The Long Lunch: E.L. Katz, director of Cheap Thrills

Cheap Thrills is playing as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival. Craig (Pat Healy), reeling from a day of bad news, heads to a bar and has a chance meeting with an old friend, Vince (Ethan Embry). The two of them have a chance meeting with a couple of strangers, and things just get weirder from there.

Director E.L. Katz sat down with NZ Herald Online film blogger Dominic Corry and Incredibly Strange programmer Ant Timpson to Cheap Thrills, and a whole lot more.

Dominic Corry: Evan, your film Cheap Thrills rocked my world. Did you set out to comment on class culture or class conflict rather?

E.L. Katz: No, I don't think that that was, like there was no initial like thesis, like this is what we have to do, this is the political stuff we have to like comment on. I think a lot of that stuff is just kind of going to fall into place if you have two rich people and two poor people playing this game.

But essentially I think what I was thinking about a lot was tone and, you know, the concept of partying and fun and having that also turn into something really violent and horrible, but to keep a party atmosphere. I think it was more of a weird, you know, it was actually more of an atmosphere that I was kind of thinking about more than anything overtly political.

AT: Well I think it's something that's accessible to everyone. You've been in a bar, everyone's been in a bar, everyone's had a drink bought by maybe a stranger. I think if you're in a lot of bars weird stuff does happen, you know. It's not a big leap to think of someone saying for twenty bucks would you do this shot of something.

EK: Then the weirder shit becomes more possible.

AT: I mean I would probably hit Hugh for fifty bucks straight away, you know.

EK: Totally, for sure.

E.L. Katz.
E.L. Katz.

DC: So the point was not so much to comment on societal mores but to get to the pulpy extremities at some point?

EK: I think there's certain things that I have against certain societal mores for sure, but that's just me. But it wasn't something that I set out to do. It's like I think reality shows, even though occasionally me and my wife might watch them when my brain is completely f**ked and I want to decompress, it's just sadistic, dumb, monkey shit and it's funny that that's such a big part of, you know, what's being produced right now.

DC: Was the original title of this film Fear Factor - The Movie? (Laughter)

EK: It was Money for Something. I think in some ways there's like reality shows, I think they're pretty sadistic. I think, but I think beyond that we are pretty sadistic and if anything maybe I'm more influenced by seeing how people deal with peoples' public sort of embarrassments on YouTube or, you know, just on the Internet. How it's kind of fun to see somebody self destruct.

AT: In a way money doesn't actually have to come into the equation.

EK: No, it's not just money.

AT: In a sense, because people are doing a lot of this extreme stuff just for the fame. For notoriety.

EK: Totally. We want to see people hurt themselves, we like to see people look stupid and, you know, and I think it's really easy to push that further, and it's very easy for us to become casually cruel. And I think as humans it's not all just money. It's like I think we like to watch other people be worse off than us, you know.

Ant Timpson.
Ant Timpson.

AT: And also I'm kind of interested in the aspect of it, as an alpha male which I think all of us have bits of us in it, dealt with the fact that you kind of want, you don't want to let the person down that you are impressed by in a way. Who seems to be more onto it than you are in many areas, and you kind of want to please them. So it's not necessarily about a fiscal obligation, it's kind of like there's an inherent, deep insecurity that we always want to look better and cooler amongst people who seem to have their shit together.

EK: Completely, and I think it's funny, it's not, it is a very male perspective, you know, this film. And that's just where I come from, so it's just understanding, you know, what it's like to run around with a bunch of other idiots and the kind of social dynamics that come into play.

DC: Are you a parent?

EK: Not yet, next couple of years I'm sure it'll happen.

DC: Right, because I find this film interesting, I could easily see it coming from the mind of a parent worrying...

EK: I've been asked that, I've been asked that many times but I'm an older brother, I have two younger brothers...

DC: You know what it's like to have those kind of responsibilities.

EK: I've been a camp counsellor, I've had kids almost like fall off boats. So it's like I have at least a hint. But I think I understand at least family fear with having two younger brothers. My mum passed away when I was six, so I kind of had to raise my younger brother while my dad worked, and in many ways I kind of had to take on the dad role. So I understand that feeling of...

