After last August’s Frightfest festival I was able to have a chat with Adam Green while he was promoting his edge-of-the-chair-lift horror “Frozen”. During our chat, we talked mainly about “Frozen”, but also a bit about “Hatchet II” – which made its debut at the festival – and also what he thought of the festival’s pretty depressing line-up. The interview contains a few spoilers, but put the scissors down, they’re not anything to start stabbing your crotch over.
GO: Firstly, a boring question – how did you get involved with “Frozen”?
Adam Green: Well, I grew up skiing in Massachusetts, where the mountains were only open Friday through to Sunday. Anybody who skiis has kind of imagined this horrible scenario before, because whenever you’re on a chair lift and it’s stopped momentarily for some reason – they never come on the speakers and tell you why. You always think, could I make it from here if I had to jump? A lot of the times you could, maybe you’d hurt yourself pretty badly, but every now and then you get these stretches where there’s just no way you’re walking away from it. Then one morning I was watching the news in LA and whenever they do the weather report the weather’s always the same there, so you don’t really pay attention – you look at the images they put up behind it. In this case it was Big Bear Ski Mountain and I was watching the chairs sway in the wind and I was thinking ‘I can’t believe I used to do that – you’d have to be stupid to do that! What if they forgot?’ So I ran into the ArieScope office and was like ‘Guys, I got this great idea and it’s so easy – it’s just three people in a chair!’ and they were like ‘Great!’ so I wrote it and then I was like ‘How the fuck do you shoot this?!?’
GO: So how did you shoot it? Was it all on location?
AG: The whole movie is practical, there’s no soundstage, no green screen, they were really up there the entire time.
GO: A real ski lift?
AG: A real ski lift, at a mountain called Snowbasin in Utah – we were at 10,000 feet the whole time and they were 50 feet from the ground. So a lot of the stuff I actually shot myself, dangling from the cable in front of them – and I’m afraid of heights! But nobody else was willing to go up there so I had to shoot the movie myself. Another reason I’m so proud of it is that I operated my own camera – I would never do it again though, I don’t know what I was thinking! I mean you forget the cold – you can tell people ‘Oh it’s gonna be really cold,’ but unless you’re in it, you always forget how bad it really is. Like, when you’re really freezing to death, you’re like ‘I can’t believe how uncomfortable this is,’ but then afterwards you think ‘Oh, it was just really cold’ and you don’t remember how miserable it was. But I mean every night was misery, the poor cast was up there, they can’t get off, they can’t stretch their legs, they’re just trapped like that – but they used it and they embraced it for their performances. I think audiences are too smart now, if I had put them against a green screen I think the movie would’ve felt too safe.
AG: We had a lot of problems, a lot of the crew were suffering from altitude sickness because we were up so high, so in the middle of a take people would be running off to the woods to throw up. Obviously the cast was very miserable throughout the whole thing too, but they never complained to anybody, even though you can see it in their faces. During some of the wirework, like when Shawn Ashmore was climbing, the harness was cutting into him in ways that you don’t even want to describe! I basically zoomed in on him and I could see he was crying up there and I was like, ‘Dude, you gotta come down,’ but he wouldn’t let anybody know how miserable he was, and he was like ‘No no, I can go, whatever you need’ and he wouldn’t stop. And then with the wolves, there was a time when one of them actually went after Kevin Zegers and we had to get it off him, which was really frightening.
The behind the scenes, for when the DVD comes out, is the most compelling behind the scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s 90 minutes, and it’s like a documentary, rather than the usual EPK of actors talking and clips of the movie. Anybody that wants to be a filmmaker, I guarantee there’s never been a better behind the scenes to watch, I mean it’s really really good.
GO: With the actors, how did you go about finding them? And did you tell them what it was going to be like beforehand?
AG: When the script went out, every actor in town wanted this movie, because they were like ‘90 minutes of my face, sign me up!’ But then they found out who was directing it and that it was going to be shot practically, and 50% of the actors who were signed up to audition bailed out right there – they were like ‘What? We’re really gonna go up in a ski lift?!?’ Then some people would come in to audition and try to talk me out of it, they were like ‘ You can’t do the whole thing up there – what about the close-ups?’ And I always replied ‘No, the whole thing!’ Emma Bell was the first actor to come in to read and her audition piece was the story about the dog dying, and she’s crying, I’m crying, then she leaves and I’m like, ‘Ok good, that’s Parker.’ And everybody said ‘You can’t hire the first person,’ but I was like ‘That’s the one.’ So they made me go through five weeks of auditions – 35/40 people a day – and everyone of them I’m like ‘No!’ So Emma got the part.
