Exclusive: Christopher Landon Talks Burning Palms


The thriller anthology playing in New York and LA

Making his directing debut this weekend is screenwriter Christopher Landon (Disturbia, Paranormal Activity 2) and his new thriller anthology Burning Palms.

The Creepshow-inspired anthology features five LA-based short stories with an ensemble cast that includes Zoe Saldana, Jamie Chung, Rosamund Pike, Lake Bell, Dylan McDermott and many more.

Landon spoke exclusively with Shock Till You Drop about the film and a number of upcoming writing projects, including a Miley Cyrus supernatural thriller, Wake and his potential involvement Paranormal Activity 3.

Shock Till You Drop: Take me back to the beginning. Where did “Burning Palms” begin?

Christopher Landon: I’ve always been a big, big fan of short stories and anthologies. I keep sort of a collection of articles, sketches and random thoughts or ideas that I have. One day I was in-between projects and I sat down to write one of the stories. I kind of knew that it would only sort of work for me as a short film. It was actually the last story in the film, the Sherman Oaks story with Zoe [Saldana]. I wrote it and then I went back and rewrote it and went, “I really don’t know where this came from, but I kind of like it.” So I just kept going and really, before I knew it, I had written about seven or eight of them. Then I just sort of paired it down and when I looked at it, I realized that what I was going for was ultimately sort of like a “Creepshow LA”. For me, it was the idea that, in my day-to-day life, I sort of work for studios. I work in that machine. It was a nice opportunity to kind of step out of that box and do something that I felt was really, really, really different. I think a lot of the inspiration behind it was just in wanting to do something that had never been done before. That was a large part of it.

Shock: You mention that you had eight stories at one point. What was the elimination process?

Landon: For me, ultimately, it was more of a tone kind of issue. Which I realize sounds funny because, when you watch the movie, there’s really a fluctuation in tone. But one of the stories had a sort of supernatural spin to it and it kind of took me out of it. Then I had written another one that was just too long and I kept trying to pare it down because I really liked it, but it just didn’t work in its truncated form. So I had to eliminate that one. It was about finding the right flow and the right length as well. For a long time, I was deliberating on whether I should have four or five stories. I was concerned that five might be too long or too much. But we decided to move forward with the five anyway.

Shock: Each story represents a different location in Los Angeles. Did you sit down and say, “I want a story for Sherman Oaks. I want a story for West Hollywood.” or did it just sort of happen that way?

Landon: It was kind of a combination. I knew that I wanted each story to represent a different area in Los Angeles and I had also come up with the double title thing where it could be a location and a title. Again, like I said, it was sort of going back to it feeling like a book of short stories. That was really what I was going for.

Shock: You have a pretty impressive cast. How did that all come together?

Landon: One of Our producers, Oren Segal, was really the champion of the movie and shopped it around for a long time trying to find financing. When we finally got it, he had sent it to Mary Vernieu, who was our casting director. She read the script and really liked it. We had a meeting with her. She said, “I think I can have a lot of fun with this and I think that actors will have a lot of fun with this.” She was really the force behind the cast. She really, really pulled it together for us. I think that it worked because the film represented an unusual opportunity for all of our actors. It was stuff they had never done before. It was relatively easy on their schedule so they could really get in and get out. I think that’s what really helped quite a bit. I was very happy with the cast. I’m thrilled.

Shock: Is it easier to come into something like this and mount five smaller productions over one big one?

Landon:No. It’s a fucking nightmare. (Laughs) No, that’s really where a lot of naivete sort of came into play. On paper and sort of looking at it from a distance, I thought, “Oh, this will be easy.” It seemed like the perfect starter movie, you know? It just seemed so manageable. And it was, ultimately, manageable in the end. It’s a rotating cast. We shot it in two cities in 25 days. I had children. I had animals. Just all the things that you don’t really take into account until you’re really in the thick of production. But it was good. A trial by fire in a lot of ways, but I’m glad I did it.

Shock: You mentioned “Creepshow” and it definitely shows through. Do you think there’s something special about the horror genre that lends itself to short films?

Landon: You know, I think why it ultimately works in anthologies — which are usually horror or sci-fi — is because there’s a twist. You tell this very short story and there’s usually a button at the end. Something big that happens. I think that it’s easier to do that with horror and even with some sci-fi. It’s not as common with drama or comedy, but that’s kind of why I wanted to make this movie. Even from a genre perspective, I felt like I was doing something a little bit different. I was blending the horrific with something very much rooted in the real world. We don’t have monsters and things like that. It’s just really screwed-up people.

Shock: You mention removing stories because of the supernatural element. Was there ever any thought in trying to balance that?