DC: Familial obligation.

EK: Yeah, and basically feeling that, you know, it's like I remember killing a rattle snake when we were in Rochester because it like...

DC: I was going to say were you living the Winter's Bone lifestyle?

EK: Well, we lived in Rochester which is like not, you know, listen when I was younger it was a nice suburb.

DC: That's where Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is.

EK: Sure, not anymore. Everything's foreclosed and, you know with the Kodak museum. You know like I get that and I guess I understand just the fear of having the people that you care about suffering and you being responsible for it. So it's like, you know, I totally get somebody being put in a position where they have to do really horrible things to kind of be the good guy. And that's kind of something that I, it happens to people you know.

HS: When you were writing it did you give much thought...

AT: He didn't write it...

EK: Actually I did rewrite it but I couldn't take credit because I'm a member of the Guild. But it was a collaborative effort, you know, there was another writer, David Chirchirillo that did a lot of...

Dominic Corry.
Dominic Corry.

DC: You've got to change about 75% or something if you're the director aye, before you can take credit.

EK: We never submitted it to the Guild because I would've had to have been paid more than half the budget and, yeah.

AT: Which was not going to happen.

EK: No, I worked on the script before I shot it because at first it was kind of like I'd never directed something before, and for the longest time the document itself was very outside of me. And it was like okay, at some point I have to realise this in a way that seems actually like real.

It took me kind of sitting down a little but and f**king with it and playing with it to actually start to imagine things in my head. And until you can actually place yourself there and see a movie you can't really, you're just pretending that you're making a movie.

DC: Well that's the essential role of the director isn't it, is to take the story on board and to interpret it. Just getting back to the realistic aspect of the film, I was worried, I mean I wasn't worried because I like Very Bad Things, but I was worried that it would just become this one-upmanship, more and more crazy kind of thing.

And what was most pleasantly surprising about Cheap Thrills was that it didn't take these huge leaps. Everything was incremental and realistic to a degree. How challenging was it to make the decision, every decision each character made feel organic to that moment?

EK: I think what's been incremental is the aggression between the two friends towards each other, and in some ways how far they're willing to go. But not necessarily the extremity of what they're doing, it's just, it's kind of more in their behaviour. Because if anything, you know, we felt like it would really, you know, it's not Saw, it's you know, if you just have them cutting off an arm or a leg, at that point you're not connected to it at all. It's just, it is just gore porn.

But it felt like if you could just have people being pushed, that's what Violet and Colin want them to do, they want them to f**king hate each other so they can eventually [spoiler removed]. But pretty much all of their work is to make them treat each other worse and worse. And if anything that felt really organic and easy to do because, you know, you understand how you can piss people off, you can understand social dynamics. And it's like if a guy keeps whacking you on the back, even if it's friendly at first, by the end of the night if you kind of twist things a little bit it's easy for that to lead to a fist fight, you know. So if anything that was easy.

HS: What I was going to say before was that idea of, and not writing it maybe you don't know but, I wonder how much thought went into the set up, the premise. Like of the scenario that the guy found himself in, for him to do that, do you know what I mean? Like did you worry about if it was...

EK: No because I think there's a shorthand to it, and I think, you know, even in, like when we were in South Korea when you see him get fired and her murmurs in the audience, like they understand, like this is like f**ked, you know, he's in trouble, you know, and if anything it's like, yeah, it might even be like, you know, it's almost like coincidental to a crazy degree how many bad things happen to him in a row.

But like I really wanted to load that up in a way, so people get it, they understand why he's doing what he's doing and you know, you have to understand why he's there in the first place.

DC: Do you think the world is more, or the film going audience is more amenable to stories about economic desperation these days?

E.L. Katz.
E.L. Katz.

EK: Yeah, I think it's universal, but I think it always will be. I don't think we're ever going to figure that out. I don't think that we reach a point where the world's economy has been wonderful and every country's doing fantastic. I think movies about underdogs that are struggling to pay the rent -

AT: It's not a response to Wall Street.

EK: Exactly, it's not, it's just somebody's always f**king struggling, like that problem doesn't go away ever.

