David Gordon Green Takes to the Woods Part 2

CS: “Prince Avalanche” is just coming out but you already have a new movie called “Joe” with Nicolas Cage that’s going to be at Toronto and Venice next month, so what made you decide to work with him and did you always have him in mind for that role?
Gordon Green:
Are you talking about “Joe” the Nicolas Cage movie? Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s a great companion piece for “Avalanche.” Nic and I were talking about making “Joe” together right when this project was coming together. Actually, Nic came out and location scouted for “Avalanche” with me. So it was me and him going around and finding locations that were sort of beneficial for a totally different movie. So, they overlapped in that way. “Joe” is about a man who has a band of tree poisoners that poison trees so that the lumber company can come in and cut them down—theyre an outlaw band of these guys that poison trees. It’s really the opposing side of the appreciation for nature that “Avalanche” is, both within the devastation of the natural world. Some of it’s mother nature and some of it’s a man and a hatchet with some poison so “Joe” is the bad boy brother of “Avalanche.” It’s a dark and dramatic film based on one of my favorite novels that the late Larry Brown wrote. It was something that when you read the novel and you think about making the film version of it, it’s hard to describe, but most movie stars don’t come to mind. You need a guy that has the stature and the kind of uncertainty, the sense of danger, but also the sense of humor, a guy that can say a lot with a little smile or a little glance. For Nic, it was an opportunity to focus on the restraint.

We’re really making an outlaw story. It’s kind of a modern day Western aesthetic set against kind of a natural backdrop. It becomes a beautiful father-son story that becomes basically the foreman for this young kid played by Tye Sheridan. So it’s a really great, emotional, often very dark and violent story that is an interesting way to come off of “Avalanche,” which feels more light hearted and certainly has a sense of humor, and not quite a comedy, but has a great sense of humor about it. Then, we could take—even some of the exact same locations are utilized in “Joe,” but the same, you know, the old man from “Avalanche” sings some songs. He actually passed away right after we filmed “Avalanche.” But, some of his songs we used in “Joe.” He was a singer as well. He sang with Elvis. So, we used some of the songs from his album in “Joe,” and really tried to make them of the same world, of the same kind of—an evolution within a strange little chapter of my head space.

CS: It sounds like it harks back to “Undertow” a little bit…
Gordon Green:
Absolutely, yeah. I mean, it’s certainly a salty, Southern grittiness to it. I think “Joe’s” a lot less fanciful. Both of these movies, I think “Avalanche” and “Joe” are a little bit more of a naturalistic kind of take on things, where I feel like “Undertow” was a little bit more heightened and lyrical, these are movies that I think played realistically. Like in “Avalanche,” there’s no profanity in the movie—and it’s actually really frustrating that the movie’s been rated “R.” There’s no profanity. There’s no sex, no nudity, no violence. It’s just some of the suggested dialogue, I guess, that the MPAA had problems with, but it seems a little absurd when you’re watching “World War Z” and seeing zombies get decapitated. I bet you this was the least “Rated R” film ever rated “R.”

CS: That’s possible, but these days few people really pay attention to ratings and you also have the VOD aspect of the release where ratings don’t matter.
Gordon Green:
But for us, it’s a movie that I really want, particularly with “Avalanche,” I wanted to borrow the vernacular, when I was 13, 14 and really starting to look outside the big blockbuster arena and discovering movies like “Mystery Train” or “Stranger Than Paradise” or “Barton Fink.” I wanted this to kind of fall into that half absurdist, artful arena that those movies really inspired me to want to get into making films in the first place.

CS: I have to say that I do sometime take issue when movie journalists call you out on doing studio comedies, because I feel there’s a place for those movies as well. Having such a diverse career at this point, how do you weigh what you’re going to do next? Do you feel like you’re done with studio comedies for a while or do you feel like you might return to them down the line?
Gordon Green:
You know, I look at my career hopefully like a great character actor would look at his career. I like to slip into new suits and try new things, and some of them worked for some people, some of them don’t. It’s kind of hard to respond because I go where my enthusiasm takes me and sometimes that’s a big studio idea or a high concept that seems like it’d be a hell of a lot of fun or we could shoot around the world. Sometimes it’s like I just want to go out and shoot a quick commercial and work with my friends. Other times, I need to make something personal. I hit the gym this morning trying to work myself into shape a little bit, and I was thinking about that, and I was just like, I hate working out my legs. But, I don’t want to be all lopsided and weird looking, so every now and then I gotta blast my quads, you know? So, it’s trying to keep everything in balance, and for me personally in my headspace.

