Regular readers should know I don’t do interviews all that often. But when an opportunity to interview Breck Eisner came up, I knew it was something I should jump on. I’ll admit, though, I was a little nervous about it at first. I was afraid I’d end up hating THE CRAZIES; that it would wind up being another dismissible, un-endearing remake out of Hollywood and that meeting Eisner the morning after might be rather awkward.
Well, if you read my review of it you should know by now that was not the case. I loved it quite a bit, which certainly talking to the man behind it hell of a lot easier to do. Enjoy. (And if you haven’t seen THE CRAZIES yet, there’s no real spoilers here, but you might as well go see it first before reading because, well, just go see the movie; it deserves it.)
Nice to meet you.
You too, Peter. Thanks for the time.
No problem. I’m actually doing this interview for a site called HorrorsNotDead.com
[Laughs] Spread the word, man. Spread the word.
That was actually sort of the crux of my review, that if horror fans don’t turn out opening weekend for something this good, they’re part of the problem.
I know, I know, let’s get them there. Horror is just inherently smaller movies. You get a Shutter Island every once and a while – whether that’s really horror or not is debatable – but we don’t get the high profile movies so much, and so when they’re not high profile you don’t get the spending budgets in advertising. We’re out spent in all the other movies a hundred times, and so we’re trying to create this grassroots, online way and hopefully people come to support it.
Do you think it worked? Did you like the campaign?
I’ll let you know if worked tomorrow, or Sunday. But yes, I think they did an awesome job. There have been a lot of events, a lot of screenings under the radar, a lot of online presence. Some good ads, some good trailers…
How involved are you with the cutting of the trailers?
They do it. They have a really strong department and send them to me and ask me what I think, sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t. You know, sometimes I say “You shouldn’t put in that shot, it gives away too much” and they’ll say “yeah…we hear you and we’ll see.” And that means “No, fuck you.” [laughs] But no, they’re great. They know what they’re doing better than I do in that area. Hopefully it worked out.
Do you think there’s anything particular about Romero’s films or horror from the ’70s in general that is ripe for remaking and improving?
It all depends on the movie. Let’s take Romero first…this movie in specific, because I hadn’t thought of remaking any of his others, I thought was really ripe for remaking. First of all, Romero owned the rights. He sold the rights, he made the decision about it being remade. That alone was a big step for me. But more importantly than that, it was a movie I remembered that i liked that had relevance in the day and has real relevance today as well.
I mean, in this post-9/11, post-Iraq world that we live in, we should be getting a big gut check on the openness of the government, the use of the military and the movie is definitely commenting on that. Any of Romero’s early works have in their DNA social commentary and I think I wanted to maintain some of that while at the same time making a movie a broad audience will want to go see because it’s fun, it’s scary, it’s active.
That’s actually one of the things I found to be the lingering scare in the movie; the concept of this all-seeing eye that threatens to go beyond containment.
That’s one of the big differences between ’73 and now. In ’73 the ever present eye in the sky, the ability to track and contain a place was not in existence the way it is now. And when I was thinking of the containment in this movie, I was thinking about Iran and all the protest that existed there. And if an entire government is able to almost completely shut off communication to that, you think “Okay, it’s our country, we’re vastly technologically superior…it’s one small town, imagine what they could do if they really needed to cut if off.” It’s intense.
Did you have any consultancy on that front? Actual containment protocols and what not?
No, we had no consultancy with the government; we knew we wouldn’t get that support. We did have consultancy with the CDC, we had a lot of discussions about the disease itself, how it would be created, the containment protocol. I did a lot of research on what the people would be wearing, the different type of MOP4 military suits and other containment / biological control suits. So there was a lot of research going into that.
How did you come to the project to begin with?
I was approached by Michael Aguilar and Dean Georgaris who were the producing team. They’d gotten the rights from Romero himself, they had a first draft with Scott Kosar. I was approached about it, shown the draft. I liked the draft, liked the source material obviously. I had a different point-of-view on it than they had done in that draft. That’s when we hired Ray Wright and got this draft, which is what we shot.
Didn’t Kosar’s draft have a lot more military involved?