AT: I think the balance that the film gets really well is the, because it's such an easy thing to fall into a really mean spirited series of events, and it's got that underdog appeal.

The tone of it is really spot on and I think that's a really hard thing for a lot of directors to get, and I think you do it really well in the film Cheap Thrills. That it actually rides that balance between pulling the audience in, turning them on to the hook, and then not losing half your audience with how far you go.

Because I know that you want to push buttons, and I know for a first film you want to make some noise and have a film that's recognised because in this clutter day and age there are so many indie films being made everywhere. To stand above you've got to maybe push a few buttons, but you don't want to push too many because you end up with a film that backfires on you in a way.

EK: And it's also about me, you know. I think I'm like, you know, I think I'm a nice guy. I think I have, you know, obviously I have fun with really f**ked up stuff in movies, and I was raised on stuff that's edgier. But like I didn't want to go beyond just because, and none of this stuff in this movie felt like I was stepping outside of my own, you know, comfort zone. And I didn't want to.

DC: Were there any films that you had in mind when you were approaching this?

EK: Yes, a lot of the Scandinavian thrillers, you know, a lot of like the Haneke stuff, you know, I think a lot of European dark comedy to dramatic thriller, you know. Stuff that's sort of stepped down and...

DC: Like Funny Games maybe?

EK: Funny Games, obviously Funny Games is a huge influence..

AT: You know what it reminded me a little bit was After Hours.

EK: I love After Hours.

DC: Yeah, totally I got that, I got that, totally.

AT: Because it all happens at night, and it's like after a certain time of night...

EK: People do crazy shit.

AT: Yeah, it's an open playing field, things can go, escalate really quickly in the right scenario. It's like alchemy, if things all start clicking into place your night can turn into like one of the craziest nights of your life really simply you know.

EK: The thing is it's like we, like our reality is one thing, and it can easily shift, and it really doesn't take that much. And if you're partying and if you're having fun, and if you're drunk you don't know what you can do, you can do anything.

Like really, you can kill somebody. Like there's people that go out to the bar and they hit somebody and they had a bottle, and they've killed a dude. They didn't set out, they're not that person, that's not who they are. And it could be any of us, it could be something that's a teacher.

AT: It's a weekly thing here. (Laughter)

EK: People do bad shit. Good people do bad shit.

AT: Is that a tag line on the poster?

EK: Yeah exactly! People do bad shit.

DC: Well I guess to me, I'm interpreting this film as good people do bad shit but sometimes other people like to give them that opportunity. So there's an aspect of kind of sadistic enabling going on.

EK: There's cruelty porn I think in our world, and I think people get off on it. I think we get off on it, and I'm not better than anybody else. I'll watch dumb shit and there's something inside of all of us I think that, it makes us feel better. It makes us feel more safe if we're not the one that's f**king up and it, you know.

AT: It's like rubber-necking.

EK: It is, yeah. We see something. But like for me, it was funny, I was influenced by films, I was influenced of aesthetics of making things naturalistic because that helps I think sell more absurd and fantastic elements. But it was really, it really was just trying to get an atmosphere of partying and cruelty at the same time and like trying to keep both going at the same time. And seeing if I could have something that's consistently funny but awful.

Because I hadn't seen a lot of movies that play with that tone as much recently, and you know, it felt like a good, it felt like me going to parties in high school. You know, you get, you know, I got beat to shit at a part in high school, had blood running out of my nose and people were dancing round and drinking beer. And I'm like okay, this is what it's like, this is what life is you know. And it's not, it's not always cinematic. I think sometimes you just draw from getting the shit kicked out of you, you know.

DC: Well you're finally getting it out now.

EK: There you go, it took me to New Zealand, that's awesome.

DC: I don't think anyone at this table would deny that experience.

AT: It's funny because New Zealand's got such a drinking culture that if anywhere's going to associate with things getting out of control with alcohol quickly it's probably this country in a way. Because there's a binge mentality.

DC: Yeah, there is but it does lack the Machiavellian nature of this film a little bit and that. Which is why I think I'm worried about this film giving drunk New Zealanders ideas a little bit.

