Q&A: Adam Green on “DIGGING UP THE MARROW”, Part OneFeatures/Interviews,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Whether you like his work or not, there’s a certain level of respect owed to Adam Green with his latest film, DIGGING UP THE MARROW. Since the project’s inception, Green has championed Alex Pardee’s importance to MARROW as an integral part of its conception, development and eventual creation, so much so that Green and Pardee are bringing MARROW on the road alongside with Pardee’s art and other exclusives strictly available during their TOURING THROUGH THE MARROW experience. In light of the tour’s imminent start, as well as the DIGGING UP THE MARROW’s impending release, Green spoke to FANGORIA for a lengthy, two-part interview about how MARROW came to be, and how the film has become Green’s most personal project to date…
FANGORIA: You’ve mentioned previously that DIGGING UP THE MARROW was inspired by an actual fan letter you once received. Could elaborate on that experience at all?
ADAM GREEN: Yeah. Ever since HATCHET, fans send me amazing things, and it’s everything from 10-page heartfelt letters to fan fiction to artwork to presents. Horror fans are unlike anyone else, as you know.
Right around the time that we got back from FROZEN’s premiere at Sundance in 2010, we were sitting around and reminiscing about how we made our first movie, COFFEE AND DONUTS, where we used just the assets that were available instead of having to deal with a studio or a distributor or producers. But sitting on my desk was a package from a fan that claimed that Victor Crowley was real and that I screwed it all up by getting the mythology wrong in HATCHET. It had pictures of swamps with areas circled, saying, “This is where he was born. This was where he really died.” As far as creative fan mail goes, it was awesome.
So I went to Cory Neal and Will Barratt, who were always at the office, and said, “Well, what if we went out and interviewed this guy and told him to prove it? Maybe it’d be a funny short film or something.” But we decided we didn’t want to do anything with the Victor Crowley character in that way, and we didn’t want to get involved with a fan. In fact, I think the thing that put an end to it was when Will said, “What happens when this guy DELIVERANCE’s you out in the swamp?”
Two weeks later, I was doing a signing at a FANGORIA convention, and a guy came to the front of the line and handed me a pamphlet that said DIGGING UP THE MARROW. Then he said, “I just wanted to say thanks for the inspiration,” and he walked away. I read everything that people give me and I read it that night, and it turned out that guy was Alex Pardee, and as soon as I saw the artwork, I knew who he was.
All of Alex’s art exhibits, including DIGGING UP THE MARROW in 2009, have a storyline that they run through, so it’s never just like you go to a gallery and look at artwork. There’s always a bigger picture to his work. But his exhibit was about a guy named William Dekker, who was a former Boston police detective who claimed he could find monsters, and he’s supposedly commissioned Alex to paint the things that he’s seen.
So I saw the exhibit and I started texting both Will and Cory, going, “I’ve got it!” We then flew Alex down to San Francisco, we talked about it and the project came together really fast. But actually making the movie itself took four years, so here we are.
FANGORIA: When it came to the monsters in the film, did Alex also work on the physical SFX himself or were they created by another company based on his designs?
GREEN: This is what’s going to be great about the DVD/Blu-ray when it comes out in March because there’s a 30-minute documentary just on how the monsters were made. What we did was that Alex would design them and we originally wanted to send them over to Robert Pendergraft, who has done great work on all of my films. But because Alex’s work is so surreal, we didn’t want to take too many creative liberties or risk these creatures looking like anything else.
For instance, the first creature you see in this film was designed in a way that there was absolutely no way you could do it with make-up. Same goes for Chicken, who runs around, and Blossom, who has all those arms. I knew then they’d have to be puppets, or animatronic, and it was going to be super hard to get them right. So I called Greg Aronowitz, who is one of the best sculptors in the business; if Steven Spielberg wants a Velociraptor sculpture for his office, Greg is the one who does it. By the end of it, Alex would design them, Greg would sculpt them and Robert would figure out the mechanics and how to make them work.
In fact, on that documentary, there’s about 5 or 6 minutes that’s just about making the monsters work, and trust me, there was a lot of trial and error. So even though we definitely see some of these monsters in the movie, we tried not to show too much of anything. All the money and work that were put into these monsters is only paid off for a few seconds, but I think that’s what makes all the difference.
The first rule of DIGGING UP THE MARROW was if we were going to make a monster movie, we have to show the monsters. We wanted to deliver so that people could see what they paid to see, and I think we showed just enough where people seem to see more than what they actually did, and that’s great.
FANGORIA: Was there any point in the film’s development where it was going to be traditionally shot as opposed to a mock documentary format?
GREEN: I think the goal was always to tell a monster-driven story in the most real way possible, as if we were bringing this fantastical realm into a very, very real world. Going back to our head space at the time while we asked ourselves, “What could we do that’s very contained and that we have access to that no one else does?” And the answer was “ourselves.”