Landon: For me it just took it into a completely different territory. What I wanted for this movie was to be dealing with subjects that are either shocking or absurd. When you watch this movie, it really is meant to be ridiculous. It’s an absurd, ridiculous movie, but I wanted it to still be grounded in reality. I wanted these characters, even though there’s a stereotype at play and a caricature angle. But I still wanted these characters to be relatable. You laugh at them and think, “Oh my god. This is so over the top,” but you still recognize these people. It was important for me to keep it somewhat grounded. I felt like if I went supernatural or went in those directions, it might pull people out a bit.

Shock: Part of the fun is the sort of “non-PC” edge to the stories.

Landon: It’s something I’m realizing people are reacting to. A lot of people were scared by some of the stuff that’s happening. As we’re rolling the movie out and even in the testing process, we’re finding that it’s either a love-it or hate-it movie. It really does push some people’s buttons. I glanced at a couple — actually, I shouldn’t say “glanced”. I scoured — some people’s reviews and they were really like, “Oh my god. How could somebody make this movie?” I’ve always been very drawn to dark comedy and the somewhat unsavory side of life. I think it’s very human. I think we’re all very, very flawed. That’s the kind of stuff that I like to look at and, furthermore, I like to look at it through sort of a warped, funny lens. It ends up making the stuff a little more accessible and a little more palatable, even if it doesn’t end up seeming that way. I was raised very much with a sort of gallows humor in my house. There’s a lot of shitty things that happen in life and the best way to look at it is to laugh and say, “Oh my god. That’s absurd. Aren’t we all ridiculous?” I’m hoping that that’s what people get from it. I’m hoping that they don’t see it and think, “Oh god! Here’s this mean, cruel person making this mean-spirited movie.” It’s really just me saying, “We’re all in the same boat. We’re all a bit ridiculous so let’s just laugh at it.”

Shock: There’s something about horror audiences where they’re prepared to embrace that.

Landon: They do. I am a horror fanatic. I was literally raised on every horror movie you can imagine. A lot of my sensibilities stem directly from that genre. One of the things that you really do get from it is the sort of gleeful, weird satisfaction from watching the macabre and disturbing things. I think there’s a relief in it. A tension breaker in it, somehow.

Shock: It’s not just horror for you, though. You’ve also got the comic book framing device. Can you talk about the influence of that medium on you?

Landon: It’s more the graphic novel kind of thing. I’m not a big comic book fanboy but, over the years, I’ve had a lot of graphic novels that have come across my desk. Moreso for work. I love the format. I love the way that you can kind of go in and out of stories. For me it’s really a framing device that can be really effective for this type of film. When you’re dealing with an anthology, I was trying to avoid the sort of obvious narrator or wraparound story. That felt a little too neat and tidy and also didn’t service my purpose. It didn’t service my stories. I just wanted to have something that felt like a nice, clean accessible way in and out of the stories. Plus I just love the artwork.

Shock: What’s coming up next for you?

Landon: I’m back to the writing thing right now. I’m writing a couple of movies for Paramount. Once I clear those, I’m hoping to direct something else. I’m probably going to go a little more genre, probably horror. That’s kind of the plan. I’m sort of on the fence right now about “Paranormal Activity 3”. We keep going back and forth on that one. I don’t know if I’m going to do it or not. But yeah. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.

Shock: What’s a dream project for you?

Landon: Ah! That’s one of my Paramount movies. It’s a project called “Wake”, based on a book series. It’s sort of a vehicle for Miley Cyrus. She is looking to sort of get out of her cutesy Hannah Montana image, which she’s actually doing quite well (laughs). She wanted to do something a little edgier and a little darker, so we’re making this movie hopefully. It’s very cool. It’s about a teenage girl who has a rare form of narcolepsy. When she’s within a certain distance of someone sleeping, she passes out and goes into their dreams.

Shock: Does it have a horror element to it?

Landon: It definitely has a spooky element to it. It’s slightly origin-story-esque… She sees it as a curse. You know, something that she keeps very secret and hidden and, as a result, has sort of isolated herself. Then, through circumstance she ends up having to embrace it. She has to use it to solve a crime, if you will. It’s fun. We get to really play with the visual kind of thing. It’s not like ‘Inception’ where it’s very consistent because we’re going in and out of so many different people’s dreams and nobody dreams alike. Some of it will be animated. Some of it will be really, really big with epic-looking stuff. And sometimes she lands in a dream where absolutely fucking nothing is happening which, you know, is very true to life. That’s literally what I’m in the thick of right now, but I’m very eager to direct again. It’s just a matter of finding the right project and we’ll see what happens.

Burning Palms is now playing in New York and LA

Source: Silas Lesnick