AT: Hey, let me ask you this, we're thinking about putting money up on the screening on Friday.

DC: Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes.

AT: A hundred dollars, how far do you think a Kiwi would go, a buzzed audience member hyped up on energy drinks...

DC: Start by saying ten bucks to eat this jalapeño, and get the person that's willing to do that, and then start going okay, fifty dollars...

AT: Escalate it.

EK: That's smart.

DC: To show everyone your cock and balls, and then maybe like bring out a homeless person and...

HS: This may not be a spoiler, but the moment when you kind of flipped it and it was, you started high and then you started going how low would you go, do you know what I mean?

EK: I think that was my one overtly capitalism joke. But it wasn't, like that, I don't think that was, I think that was a pretty obvious satire of like people lowering the prices. Yeah, like negotiating themselves into nothing.

DC: It's the brutalist bit of the film!

EK: My dad had a used bookstore and he ended up going up against, among others, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon, and it's a war of attrition. And it's basically you cut yourself down so low that at some point you're like we're not even in business.

Like this is, what are we doing, I don't even understand the game anymore. You're fighting for f**king scraps.

DC: I thought it was going to get to a point where Pat Healy was paying...

AT: That's the DVD extra, it's like a man bites dog ending where the camera pulls back and Evan's offering money to the actors. Like it's real dog shit, eat it.

EK: I think all of us run home feeling like Pat's character because ultimately, like you know, I did this movie and I felt like shit at the end. Like the actors felt like shit, everybody felt like shit, they'd sort of demeaned themselves. So it's like, you know, it's not just, it's not like everybody's outside of it, it's not like everybody's just like observing and look how smart we are.

It's like you're physically there, you're physically embarrassing yourself and taxing yourself.

DC: And even beyond that the scariest thing about this film is how everyone watching it at some point goes hmm, maybe, you know, maybe I would do that.

AT: You know the one thing that it didn't go, that I thought kind of like would've been really kind of shocking, even maybe with a bit better known, cast, even though they're quite well known names, is if there was full nudity involved. And there was like whoa, it's kind of like, it would be so raw to see people expose themselves like that, because you know it's a low budget film.

And I kind of thought like, but you know what, when you're not paying anyone how the hell are you going to go to those levels.

EK: It was one of those things that, it wasn't in the script that there was nudity. But I think that, you know, people wanted nudity but ultimately I kind of liked at least, like his wife shows her breast, it's like a quick, you know, you blink and you miss it. But ultimately as much as, you know, there's one version where yeah, they're completely naked and having sex, but I kind of like that she's still sort of armoured, you know. Because she's in control.

AT: I'm thinking more about your male cast being completely stripped.

EK: Well there's some balls in it actually. Ethan shows his nut sack. Yeah, if you brighten up your TV you'll see some nut sack.

HS: This doesn't matter at all to the discussion but I am curious. How did the couple [in Cheap Thrills] get their money, how did he get his money?

EK: I think his dad was rich.

AT: Who, [David] Koechner?

EK: I don't think Koechner works, I don't think he has a job.

AT: He's like Hugh Grant's character in About a Boy.

EK: Yeah, totally. I don't think he has tonnes of job skills. I think he's been doing this since he was young and now he's just a little older.

AT: He could be like a hedge fund manager, but he doesn't come across like that.

EK: I think he spends his time just hanging out, you know, he's chilling.

SPOILER ALERT:

HS: Because I, maybe I was over analysing it, and maybe that's the thing with films these days, you are constantly trying to be cleverer than the writers while you're watching it. And going okay, what is it? Is it going to turn out that this couple were actually behind this guy losing his job, you know what I mean?

AT: Oh right, the whole Big Brother, yeah, manipulation.

EK: There was like, and I was never behind this, but some people were trying to push saying what if they didn't own the house at all. But I'm like who cares, it has nothing to do with it. I'm like who gives a shit, that doesn't mean anything.

AT: Right. Yeah, like they all go down and there's people that...

EK: There's people that are tied up under there. I'm like who cares.

AT: That actually would have ruined it, it would've ruined it anyway. You want it to be like an organic thing of people, both sides unsure of how far it's going to go. Because if it's all pre-planned right through it's kind of like what's the point of the film.

