Interview with Spiral and Avatar’s Joel Moore

Most people will recognise Joel Moore from James Cameron’s mega-assault on the box-office – “Avatar”, but worth recognising even more is his debut as a director – the fantastic “Spiral”.  It’s hard to generically pin down, but if there was a ‘really-good-sort-of-horror-slash-thriller-slash-drama’ section in Blockbuster, that’s where you’d find it.  It surrounds a disturbed young man (Moore), his growing relationship with a young woman (Amber Tamblyn) and the increasingly disturbing series of events that follow their first meeting.  Moore is a revelation – especially if you’re used to watching him in comedies like “Dodgeball” – as both star and director, and combined with the talent of the rest of the cast and crew – “Spiral” emerges a tightly wrought, intense and disturbing film that needs to be seen by erm…by people that like err…by those that…err…BY EVERYONE.

I managed to have a chat with Moore about the film and his other work, so if you want to learn more about “Spiral”, want to find out more about the film-making process, want some UNBELIEVABLE EXCLUSIVES on the “Avatar” sequel, or just want to see how to professionally close an interview with a Hollywood actor, then read on.

There are naturally a few very minor spoilers regarding “Spiral”, but not really anything to throw a wobbly over.

GO: Hi Joel.  So “Spiral” – firstly, I really enjoyed it.

JM: Oh good, thank you.

GO: Yeah, I didn’t know what to expect, but I really liked it.  It’s the first feature you’ve directed, is this something that you’d like to do in the future?

JM: Yes, well I’ve directed a couple of pieces since then but because of “Avatar’s” schedule it’s really been hard to do a feature.  I’ve done some shorts that turned out really well that are gonna be floating around out there at festivals and whatnot soon, but I am looking for my next feature piece actually now.

GO: Ok, let’s talk about the “Spiral” shoot?  Did everything go smoothly?

JM: You know, “Spiral” was an interesting shoot.  I had done a short film before that which got accepted at a film festival in America called South by Southwest, and we had some really good luck with it, and from that we got some investment for the feature.  “Spiral” actually started as a short that I wrote, but my writing partner said that it was crap as a short because there was too much information, so we wrote the feature version.  It was nice because it was very educational for me as well.  We shot on film which you really don’t do, especially for independent films these days, we shot with a two camera Panavision package and Kodak film, vision stock film – a really nice set-up and I think that’s what gives it such a nice look.  This was my first time really dealing with directing, especially in long form, but Adam Green, who I met on “Hatchet”, and I co-directed the project,  and I couldn’t have done it without him.  It was a very important pairing and it went swimmingly, it was just really fun to make because it was such a passion project of ours and I wanted to do something which was 180 degrees different than anything I’d ever done before.  I had been known mostly for comedy at that point and we had no idea how it was going to turn out, you know, making a sort of Hitchcockian two-hander which was really a relationship story, and so we didn’t know exactly whether it was going to have an audience at all.  But we didn’t really want to make it for an audience, we wanted to make it for being a good piece of material.

GO: You mentioned Adam Green, how exactly did you divide tasks between the two of you?

JM: There was never really a division, but there was always collaborating.  With directing, you wear many hats, especially when you’re so involved in an intimate project like this, but when you really just pare it down to a simple form, you are setting up a shot, where you want the camera to be – then everybody else runs around and lights it, gaffes it and does everything that they need.  So we would just get together before every shot, set it up and then I would jump in, put my acting hat on and then we would do it.  Adam would obviously be behind the monitor watching and making sure that it was exactly what we were looking for, you know?

GO: As it was the first feature you’d written, did Adam act as a mentor of sorts?

JM: Yes, because he had done a feature at that point, so he brought in notes.  The script is pretty much what we wrote, we cut a couple of scenes because it was longer than we expected but that happens in every film.  Adam fell in love with the script and that’s one of the reasons it works so well between us.  He had cuts that he wanted to make, he thought we could still stand to lose some scenes, or to put two pieces of information that were spread out between two scenes together in one scene.  I believe that we did a little bit of that before we shot but he didn’t find an overall rewrite necessary because it was the writing that he really liked to begin with.

GO: It was a very slow burn film…

JM: It’s like a candle, slowly burning, and then right before it hits the end somebody takes a knife to it!

