privilege of bouncing some questions off of Gelatt in February 2018. His thoughts are below.
GS: You’ve said that you “grew up in Wisconsin farm country”. Being in Northeast Wisconsin myself, I have to wonder how this might have influenced your reading and/or cinema intake?
PG: It certainly did. I firmly believe that there is something in the Wisconsin air that foments an interest in the strange and morbid. Wisconsin Death Trip isn’t just a book, it’s like a deep truth about the state.
But yeah, growing up in a small Midwestern town is good for developing a healthy reading and viewing habit. We had good video stores in my hometown and a few good theaters. Lots of chances to explore fictive realms.
GS: When working on the comic book “Pariah”, how closely did you work with Aron Warner? That guy must have some crazy stories working with everyone from Charlie Band to David Lynch to James Cameron…
PG: (Laughs) Yeah, I worked pretty closely with Aron. He’s a really sweet guy with a great acerbic sense of humor. He’s one of those people who has been around for a long time and had just about every job you can imagine in the film business. Most of the stories he would share weren’t really about the many personalities he’s worked with, they tended to be more about the things he’d learned working on such an array of projects.
GS: For “The Bleeding House” (2011), you were able to secure Frederic Fasano as your DP. How did that happen? Was he someone you had in mind, or just coincidentally someone who saw the job posting?
PG: Basically, the latter. We were looking for DPs and his agent sent his information to us. We met and really hit it off and of course if you have a chance to hire someone who has worked with Argento, you take that chance. He was a blast to work with… great personality, great eye, really great energy on set. I learned so much about moviemaking from him. I owe him a lot.
GS: Was there any difficulty in translating a short story (“30”) into a feature-length film? I have not read the story, but did you have to flesh out much of the material?
PG: There were difficulties, for sure. The story is a very strange piece… very much like the film, it’s full of ambiguities and mysteries and just a general sense of dread and very little plot. So the first thing I did was insert just a touch more plot, just a little bit more for the audience to hold on to. Then I worked hard on trying to get the tone right. How much mystery is too much mystery for the audience? How strange and opaque can we make this movie without alienating everyone?
GS: “They Remain” screened at a Lovecraft film festival, and certainly some Lovecraftian themes exist. Were you conscious of this influence when writing the script?
PG: Oh yes, I was most definitely aware of the Lovecraftian aspect of the story while I was working on the script. I am a huge Lovecraft fan and have been ever since I was a teenager. One of the reasons I chose this story to adapt was because it felt intrinsically capital-w Weird. Like a good, strong Weird Tale, meant to appeal to people who are sunk in the aspects of Lovecraft that don’t have tentacles.
GS: A big question is whether the campsite has negative energy left over from a killer cult, or if the energy was there all along. Without revealing too much, did you have an origin in mind you used as reference?
PG: Yes, most definitely. Though the film is rather opaque, I have a very specific objective truth to it in my head. But I think the pleasure of the film is the ambiguity. It’s designed for viewers to engage with these questions for themselves and try to sort out the answer for themselves.
GS: Filming began in September 2015, and the film made the festival rounds in the fall of 2017. Fans were patiently waiting in between. Were there unforeseen delays, or was it just a matter of getting everything right in editing and post-production?
PG: Oh, they weren’t really unforeseen delays, honestly. About a year of that time was getting the edit right, finishing the color and the sound. Then we took a pretty long time working to figure out how the film would be distributed. Then, once we had a distributor, they had a timeline as far as how they wanted to release the film which then added more months to the wait. I’m very excited to finally have it out there, though.
GS: You serve as both writer and producer on the upcoming “The Spine of Night”. What are you allowed to say about it at this time? I haven’t even seen a plot…
GS: Lastly, just for fun, I’ve read multiple interviews where you speak both passionately and knowledgeably about the James Bond franchise. What are your thoughts on the speculation of Idris Elba being Bond, or maybe even a female Bond someday?
PG: (laughs) Yes, I love Bond so much! And I’d love to see Elba as Bond just as much as I’d love to see a female Bond. I think one of the great things about a long running series like Bond is the way it evolves along with the way our pop culture evolves. It’s a constant reflection of what’s going on.
If I had to pick, I guess I’d say I’d be slightly more excited about a female bond than Elba as Bond. So much of the Bond mythos is tied up with issues of sex and masculinity, it’d be so interesting to see that shifted and turned inside out by a female Bond.
GS: Thank you so much for your time, Philip.
PG: Thanks for the questions! They were great.