EK: No it's crazy, because who could imagine that it's going to work out that way.

AT: You don't know what, you don't want the end game to be known, the characters to know everything.

EK: Like Koechner and Sara Paxton's character, they're surprised when Pat comes back in to keep the game going.

HS: That was really interesting, I was like what's going on here. I was trying to work out how you could get him back in the story. Like he's gotta come back in, how are you going to do this. That was good.

EK: (Laughter) Well that was another thing...

DC: It's interesting how little Sara Paxon says in the film, you know.

EK: In the first draft of the script she said nothing. And I actually was okay, that's too much. How do I like, how do I still make it kind of weird that she doesn't talk that much, but still, it's sort of circling reality. And there's like some, you know, if there's like some rich dude and she's just in the corner texting, you know.

DC: That's what I was going to say, the key point in the film for me was when stuff's maybe about to end and then you see her texting and he gets the text, and he sort of snaps into action a bit, David Koechner. She's kind of the puppet master a bit.

AT: Did you know that she was texting him?

DC: I didn't when she was doing that, but when I saw him go "so", I was like okay, so she's pulling the strings here.

EK: She's sending him directions. Yeah, but at first you think she's just self absorbed.

AT: Facebooking.

EK: Exactly, yeah. So it's like I think people know that person, so when they see Koechner doing his shit it seems like okay this is the rich guy, this girl's kind of bored, whatever. Like you understand. They don't seem that weird, you know. By the end they're super weird. But they're a good couple.

HS: They are, but you don't think at the beginning, in the bar scene you don't think they're a good, I don't know, to me I thought there's some, almost like she was being held hostage or something, you know. She seemed so aloof that there was no possible way that...

EK: The one, the one like, the one moment that's like a tender moment is like they just creepily touch hands.

HS: Yes, and the close up of that.

DC: That's right.

EK: When the guys are fighting each other over [spoiler removed]. That's like a plan is coming together, like you know, she's just been made happy. I think everybody understandings, like, killing themselves to make their girlfriend or wife happy. You know, you go pretty far, so that was kind of what I channeled...

AT: She's the quintessential bored girlfriend who tries to get into, the boyfriend to get into fights in bars right. She's like the uber version.

EK: Totally.

SPOILER ALERT ENDS

DC: David Koechner who's amazing in this film isn't known for his dramatic work.

EK: No, but he was just in Behind the Candelabra for a moment.

DC: Was he, I think I missed him in that.

EK: Yeah, for one moment. I think he's giving some sort of legal advice or something.

DC: Oh no, that's right coz he, yeah he is, because Steven Soderbergh did the same thing he did with The Informant, where he cast like stand up comics in the supporting roles.

EK: Totally, yeah.

DC: I read this great interview with Joel McHale where he was like I got that call from Steven Soderbergh for The Informant and was like okay, my career's at this new level now. And then he turns up and like, you know, all these other stand ups are there.

EK: That's amazing.

DC: What I was going to ask though is were you concerned that his comedic prowess would make this film harder to take seriously? Or did you want him to bring that comedic value?

EK: I loved it, but I also knew that like when I talked to him about it, you know, his idea was no I'm playing this straight. So he's funny, but he's not cranking it up you know. I was happy that if anything it's a bit of a relaxed, it's funny what he's saying but he's not doing a lot of, he's not sweating for a laugh at all. And like I just knew that he, you know, he had a really interesting vibe.

And it's also context too, it's like you can have a really funny guy but if you shoot it hand held and you're not trying to film it like a comedy, and if the lead guy looks bruised up and tired and real, even if the guy's mugging it's going to feel if anything more weird. You're not going to know how to think, because it's not shot like Very Bad Things even.

So it's not even shot like a normal black comedy. It's shot more like indie drama. It creates a bit of like a, I don't know how I'm supposed to take it so maybe I'll laugh because he said something funny. And I think that's the best way for people to sort of process it.

AT: Did he come to set in character?

EK: No, he came to set, well the thing is, it was really tough because we had to shoot, I like to shoot pages of dialogue and not cut. So at first everybody was a little bit like what, wait there's no, when is the close up happening. I'm like no, no, no, we're filming everything, just go.