With Kevin and Shawn, something that helped seal the deal for them was a) they’re phenomenal actors but b) they’ve grown up together and have always been best friends, so the chemistry on that chair is real. The fact that they’re seasoned actors and best friends coupled with the new girl who’s not a seasoned actor and is uncomfortable around them and is intimidated made it work really well. One of my favourite things when directing the actors was when I would talk to them about their motivation and back stories, I would do it individually. Nobody was allowed to speak to each other about what I had said so I told them conflicting things which made them subtely confused in the scenes. So for instance, I told Kevin, ‘Right, at the end of today you’re going to break up with her, you’re not into it anymore and you’re going to leave,’ then I told her ‘The fact that he’s bringing you here with his best friend means he’s probably going to marry you!’ So when he was taking my directions and acting one way she was so hurt and confused because it wasn’t what she thought it was gonna be. If you ever watch it again you’ll see these very subtle things flying around on that chair – that’s what kept it real.
GO: Talking of their motivation, obviously you had a script, but was there any room for improvisation at all?
AG: No, every single thing was scripted. Normally something slips through that was improv, but this time there was none.
GO: Wow, ok. Now, you’ve made “Hatchet” and “Hatchet II” which are pretty different films to “Frozen” – what made you go for something completely different, more in line with your other directorial effort “Spiral”?
AG: Yeah, with “Spiral”, if I was to look back at my career, one of the smartest things I did was to make “Spiral” at the same time as “Hatchet”. It was very ambitious when you’re making your first movie to make two at the same time – I don’t know many people who have done that! I was afraid that “Hatchet” would pigeonhole me as ‘the Hatchet guy’ and “Spiral” was what lead to opportunities like “Frozen”, or even things like “Killer Pizza” – all these bigger things that I’m starting to do. I loved “Hatchet”, and I never want to seem like I’m slighting it or not saying that I’m proud of it, but it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be and I think that’s why people like it. But I don’t wanna be ‘the Hatchet guy’ forever, which was also why I passed on the sequel. But now that I’ve done “Spiral” and “Frozen”, even producing “Grace”, I felt very comfortable going back to “Hatchet”, and I needed it I think – you come off something like this, it’s so dark and heavy and then to go and have fun again and do “Hatchet II” was great. The other thing too was that I used to be a comedian -I guess I still am – and you crave that instant gratification of hearing a reaction, and with a movie like “Frozen”, although there are parts where you hear a reaction, like where his legs break…
GO: Well I shouted during that bit…
AG: Yeah (laughs), but the rest of it, you don’t know exactly how it’s playing. With “Hatchet II” – I wasn’t even in the theatre on Thursday night [at Frightfest], because I was with the press, I was standing outside by the door, and the audience was so loud whenever something happened! I knew a certain part is about to come up, and then you’d hear ‘GAAAAHHH!!’, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that worked!’ It was great to see the smiles on people’s faces walking out of there, and how much fun they had. So the one thing we did right with “Hatchet II” was we didn’t let “Frozen” make us pretentious – because it’s all the same people that worked on these movies – I remember on the first day of “Hatchet II”, I was just like ‘Guys, have fun, remember this isn’t art – let’s give the fans what they want.”
GO: So did you have the same crew to do the gore effects on “Frozen” too? They’re quite different…
AG: “Frozen” was the one movie where I didn’t have Robert [Pendergraft] doing my effects, as they had me go with a local guy named Chris Hanson. The end product was terrific because we were going for realism and not like “Hatchet” which is so ridiculous, so over the top. I wish that I could have had Robert with me, but it was just because we were shooting in Utah and there was a scheduling conflict so I couldn’t, but I think Chris really stepped up to the plate. Nothing in “Frozen” obviously stands out, which is great – everything you see gore-wise is very real.
GO: Ever since I saw it, I’ve been wanting to ask you how they did the hand on the safety rail gore-gag! I’m hoping it wasn’t PVA glue…
AG: It’s kind of like a wet rubber latex that they attach to the hand, then she sticks it on and as it dries, it sticks. So as you peel, it does that ripping thing – it’s very similar to the material we used in “Hatchet” with Mrs Permatteo’s face, you know when he rips the jaw, it does that snapping thing? We used the second take in “Frozen”, because in the first take, it was so stretching so ridiculously that people would have just been like, ‘Come on!’ I think we showed just enough to make people really uncomfortable. You know, every time you hear about the Christmas story where the boy sticks his tongue to the pole – we thought ‘How do you one-up that?’
GO: Did anyone actually get their hands stuck to the rail for real? Surely if your hand is waiting there for long periods of time, it would actually get stuck?