GO: Haha yeah, what made you go for this kind of film over a slasher, or something more like “Hatchet”?

JM: I don’t know, maybe if we were smarter and wanted to commercialise it a little more we would’ve done something like that, but it’s an art piece, it’s really a drama/thriller, it’s not a horror film.  I’m a big horror fan but I don’t know if I’m a big horror director – I don’t know if that’s my thing.  I like relationships, I like – like you said – slow burn, I like the idea of taking time with the relationships.  The thing that we really wanted to nail on the head in this film was that all of this two-handed, slow moving, slow pace action was leading to something, and there was always an unnerving feeling about the two of them together (Moore and Tamblyn).  It’s like taming a rattle snake, you never know exactly when it’s gonna turn on you.  I think that’s really what works – it doesn’t matter if they’re talking about reality television or bread and butter, it’s about when that rattlesnake is gonna strike.

GO: Did you have any inspiration behind the piece? Or were there any other directors’ work that may have influenced you?

JM: You know, I brought in a palette that I put together, a sort of sizzle reel that I cut together of different films, from “Memento” to… um…I’d have to really think!  It was a palette of dark but colourful films, and that was sort of our theme – we wanted it to feel dark and yet still have a lot of flavour to it.  A lot of dark films lose their colour palette because they want to pull everything down and grayscale it almost, but we didn’t want to do that.  We in fact made a conscious decision to light it pretty well, always knowing that in the DI process (Digital Intermediary) we could pull it down so that it would look dark but the colours would still pop, so that there was still a lot of contrast in it, there was a lot of available colour information…

GO: Ok…

JM: That was very nerdy!  All that was to say it was a conscious effort to, in keeping it dark, to still keep it pleasing to the eye.

GO: You mentioned that it was something you wanted to do and you didn’t want to make it commercial, you wanted to stick to what you’d originally thought…

JM: I wanna clear something up about that.  I don’t know that we didn’t want to make it commercial.  I don’t know that I knew enough about how to build the machine of a commercial success.  I knew that I had written the piece not thinking about what genre it was gonna lie in and there was a lot of interesting aspects to it, so had we known more, maybe we would’ve leaned it one way or the other.  We could’ve made it a straight up drama that could’ve done the indie-fest type thing, or a straight-up horror film that could’ve been branded and marketed like that, but at that point we were just thinking about making a good movie.

GO: So there was no pressure from outside producers?

JM: No, we were the producers on it, so any kind of idea about where it was going and how it was made was coming from me, Adam, Jeremy and Cory (the two producers) and it was always a collaboration – it was never ‘you can’t do this because it won’t be commercial enough’.  The only thing that came up was the story. Making sure the story worked, making sure that everything fits, the pieces added up. You know, the only other note was that I love to shoot the shit out of something, and sometimes we’d break off into different sets and Adam would shoot some stuff and I would shoot some stuff.  Adam, having been under the gun of producers before, knew to keep it tight and I was just mastabatory, trying to shoot, you know, 6000 feet of film for one scene and so I had to have a talking to!  So it was very much a learning process for me, I’ve learned that as a director, you have to be a time manager as well.  Especially on things that have a budget, you know, because your time is money.

GO: How did you go about distributing it?  Were there film festivals involved?

JM: We went to Santa Barbara film festival which is a really wonderful festival that’s very close to Los Angeles, and it actually won one of the top awards at the festival.  Out of that, it didn’t get crazy offers, but it got offers, and one of the places we were targeting was Anchor Bay, which had released “Hatchet”, and we liked them because they liked us!  They liked the idea of taking a film that was from a pretty famous, pretty buzzed horror director.  I had also had my couple of years of success at the time and they liked the pairing of that as well as the story, so it really worked to our benefit because they gave us a great offer and we were able to get it everywhere we are.  Now look at us, a couple of years later and we’re dealing with taking it overseas – of course that’s not Anchor Bay, but it’s because of them, believing in what we did and you know, getting it out there for us.

GO: Do you have any future plans to work with Adam Green again?

JM: Well, I’ll tell you a little secret, I just worked with him.  But it’s all secret, it’s all hush hush, but we have something that’s very exciting and we can’t wait for people to see it.

GO: Is that a feature film? Am I allowed to ask that?