And you know, it took a little warming up but people eventually were like okay, I'm going to kind of mix it with the improv, I'm just going to go with it and live it. And it was more fun, and it's like Pat said, you know, the [spoiler removed] scene was when he told me, it's like you know, it was fun to finally get to play pretend and not do everything in segments. Because the scenes are so long that you only have one choice.

It's like you have to kind of be there, and that was good. And I think ultimately Pat Healy got very physically invested in it, to the point where he was really, you knowing, going through some painful shit. Like when [spoiler removed], like he really, you know like he went to a f**king bad place, really bad place. And it was something that you can't, you can't guess what's going to happen. You don't know.

You just film it all, and you just let people go and do whatever their process is, you just let them do it. And you know, you kind of, you have to stay out of the way. You know, in many ways it's like I think a lot of directors are really focused on amazing shots. And I don't know shit about amazing shots, so all I can do is, like, I really like actors, I want them to be able to do their thing and not step on their feet with a bunch of track and a bunch of shit.

So it's like this is not going to be my show reel as a visual, aesthetic kind of guy. I don't have that. All I can do is let these guys really come to life, and that's what's fun for me.

DC: That's equally show reel appropriate I think, if you can show that you can let actors do their thing without saying I'm Brian De Palma-ing up a storm here.

EK: It's my first feature, and it's like, it's my first feature and I'm working with actors that have been doing it for like twenty-something years. You know people that have worked with Werner Herzog and I'm like I'm not going to come in and put you in a box. I don't have that...

DC: Oh yeah [Pat Healy] was in Rescue Dawn aye.

EK: Yeah, he was in... Magnolia, yeah, he made Julianne Moore cry, you know, like in that pharmacy scene. He was the pharmacist that made her cry.

DC: Oh my god, [bangs table] are you kidding me?!

EK: He's a really good actor, and you know, the best thing you could do is give people a good script and just put them together and let them run into each other. And that's what's fun, you know. It's cool seeing people work.

DC: As a film fan I have perceived that American indie cinema is getting a lot more genre friendly. Would you agree with that assessment?

EK: I think it is. I think it's also, it's a bit pragmatic because for the VOD model which is sort of replacing a lot of things, yeah, you need to have those same elements that have always gotten people to see films. But I do think that all the press has kind of helped because now we have a lot of outlets that promote the movies. And I think there's just, it's kind of self generating now, you know.

People are learning from each other, film festivals and websites and all this stuff, it's very easy to access other peoples stuff. And we all get influenced, you know. I was very influenced by Ben Wheatley. I wouldn't have seen his stuff if it wasn't for...

DC: He's my f**king hero.

EK: ...VOD, and you know, honestly him in Down Terrace, like casting all these comedy guys was what made me go like okay, I really think I should get somebody funny for this movie. I thought it was a really interesting affect.

DC: Are you going to be here for >A Field In England?

EK: I'm leaving right before, which I'm totally pissed. But Wheatley is one of my favourite filmmakers right now and I think what he's dong in genre is really exciting. And you know, in the States I know we have some cool shit, but I feel like there's a lot of great stuff still coming from all sorts of countries, you know.

DC: Do you feel like there's a camaraderie or even a support model among young American indie filmmakers?

EK: I think to an extent, for sure. You know, I think like Adam Wingard, he sat down and actually did some editing on the movie at one point.

DC: He's like the fulcrum for a million different things at the moment.

EK: He is and he gave me, he got me my composer - Mads Heldtberg - who worked on You're Next. But we've worked together...

DC: And you mentioned Ti West had some connection.

EK: Ti West helped me get Pat Healy, he's helped me get Sara Paxton. You know, it's a small scene and I think there are different sectors of it.

DC: I like the genre sector of it.

EK: For sure, but it's just opened up too, because we had, you know, there was the guys that were doing a bit more of just indie drama, mumblecore whatever, like Joe Swanberg. But when he started collaborating with horror filmmakers I think that was kind of fun. You know, I think you get some interesting different perspectives.