Yeah, and that’s what the studio wanted at the time. I think they wanted more of a Bourne Identity kind of movie, which felt like absolutely the wrong movie to me to do. It was a good script though, it just had a major element that I just wasn’t into.
So there was no hold up on the producer’s end that you had no horror experience beyond your “Fear Itself” episode?
No, I hadn’t even done “Fear Itself” at that point. This was over three years ago. I think originally because it was going the Bourne kind of way that’s why I came in and then I pitched as a much more horror, more streamlined, smaller movie. And they really liked the pitch so that’s how I got the movie.
And then I had the ability to do “Fear Itself”. For me it was a good…I wanted to do it as a warm-up, to flex some of those muscles before I got on the floor for this one.
Do you plan on going back to any TV work?
I like pilots, I enjoy doing pilots. For the right pilot I’d certainly do it, depending on how my schedule worked out.
I’m just curious, do you know if there are any US release plans for Thoughtcrimes?
No and it’s a bummer. You know, obviously Thoughtcrimes was a two-hour backdoor at USA. It was the highest rated show in the history of USA when we did the testing and the just before they were making a decision USA got sold to NBC and NBC scrapped all the material. I was so bummed, that could have been a really good show, I think.
What do you think of the current slate of horror remakes? And what did you specifically say “I’m not going to do this…” in order for The Crazies to stand out?
I wanted to make a movie that isn’t just a commercial movie. I think a lot of the horror remakes hit all the right buttons of “How do we make money?” We have the hot girl, we have the sex. We have this kind of character and here’s the silly guy and here’s the cool guy and here’s the urban guy and we’ll just kill ‘em off one by one by a formula. And by the way, those movies seem to make a lot of money opening weekend, but for me it wasn’t about that. I didn’t want to make a movie that was being made just because of the name recognition.
That’s the mistake of remakes. That’s why there’s this kickback, understandably, from people who say “You’re just making movies to exploit the title.” And in a way, The Crazies is a terrible title. If there was no original The Crazies and we named this The Crazies, well, that’d be Crazy. It’s not like the title is very well known and it’s helping sell the movie. It’s not Friday the 13th or Halloween, so I wanted to make a movie that stood on its own and was just a good movie.
Was there any push back, then, from the producers to originally head in that direction?
We discussed the title a million times. Everyone wondered if we should change the title, if we should change this or that and we went back and forth, back and forth. In the end, I think rightfully so, they went “It’s a weird title, but it’s a good title. Let’s keep it.”
One of the things I really liked about it was how restrained the gore was, how it wasn’t slaptastic or jokey. But then there’s also these outstanding set pieces like the knife and the car wash and I’m wondering if there was anything you self-censored? Anything you thought people wouldn’t buy because it didn’t fit the tone?
Oh, yeah. My self-censorship is only based on what I wanted to see. There’s a pretty horrific idea in the movie, and I don’t want to give away stuff, but there’s a horrific idea in the movie with the character that’s the father and there’s this “What’s dad doing?” moment. The results of that could be really disturbing in a bad way if it were shown too much. So I inferred more and decided to show less on that. Whereas other times you may have seen it a bit more graphically, so that was one place where I self-censored.
But at the same time, I didn’t want to hold any punches. There were times I wanted the movie to go for it, whether it was a bone saw or a pitchfork, or a hand or a knife. It’s a careful balance to thread and we were kind of threading the eye of the needle.
Were there any nods to the original that fans might not have seen beyond the bike lady and the whistling of the song?
Yeah, yeah. I’ve got to remember now… I’m glad you caught the whistling of the song, nobody yet has mentioned that to me. There’s a nod in the very beginning; I’m a massive Kubrick fan. I think the greatest horror movie ever made was The Shining, for me. I just love Kubrick, so there’s a little bit of a nod to Dr. Strangelove at the beginning of the movie. Nobody has picked it up yet and that drives me crazy. It’s a musical nod, let’s put it that way.
And there are a few little things in there. Another audio nod, and a couple other Romero winks, but I want people to discover them in the movie. There’s also some hidden code in the movie that no one has found yet, so I’m hoping they’ll find ‘em.
Well I’m definitely going to see it again, so I’ll keep an eye out.
Yeah, check carefully the graphics in the movie. There’s some stuff there that you can link back to online and figure out.