JM: I can’t even say!  It’s all very hush hush.

GO: I also noticed that you’ve worked with, for example, Zachary Levi before.  Is there a group of friends that you often work with?

JM: Sure, Zach and I have been very good friends for seven or eight years and we’ve grown up in this industry together, so we always like to work together.  In fact, I’ve just directed him in a piece that I wrote called “Byron Phillips: Found” in which he was wonderful.  So yes, we do try to find time to work together – obviously we’re very busy, he has his TV show and I was on something for two and a half years, so it was hard to dip out, but we found a weekend to do something together.  I like doing short pieces because it gets me behind the camera again and it allows me to tell a story over a weekend as opposed to having to take four to six weeks out to go and do something, and then another 6 months to finish it.  This is a real way to just work my craft, work my talents out.

GO: Do you take your shorts to festivals as well?

JM: Yes, absolutely.  I’ve done a comedy and now a really dark drama/thriller.  I think for the comedy we’re looking at just premiering it on a website like ‘funnyordie’ or something, and the drama we’re gonna do the festivals.

GO: So what’s your next major project?

JM: Well I did a pilot this year and we just found out that it did not get picked up, so I’m released from the seven year journey that that would have taken me on because you have to sign your life away!  There’s a good and a bad side to it – it’s a lot of fun, but you don’t get to fart around and do what you want, to do indies etc.  So I’m meeting on a lot of projects and trying to figure out what the next step is, such is the life of a journeyman actor!

GO: You mentioned doing indies, do you prefer to do them or mainstream stuff?

JM: If I had my perfect scenario and money didn’t matter, I think that I would do the big blockbusters because you want to get your face out there, you want to be a part of big projects like “Avatar”, but I would also do other smaller projects for the acting.  Norm Spellman (from “Avatar”) was wonderful to play, I really enjoyed that character and it was one of the most fun acting experiences I’ve ever had because of the performance capture – we got really lucky on the acting side of that.  In most of those big movies you kind of just throw on your usual gown, but indies really allow you to create and play different characters – you’re allowed more.  I think ideally it would be a mixture of both.

GO: Talking of “Avatar”, any gossip on the sequel?

JM: The only info that I can give you is that it all lies in one man’s brain.  That man is a brilliant man, and has the most successful track record in film history, so I can tell you that whatever it is, and none of us know, it won’t be the same old boring sequel-type story, it will be something that will be fun for all.

GO: Finally, one last question, in “The Hottie and the Nottie”, you’re constantly eating…

JM: We’re gonna talk about “Spiral”, this wonderful film, and then “Avatar”, the biggest film of all time, and you’re wrapping it up with “The Hottie and the Nottie”?

GO:Yeah…

JM: Ewww…

GO: It’s something that’s been bugging me – throughout, you’re eating these sponge things, and we don’t get them in England, and I’d really like to know what they are.

JM: In “The Hottie and the Nottie”?

GO: Yeah, I’ve seen them in other films – they’re spongy, florescent things…

JM: I don’t know! I don’t remember eating anything in “The Hottie and the Nottie”, are you talking about vanilla wafers?

GO: No, they’re…well I might be, there are pink ones, green ones – they just look really interesting to me.

JM: It’s kind of like a waffly outside?

GO: Oh, it might be…

JM: Well I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t remember eating anything in that thing, but it sounds like you’re referring to vanilla wafers…well not vanilla, they’d be different pinks and greens wafers that you eat; they’re like two pieces, it’s like a sandwich, it’s got a little bit of vanilla inside and then some bready, sugary wafer on the outside that has a spongey look or a waffly look.  That’s the only thing that I can think of, although to be fully honest I can’t remember much from “The Hottie and the Nottie”!

GO: Haha, ok, well I don’t want to keep you any longer, so thank you very much for giving me your time.

JM: Absolutely, and thank you again, “Spiral” is my baby and so I’m really excited for it to come out.  Oh, and have people tweet me at @joeldavidmoore to let me know how they like it.

GO: Definitely.

JM: I read my tweets!  Thanks a lot.

GO: Thank you very much, bye!

JM: Bye!

There we have it, a thoroughly nice guy giving a thoroughly interesting interview – if you want to repay the man for being so nice, then check out “Spiral” – it really is worth it.