DC: Yeah, well to me I've always loved indie films, but whenever they dabble in genre topics, to me it's like this is what I want from genre films, naturalism, believability, and the studios are not delivering in this front.

EK: There's no interest in that shit. The thing is for me I've always been raised on, you know, I have a Fulci tattoo but I also love Bergman, like I grew up on all sorts of f**king filmmakers so I'm just a film fan. But I always knew that I would never shoot just a drama. Everything that I do, I don't think I'll ever just end up in drama.

I think if it's drama it's got to be with guns. You know, I'm always going to end up in a space that's sort of genre, but the stuff that I watch is fucking everything. I think, you know, when I first saw Habit by Larry Fessenden it was like a real eye opener. It was because it was this kind of step down, realistic New York, almost Bukowski story but the guy happened to have f**ked a vampire or whatever. And I thought that was so interesting, and it was shot like a drama and I really liked that.

DC: He was such a turning point, Larry Fessenden, for the indie model becoming more genre. [Ant returns] I was just saying to Evan that I liked how the indie model in America is a lot more genre friendly now. Do you think that's true, that they are leaning more genre?

AT: Who's leaning more genre?

DC: Well just the fact that films like, people like, and you were saying like Joe Swanberg who used to be more part of the pure mumblecore then moving into more genre stuff, and people like Ti West and Evan Katz himself, there just seems to be the kind of films that would get this sort of attention didn't used to be so genre friendly. And I love that they're getting more like that because that's what I want from genre films, naturalism and believability and surprising aspects which the studio genre films just aren't delivering.

AT: It's kind of a loaded word in a way, genre. I think it's more the fact that people find interesting material that they can work with and play around with and it's not specifically sticking to the tropes of a standard genre.

DC: Yeah, but the early 90s independent scene would have looked down upon a horror.

EK: I think so.

DC: Or a sci-fi. There wouldn't have been such an egalitarian attitude, or a viewing of these guys are artistic directors. Whereas now it feels like they're a core part of the emerging artists of America, but they're still making horror films.

AT: They're the ones that grew up on that material, and people like Evan were exposed to Korean new wave when they were really young, and their exposure. Basically what's happened is that the audience has grown up along with the young directors, they're way more savvy with what's available.

They know the history from a certain period really well. And I think in some ways it's depressing because they... it was such a short amount of time that they're not willing to actually step out of that period from 90 to now. It's very hard for them to watch a 50s film or whatever because a lot of the stuff is recycled, no matter how extreme. All it is is the levels of sex and violence might be up, but the material itself has been around a long, long time.

EK: Yeah, it was like you get that first wave of Park Chan-wook and you know, that stuff was really bold when it came out. I think you're right that in some ways it is Americans finally following suit.

So it is sort of another wave of something that initially has kind of already run it's course. But at least if it's starting then maybe it'll do more interesting, it'll go beyond that, you know. But I think it is kind of cool that it's like, you know, for a while I felt like the only American genre that was coming out that would be indie would be like a horror comedy that's just an Evil Dead throwback or something like that. You know, it was just like a horror fan jerk off fest.

AT: Like if you talk about pushing buttons to get emotional responses with extreme material it's gone as far as it can. Unless you kill someone for real on camera, things like Serbian Film are as extreme as most audiences can handle.

So it's done, what's the point of doing it? What people relate to is interesting stories, stories well told with characters that they can relate to. I mean that's at the heart of it. If you base any film, no matter what genre you're in, with that core like material that works, it doesn't matter where you take them, they'll go with you.

EK: I agree, I think you can't push an envelop anymore, that's done.

DC: That's true, but I also think that, I just love that the stigma of a Twilight Zone-esc story is gone now. And that that used to be considered hacky in an independent context, and now it's just the way things are going. And someone my age, I grew up on those films too and I love seeing it in the films that I'm consuming.

AT: But now you're seeing films like Can't Hardly Wait crossed with Scream or whatever. You know, like you're getting hybrid material, but also you don't have the benefit of long form storytelling which is why TV suddenly is now the hottest thing around because people have all these long stories to develop characters to, and people are responding to that really well.

