'Halloween' Director David Gordon Green on Resurrecting an Iconic Franchise
For almost two decades, David Gordon Green has been a darling of independent cinema. He was mentored by Terrence Malick and is down for his deeply felt, often dreamlike dramas that emphasize emotions over action and sensation over spectacle. Even when he ventures into the world of studio films, they feel deeply personal and uniquely strange.
Which makes the fact that he signed on to co-write and direct a new entry in the “Halloween” franchise very, very exciting. (For a while, he was attached to a wildly different “Suspiria” remake, this one starring Isabelle Huppert and Janet McTeer.) With Green attached, you could expect the unexpected.
And the movie he delivered followed through on all of that promise. It’s a visually arresting, emotionally resonate thriller about how acts of violence can ripple through generations. It's also an empowering character study of former babysitter turned survivalist Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Also, it’s really scary.
Moviefone recently sat down with Green on the Universal backlot, which had been fully decked out in its Halloween finery, and talked about getting John Carpenter’s blessing, what we should expect from a sequel, and what it was like getting to make a movie that was both personal and (potentially) very commercial.
Moviefone: You've been attached to a bunch of horror movies and remakes, including "Suspiria." What was different about "Halloween?"
Well, the difference was Jason Blum. He can make things happen. I met with him many times about doing a horror film... He'd say something to me, or I'd have an idea, and it just was never a fit. And then one morning, I got an email that just said, "Halloween?" And that could be anything, right? There was kind of a psychic tidal wave that hit me and I knew what it meant and I knew I was going to make a "Halloween" movie, just by seeing that one word and the question mark.
By your own admission, you wrote over 80 drafts. What was the furthest version away from the movie that ultimately made it to the screen?
So much. The screenplay ended up being 90 pages. There was a lot of stuff that wasn't needed. There was a lot of set-up. We had a draft that retold the ending of the original film, another version that had this weird, bird's-eye POV of the aftermath that followed his apprehension, which I would have done but we didn't have time or money to do it. There were various endings. For a while, we didn't know if we could get Jamie Lee, so there was a back-and-forth draft where we swapped Karen and Laurie's character, where there was a character affected by her mother but she's the lead. There were so many.
We'd do a new draft every two days. There'd be some brilliant idea and some horrible regret. And that's just how Danny [McBride] and myself and Jeff Fradley, who have been doing this for years in dorm rooms and writers' rooms -- it's always re-writing. It's always trying to beat it. On set, Jeff and Danny would be rewriting scenes that we would shoot the next day. On weekends, we would rehearse scenes we were going to do next week. It's very organic with me. I do a lot of improve. Sometimes, there's a scene with a lot of dialogue and we'd do it without talking and vice versa.
At one point, it was going to be two movies, right?
Yeah, it was going to be two movies.
What happened there?
We got scared. Imagine if the first one sucked and people hate you for a year and then they hate you again? It was too much pressure. The idea was, Hey these are so low budget to make, let's just do two of them at once, open up the shop, and hold onto all the cast. But then it just felt almost like predicting some kind of fortuitous outcome. You can call anything "Halloween" or "Halloween II" and there are going to be a certain kind of person who will line up, but the conversation with Blum was, "Let's see if we can maintain the quality." And Malek Akkad, who is the son of the original producer and a very strong voice in all of this, he's lived through every episode. We wanted to make it strong and with a very specific vision.
But how much of a pain-in-the-ass is it going to be to regroup everybody and make another one?
Is it something you're committed to?
No. But we've been talking about ideas since before this one was shooting. Is there the "Russian Ark" version of it? Where do you go? Because this movie fulfilled a very personal agenda … It felt like I was making a passion project, but I was also making something that there's a great appetite in the culture for. That rarely happens. And on top of that, I have creative freedom because it's a low budget horror movie. I know a lot about "Star Wars," but if you make a "Star Wars" movie -- that's four years of your life and a lot of people telling you what works and what doesn't work. We started filming this at the end of January. We shot for 25 days and here we are. So, for me, it was the best of all these worlds. I can make something that's really personal for me because of the nostalgia I have for the original film, I've never made a horror movie and that's something I'm really passionate about, so I can check that box, professionally.