AG: No, it was fine. She was fine, her actual hand didn’t get stuck to it.
GO: It would have been pretty realistic if it had happened!
AG: Yeah! (laughs)
AG: Hitchcock and Spielberg were the two biggest influences that are evident in “Frozen” because “Lifeboat” and “Jaws” were the two movies that my crew and I studied and talked about a lot. Even how Spielberg shot “Jaws” influenced me, for example; where instead of blocking everything and storyboarding it, he would bring the cast in and just keep running and running it and finding the scene and then figure out where he was going to place the camera. We absolutely did that with this – the cast would come up, they would run the pages, and I would find the scene with the camera as it was unfolding rather than being ‘close up of this, close up of that.’ There’s a great scene where Shawn Ashmore and Emma Bell get in an argument with each other and I ended up shooting almost the whole thing from behind, it’s like this voyeuristic way of shooting. So I’m over Shawn’s shoulders, seeing the back of his head and the side of her, but you’re not fully seeing their faces and it gives you this feeling of, almost like if your parents got in a fight and you were peeking in on it – it makes it more uncomfortable because you don’t wanna be there.
GO: Were you worried at all about comparisons with other similar genre films like “Open Water”?
AG: Not really, although there have been people who have described it as “Open Water” on a chair lift. It’s a little insulting. You know, I never want to slight another film becaue I liked “Open Water”, but what’s different about that is that it had a gimmick – it was real people, real sharks – that’s why people wanted to see the movie. They didn’t go for any other reason – that’s what they wanted to see and that’s what they got. There was no story – once they were left behind you waited 40 more minutes to see them die and that was it. I think with “Frozen”, there’s so much action, you don’t know where it’s going to go, it takes twists and turns. There’s hope in the movie – at every point they’re trying to come up with another solution and every character in the movie does something to help one another. So they end up becoming very likeable characters that you really root for and you’re very affected if something bad happens to them. Even Parker – it’s not like ‘Oh my God, I was gonna do this with my life or that,’ it’s ‘who’s gonna feed my dog!’ “Open Water” didn’t have that. I think with “Frozen” it’s partly because of the marketing – they’re making it so much about the wolves too, and I think that’s why people are going for the “Open Water” thing. But as you saw, the wolves are really only a small part of it.
GO: Finally, you were at Frightfest for the whole festival, what did you think? Did you have any favourites, or things you didn’t like?
AG: My thing with Frightfest this year was, if I had known what the whole line-up was going to be, I would probably have had “Hatchet II” in the middle [instead of the first film]. It started off with such a bang, with fun and cheering, and then there were no more monsters, it was just fucking sexual abuse and revenge and torture over and over and over again. It was just so dire this year. I didn’t see every movie so I can’t say it with total authority but when “Buried” came on it was so great to have a suspense movie like that, because it was fun for everyone. I also loved “Monsters”, I thought it was just such an achievement in how he did it, and I loved “The Loved Ones”,
AG: Especially as I don’t like torture movies – and there were so many fucking torture movies – so to have one which was kind of a send up of it all and was fun, I really liked that. I also liked “Red Hill”, even if at first I was like ‘Why is this in this festival?’ But I loved it in the end…
GO: That was my favourite…
AG: Yeah, it’s a good movie, but I think that was really it for me, off the top of my head. I think maybe it’s a sign of the times that all the movies being made right now are so grim, but yeah, I’m disappointed that “Hatchet II” was the only thing like it in the festival. Somebody said at the end of the weekend that “Hatchet II” felt like one of the only true Frightfest movies this year. However, I like the way that they are very brave with what they programme and that they don’t let anyone define what they are, so we’ll see what happens. Next year, hopefully Joe Lynch’s “Knights of Badassdom” will be there so we’ll have a fun movie for everybody there. But I think this year, if it wasn’t for the “Douche Brothers” shorts [Adam Green and Joe Lynch's hilarious Frightfest exclusive shorts] or even the “Ballad of Anne Frankenstein” [another short directed by Adam], it was just too grim.
GO: I thought the shorts were good though, they brightened it up a bit.
AG: Oh yeah, the “Papa Wrestling” one – fucking brilliant!
GO: I think that needs to be feature length!
AG: Yeah! He gave me that short afterwards and was like ‘I’m a big fan!’ And I was like ‘No! I’m a big fan!’ Yeah I really liked the shorts.
GO: Well, I’ll let you go now! Thank you very much for your time, really enjoyed it.
AG: Thank you! See you later.
Be sure to check out the amazing “Frozen”, out on Region 2 DVD on the 18th October.