My first four films are very dramatically based and I felt exhausted of doing dramatic work and I wanted to do something absurd and fun, and actually wanted to have a great time making a car chase or trying to conceive how the world of visual effects work. I had an MTV animated series that was on last year and it was great just to put together 12 episodes of this show and work with incredible animators in the process. Right now, I’m working on a stop motion Mr. Peanut commercial and working with these guys over at LAIKA using a really amazing, old school process. If I don’t wake up hungry about something–if I wake up totally confident and say, “Oh, this is my genre, this is my arena, this is who I am and what I have to say,” if I don’t have that vulnerability, I don’t think I’m going to have much to offer an audience, offer the world, offer myself.

CS: It’s interesting to me that anyone who discovers your work might be coming from a different place, whether it’s someone who first saw “Pineapple Express” and then comes to see “Prince Avalanche” based on that, but then you also have fans from when you did “All the Real Girls.” It’s really interesting to think about how people approach the David Gordon Green filmography, I guess.
Gordon Green:
Yeah, well, I’ve been very careful never to put a “Film by” credit on any of my films because I think for myself particularly, I think that’s weird. If I was Alfred Hitchcock and I knew that I was going to make a great signature for a very significant audience, I think it’s wise, but for me, I think it would just confuse people. I also feel like a film is made by so many collaborators that I really like to kind of leave that open. I think “Avalanche” is a perfect blend of trying to recruit audiences that may have enjoyed any of my films. I don’t think it turns anybody away or shuts the door on any of them, where some people may have a problem with film X, Y, Z, here’s one that I think anybody that has enjoyed anything with my name attached can kind of have a good time. That’s kind of a cool thought. It’s cool to watch an audience watch what I think is a really likable movie and have a good time. Anything I make is always going to be divisive, but this is one that I think is a little less controversial. (Laughs)

CS: By the way, I assume you saw “This is the End” and the “Pineapple Express” sequel that Seth and Evan threw together for that? Did you know they were doing that in the movie?
Gordon Green:
I did. I hung out on their set quite a bit. Last summer, I was doing a little writing and I was editing “Avalanche,” and so I brought “Avalanche” out to New Orleans where they were filming “This is the End” and showed a rough cut to kind of get some notes. I actually saw a long rough cut of “The Pineapple Express 2″–I hope it’s all on the DVD because I was peeing in my pants. It’s kind of amazing. They kind of razz me in that movie a little bit, and I was just thinking what an honor it is to be at a point in culture where you can hear your movie referenced in rap lyrics or spoofed in movies or made fun of on “Saturday Night Live.” It’s kind of funny to have integrated into the cultural vernacular in that way–even the negative stuff, I find a strange honor in.

CS: They did a great job directing that movie as well.
Gordon Green:
Yeah, and real heart-felt dudes that are here for the right reasons and it’s great to have some strong sense of characters in this often chaotic industry.

CS: It’s funny, people are pointing to “Prince Avalanche” as your return to indie, but you’ve continued to produce indie movies even while doing your studio comedies, so what’s the latest thing you’ve been working on?
Gordon Green:
Actually, I was out on set yesterday. I’m producing a movie that stars Kristen Stewart called “Camp X-Ray” that a friend of mine, Pete Sattler is directing. It was great to go out to that set, the star of “A Separation” was in it (Peyman Moaadi ) and I’m a huge fan of his, so it was kind of cool to see them in action. It takes place in Guantanamo, so they’re shooting at a prison, so it’s kind of fun. You know, for me, it’s always an exciting balance, films like “Compliance” or “Catechism Cataclysm,” some of the strange, offbeat stuff that I feel like needs a voice or needs some financing or just needs to exist on this earth for my own selfish and self-indulgent enjoyment. So it’s great to wear a producer hat for me and put forth the writhing waves of talent out there.

CS: One of my nurses is a big Kristen Stewart fan, so she is definitely excited for “Camp X-Ray.”
Gordon Green:
Right on. Well, I think it’s a great change of pace for her, and I’m excited to see it, too.

CS: I’m also excited to see what Craig Zobel does with his first studio movie because I know he’s moving in that direction, and it was really quite amazing to see his growth as a director from “Great World of Sound” to “Compliance.”
Gordon Green:
Yup, he’s a gem. He’s got a lot to say and I can’t wait to see the next movie.

CS: A lot of the guys you’ve worked with as a producer and writer have turned into really solid directors, so obviously they’ve learned something from working with you.
Gordon Green:
It’s fun. You know, they go off in their own directions, it’s cool to see. I produced “Shotgun Stories,” and I see Jeff Nichols taking great strides in his career, so it’s just kind of fun to have that community of support rather than competitiveness that I think so many filmmakers can get caught up in the industry.

Prince Avalanche will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, November 12.

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