So films have to rely on sometimes gimmicks, and Cheap Thrills does have a gimmick. It's an awesome gimmick, but at it's heart there's a hook and a conceit that people can relate to really quickly.

EK: There's a drive in movie theatre pitch. And the thing is I think I've always embraced, you know it's funny, it's like other elements of it kind of almost deceiving myself that there is that. But gimmick, I'm kind of thinking more about it in these other terms of like how it feels to me, like the atmosphere.

But it's a big part of doing a low budget movie, you need to have one sentence that sums it up. You need to have something kind of controversial to some extent or at least a question that the audience has to think about and answer. You know, but that's just part of low budget film making and I think it's always been, you know, since the Corman days, what's the big idea for the small movie. That's fine, you know, but I do feel like when you think about it Breaking Bad if anything is more of an important piece of genre work than almost any other feature that's come out.

DC: It's breaking the ultimate taboo, unsympathetic protagonists.

EK: Yeah, and it's amazing that that's a huge hit.

AT: And you've got to in a way, not to make a giant leap, but you've got a Travis Bickle kind of anti-hero in the fact that it's someone who's so kind of charismatic in a way, that people can associate with. And Travis could be either character.

DC: Yeah, and it's also important to remember that, and I'm just reminding myself more than anything, that the films that we most celebrate from the most recent golden age of cinema like the early 70s, a lot of them were total genre movies. Like Godfather and The Conversation and even Taxi Driver. It's a vigilante movie, but it's also an art film. I just feel like the more immediate, pertinent films coming out now from young filmmakers are leaning a bit in that direction, and just as an old school nerd I love it.

EK: Like Drive even, it didn't make tonnes of money but if that's even in the public, you know conscious, it's not just in film festivals, you know.

DC: Yeah, and then every time I sort of even begin to think there might be nowhere left to go I see a film like Computer Chess which completely blew my mind. Have you seen this film Evan?

EK: I really want to.

DC: Oh my god, it had it's last screening last night here.

AT: They made it for you specifically.

DC: I really feel like they did. Honestly I didn't know anything, I went in, I've never had a film convince me I was watching a documentary when it wasn't. And I honestly, for the first half an hour I was like this is found footage, yeah, but then I realised it wasn't when it started getting trippy. But it was so well, you've seen it right?

AT: Yeah, it's great, I love it.

DC: God, I couldn't believe that was Mitch from Days and Confused. I was like they've done a really good thing by casting no actors you've ever seen before, and then it's like the lead from one of my favourite movies was in it. And I didn't spot it.

AT: They're all part of that mumblecore, early start.

DC: They hate that term though aye. I've interviewed the Duplass' and John C Riley and they both almost hung up on me when I mentioned the M word.

EK: Whatever, It kinda helped promote it for a while. People use it to ridicule it but they also use it to give it a bit of spotlight.

AT: It's like the Splat Pack. Who were the Splat Pack, do they even exist anymore.

ET: I don't think so.

AT: Was there one?

DC: Yeah It was James Wan, Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and Darren Bousman.

EK: Alexandre -

DC: Yeah, Alexandre Aja the high tension guy. Yeah, but it's kind of over now.

AT: If you could have your own group, your own rat pack...

DC: Ethical core.

EK: I wouldn't have any. I have friends who do this shit, but I think as soon as we all bunch ourselves up into one thing then we're sort of limiting ourselves in a lot of ways. It's cool to know people and it's cool to be influenced, but I think let's just do our own shit. I had somebody ask me if I was part of a new Splat Pack in South Korea. They were like are you part of the Splat Pack, and I'm like what? I never got a membership card or anything, so I think I'm not.

AT: When we promote ABCs 2 that's what we're going to say, he's one of the Splat Pack.

DC: There's got to be some term, it'll be like the indie Splat Pack on some level. Like the Split Pack. Anyway, but in conclusion I'd like to say Cheap Thrills is an awesome film Evan and it's been nice to meet you and I can't wait to see what you do next.

AT: In conclusion I'd like to say it's on at 9:30pm, Sky City on Friday. Evan will be there.

Dominic Corry, Ant Timpson and E.L. Katz.
Dominic Corry, Ant Timpson and E.L. Katz.

-NZ Herald Online

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