A Conversation with Sam Raimi

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Producer talks 30 Days of Night, Ghost House Pictures

“Unemployed” is a term “Evil Dead” and “Spider-Man” franchise heavy Sam Raimi uses to describe his upcoming directing status. Shed no tears, please. This well-to-do gent who greets every member of the press with a handshake at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills is plenty busy. He’s wrapping up DVD duties on Sony’s forthcoming jam-packed Spider-Man 3 DVD, overseeing Ghost House Pictures’ upcoming slate of horror sequels and original flicks and waiting to see story will stick to Spider-Man 4. It’s an exhaustive life at best – a far cry from his rough ‘n tumble indie filmmaking days in Michigan with conspirators Rob Tapert (who assists in all things Ghost House-related) and horror deity Bruce Campbell.

Still, Raimi walks into a room friendly and composed. Signature suit and tie starched and lint-free, worn, brown leather messenger bag tucked under one arm. Its contents neatly tucked under the table as he settles in to discuss 30 Days of Night, the long-awaited adaptation of Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith’s 3-part mini-series published by IDW (first prints signed by Niles are running for over at hundred bones on eBay right now).

“At Ghost House Pictures we’re always trying to find the next great script or the next great story and when I read Ben and Steve’s graphic novel, I thought it was gripping and powerful, both visually through the illustrations and the concept seemed just great,” Raimi explains, shedding light on motivation to drop a lofty sum on acquiring the property thus staking potential bidders. “It seemed like it should have been thought of before. The thing that really connected me to it were the two characters at the center, Eben and Stella [played by actors Josh Hartnett and Melissa George, respectively], and their love story. I liked the fact that they were having problems, they were real human beings and that it was a love story at its heart. I love the bookends – that it begins with the sunset and it ends with the sunrise and [Eben and Stella] and the journey they had taken over the course of this one long night.”

Ultimately, committing to 30 Days of Night on a producer level was a journey in and of itself. Since officially announcing the project in 2003, finding a proper director to maintain the Niles and Templesmith’s vision was integral. “I’ve read that they feel that [it was given its due respect] and I think it was worth it in retrospect. I hope the fans feel it was a faithful adaptation even though a director and a writer have to make a tremendous amount of changes in any adaptation, feel they make the changes worthwhile.”

“I never thought about directing it myself,” he further clarifies. “I was so busy with Spider-Man 2 at the time, I just thought Ghost House is really for other directors to direct their film and for me to help protect them or get the finances and resources they need.”Granted the enviable task to adapt from a script by Niles and Stuart Beattie (Collateral) was UK visionary David Slade who subsequently brought in scribe Brian Nelson. This creative duo made men value their genitals and fear teenage girls all the more in 2006 with Hard Candy, a jarring and beautiful cat ‘n mouse thriller shot on the cheap.

“The acting was great in Hard Candy. I didn’t know if I was in love with David’s directing or the young actress [Ellen Page] in Hard Candy but something there worked really well for the length of the picture,” says Raimi. “The heart of the thing was working…it’s hard to explain. [David] knew about production design which was my next interest because I wanted the look of the 30 Days of Night graphic novel to be preserved, fortunately that was David’s desire too. “

Raimi confesses to not having always been a horror fan (Gasp! went the horror elite), however, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead scared the crap out of him. A late-bloomer, he reveals his appreciation of the genre came over time when Tapert – during their wee years – suggested they make and sell a horror flick. “‘If we’re going to break into the business,’ Rob said. ‘We need to make a low-budget film that’s a horror film because we can probably only raise a couple thousand dollars in Detroit and the only movies that are made and shown for that amount of money are horror films, so can you make a horror film?'” Raimi says. “So, I had to learn. He asked, ‘Do you like horror films?’ I told him no. They scare me, I didn’t have fun being scared back then. I watched them to learn if I could make them and then I grew to admire the craftsmanship that went into them, then I grew to really love them over time.” Now, Ghost House Pictures, “allows me to dabble in horror films and not have to do the hard work of directing,” he laughs. “But [I get to], more or less, work with a great artist which is a lot of fun…put a few two cents in without taking the bruises myself. It’s lovely being a producer. I get to see dailies of David Slade and [‘Grudge’ series director] Takashi Shimizu and see them working with the actors. I think, ‘Oh, that’s a really smart way they got that performance from that kid,’ or ‘How interesting that he would have put the camera there, how interesting that he doesn’t play that as a scare but he lets that creature move quietly out of the darkness.’ You get a chill running up and down your spine – not how I would have done it, I would have done it much louder and brasher and uglier in my approach! So, I learn a lot.”

On the set of 30 Days of Night Raimi kept his distance, contributing greatly to the casting decision of Hartnett and providing notes throughout production, but mostly tending to his commitments to everyone’s favorite wall-crawling superhero, an experience less bloody than the wet time Slade had one set. “It’s always been an element of the horror film to show us the gross-out, that’s one option for all filmmakers,” comments Raimi on the realistic violence of “30 Days.” “It’s not something I’ve found myself above either, so I don’t want to sound like a big shot. You definitely want to get the ‘Oh, gross!’ reaction at the drive-in. Build suspense, build scares, and laughs, create some really scary sound moments but a gross-out is not beneath me. I don’t think it’s a new thing either. By showing the Wolf Man change – with his hair dissolving and the makeup effect of turning into the wolf – may have been a gross-out back then like Night of the Living Dead back in the ’60s. Cannibal Holocaust showed some intensive sights, so when I think about the new [horror films], it’s just the latest incarnation with better technology, better makeup FX. But once we’ve seen the last stuff, filmmakers, if they’re going for the gross-out, have to push the next thing we haven’t seen.”

30 Days of Night opens in theaters everywhere on October 19th.

Source: Ryan Rotten