John Carpenter is an executive producer here and also helps contribute an amazing score. What was his overall involvement?
Well, Danny, Jason, and I pitched it to him. He liked it. We asked about doing the music and he agreed. And then I would send him scripts. I sent him three or four drafts of the script.
Three or four of 80 …
Well, there's probably over 100 at this point … And he was the one who would say, "Simplify. I'm getting confused here. We don't need to know that back-story. Drop it. Make it your movie." He's cool like that.
Stylistically, this owes a lot to Carpenter, but it was interesting to see that your usual cinematographer, Tim Orr, didn't shoot it.
Well, I was just coming off of a TV show, and Tim was on something. I'd just done "Vice Principals," where I was working with Michael Simmonds. And Michael had, oddly enough, done a lot of the "Paranormal Activity" movies and knew Jason. So we bonded over the mutual friendship and this came up right at the end of that, coming off this crazy creative momentum of "Vice Principals" Season 2, so we just kept that entire crew. Basically, the entire "Vice Principals" crew made "Halloween."
Your movie really inverts a lot of the tropes of the genre and the franchise. Was there anything that was just too weird?
Every day. I'm trying to think of something specific. For example, there's a head smash that didn't exactly work but we didn't have time to reshoot it. So we got into the editing room and said, "Well, that's pretty f***in' weird." It wasn't exactly as it was intended to be. It was supposed to be a lot more subtle. But cleaning up that mess at four in the morning? It wasn't going to happen.
Was there ever any more with the podcasters from the beginning of the movie?
Well, at first, they were a documentary crew. And then, when we were going through the prop department trying to figure out what camera, I thought, This is going to date the shit out of the movie. [He points to my tape recorder] That could be ten years old or whenever. So it was a last-minute decision to make them podcasters.
Shooting this movie in 25 days must have been a nightmare.
Was there a thought like, This is clearly a franchise movie, it's going to make a ton of money, can we have another week? Or was there something invigorating about that process?
I should probably say it's invigorating. We had a scripted introduction that we just didn't do and we thought: If we need it, we'll have to come back and shoot it. But, thankfully, we didn't need it. I don't even know if this is interesting, but Allyson [Laurie Strode's granddaughter] is having her honor society thing and it wasn't until we got into production … we had the honor society ceremony and "where's Grandma?" and all of this stuff. But then it was like, another day -- somewhere else -- would be a better use of time. So we just scrapped that scene and put a sash on her. It's that kind of thing.
You said you had a draft where Jamie Lee wasn't going to be in it.
Well, minimized. She'd still have a cameo.
But when did you know she was totally on board?
Well, we did a "cheerleader version," where we really beefed up her role. And that was just to say, This is the full-blown Laurie. Let's see if she's up for it. We always knew that we could reduce. But we showed it to her and she said, "Let's do it."
There's a great "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" reference (above). Are there any other Easter Eggs people should be on the lookout for?
There are. There were a lot of people on the art department who know the other movies better than I do. There's a shit load from the first "Halloween." The song that the boy and the dad are listening to on the radio, is the song that Laurie mutters to herself in the original movie.
[John Carpenter pops into the trailer where we're conducting the interview. They chat for a minute.]
So, the song -- because they couldn't afford the rights to any songs -- John and Jamie just freestyled a song. We took the base of that, we gave it to a band to write a song -- as if it was a song from 1978 that she would have heard on the radio -- and we play it on the radio in this movie. There's some deep s**t like that.
You'll have to do a commentary track.
I probably should.
If there is another David Gordon Green "Halloween," where this will go?
I don't know. There are so many different places. It's just infinite. Right now, I just want to see if the movie works, commercially. I don't know. I'm super nervous. I've made 13 movies and none of them have made money. Well, "Pineapple Express" is the only one that connected commercially. The intention of this is -- can I be self-indulgent, make something I'm truly passionate about, that has wide commercial appeal? So if this works, then it does a couple of things. It says that I can believe in myself and I can believe in a crowd.
Or are you just going to take the success and just do some weird movie?
Yeah, I'll probably just do some weird movie. "Manglehorn 2," baby!
Check out our scene breakdown with David Gordon Green and Jamie Lee Curtis below!
"Halloween" opens everywhere this Friday.