It’s not at all unusual, especially in the horror genre, to have a significant window between a film’s acqusition and its theatrical release. It’s just a bit more extreme in the the case of Jonathan Levine’s directorial debut, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which heads to theaters today, more than seven full year after its debut at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival.
Amber Heard and Anson Mount headline the indie thriller, which features a screenplay by Jacob Forman. Heard is the titular Lane, a sweet, good-natured high school student who has become everyone’s dream girl. As if she doesn’t already have enough trouble dodging the constant attention, Mandy Lane heads away for a weekend getaway, only to find that her peers are being picked off by a mysterious killer one by one.
ShockTillYouDrop.com caught up with Mandy Lane helmer Jonathan Levine who, in the time since the film was finished, has directed dramatic fare in both The Wackness and 50/50 before returning to horror for this year’s Warm Bodies. In the below interview, Levine discusses injecting his aesthetic into the story, his thoughts on the horror genre, and the long, long wait for Mandy Lane.
Shock: It’s been quite a bit of time since you made this film. Can you take me back to where it started for you?
Jonathan Levine: Well, I graduated from film school in 2004. Some of my colleagues had worked on the script in film school and they found financing for it. It’s a great film to come out of film school with. Anyone who is just graduating film school and wants to do a first film, horror movies are great because you can push the envelope. You can do a lot of stuff with style and they’re cheap, in general, especially if they revolve around one location. I think that’s part of the reason these guys developed this script. I came to it as, basically, a just for-hire guy. I had done a short in film school that was pretty good or okay. I knew most of the guys who were involved. They brought me in and I did an interview. I don’t necessarily think I was the first choice, but they didn’t have a lot of money. They kind of eventually came to me. I got paid $15,000 for two and a half years of work. Like 24 hours a day work. So I was cheap, too.
Shock: Is it a relief to have it finally available for domestic audiences?
Levine: Yeah, I think it’s great. It’s really cool. I sort of had to separate myself emotionally from it years ago because it was just too difficult for me to deal with. I was like, “Okay. I’m just going to put that in a little box in my head and someday it will come out. In the meantime, I’m going to go on about my life.” Relief may not be the right word. It’s a joy. It’s a pleasure to have it come out now. I’m thrilled that people are going to get to see, not just the movie, but that people are going to see the work of the cast and the crew and people who were so devoted and put their heart and soul into the thing and never saw it see the light of day. That was a total bummer for them, too, I’m sure.
Shock: It’s not uncommon for most directors to launch their career with a horror film and then stay in the genre. Your credits after “Mandy Lane” are quite diverse with “Warm Bodies” being the only film that harkens back to the genre.
Levine: That was kind of intentional. After this movie was finished, it was around the time of “Saw” and stuff like that and I was getting offered — even though no one had seen the f–ing movie — I was getting offered horror movies. I was getting offered these genre films. The thing about genre films, a lot of the time — and this year has been an exception. There have been a lot of really good genre films — but a lot of the time, genre films are kind of sh–y. They’re kind of by-the-numbers and I was very frustrated. Just because I did something successfully — or semi-succesfully — once, doesn’t mean that I should be locked into this kind of thing. Doing “The Wackness” was a very calculated attempt to break out of that. Then, “50/50” I got, I think, based on “The Wackness”. “Warm Bodies” was my feeling safe to dip my toe back in the genre. Obviously, there’s a huge difference. “Mandy Lane” has a much darker heart than “Warm Bodies” does. I like the dark heart of “Mandy Lane” quite a bit. But yeah, it was very frustrating to me to do one thing and have people expect that that’s what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. I mean, I kind of understand it. They’re spending money and they want to know what the person has done before, but I’m glad at this point in my career that I’ve done four very different things and no one really knows what to do with me. It’s better than people being like, “Here, direct this.”
Shock: Do you think you still have auteur threads that run throughout? It seems like, looking at your films together, your use of songs might be one of them. Talking specifically about “Mandy Lane,” how did some of the choices come about?