We already knew we wanted that someone would send something here at our own office and with ourselves in our parts. That was one of the hardest parts of the process, too, because there was so much second guessing and I kept wanting to cut stuff out. Even in editing, I wanted to cut so much out but people kept convincing me not to. It’s weird to make a movie where your real wife is a character in it and the people around you are all real. I don’t know how many times I’ve necessarily seen that done before, but that’s what made the movie what it is.
If we had made the movie with a fictional filmmaker who had made fictional movies with fictional fans who send him stuff, it’s not the same thing. I think because film is so grounded in reality and so much of it is real, it helps you suspend your disbelief much more. But one of the biggest hurdles with that was whether we go with someone unknown for William Dekker or if we went with someone people might instantly recognize.
We debated it for a long, long time and the reason we went with Ray Wise is because I’ve seen it before when filmmakers try hoaxing the audience. I don’t want to name any movies but there was a film that I loved that, when it played festivals, they tried to it pass off as real. Of course, fifteen minutes in, the audience realized it wasn’t real and they didn’t enjoy it; they actually turned on it. I remember people going, “Oh, they didn’t fool me. This movie sucks.”
So we knew we were going to have monsters in DIGGING UP THE MARROW; that was for sure. We then said, “Well, we could cast an unknown and risk people thinking that it’s real,” which did happen at early screenings. We had people actually think it was real until the monsters showed up, and like that other movie, it then became all about how “the hoax didn’t work.” We’re not trying to hoax people; it’s a movie.
People keep asking if it’s a mockumentary or a found footage movie, and it’s neither of those things. It’s not found footage because it’s not like it was footage that was found; we had editing and sound design and all of that. It’s also not completely a mockumentary because everyone in it, except for Ray, is a real person; it’s really their lives. Most of the people in the movie didn’t know what we were doing; I just gave them their pages and said, “Trust me on this, this is what I need you to do.”
It was a bold choice and we thought it was going to be more polarizing than it’s been so far. We thought there would be people who would be like, “Oh, really? They put themselves in a movie?” But it’s like, “Yeah, this is who we are, this is what we do, this is what we had access to and this is what makes the story interesting.”
But going back to saying about me wanting to cut things out, had we done this with a fake filmmaker, you’d have to sell that aspect to the audience. We’d have to convince people that this guy is, in fact, a cult filmmaker that they’ve never heard of but has a fan base that’s extremely passionate about it. These fans go to conventions for him and send him stuff, and we’d have to show all of that.
But since I’m the filmmaker, I wanted to cut out all of that stuff because to me, it comes off as narcissistic. Everyone kept telling me that I’m too close to it and to keep it in because not everybody who sees DIGGING UP THE MARROW is going to know who I am, and to them, I am a fake filmmaker. [laughs] So to people who know me and the movies I’ve made, they’ll say, “Why are we spending 3 minutes explaining this guy we already know?” But that’s a smaller minority among the people worldwide who are going to see this movie.
FANGORIA: In terms of using a single POV approach for the first time in DIGGING UP THE MARROW, did you have to resist using any filmmaking flourishes while shooting the film?
GREEN: Well, it is a challenge in terms of my inclination to want to shoot the movie on 35mm or RED, or to spend more time lighting something. We wanted DIGGING UP THE MARROW to look good, and it does, but at the same time, we had to pretend it was real, and I really enjoyed what came from that. In the final movie, everything you see in the movie is scripted and there’s very little improv that made it into the movie.
But in our first assembly edit, which was 40 to 45 minutes longer, there was all of this improv and all of it was comedic. And the first thing I did when editing was cut out anything that felt like a joke, as in that it had a punchline and a set-up. If there was a comedic moment because of circumstance and the way people were reacting to things, that was fine. But we wanted to stick to the fact that this was real, and as a director and an actor, it was amazing to have Ray Wise be the one you’re acting opposite because I forgot he was Ray Wise within seconds, and he basically stayed in character for the whole shoot anyways.
When I was out there, DIGGING UP THE MARROW did feel real to me; like when we were shooting, I wanted to believe that there were monsters out there. And it hasn’t really ended for me. I could believe a version of DIGGING UP THE MARROW could be real, because I always wanted it to be real. So everything you see in the film is real: all of my reactions and how I wanted this all to be real when I was a kid were all true. So once we got on board that we were really doing this project, it became about not falling back on the filmmaking tropes we were used to doing.
Adam Green and Alex Pardee’s TOURING THROUGH THE MARROW begins in select cities today, and tickets can be purchased at their respective cinemas. DIGGING UP THE MARROW will be available on VOD and in theaters next Friday, February 20th, from Image Entertainment, and you can read Part Two of our interview with Adam Green next week.