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Interview: David Gordon Green On The Free-Spirited 'Prince Avalanche,' Working With Nicolas Cage & 'Suspiria'

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist August 9, 2013 at 1:30PM

Filmmaker David Gordon Green has had a deeply eclectic career of omnivorous tastes thus far. To perhaps best demonstrate the polar extremes, the 37-year-old director (who has already made nine features) has had films produced by Terrence Malick ("Undertow") and Judd Apatow ("Pineapple Express"). His body of work thus far has covered intimate indie dramas featuring children ("George Washington"), broad comedies ("The Sitter"), adult dramas ("Snow Angels"), and high concept absurdist swords and sorcerer pictures ("Your Highness"). His oeuvre has run the gamut of styles, tones and genres.
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David Gordon Green, Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd at event of Prince Avalanche
The conversations feel very naturalistic. What was the amount of improv vs. what’s scripted?
The actors say it's not a whole lot of improv but I don’t really use scripts to begin with. I let actors use them but they seem to think there's more screenplay. It was only a sixty page script and it's an hour and a half movie so there's got to be a lot of stuff that they made up. My process is really just like letting them talk through it all. We don't rehearse really, we read through it and then I kind of just see what feels honest and when they get off-book it's usually pretty interesting to me so I keep the cameras rolling. But you know if it feels good and it's totally scripted then that's fine too.

"At this point I just didn't want to take the meetings. I didn't want to talk about movie making, I just wanted to make movies."
It sounds like you had fun making this so would it be difficult to going back to having big crews and teamsters?
The most fun ever. Big crews are fun too. It's just a different stress level. Here when you make a movie like “Prince Avalanche” it's a different stress level. Nobody is over your shoulder. Hopefully this will be a movie that people go see because my experience in the first four movies I made is that people don’t watch them. That's a very stressful thing to spend a lot of your heart and energy and effort on something and then people don't go to see it.

Well, that’s relative. Your early films are well watched by cinephiles.
Yeah, but sometimes they don't make business sense because they're not making the money that they cost and so that gets very frustrating for people that are investing in you. So the hope is about blending that process some of the more commercial content of my later movies that it can you know it can run both ways with audiences. I still want to make big horror movies, big action movies and I have some of those kinds of movies in development. But at this point I just didn't want to take the meetings. I didn't want to talk about movie making, I just wanted to make movies.

Big movies are also fun. You need to iron out logistics and do a lot of safety and stunt work and things like visualizations and animations, story boards and all that stuff has its place and I love learning about it. But I'm going to make something every day and when those [kinds of bigger-budget movies] come together and find their place I'm going to bust my ass and make them as good as I can.

So you're trying to find a balance and middle ground then.
Yeah, there is also a middle ground type of film. I'm in the middle of editing it -- a movie that's called “Joe.” I'm almost done with it. And that's an amazing one because it's Nicolas Cage in a movie that’s not like anything Nicolas Cage has ever done before. We have this big movie star, it's a bigger budget than “Prince Avalanche” movie was, and it was totally fun. We had a few more toys and tools and crew but still it's just a brotherhood of people, a band of people that I work with on every movie and so you know it still has its logistics and its frustrations and its limitations but it was a cool kind of middle ground movie.

What’s “Joe” like tone-wise?
“Joe” is based on a Larry Brown novel, It's one of my favorite piece of contemporary Southern literature. He's an author that I knew years ago and worked on a documentary about him. Then my screenwriting professor in college adapted the book for me so it's kind of a fun very incestuous process but really great. Totally it’s dark as all fuck. It's a slow burn, dark heavy duty. If you read the book you'll see it's very grim subject matter. Ultra-real, a lot of the characters are day laborers or homeless people, people that are not actors.

It's Cage and this kid Tye Sheridan who is in “Mud” and “The Tree of Life.” He goes to some amazing places in this movie and it's just them and then raw local talent, non-actors with just amazing voices and faces and people that are never in movies and it's so strange and it's a totally different beast. Some of these actors couldn't read and you're telling them about scenes and having them memorize lines and it's a very cool process.

What happened to your horror remake of “Suspiria”?
“Suspiria” is caught up in legal crap so who knows what will ever happen with that one. It kind of falls into the “Confederacy of Dunces” category of “Someday these are movies I would like to make,” that I've been attached to and worked on. But it may never happen. For the bigger stuff I feel like the “Prince Avalanche” experience of letting projects be quiet until they’re real is the way to go. Otherwise it's just looks like a bunch of attachments, but the truth is I get ideas for movies every day. Only so often do they become real – hopefully more and more they become real. I've only made nine movies and I need to make a lot more so I've got to keep the momentum going and I think a lot of that has to do with spending the time I'd normally be talking about making movies and actually making them.

"Prince Avalanche" opens in theaters today.

This article is related to: David Gordon Green, Interviews, Prince Avalanche


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