Levine: We had a great music supervisor named Henry Self. He’s an attorney who lives out here and is a buddy of mine. He’s a DJ and he had never done a film before. He was guy kind of just feeding us music. It’s always been a collaboration between the music supervisor and the editor and myself. The first song in “Mandy Lane,” for instance, is one of Jacob Forman’s, the writer, friends. It’s a song that I love. “Sister Golden Hair” we put in because one of the producers knew one of the guys in America’s kid. So we got “Sister Golden Hair”. I love that song. For “Mandy Lane,” especially, it was all about favors and friends of friends. We couldn’t do a lot financially. Then Henry found completely undiscovered stuff. Mark Schultz, the composer, would do some soundalikes for us. It was a hodgepodge of things. It all kind of falls under the pervue of my musical taste. I think the only one I handpicked was probably the last one, “Sealed with a Kiss”.
Shock: There’s often a balance in modern horror that favors either extreme nostalgia or extreme post-modernism. One of the refreshing aspects of “Mandy Lane” is that the overal tone is extremely formal. Can you tell me a little about how you managed to strike that?
Levine: I think there is an element of nostalgia and an element of “wink-wink,” but we always wanted the stakes to feel real and for the film to feel very grounded. It’s weird. This has sort of been my M.O. on all my movies: Since they’re all from the script phase, they all kind of eschew genre in a way. They all fall within various genres, but they try to turn those genres on their head. I felt free to collect inspiration from a lot of different places. Then you smooth it over in the editing so that it doesn’t feel like a f–ing schizophrenic thing. The end result is something that is, for instance, deciding to do a 70’s slasher film with kind of modern content and the references are going to be very formally rigid things like Terence Malick movies or coming of age things. Sort of a Sofia Coppola, sun-kissed, flairy thing. A very agressive, heightened aesthetic. Once you make those decisions — and you don’t even question them. You just make the decision. You know and you just do it. Especially on this one. F–k it, if it feels right, just do it. You weave it into the DNA of the thing. Sometimes it’s not right and then you just cut that stuff out and try to make it flow. We definitely never wanted to be like “Scream”. We wanted to use the genre to explore themes about adolesence and high school and things like that. We never wanted to do a post-modern take on the genre.
Shock: There’s plenty of horror films with female protagonists, but this is really from a female prospective, which isn’t so common. You feel the kind of terrifying weight of what it must be like to constantly be hit on.
Levine: Yeah, she’s prey. That was something that I really thought was really interesting. When I went to undergrad, I was a semiotics major and we actually created a course in horror films and slasher films. We looked at everything from “Peeping Tom” to “Dressed to Kill” and explored gender roles in these movies. It’s made by someone who has an intellectual interest in what’s going on and is deliberately trying not to think about it too much. It has a grain of it, but I’m hoping it doesn’t become an intellectual exercise. But yes, we were definitely aware of what we were doing with the Mandy Lane character and how we were both playing into the tropes as well as subverting them in a way.
Shock: Do you know what’s next for you? I know news just broke that you’ve got a pilot in development called “Rush”.
Levine: Yeah, I’m doing this TV pilot, which is cool. I wrote it so long ago, but it was always a script I really liked and it kind of bounced around. Now it’s at USA and I’m really super happy with it. It’s going to be super fun. Then I’m going to do a movie that I wrote in, hopefully, about six months. I can’t talk about it yet, but Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are producing it. It’s sort of a “50/50” reunion of sorts. I hope it’s going to happen.
Shock: What has been the professional experience for you, sort of coming into your own in Hollywood? Has a lot changed for you?
Levine: I think so, yeah. I mean, with the last two movies, it was night and day. “50/50” was something that was really light. I thought it was a cool movie and just meeting Will [Reiser], who’s the writer, and Seth and Evan and having access with that camp and getting close with those guys and seeing how they do s–t, that was really cool as far as helping me get better. Then, when “Warm Bodies” became a success financially, that became a totally different thing. That’s really, really cool, just because it opens up more doors. I just want to clarify that it’s not that it’s a financial gain, but because it opens up so many doors. You just feel more secure as far as who you want to be and how you get there.
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is available now on VOD and in select theaters as of today, October 11th.